Tag Archives: College

A Push and a Promise – A Message for Graduates

This past Sunday at New Garden Church in Nashville, we had our Graduation Sunday where we affirmed and honored the achievements of our high school grads.  As the Student Minister, I got to share a message with our awesome graduates and our church.  Here’s a manuscript of the message:

 

Let me just say that this is one of my favorite Sundays every year.  I’m so glad to be part of a church that says we want to affirm our high school grads in front of everyone.  So grads, let me start by saying, these are your people.  And church, let me start by saying, that we have a lot to be proud of with this group.

This week, in preparation for this morning, I spent some time wondering about the question:

“What does a student graduating from high school need?”

I asked my Facebook friends, and I got some good and weird answers (as Facebook does), things like:

A Cell Phone Charger, Access to transportation, A book, and A tool box. You need to know your SSN, you need someone you can talk to, A mentor. You need money management skills, Bandaids, and Laundry detergent

When I graduated high school, I thought I needed a lot of things.  I thought I needed to go to college, I thought I needed some graduation gifts, I thought I needed a new pair of shoes, and maybe most of all, I thought I needed to get a girlfriend.  Like me when I graduated, you probably don’t have all those things.

You all have been raised in a new era.  More and more you are able to see what the world has to offer.  You’ve grown up in a world where at just the tap of a screen, you can find anything that you want, good, bad, or ugly.  You’ve grown up in a world where at just the tap of the screen, you can make someone feel good, bad, or ugly.  Some would say that the world that you’ve grown up in is a better world than some past generations, and some would say that the world you’ve grown up in is a world that is farther gone than it was before.

I think either way, you’re not ready for the world.

I don’t think you’re ready for the heartache and the conflict.  I don’t think you’re ready for the inevitable failure coming your way, and I don’t think you’re ready for those things that you can’t control.  You’re going to make mistakes, and it’s going to hurt.  And I know that on some level, you’ve already been through some stuff that you weren’t ready for.

But here’s the thing, it’s not just you that’s not ready.  Look around at all these adults, none of us were ready when we were in your position, and we’re still not ready.

And 2,000 years ago, Jesus gave his disciples a task that they weren’t ready for.

After hanging out with this group of people for three years, they surely ate over a thousand meals together, they traveled together, and they had seen many miracles done in the name of Jesus.  The sick were healed, the blind received sight, and the dead were raised back to life.  But they still weren’t ready.

After Jesus was raised back to life, he was around and appeared to different people until it was time for him to go away.  And so Jesus has these people, his friends and followers meet him on a mountain for his final words to them on earth.

We’re going to pick up there in Matthew chapter 28:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

Even after everything they had seen, three years of hearing Jesus teach and watching Him interact with the world, three years of miracles, and then being witnesses to the ultimate miracle, Jesus rising out of the tomb he was barricaded in, these people still doubt!  We find it easy to blame them, but I think this shows that doubting is part of the journey.  Along the way, we all doubt our faith.  It’s hard and confusing, but it’s part of following Jesus.  Having doubt is not wrong, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.  In those times of doubt, what’s important is that we don’t isolate ourselves.  Keep the conversation going. Find people who are willing to be in that with you.  If you need someone, I would suggest taking a look around this room.

Now we get to Jesus’ final words to his followers, A pep talk of sorts.:

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. 

He starts off letting them know He is in charge.  Jesus has authority.  What Jesus has said will come to pass.  We can trust that when Jesus says something, God’s going to back it up.  

Then Jesus gives them some parting instructions: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  Now sometimes we see this and we think it means we need to move to away to find people and turn them into church people, but this is better translated “As you go” instead of simply “go.”  So as you are doing whatever comes next, make disciples, baptize, and teach.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong!  These followers of Jesus were not ready!  And when we read these instructions, neither are we!  I know that you’ve grown up in church or youth group, but this is scary and confusing.  Where do we start?  What do we say?  How do we get from here to there?

Jesus doesn’t wait till we’re ready to give us a push.

But Jesus doesn’t just give his followers a command, He gives them a promise.  And that’s what I want us to be focused on today.  Jesus goes on to say:

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

When Jesus tells us to go out into the unknown, He doesn’t leave us.  When Jesus tells us to make disciples, baptize, and teach the world, He knows we’re not ready!  When Jesus tells us to seek justice in an unjust world, He doesn’t expect or desire that we do it alone.

When Jesus gives us a push, He also gives a promise.

There used to be a kids swimming instructor in the area who had an interesting strategy for teaching kids to swim.  If you went to her lessons and didn’t know how to swim, and refused to get in the pool, she would literally push you in.  But guess what?  To my knowledge, they didn’t let anyone drown.  The instructors were there, in the pool, for when the kid needed a hand.  There was a push, but there was also a promise, “You aren’t going to drown.”

