Schematics

In general, I like to plan things.  I like to know what’s going to happen next.  Even when I was younger, I preferred to have some direction in my life as to where I was headed. When I didn’t have clear directions, I would become frustrated.  Even today, I would prefer it if Siri would tell me the next two steps instead of just one when using GPS.

This is not only true in driving.  It applies in every area of life.  If you have a goal, of any kind, it’s useless without a plan to get there.  If you have a direction, it should determine your days, how you spend your time.  That is the importance of setting goals. But goals come from a vision that God will give you.

For followers of Jesus, sometimes we make this much muddier than it needs to be.  We can fall into a trap of praying for God’s will to be revealed to us while twiddling our thumbs and never really doing anything.

In Proverbs, a really wise man wrote:

“People make plans in their hearts. But the Lord controls what they say. Everything a man does might seem right to him. But the Lord knows what that man is thinking. Commit to the Lord everything you do. Then your plans will succeed.”

Just a bit later, he adds another statement:

“In your heart you plan your life. But the Lord decides where your steps will take you.”

From these two statements I know a few things are true.

  1. Plans for life come from the heart.
  2. Plans only succeed if I commit them to God (a matter of my heart, that He will weigh out, because He knows my thoughts).
  3. God decides where my steps will take me while that plan is being worked out.

There seems to be the idea here that I’m not going to plan out every step, but if I’ve committed what the plan is to God, and allow Him to weigh my motives out to make sure my thoughts are more in line with His, then I can trust Him to take me where He wants me.  I may not know every detail along the way, every little turn, every person I may have to interact with, or task I’m going to be asked to accomplish, but I know that ultimately He will be guiding me.

While I was thinking about this, the word “schematic” popped into my head.  And, I wanted a better idea of just what a schematic is.  So, I did what any 21st century kid would do, hopped on my bike, went to the library, searched the card catalog…of course not.  I went to Wikipedia:

A schematic, or schematic diagram, is a representation of the elements of a system using abstract, graphic symbols rather than realistic pictures. A schematic usually omits all details that are not relevant to the information the schematic is intended to convey, and may add unrealistic elements that aid comprehension. For example, a subway map intended for riders may represent a subway station with a dot; the dot doesn’t resemble the actual station at all but gives the viewer information without unnecessary visual clutter.

And isn’t that the truth?

God gives us what we need “without unnecessary visual clutter”.  He allows us to stay focused on Him, to tune our hearts to His heart, and He takes us on a wild journey.  All we have to do is trust Him.  He guides our steps.  He reveals things to us as we need them.

So, what are your plans?  Do they reflect His heart?  Do you trust Him to guide your steps?

What I do see in all of this, that there should be movement in my life if I am a follower of Jesus.  Followers, after all, follow.

 

connected

Family Reminders

We recently led several families in a service we call “Parent/Child Dedication”. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things that we do at Journey.  (You can read more about that here.)  I was reminded of few things this time around though:

Parents can change the story for their family.

When parents begin asking questions about how to lead their children spiritually, it alters the future of their family.  The journey begins as those answers are put into action.  We have the opportunity to change the journey of our kids starting today.  I was reminded yesterday that while there are generational curses, there are also generational blessings.  Parents can change the destiny of their children and grandchildren.

 Everyone in the family has a part to play.

Just as the church is a body made up of many parts with everyone having a part, the family is a unit that functions best when each member contributes to the whole.  Even older siblings can play a part in the spiritual development of other siblings.  It was a beautiful thing to witness sisters committing themselves to teach their new baby brother about loving others.

Families need other families.

The church can make a commitment to help families.  Parents also need other parents to walk through life together with them, to lean on, and to speak truth into their lives and into the lives of their kids.  There are no perfect parents.  But as parents, we can learn a lot from each other. We all do better when we have people we care about holding us to our dreams and commitments and to our walk with Christ.

 

I know in the years ahead as my kids grow up that I want other adults involved in their lives.  I want them to know that mom and dad are walking out their faith but so are other families.  We are part of a larger community of followers and  together we can forever change the lives of others in our city, nation, and world as we follow Jesus through life together.

“It’s Kind of a Cute Story” – Takeaways from the Book

ItsKindOfACuteStory-FrontCoversmall

 

It’s no secret I enjoy nearly all things Disney.  I enjoy the parks, the movies, and the commitment to excellence woven throughout all of their projects. So, when I come across a book that reveals a bit more about some of the people that helped establish the company in it’s early years, I like to put it on my reading list.

