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We are in the middle of moving to a new house, which is truly quite a blessing, but  in true Morgan style we had to paint before we moved in. Eleven hours of priming and painting plus packing and lugging boxes for two days now, boy am I fried.  All that and we (all three of us) are going to our weekend youth group retreat...talk about needing momentum! -ok, bad Segway :) But there are not many of us who haven't felt the break screeching and as hard as we try, we can't seem to drum up the energy to move forward.  Or maybe you are ready to roll, but not everyone in your life is on board.  If you know where you are headed, uninterrupted momentum is a precious commodity. I am excited about this series on momentum!

Student Ministry

With the time we have with our students, we all have a longing to see each of them grow and become everything that God has for them.  We also long to see our youth groups become counter-cultural communities, places of transcendence where students can become a part of a movement = something that is greater than themselves and that is making a difference in our communities and, as a result, the world.

Glimpses of Momentum
I must confess that my least favorite part of youth ministry is coming home after a mission trip.  Students, on these get-aways, have finally begun to live the way of Jesus.  They actually have embraced a spirit-filled life.  But now we get to go back to the noise of our lives.  And over the years I've wondered, how do we take what we experienced on this trip, and duplicate it back home?  We've all thought this...

A few weeks ago I was the speaking to a pretty large youth group.  There were a few hundred in the room and the atmosphere, as you can imagine, was electric with anticipation. There's nothing like a room full of teenagers... absolutely nothing like it!  

Before I spoke there was a very entertaining program: hilarious welcome by the interns, a large group game, engaging and fun announcement video, dynamic worship... you know, the basic youth group stuff typical of today.  The crazy thing is that the youth pastor asked me to come and talk about how the faith is actually a movement.  

See, she had noticed that this large group had grown stale, that they were stuck.  She felt like what they were doing should have been more effective:  she said, "we entertain, we give great information, we provide a space to hear the gospel and encounter God's presence, and we build friendships and community."  The reality though, was that she believed it wasn't actually leading to much of anything.  Her fear was that none of it was leading to true transformation or creating youth group wide momentum.  She and her team were longing for more.

What I found was this:  her students were also longing for more.  What she was feeling was right on the money.  The students also were tired of sitting in the room and just talking about the faith.  They were tired of having isolated experiences with God (for the most part - just on trips) = they wanted more.  They knew, in their minds and because they were told, that God was on the move => and they wanted the God of the Bible.  They wanted to see God do something, anything, today.  They didn't just want stories about the gloried past, they wanted stories of the here and now.  They longed for a vibrant intellectual and spiritual existence that was rooted deeply in a community of people who were actively participating in what God was doing, NOW.  

The youth workers of this community and the students themselves all wanted the same thing.  I actually think it is the cry of all humanity.  We are all longing for what was lost in the beginning.  

What this group ended up doing was just one thing.  I challenged them to start a movement by praying.  And they are actually doing it - They became a praying community and it is literally changing everything.  

I think that must be the beginning of momentum = prayer.  Desperate pleas for God to bring peace to troubled minds, joy to the heavy hearted, and calling to the purposeless.  Prayer leads us back to God's heart.  And not just prayer by the leadership.  The students MUST be a part of this!

What if youth ministries became vibrant prayerful communities that sought to create sanctuary and mission?  I believe students are longing for both. 

I have to head back to carrying some boxes, but this is just the beginning.  
See you next week!

 
 
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I hate when it happens, and it happens too frequently.  I can almost predict when it's about to happen.  Someone gets up in front of the whole group, on the last night of a retreat, and says something to the effect of, "We've been here in an unreal world, but now we getting ready to go back home to the real world."  Whenever this happens, I'm always tempted to get up and say, "Wrong! What they just said is completely false..."  But I never do, because I'm not a jerk, at least not on the last night of camp =)  So I've been taking preemptive strikes recently. 
 