Now I know that this season of life has a lot of potential stress involved in it.  People asking you “what’s next?” “where to?” and all those other question that you don’t have a great answer to, and even if you do have solid plans, those will likely change.  You’re not ready, but you’re not going to drown.

So today, I want to give you, and all of us, a push.  But I also want to give you a promise.

Your life is here now, and it has been here. A story has already begun to be written with your life.  As you go about what’s next, fill those pages with a life following Jesus, you won’t regret it.  And that doesn’t mean your life will be boring!  Dream big, try new things, don’t be afraid to fail!  As you transition from this stage into what’s next, keep in mind what we are called to do, share our faith with the people we encounter along the way.  There will be plenty of opportunities to fiercely love your friends and your enemies.  There will be plenty of opportunities to seek justice for those who are not treated the right way.  There will be plenty of opportunities to show humility and place the needs of others above your own.  In all of these things, I am pushing you to follow Jesus, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

With that push comes a promise.  God will be with you always.  And that will look different at different times.  Sometimes God will give you the words to say to a friend in need.  Sometimes God will give you a friend’s warmth when you feel alone.  Sometimes God will show up right when you’re ready to give up.  God will be there.

Furthermore, I want to promise that the people of God in this room today will be there for you.  I don’t know how you feel about church or church people, and I don’t know how you’ll feel about church or church people in 5 years, 20 years, or 50 years, but I can tell you that no matter where we meet, what songs we sing, or what we call ourselves, the people of God care deeply for you.  We cannot follow Jesus on our own.  And guess what, you don’t have to be perfect or even pretty good to be with us.

I always say, that there’s nothing you can ever do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you can ever do to make God love you less.  And we want to have that same mindset.  You are never too far gone to find a home here with us.  Never.  Our door will always be open to you.

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Spider-Man, Creation, and Blemishes

Have you ever made something that you were really proud of? A masterpiece of sorts?

When I was in third grade, I created a masterpiece.

In Art class, we had a new teacher named Mr. Stevens.  He was a really cool younger teacher.  Ok maybe I don’t know how cool he actually was, but to a boy in 3rd grade, a male teacher who isn’t old and boring is super cool.  Mr. Stevens was a really talented doodler, and he loved Marvel comics.  He would always show us some of his drawings of The Hulk, Wolverine, and others.  Spider-Man was his favorite superhero.  Spider-Man is undoubtedly cool; he’s a high schooler that can shoot super strong spider webs from his wrists, climb buildings without any gear, and fly through New York City swinging from web to web and building to building.  I probably would have thought Spider-Man was cool anyway, but the fact that Mr. Stevens liked him really put me over the top.  Mr. Stevens had a ton of drawings of Spider-Man in his classroom that he would show us, most of them were of Spider-Man swinging through New York City.

So one day, after watching Mr. Stevens draw Spider-Man a few times, I decided that I wanted to give it a try.  I started with Spider-Man’s eyes and head followed by the rest of his body, very carefully making sure everything was drawn to scale.  I finished with the web and the tall Manhattan buildings in the background.  It was a masterpiece.

Mr. Stevens had inspired me to create something that took detail and time, and it was the best picture that I had ever drawn (and to this day still might be).  But it wasn’t perfect. I still remember the blue mark that I accidentally scratched onto the paper.  The drawing got partially crumpled in my classically unorganized backpack.  And there were some other spots where I had gotten a tad careless and colored slightly outside of the lines that I had created.

When I look back on that time now, I realize that this seemingly insignificant art class experience was actually teaching me something past how to draw a bomb superhero picture.  I learned that creating something is exciting, worthwhile, and takes time.  I also learned that everything we create will have its blemishes.

In Genesis, our Creator God creates humankind in the Image of God.  Our creative God created creative people.  God then blesses them and commands them to create:

“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”  Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.”

In the Bible, the first thing God tells people is essentially this: “I have created all of this for you. Be creative, fill it, take care of it. Go enjoy creation.

So we know how the story goes, in their creating, they make some mistakes.  They had to leave the Garden, and we call that whole tiny part of the Bible the “Creation Story.”  But God was far from finished creating, that was just the beginning.  Since then, God has continued in the task of creating and so have God’s creative people.

Since the Garden, people have created all kinds of things and very rarely gotten it right the first (or second) time!  Someone at some point figured out how to create fire and then someone found what to use it for.  People created wheels, irrigation, chariots, and now motorized vehicles, running water, and iPhones.  Each person on earth has been given both the ability and the need to create in one way or another.