Most recently, I read It’s Kind of a Cute Story, written by Roland Crump and Jeff Heimbuch.  Roland, known as Rolly, was one of the early Imagineers who worked first at the animation studios, and then at WED.

While it’s filled with tons of interesting stories, there are some takeaways as well.  As always, whenever you set out to read a book, you should also make a point to learn something from it.  Don’t waste the investment, right?

Here’s a few ideas/quotes:

 “If it’s a ton of fun and an ounce of information you’ll reach the teachable moment.”  – Dr. Charles Lewis, on working on EPCOT

Without going into the great history of EPCOT (what it was going to be and what it now is), this singular idea was the driving force for the project.    It’s a similar idea to what we see in kids educational television today.  A simple idea, or a basic truth, wrapped in a creative, engaging method or form can have an amazing impact.  This applies to kids, students, and adults.  By no means does this mean you can present a “watered down truth” in your kids ministry.  It actually means the opposite.  It means you have to find the one, singular, most important idea, and present it in a memorable way.  This is one of the reasons I like Orange curriculum, among others, for kids at Journey.  Blowing up soda  or sliming your small group leader can, in fact, have eternal value.

 “Every student is different.  You have to talk to them differently because everyone has different styles…Don’t make them do a project that would be hard for them to grasp.  You have to get their confidence up first and then nudge them along into these new areas.”

There are many ways to apply this idea.  I think it applies to a new believer growing in his/her faith, helping him to see the successful simple steps.  Trusting God in the small things leads to trusting Him in bigger things.  He leads in steps so we should shepherd the same way.  We can also see the value in applying this to the teams we lead.  When someone begins serving on our ministry team, we have to celebrate the success along the way, and where they excel in areas.

We have help people walk out in their gifts.  Then, we can confidently go into anything that God is calling us to.  I’ve seen this first hand.  We recently had a kids’ team leader from Journey make the step to move to Uganda to help deaf children.  When I talked with her, I asked, “Six years ago, would you imagine that you would be doing this?”  “Never, “ she said.  But saying yes to the steps along the way prepared her for this amazing new adventure.

  “He had a vision, he knew exactly what it was going to be and how he was going to get there.  It was almost like he’d slice through it and he knew every ingredient that was there because he lived it himself to create it.” – speaking of Walt Disney

We have to believe God for a bigger vision.  I’m always amazed at what people can do when they have a clear vision. So, we should pray for this in our own lives.  It doesn’t mean you’ll end up building a theme park.  But having God’s vision for your life certainly means you’ll live the abundant life He promises.

 “No matter the project, Walt clearly saw its common denominator.  He recognized the essential skills and talents of people he assigned to work on his projects.  He always picked the right people.  He never talked down to you.  He always spoke your language and he always kept your interests in mind.  It amazed me how he could talk to anyone about anything, without skipping a beat, and with perfect sincerity.”

In everything, no matter who you are, it’s always about people.

 

 

*I should note that while the book is a fun read, it has some objectionable language and  material.  Please use discretion for that reason.

Full Time Student

No, I didn’t go back to school.  But I am still a student. 

I think it’s important that if you want to stay sharp and not become “comfortable” in your job, relationships, or other areas of life, that you always seek to find ways to improve yourself.

We easily apply this to some aspects of life already, but not everyone makes the connection into other, perhaps more critical areas.  For example, I’ve yet to meet someone who was okay with their financial standing or savings.  Everyone I know is seeking ways to save more or make more.  I’ve never met anyone who felt they had arrived at their goal physically.  Everyone I know is continually running new races, dieting, or exercising.  They want to be better.

So if we are ready to make ourselves better in these areas, why limit ourselves?  Jesus wants to change our life, not just pieces of it.

Here’s a few of the things I do:

Daily Reading and Prayer

There’s an old song kids used to sing in church.  The lyrics simply said, “If you read your Bible, pray every day, then you’ll grow, grow, grow!  Neglect your Bible forget to pray, and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink!”  As a follower of Jesus, I know I cannot find God’s will for my life each day apart from His Word and apart from Him.  This one thing (which is really THE thing) will build stronger relationships in my life, and also give me wisdom in every single decision I will ever make.