This coming weekend we are taking our DC youth group away for the 4 day weekend.  On the last night I'm going to say something like, "All weekend we've been up here experiencing true reality, where the divisions and barriers between us have dissipated.  Where we have been sharing our hearts together, praying for each other, worshipping God without fear of judgment, opening the Scriptures together, and we've slowed down long enough so that we have become aware of God's overwhelming presence.  This has been the the real world, this has been true reality, we're getting ready to go back to an illusion."

But I know what will happen, we will all get into the vans and head back home and the cell phones will come out and the students will get off the bus and they'll hit the ground running right back to the noise of their lives. Unless.  Unless something happens.

Over the next few posts I'll be exploring, with the help of some friends, this idea of creating momentum in our ministries.  How we might capitalize on getting away with our students and opening them up to what a spiritual life actually looks like back home.  Addressing how we might go back and initiate some things that began on our retreat.
  
But a word of caution: this might end up causing us to rethink some things.  
Where we'll need to come back and make some vital ministry change. 
This could be fun!  See you tomorrow =)

 
 
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I thought I'd post this important article that came out of The Washington Post recently.  I keep seeing ministers getting killed from both sides because there are toxic people all around them.  I really do think that some of this could be avoided with smart and thoughtful hiring.  So, below is an article to help us understand why our work place might be a difficult one and how to hire in a way that might lead to health.


By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Every workplace has them. The colleague who bad-mouths you behind your back at the water cooler. The boss who takes credit for everyone else's ideas. The sexist jerk people actively avoid by taking circuitous routes to the printer and lying about their happy hour plans.

These employees are the bane of American enterprise and they're everywhere. Not only are they detrimental to a company's morale, they are extremely costly to its bottom line and can do far more harm to an organization than outliers at the other extreme — the superstar employees — do good. But who are these people exactly? And how are they different from the rest of us?

In a provocative new Harvard Business School working paper, researchers Michael Housman and Dylan Minor crunched data from 50,000 employees at 11 companies to come up with what may be the world's most detailed personality profile of a "toxic worker."

To finish reading this article, click here.

 
 
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If you've read previous posts, then you may know that we've been planning a youth conference for about 9 months now, and the first date is coming up April 15-16.  I can't believe that it's just around the corner!  If you live anywhere near Charlotte, I'd love for you to bring your youth group and be a part of it.  I don't want this to be a commercial, so I'll keep this short.  It really was birthed out of a frustration that I had as a youth worker.  I couldn't seem to find something that fully resonated with my students and truly came along side of them.  It isn't an easy world to grow up in today -> its just so complex!  And I had a really hard time finding the right environments for students to be both challenged intellectually and experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Kids today need both = deep, thoughtful, and relevant teaching plus an understanding what it means to be empowered by God's Spirit - because they are going back to the daily noise of their lives.  This conference is all about marrying the Mind AND the Heart.  I couldn't be more excited about anything, except for maybe a vacation to Italy.  But if you'd like more information for the Charlotte event or for bringing the conference to your region, check it out here. We hope to hear from you!    

 

REMEMBER

01/19/2016

1 Comment

 
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I sat in an old 1970's VW bug not long ago.  Man, it brought back so many awesome memories!  It's funny how all old VW bugs smell the same.  My first car was a 1977 silver beetle and I began saving my money when I was 13 yrs old. By the time I was 15, I had enough to buy it all by myself.  Of course I couldn't drive it for another 6 months until my 16th birthday.  But on the day I got my license, I immediately drove over to my friend Rudy's house to pick him up and hit the road!  We drove for hours all over DC.  We were in heaven - there was such freedom and hope -  we felt legit!  In fact I would say, we were 2 legit 2 quit =)  
Man, I loved that car!  

But to be honest, after a few years I slowly started to hate that thing.  It would break down quite frequently, it was slow, and I kind of wanted to upgrade to a GTI.  I started to forget why I even bought that car at all.

I remember when I first went into youth ministry.  I was 18, almost 19, years old and I was on cloud nine. Right out of the gate I really enjoyed it!  It seemed like a dream job.  I jumped into the game after a season of hardcore seeking - "God what are you calling me to give my life to?" And fortunately I found out early, so all through college I was involved in ministering to young people.  