I have several friends who create their own music.  That is a truly amazing thing to me.  Not only do they have to be able to play an instrument or instruments, but they have to be able to put the different sounds in an order that sounds good and also an order that hasn’t been done before.  A couple months ago I asked one of my musician friends if he thought that someday there would be no music created because everything had already been done before.  He said that he believes new music will always be created because there will always be more fusion and influence and creative people.

I like to write occasionally.  I don’t always have much to write about, but there are rare times like tonight when I can’t sleep because I have to get a thought out.  Writing is a challenge in creativity.  Much like music, I have wondered if someday there will be no new literature because there will be no more creative original thought, but the nature of God’s creation is to be creative.

When I create, there are blemishes.  No matter how well I did in English class in high school or Freshman Composition in college, when creation is involved, mistakes will be made.  Looking back at some essays and posts that I’ve written in the past, I see typos and misspellings (I literally just misspelled “misspellings” three times in a row).  I see ideas that I would word differently now than I did then, and I see posts that I simply wouldn’t write at all now.

I suppose that’s how life is too.  We move through life, and if we do it right, we create amazing and beautiful things.  We create relationships, we create systems, and we create things we’re passionate about.  But the creative process is a messy one.  As we go on living and creating in life, we’re going to make mistakes.  We are going to say something we shouldn’t have said to someone we care about.  We are going to go a little overboard and show a lack of self-control.  And we are going to end things too soon or hang on to things for too long.  These are the blemishes of life.

Often we feel the need to cover up our blemishes, but blemishes are signs of creation and life.  Others need to see our blemishes so they know that yes, we are a masterpiece, but we also are still learning and growing.  We are still being created by the Creator God who sees and knows every time we’ve accidentally scratched the canvass, crumpled things up, and colored outside the lines.  Though God sees our blemishes, God also sees and loves the larger masterpiece that we are creating.

We have been created by the Creator God to be creative people.  Don’t be afraid of messing up.  God is in the business of creating light in darkness, wholeness in brokenness, and masterpieces out of our blemishes.

the blessing of wrestling

This morning I was having breakfast with a few dear friends at Chick-fil-a.

Have you ever heard a more delicious beginning to a story?

We were sitting there communing over spicy chicken biscuits, frosted coffee (it’s ice cream you can have for breakfast!), and other delicious cuisine when we began discussing something that we mutually decided that we didn’t fully understand.  Apparently we must’ve not been too quiet because a man came up to our table and began to “explain” the topic that we had been wrestling with together.  He was speaking very confidently and using large hand gestures to reinforce his point.

In that moment, we did what people do when someone gives them unwanted explanation.  We waited until he was finished and nodded saying “that’s interesting, thanks.”  As he began to walk away, he looked back and said, “I’m a minister to men.”  I guess what he probably didn’t realize was that the four guys he was talking to are also identified as ministers by church title.  Of course, all followers of Jesus are called to be ministers to others.  Stating that he was a minister as he was walking away seemed to be his way of expressing that he was some sort of authority on the matter.  It was frustrating to me, but I couldn’t really understand why in the moment.

Whether or not this man was correct in his explanation is beside the point.  I guess I was bothered because sometimes we, especially those of us who are referred to as ministers, pastors, or teachers, can try and explain away the mystery of God.

Growing up in church is different than growing up outside the church and coming to faith later.  For me, growing up in church was an exercise in knowing about God.  I believed that I could know everything about God.  I believed that there was someone out there in the world who knew more about God than anyone else, some sort of super Christian or God’s right hand man.  In a way I believed that God delighted in people knowing his stats much like how I can recite the names and numbers of obscure former Tennessee Titans players.  I looked at my dad and thought, “He probably knows more about God than most anyone else, after all, he has a couple degrees in the Bible.  He carries around a Bible with an ancient language in it.”  I looked at my youth minister and thought, “He must know a lot about God, he teaches us twice a week!”

So going to a Bible college myself to study the Bible seemed like a great way to fill my brain with knowledge about God.  Surely that was pleasing to God.  A few years in to my studies in college, I had a harsh, semi-painful realization.  More study of the Bible was not answering all my questions, it was providing more difficult questions that were not as easy to answer.  There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

Looking back, I can identify this as a period of some faith “deconstruction.”  Deconstruction is a word that I had never heard used as a healthy thing regarding faith.  Wouldn’t you want your faith to be constantly constructing!?  Always building taller and taller so that it may reach new heights?  I think this period of deconstruction is natural and happens to all of us in one way or another.  Luckily for me, I did then and still do find myself in communities that are affirming of my questions.