Exercise

Before I turned 30, I wanted to build a routine and habit of exercise.  I was frustrated that I had not done so already.  So, in the thirty days leading to my 30th birthday I went to the gym every single day.  Now, I have built a habit of going for at least 5 days a week.

Reading

I am always learning by reading.  I read leadership books, ministry books, and biographies.  I can learn about people through fictional books.  I read so many different kinds of books but I always decide that I want to learn something from every book I read.  I don’t always know what the lesson will be, but if I know to look for it when I read, I’ll find it.

Asking Questions

The only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.  If you don’t know, ask.  Now, I think it’s important who you ask as much as what you ask.  We have a great team at Journey and I enjoy asking questions to see what others are doing.  I also have other kid’s pastors in the area that I meet up with and talk to.   There is a coaching network I have been a part of for a few years called Infuse led by Jim Wideman.  That has been a huge blessing to me and has helped me learn so much from people who are in the trenches doing the same thing I do but all over the country.

Dreaming

Sure we dream when we sleep but why not dream when we’re awake?  It’s so important to ask God for vision in your life and dream about what it could look like.  He’ll confirm what ideas are His, which ones He will give you permission to do, and which ones might need to be reserved for someone else.  I think of David who had the dream to build a temple for the people of God to worship Him in.  That was a good dream to have but God said it was for David’s son, Solomon, to complete.

 

These are a few things, but certainly not an exhaustive list.

What do you do to keep yourself as a full time student?

Writing for Life Groups

Recently I began assisting our church’s spiritual growth team in writing small group discussion guides for many of our Life Groups.  At Journey, we place strong emphasis on the idea that your faith grows best in the context of community.  In a group setting, followers can encourage each other and speak truth.

At some point, we adopted the conversational dialogue of:

  • Introduction
  • Observation
  • Understanding
  • Application

I’m sure we didn’t come up with it on our own.  Chances are we got it from somewhere or adapted it from something.  The truth is, it can be difficult to “plan” how a conversation will go.  After all, conversation operates best when it is free flowing, from one topic to the next.  Language is organic.

At the same time, in the context of guiding everyone to a certain goal or conclusion, there has to be a map or guide to keep everyone on track together.

The Introduction:

Generally 10 minutes, the introduction serves to get everyone engaged and talking from the beginning.  It should be fun, light hearted, and can even be a game or movie clip.  In the olden days of “youth group” we called this the icebreaker.  And if discussion is an exercise (and it is sometimes) this is the warm-up.

The Observation:

I like to break this section into two parts.  After all, we could observe something from many angles.  In college, I took several courses on critical theory.  That’s a fancy way of saying everyone has an opinion and nobody thinks they are wrong.  So, in the observation section we want to talk about what people think or how they respond, and then also see what God says.  Because, Biblically speaking, there are really just two viewpoints: God’s and man’s.

  • Man’s Viewpoint:

What do people in society (not necessarily people in this group) think about a particular idea?  Why do they think that?  How has it played out in the lives of other people?  Sometimes it’s easier to determine what we think about something by observing the antithesis or confirmation of our own viewpoint.  But it’s not our viewpoint that ultimately matters.  So, that brings us to the second part of the observation.

  • God’s Viewpoint:

Opening God’s Word gives us a 100% guarantee to know what He says, right? So,  what does God say about it?  Here we look in God’s Word for context about what He has said or done.  What truth has He brought to the table?  What has He said about it in the past, and by default, the present?  A simple follow up question will often cause a “duh” reaction, but even this is important.  Do we really hear what He said, or did we filter His words through our own ideas?

The Understanding:

I think most groups can survive pretty well until they get to this point.  Now, everyone might start feeling just how uncomfortable his or her chairs are.  Someone’s looking at his watch.  She’s thinking about that one thing at work tomorrow.  This is the hurdle point.  This is where some people will either shut down or become completely alive.

Knowing what others believe or how they behave is easy.  Reading what God says is also easy, especially if you tell me what specifically to read.  Getting me to understand it, and understand it beyond the intellectual understanding, but to truly understand it in my heart—that requires, quite literally, an act of God.  Thank God for the Holy Spirit who reveals that truth to us.