When I started out,  it brought me so much life and joy - in fact, the first 8 to 12 years was non-stop joy!  But then something happened.  I'm not even sure what it was... maybe it was a combination of things.
Here, let me make a list:
*An extremely low paycheck (with no hope for higher pay anytime soon) and really crappy benefits
*Church staff meetings began to snuff the life out of me
*A tough supervisor who I didn't feel safe with (plus all he cared about were numbers)
*Not having a voice in shaping language and culture church wide
*Students not connecting with the larger church body and getting push back when I would try to implement integration
*The heartbreaking work of kids struggling, hurting themselves, falling into addiction, and walking away from faith
*Not feeling known, understood, or respected by staff and church members (I'd hear the old, "So when are you going to become a real pastor" thing or, "So when you're not in the office, what are you doing?" Ugh!)
*Never feeling safe to take time off to recharge
*The constant struggle to get the hires and budget that would allow for the growth we were experiencing 

Each of these or a combination to differing degrees of this stuff began to take its toll.
BIG TIME! 
I started to forget why I even got into youth ministry at all.

But honestly, I never got tired of sleeping on the floor at camp or on a mission trip (thank God for inflatable mattresses). I never got tired of going to students' games/recitals or listening to them at a coffee shop or dealing with and supporting struggling parents.  I never got tired of daily pursuing students in the midst of the noise and busyness of their lives.  I never got tired of their questions and doubts.  All of that was fine, even great.  But the list of the above other stuff was leaving me with little joy. 
I had serious thoughts about becoming a car salesman. 

A number of years ago on a Wednesday afternoon I began setting up for youth group, like every week, and out of nowhere I started having a panic attack. Now I knew it was a panic attack because I'm a youth worker... I work with students who have them.  But me?  Crazy!  But this would happen from time to time for about 2 months.  Finally I went and got some counseling.  And, by the way, it helped me significantly!  But I couldn't believe that ministry, which had started out so wonderful and life giving, had turned out to bring me overwhelming stress and hardship. 

I began thinking about the environment students were/are living in and why they are having stress and many having regular panic attacks.  I wanted to know if I was living and thinking similar to the students I was trying to help.  
Students today:
Feel hopeless - So how is my hope?
They are full of fear- What am I afraid of?
They feel undue and ridiculous pressure - What kind of pressure am I feeling?
They are believing lies about themselves - What lies have I begun to believe?
They have forgotten who they REALLY are - In the midst of all of this, have I forgotten who I am?  
They are living daily in an environment (school, friends, family, teachers) where they don't feel safe - Am I living in a similar environment?
The enemy is trying to steal life from them - Have I forgotten that there even is an enemy?
They aren't feeding their souls - Do I have a daily/weekly/monthly rhythm that feeds my soul?


I needed to evaluate everything about my life.
I needed to remember some things that I had once known, but had fallen by the way. 

When I sat in that VW Bug I was reminded how I had once lived so freely and lightly. I began to remember the truth about the story I was living.

I spoke at a camp a couple of weeks ago and a student asked me during a Q&A time how I first got into youth ministry.  I started telling them story after story and we were laughing and then there were even moments of warm beautiful emotion -> just remembering how it all began.   
Sometimes we have to remember because sometimes we forget.

When I started getting my life back together after that season of extreme stress, I needed to get back to the heart of what life really is about.  I also needed to make some hard decisions.  I may even have had to quit my job so that I could live out my true calling to students.  

Youth Ministry isn't easy.  In fact, it's really hard.  But man I love it and sometimes I have to be reminded of that.  I know why you are pouring out all of your time and energy and passion for students.  I get it.  You're called.  And this calling,  it's divine.  

Don't let the noise of life or anything else take it from you.  Live life well and remember.  Remember that God's hand is upon you.  That you are favored and anointed and he's given you a voice that this generation needs to hear. Sit in his amazing peace today.  Sit in his presence.  Life is good. It's full of so many good things. Remember.