Think about all the times people asked questions of Jesus.  Time and time again people come to Jesus asking questions.  These questions have all kinds of motives, some seeking, some to trap him, and some rhetorical.  Time and time again, Jesus does not answer these questions with a concrete answer that removes the mystery, but instead Jesus answers with another question, tells a story, or remains silent.  Jesus was not a cookie cutter, fill-in-the-blank teacher.  Jesus was a teacher who asked probing questions with which His followers wrestled.

As a community of Christ followers, we must give both ourselves and each other space to have questions and not have answers.  Naturally this is terrifying because we are an anxious people who need to know everything all the time.  That’s why Google is a thing, right?  So we can just Google anything that we don’t know.  And even more than in other realms of our life, our churches can seem like groups of people with whom we are uncomfortable expressing doubt or posing a tough question.  Here’s the thing about that: people will wrestle with doubt and questions regardless, but will they do that in the context of a people who believe that God is big enough for our questions, or will they have to leave our faith communities to ask their questions? 

We cannot place God in a box.  I am a minister who works in a church, and guess what?  I don’t have all the answers.  I went and got that degree in “Theology and Ministry” and guess what?  I am right there wrestling with everyone else.

So let’s try something.  And I’ll try and do this as well.  Next time someone expresses a question or doubt, let’s not be so quick to answer.  Life following God is a mystery.  Let’s spend some time in awe of the mystery of the Almighty God.  I think we will find that there is a blessing in wrestling with God.

-Michael

 

 

 

 

AN ASIDE:

What is it with Chick-fil-a and people trying to explain deep mysteries of God with lackingly short and easy quips?  I once overheard a man at Chick-fil-a attempt to explain the Holy Trinity to a 12-year-old using the metaphor of a buffalo sauce packet.  Don’t get me wrong, I love buffalo sauce, but I think even buffalo sauce in all of its splendor pales in comparison to the Holy Trinity.

COMMUNITY. WE NEED IT.

So this summer, I’ve learned a lot. A lot about youth ministry, about life on the inside of a church, and a whole lot about myself. I’ve learned some of my strengths, that some things that I thought were strengths of mine are not quite to strength level, and I’ve discovered a lot about how I interact with people. I’ve also learned a lot about doing things on my own. Being away from home for a few months will do that. The more I have been on my own, the more I have realized that is not what God intended. God made us to be relational beings. From the beginning of time on this Earth, that has been evident.

 Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”

In Genesis 2, God was talking about a woman, but I think this rule applies in every case. Not just that every man needs a woman, or wife (in fact, I really feel like the church does a terrible job with singleness, but that sounds like a different thought for a different time), but that every person needs another person. AT LEAST ONE. Some people need more than that.

Luckily, I have found people here in the area with whom I have gotten to share in community with. Everyone, wherever they are, needs people who care about them, and people that they care about. I have been fortunate to find that here in California, and I am even more fortunate to have the awesome support system that I have back in Nashville. That is what I look forward to most about returning to my homeland in a week. If you ask, I would tell you that I’m excited for the fall semester to start. That doesn’t mean that I’m excited for the 8 am classes, the tests, the papers, and the absurd amount of books I’m supposed to read (which reminds me, I still need to purchase those). What I’m excited for is the opportunity to build on the relationships that have already begun and to form the relationships still to be created.

Acts chapter 4 lays the blueprint for the life of a church.

32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.”

What we have is not our own. Living in community with others helps us realize that. It’s one thing to hold on to your possessions when you don’t have any friends who go without. We (speaking to myself here) need to be in conversation and in life with those who are in need. It’s easy to help our friends, not as easy to help those we don’t know.

Over the weekend, I got to hang out with an awesome group of guys. On Friday we hit up Santa Cruz and San Francisco on Saturday. These guys are like me – they’re not perfect. It was great being around 4 other guys for those two days. Yes, we were seeing awesome sights and experiencing amazing places, but I would’ve still had a great time if we had just sat in the living room and hung out for two days. The constant good-natured teasing and joking, the conversations only a group of college age guys have, and the comradery among us was just what I needed.

In conclusion, we need community. We need other people to care about. We need other people to care about us. But above all, we desperately need Jesus, or none of this matters.

ALSO.

I have a great friend, Drue, who authored a beautiful piece on his blog regarding this same topic. You should check it out if you’ve got the time. “I was created to… COMMUNE

Also, I have grown quite fond of the band Rend Collective.  On their 2013 album, Campfire, they filmed a video on the making of their album and the community brought on by a campfire. It’s about six minutes long, so you should watch it if you haven’t. “The Campfire Story