Understanding is where we try to move the conversation from knowing something in our mind to believing it in our heart.  What was the truth presented there? Do I agree with God’s Word?  Have there been things in my life that makes me question that?  Does His Word confirm it for me? Has God’s Word shifted my thinking at all?  After reading what God’s Word says, does it shift my view of others, of my relationships?  What would it look like if everyone lived the way that God’s Word just described?

We might ask some hypotheticals, but really this understanding moves us to a point where it’s just me and God.  And He’s looking at my life, and I’m looking to Him.  This staring contest leads to the question that is most pivotal: What am I going to do about it now?

The Application:

We also refer to this as “My Response” because ultimately that’s what matters.  Jesus tells us that foolish people hear His words and don’t act on them.  But a wise man listens to His words and acts out the truth he just heard.  This is putting faith into action, truth into shoes, and is the Christ in us that He wants us to be.

Spiritual growth in any small group, in any individual, cannot happen outside of this response.  In Hebrews, chapter 11, we see a list of people who walked in faith, who lived out the truth they knew, and each involves an incredible action.  Noah was confronted with the truth that God was going to rescue him and Noah responded.  Moses was confronted with truth that he should lead God’s people and he responded. We see it over and over again.

So the question “what am I going to do about it now?” is the single most important question.  If I answer it, my life is forever changed.  If I ignore it, I’m deciding to be a fool.  And everyone decides at some point.  As shepherds, we have to ask the question of ourselves, and ask those in our care to ask the question of themselves as well.

 

So, that’s the process we use.  I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go about it or not.  For now, it seems to be working but I’m always looking for a better way.

(Disney would say, “That’s good.  Let’s plus it!” which is to say, make it better.)

Thinking Orange

I never had any formal training in children’s ministry.  (I don’t think it exists, really.  That’s another conversation.)  My study was actually in student ministry.  I had worked at children’s camps, been involved with children’s ministry, but never considered it to be something I desired to do.  But one day, I was sitting in a church in Pittsburgh, and it clicked.  It more than clicked. It was a loud boom.  “If you care about students, you have to care about children.  If you care about children, you have to care about students.  You have to care about families.  You have to care about people. It’s what you were made to do.”  God directed some steps and here I am.

It was five years ago when I first went to the Orange Conference.  I was hooked from that point forward.  Orange is nothing new.  Thinking about how to engage families, how to equip parents and release them to disciple their kids is a biblical concept.  Yet, it’s spoken so clearly and with such intention and strategy in the Orange world that you can’t help but recognize “this is BIG”.

In 2007, there was no Think Orange book so the conference book was all we had to go home and continue to think about the heart of the home combining with the light of the world, the church.

All of it was new to me at the time.  A group of people, passionate about the church partnering with parents, empowering the family, and igniting the passion already built into the family to disciple kids and love them they way Jesus intended.  Wow.

As a church we have come a long way.  As churches we have come a long way.  But this is something bigger than any one church, or any one program, or any one strategy.  This is about a generation knowing Christ and pursuing Him, making Him famous in this world.

And I am so thankful for this wild ride God called me to be a part of.

Orange 2007 Notes and Conference Book

 

Orange is more than a curriculum...2012

 

FUSION: Create a Rhythm

FUSION is our family worship experience for kids and parents.  It all goes down on Friday, April 20th at 7pm (doors open at 6:30pm).

We’ve even had a celebrity (of sorts) weigh in on the event!  Make plans to be there!  (Seriously…right now…mark it on your calendar or you’ll forget.)

 

Easter: He’s alive?!

Yesterday, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. I love this because it’s guaranteed that we are going to explain Jesus’ sacrifice and what it meant for us in our Journey Kids environments.  We often talk about it throughout the year here and there.  Jesus and His Word is always at the center of what we do.  But we really got to spend some time on it yesterday.

Whitney and I were talking about the morning and one story she shared really stuck with me.  Whitney leads the worship time in our second service with our MiNi CiTy (preschool) age kids.  It’s always a blast, and a party to see kids worshiping God and learning about His love for them.  Whitney would ask, “What is Easter about?” One girl, about 4 years old, would say “Jesus died.” Whitney would ask the question again a little later and the same response would come from her. “Jesus died” she would say, sadly.  After this happened a few times, Whitney was able to get down beside her, eye to eye, heart to heart, and asked her,

“Hey.  Do you know what today is?”