 
 
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Frustration

I have been frustrated by church in recent years.  Well, I guess I should say that I’ve been frustrated by church for the most of my life.  It began with my parent’s Christian rock band in the 1970’s when churches would burn their records outside of the coliseums, while thousands of teenage hippies were joining the movement of following Jesus. These young, brand new Jesus freaks would leave the stadiums alive in Christ, but found a dead church outside of it. Every week the band would sing their hits and introduce young people to the God who literally received and accepted them as they were.  But the churches they'd visit the next day would try to get them to cut their hair. My parent’s band struggled with a broken heart as churches were condemning their brand of music. Fortunately, as their band gathered momentum something amazing happened.  The great Billy Graham came to their rescue when he started inviting them to play at his crusades, placing his stamp of approval on this ragtag Jesus-loving rock-n-roll band. But the damage had been done, at least in my heart.  

Desiring Much More

My parents eventually left the band, became youth pastors and then lead pastors… and the movement seemed to cease.  Of course we’d see glimpses of Jesus, but it rarely ran out of the church building and into our communities. And what this season in our lives did was place in me a longing to be a part of something great - a large movement of young people actually doing the faith, living this thing out.  

I remember when all of this came to a head in my mind.  To be honest this was not really a purely motivated exploration of my faith.  At the time I had started getting caught up into some naughty things with girls, and I quite liked it. I'm mean, who doesn't? =)  
Truly the Church was not pulling at me and I felt it had little to offer.  However, in retrospect, I believe this journey in my thinking was completely from God. God knew I had grown weary of religion. 

Revelation

So one morning I had hiked way out into the woods by myself when this thought flooding my mind.  “If this is the faith, I don't really want it. But if Christianity is like the Bible, full of riots and revival, then I’m in.  But if it's not, then I’ll take parties and girls.”  

I stood at the foot of this small trickling river and prayed for the real deal.  Now in telling you this, it may sound like rubbish, but at that very moment a passage of scripture came flooding into my mind - Psalm 85:6-13 - I just knew it was from God. 

I had literally no idea what this scripture said, but I just knew it was for me at this very moment.  I ran a couple of miles through the forest towards my car and drove back to my college as fast as I could.  Running into my dorm room I grabbed my Bible and opened it to the passage and read:

Psalm 85
Will you not revive us again,
  that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
   and grant us your salvation.
I will listen to what God the Lord says;
   he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants--
   but let them not turn to folly.
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him
    and prepares the way for his steps.

Breakthrough

It sounds strange, but this was one of those moments; a real turning point for me.  I read this passage and just wept. The scriptures spoke directly to my longing for more. The psalmist is asking God for revival, so that once again the people can rejoice in God. 

Later that night I remember telling a friend how God had given me this passage earlier in the woods. But he just didn't quite get it - he thought it was a coincidence. I remember looking at him and saying, “Yeah, it might be a coincidence. It's likely that it in fact is. But if it isn’t, then this changes everything for me.”

Change of Gears

Last April we began a new ministry called Generation514. It has been all consuming for us and at times, extremely difficult, but we haven't felt this alive in years.  Ultimately we are trying to raise up next generation leaders to instigate and influence change for the common good, all over the world. I’m so excited about it that I can barely sleep at night!  One of the programs we are launching is, The Amazing Next Conference.  It's for 8th-12th grade students - it's a regional gathering that is both highly intellectual and absolutely spiritual. A conference that engages the heart AND the mind and calls young people back to the movement of God’s work here on earth.  Heck, there's even youth worker training at it.  We just want to see whole youth groups go back home feeling like they just can't continue to function the same anymore.

We know that to make impact in this world, one must be intellectually savvy and yet completely empowered by the Holy Spirit. I just really believe that we have to get back to an early church brand of christianity.  The cool thing is that this generation is longing for more than what they are seeing and receiving in the church… and so are we. 

Our first conference is April 15-16 in Charlotte and then there are regions trying to bring it to them: Boston, Philly, Houston, San Diego, LA, DC, Tampa, and others.  

I long to see a movement in my life time.  This post-Christian world really needs one -> Not one that leads us back to religion, but back to the heart of Jesus.  "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" 
Amen! 