“Easter.”

“Do you know what Easter is about?”

“Jesus died.”

“Well, that’s true.  And that’s sad.  But did you know that He’s alive?  He came back. He’s risen!”

A smile came across her face and she said, “He’s alive?  He’s alive!”

Somewhere along the way, that girl picked up that Jesus had died for us.  But we celebrate that He is risen!

 

Some other highlights for me from the morning:

  • Our team members who were flexible and willing.  I love people who are willing to change rooms, and jump into places they might not normally be.  They get what it’s really all about!
  • Kids engaging with the story of the empty tomb.  It’s a wonderful thing to see on the faces of children.
  • Leaders cheering when we find out that the tomb was empty!
  • Breaking down what sin is and how Jesus paid the price for us.
  • Celebrating in worship!  Yesterday in UPTOWN we sang, “God is Alive”, “Take Heart – John 16:33″ and “Happy Day”.  TheBLOCK and MiNI CiTy sang “Hosanna Rock”, “Good Good Friend” and “We Can Praise Jesus”
  • Answering questions about what Jesus did.
  • A girl holding up her Bible, and pointing to pictures of what I was teaching about.
  • Seeing a room full of second and third graders being prayed for by their leader.

There are many, many more stories from the morning that I could share.  So many people did so much to make yesterday special.

 

The Dailies

Your daily walk with God is not only to build your relationship with Christ, but also to build your relationships with other believers and other people.  It enables you to have a connection with another person in a way all together unique to Christians.  There is an element of matching another person, understanding another follower, spiritually, to establish and maintain that connection.

Iron sharpens iron.  So, it’s true also that when followers of Jesus gather together, in group life, or on the weekend, or to simply eat together, it should not only be about doing what other social groups do but by doing what Christians are called to do with each other: build each other up and edify one another.

So, when we shrug off our time in God’s word and in prayer to Him, we in effect shrug off the influence of other believers in our lives.  We say we are better without them.  We say we don’t need this great body of Christ that God has built up.  We hinder ourselves in not realizing the full potential of Christ in us.

And it must be daily.  In Exodus, God teaches the Israelites in the wilderness about that very thing.  He makes specific rules regarding the manna (bread) He would send each morning.  Gather enough for that day only.  You can’t save it for the next day.  It will get worms.  You can’t take more than you need on any given day.  So, it’s true with reading our daily bread (God’s Word).  Each day, every day, has enough trouble.  So, stay close to God’s Word each day, every day.

Let’s cling to the word, hide it fast in our hearts, and be eager to speak it to one another.

I Skipped Church on Sunday

Okay – I didn’t really “skip church”.  I went to church, just not my church.

Yesterday, I went to visit another church in the RDU area – Summit Church.  I had the great privilege of hanging out with Jeremy Pollard, the children’s pastor there. After spending a few days in Tennessee learning from other children’s pastors all over the country (through a coaching network called Infuse), I thought it would be good to make a few more connections right here at home.

It’s always good to visit other places and get ideas.  It helps you evaluate what you already have.  I can see positives, and ways we can improve. I learned about their organization, policies, and more.  I love getting together with other children’s pastors and talking about ministry.  Sometimes we can get wrapped up in our own “church world” that we forget God is at work across the street too.

In any organization, it’s good to see what others are doing in the same field.  Now, in the world of business, this is usually done to scope out the competition and see what’s coming.  For us, it couldn’t be further from that.

A few years ago, I saw an interview with John Lasseter, head of Pixar.  He was asked about Dreamworks’ animation projects and some other studios that were revamping their animation studios to compete.  Was he worried?  Was he fearful someone else might do it better?

He actually said he welcomed the interest in animation.  If they were producing good stories, and good animation, then it would actually advance the entire field, because each studio would be challenging another to  be better.  As audiences saw more animated movies that were done with high quality, it would actually benefit everyone.  So, why not?

He didn’t see it as a competition.  He saw it as a way to better himself and his own studio.

I love visiting other churches because it makes us better.  I have a notebook full of notes – things to start thinking about, things we should stop doing, things we should start doing, and more.

In anything you do, be a life-long learner.  I never want to get to a place where I can say “I’ve figured it out!”  That’s a few steps away from tripping over a pride rock.

(Yes…that was a subtle “Lion King” reference…)