 
 
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Those of you who know me know that I love movies!  And like many of us, I have been known to love bad movies.  You know, those guilty pleasures that when we're exhausted or home sick we throw on to feel just a little better. Well, I thought I would make a list of my favorite bad movies.  You'll notice a couple of things - first, this is not at all an exhaustive list.  Secondly, I'm a child of the 80's and this is going to be very evident -- many on the list goes back to my growing up years -- but not all of them mind you...  Anyways, here we go!  Enjoy!

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This is one of those movies that initially you think, "oh my goodness, this is a ridiculous and goofy movie."  And it is, so sue me.  All in good fun and you just might enjoy the ride into space.  It does have some great actors: Tim AllenSigourney WeaverAlan RickmanTony ShalhoubSam Rockwell, and Daryl Mitchell. Rain Wilson even has a small role.  This is a really great bad movie!

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OK, so here's a classic!  I don't care what you think, this is a terribly bad yet really fun movie.  Tremors stars Kevin BaconFred WardFinn CarterMichael Gross, and Reba McEntire.  I watched it recently with my 18 year old daughter and she loved it... ok, maybe not loved it, but we had fun watching it together.  It is a bit scary for the little ones (or my wife), but Kevin Bacon is hilarious in it.  I haven't seen Tremors II or III or IV or however many there is, I just couldn't bear it.  But this guilty pleasure is just fun, just don't take yourself too seriously. 

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I remember going into the dorm room with my college girlfriend (soon to be my wife) and a bunch of guys were watching Over the Top.  She couldn't believe that all of these college guys were really into this film.  She then couldn't believe that I refused to go anywhere with her and that I stayed with them to finish watching it!  This really is a bad movie, but there's something about seeing a guy drink a bunch of motor oil just to get ready to throw down for a wrestling match.  Absolutely insane!

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Yes, many Stallone movies could be on this list, I know.  Cobra, Rocky 5, Rambo 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, you get the idea.  

But I saw Tango and Cash when I was a senior in high school with one of my best friends, and we loved it.  It might just be nostalgia, but if this movie is ever on TV, I tend to watch it.  I can't help myself.  The bad guy is ridiculous and the plot is awful. But Kurt Russel is really great American actor and Sylvester Stallone was THE star of the 80's. 
But    It    Is    Really    Bad!

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I've heard a lot of people bash this film.  It tends to always be on the bad movie list.  But I have to agree to disagree... and then agree at the same time. 
The plot of the film follows college professor Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and geologist Harry Block (Orlando Jones) who investigate a meteor crash.  They discover that the meteor is harboring extraterrestrial life which is evolving very quickly into large, diverse and outlandish creatures.  Good times ensue!
Plus you get to see a young Seann William Scott, who was our neighbor at the time.  

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If you were a youth worker in the very early 2000's, then you know about this film.  Every youth group in America was watching it. 
It's a Christian-based comedy romance film about four teenage(ish) guys on a roadtrip that they have been planning their whole lives. Their dreams are to participate in as many extreme sports as possible.  And they do!  Its a really bad movie, but it does have a blue flame scene, so there's that. You can watch it here. Another great thing is that it stars Rufio from Hook.  Classic youth group movie!

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When I saw this as a kid, I thought it was the coolest movie I had ever seen in my life!  But then many years later, when I told my wife that she had to see it, well, it didn't go over very well.  Yes, it is kind of a guys movie but also, she didn't like it because, well, it sucks.  I have a hard time admitting this because I thought it was so cool. 
The most memorable line = Warriors, come out to play!  Here's that scene.  Enough said.

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I've only seen the non TV version of this film one time.  The first time I saw it, I was 17 years old and I sat in between a high school friend and his mother.  Now if you know anything about this movie, there are some raunchy sex scenes.  Needless to say, it was the most awkward and uncomfortable I might have ever felt in my entire life.  I think it took me a month to look that woman in the eyes. Ugh!  But when its on TV, I enjoy it immensely.

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Many probably have never seen this film.  Initially it was supposed to be the first in a series of Remo Williams movies, but this first one didn't do well in the theaters.  
But in the 80's, when people were first getting cable TV, this film was on all of the time. It was a staple of my group of friends.  Remo could even walk on water - so Jesus wasn't the only one =)



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So here's a nod to my daughter.  When I was brain storming movies for this post, I asked my wife and daughter for their thoughts.  Dancin, my daughter, blurted out, "What a Girl Wants! I love that movie, but it's really bad."  
She is right, it is really bad, but her generation (mostly girls) really loves this film. Years ago she even made me sit down and watch it with her.  It is about a father/daughter relationship that does pull on your heart strings a bit... especially for a sappy dad like me.  So it does belong on the list. Plus it is pre-struggle Amanda Bynes.

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This Disney movie is about a cartoonist named Woody who becomes the superhero that he draws. Using his gadgets he helps a Soviet spy defect to the West.  
Now, I've only met one other person who has mentioned seeing this movie, and she loved it and of course we became instant friends. She told me that she showed it to her husband and he hated it.  Well, of course he did, it's an awful movie.  But if you saw it as a kid like I did, you'd have really enjoyed it.  Actually, my daughter is a fan.  I'm raising her right. Here's a quote, only true fans will know, "A double?  Nobody has a double!"

Now, I know I'm missing a lot from the list.  There's just so many aren't there?  Half of the Stallone movies could make up the whole of the list.  Check these out if you are unfamiliar.  These could be your new family classics!
But what movies do you think belong on the list? 
 
 
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When I first started out in ministry I heard people regularly say to me that I was a natural evangelist.  I think they said this because it was the early 90's and kids were coming to Christ every week at our churches youth group.  But it wasn't just at mine, students all around the country were coming to faith at youth groups.  I CAN tell you that nothing brings me more joy than seeing a student open their life up to God (except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe. They’re so perky, I love that :) 

But I have a confession to make: as time went on, I grew weary of evangelism.  In fact, when I hear that someone is an "evangelist," I immediately have a negative feeling about them.  And I think I grew weary of it because of the regular manipulation I was seeing at youth conferences, retreats, and in churches all over the place.  I know I'm not the only one for sure - many youth workers actually began avoiding evangelism all together because of all of that heavy baggage that came with it (not to mention that we were also seeing a lot students walking away from  faith, so discipleship became the main focus for the past 10 plus years).  But recently I have wondered if the reason students today can't articulate the gospel is because they really haven't heard it expressed in a regular and thoughtful way.  Let alone been asked to share it.

Anywho, The Youth Cartel asked me to come and talk about this at their amazing youth worker convention called, The Summit.  They just released two of the talks for free (one of them being mine) - but you can purchase the others on their website here.  They are absolutely amazing and I highly recommend them!  
Below is my talk.  

 
 
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I'm speaking at an amazing camp called Winter-fest 2016 in a couple of weeks.  I'll be talking about The Overlap - that place where heaven and earth interlock, come together and unite.  It was the garden - that place where all was as it should be - earth as it is in heaven - heaven and earth together, overlapping.  But then after sin, we only saw glimpses of the overlap - it was in a burning bush, on a mountain top, in a cloud, and then more permanently in the temple.  But then Christ came and was the overlap = the walking talking temple of God.  Being with Jesus was like being in the temple, or better yet, the garden.  He was the overlap.  But of course the good news just gets better because after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, he ascends into heaven ushering in a new era of greater spirituality.  How?  Well, we become the temple of God, his Spirits dwelling place.  Pretty awesome!  But the news just keeps getting better because one day, the whole earth will be full of God's glory.  Heaven and earth will once and for all be fully united.  

But in one of my talks I'm going to show pictures from 2015.  We will quietly watch the pictures scroll - declaring the good, the bad, and the ugliness of the world.   We will see the world and all of its brokenness.  But there in the midst of all of the mess, there will be moments of beauty and hope.  Moments of the overlap at work.  I'm still working this out, but I thought I'd show you some of 2015's greatest pictures. They all tell a greater story.   

 
 
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It was 35 years ago today that John Lennon was shot and killed by a dedicated fan.  I remember it so clearly and I remember the confusion I felt.  I was 8 yrs old at the time, just old enough to be affected.  But I still wasn't able to wrap my brain around someone killing another person, a person that they actually looked up to, a person that they loved and idolized.  It scared me.

But of course we've learned much since then about mental instability and those who struggle with all kinds of disorders.  But it doesn't make it any less scary.  This morning I turned the radio on, and you guessed it, Imagine by John Lennon was playing: 

Imagine there're no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, 

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one


I remember not liking that line about imagining there's no religion as a kid.  I think I was actually taught NOT to like it.  But for the last 25 years I've tried to move people away from religion to a more robust spirituality: A life in pursuit and in relationship with Jesus.  A life that is wide open daily to being animated by the Holy Spirit. In fact, a world of peace, a world of unity, and a world of no religion is the future hope of the Christian narrative.

Galatians is all about this.  Moving people away from their religious law into an empowered and adventerous life with God's spirit.  In fact Paul writes that the law was just a placeholder, a short term solution.  It was unicorn hamburger.  To live by the law is like asking for unicorn meat = it doesn't even exist.   It was because of our own sinfulness that the law had to be established in the first place.   Paul calls the law a prison and a nanny. The law is the servant who walks you to and from, school:  "Don't do that!  Don't look over there!  Hey, stop touching yourself!"  Why? Because you are a little kid and the law is your babysitter.  But with the Christ event, everything has changed.  We are now the dwelling place of God's Spirit. Those who live a spiritual life in tune with the Spirit, get to mature and that nonexistent unicorn burger, that nanny, just disappears and is no longer around.  Poof, all gone!  Not necessary anymore.

Paul was adamant about this.  The Galatian people were struggling with going back to and practicing the law.  Paul thinks they've been tricked or a spell has been cast over them.  "What in the world are you doing believing in and following unicorns?!  They are not even real!"  

He goes on to describe a dream world, one that is actually based more in reality than the life they've gone back to with the law.  He asks them to Imagine a life that is run by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and HEY, lets throw in a bunch of self-control while we're at it. 

Imagine

Paul actually believes they've left that imaginative and beautiful world for a world that doesn't even exist.  Now, I know the world they were living in was very complex.  They were going back to the law for various reasons, politics being among them.  Rome was getting confused because Israel had been given certain benefits.  Rome had been generous to allow them to worship their god, to observe their laws and rituals, and to not worship Caesar (they didn't really let ANYONE do this).  But the temples were now being filled with Jesus' followers who were no longer observing the law.  This caused major problems.  And what they were saying about Jesus was upsetting Rome, to say the least.  Many believe this is why Paul (Saul at the time) was out trying to kill christians - they were ruining Israel's standing with Rome.  He wasn't upset that they believed Jesus rose from the dead, he was upset because they were allowing people to stop observing the law. So out of safety and in order for political benefits to continue, these Jewish Christians went back to the law, leaving a life filled by the Holy Spirit - which was the whole point of Jesus coming and doing what he did.   

A very complex world I know.

We are living in a world that is kind of scary as well.  Christians and others are being killed for their beliefs.  People are stocking their homes with guns and ammunition right now out of fear for their lives.  American Muslims are doing the same thing, because they are fearing for THEIR lives... what we have is a big mess right now.  It's so confusing to know what to do.  

Paul even writes a kid named Timothy - who was was trying to pastor through all of this stuff - that, "God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind."  A life of the Spirit.  No fear, but peace. Peace in the midst of struggle, in the midst of persecution.  Peace that passes all understanding.  In fact, we are the peacemakers, the peacekeepers, pointing everyone we know to Jesus, who will move all away from religion, to a life filled with all that amazing and tasty fruit. 

I think John Lennon was on to something, I really do.  And I can Imagine a better way - I long to LIVE a better way.  A life that is not marked by fear, or addiction, or brokenness but one that is full of love, power, and a sound mind.  

Benediction:
May we DAILY be empowered by God's Spirit to live and move and have our being.  And may the fruit of the Spirit travel in and out of us wherever we go!  Amen!


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