Archives For Fellowship


You can read the first three posts here, here and here. Where do we go from here? I am sure there is all of the statistical data to discuss and missional “stratgery” that merits our attention. But if we take a step back and ask, “What works?” I am not sure that we can come up with a cookie-cutter plan that works for everyone. But that’s what we want isn’t it? We want a P90x program that can be plugged into any church context that will automatically multiply our numbers. We tell ourselves thought it’s not about numbers it is about saving souls (souls are numbers right?) yet the pressure of our budgets and the depleting numbers in our Sunday night service is evident that something must budge. So we want an evangelism P90x to plug in and get results. I think we should move in a different direction…one that is simple. Consider The Skit Guys and their hilarious video that closes with a point I want to highlight….

Investment into one person. We are not called to save the world but we can invest in one person. Eddie and Tommy both talked about how investment made on their part or on the part of someone else made the difference in salvation and changed their lives. Last night one of my former youth group kids spoke to my current youth group and he talked about a relationship he had with a girl for 2 1/2 years and how he was able to baptize her. Investment. One person. Full focus. Prayers, efforts, service, study all focused on one. So often we worry about all the things around us when sometimes God reveals the fertile soil that is right in front of us.

What if we taught students to invest their lives into people for a year committed to discipling them and helping them grow over a period of time. Then watching that person do the exact same thing. Friends, discipleship and evangelism does not have to be mutually exclusive. They can be one in the same. So that is what I have learned. It takes investment, relationships and a whole lot of God in this process.

What would you add?


Preached this sermon yesterday at Main Street and it was well received.

God’s Kaleidoscope

(Romans 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:9-10)

            “I think every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend. Why? Because the church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are his body. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well.”[1] I just read that quote on Friday and it is amazing how well this fit into the sermon idea that I wanted to talk about with you this morning. A few weeks ago I shared a blog post chronicling my usage of marijuana in middle and high school and I received many warm comments but most of them had to do with me having courage to share that information. In that blog post I wrote:

I am not sure why I am telling all of you this now as many of you are finding this out for the first time. I guess because I have seen a few of my own youth struggle and have heard of so many others that I feel it is probably time to share my story.[2]

Some of you in this audience knew of my past and some of you did not. Perhaps some of you are thinking to yourself, “What is this guy talking about?” The blog post simply told part of my story where I struggled with drugs and alcohol in my middle and high-school days. The struggle could have been worse but it did not have to happen. I tell you all of this to ask this question:

Why did people say that I had courage to admit that I used drugs?

Why does that take courage?

I read the New Testament and people who were responsible for the death of Jesus, the Savior came to Peter asking for repentance and desiring baptism. Smoking weed is nothing compared to killing the savior.

It takes courage to admit things like my broken past not because there is a loss of people in the church who have similar pasts but there are people in this church and every other church who are either afraid of what people might think (i.e, “they will judge me”) or, even worse, they do not want to address those demons of the past. It also takes courage to admit that those types of things because most of time many people in this auditorium spend 45 minutes to an hour pretending to be someone who they are not. This is why so many people who are unchurched do not want to attend a church because they feel like they have to have everything in order before they can be a part of the church. That’s not the way the New Testament church operated.

What I am going to do this morning is going to take some courage on your part. I am going to ask a bunch of questions and all I ask of you to do is to be honest and raise your hands.[3] If you are visiting with us feel free not to participate but if you are a member of this church I ask all of you to participate. I ask you to trust me in what I am about to do and understand that I am making a point with all of this. Finally, this goes without saying, those who raise their hands are free from judgment on your part. There is only one judge and you are not he. This should make good lunch discussions…

So here we go…

We’ll start easy…

  • How many of you come from a Christian home where you church was talked about all the time and you absolutely loved going to services, participating in VBS, youth the whole nine yards? How many of that was you raise your hand?
  • How many of you did not grow up in a Christian home as Christ was never talked about or if he was it was only around Christmas time? How many of that was you raise your hand?
  • How many of you grew up attending church but then hated going to church because mom and dad forced it on you so you left when you got old enough and then played a little, visited other churches but eventually came back? How many of that was you raise your hand?
  • How many of you came from some other denomination before you landed here at Main Street?
  • How many of you became a believer after your 20th birthday? 30th? 40th? 50th? Any higher?
  • How many of you, your parents are still happily married?
  • How many of you are from homes where your parents were divorced either early on or at some point since you left the house?
  • How many of you, your parents are married, but not necessarily happily?
  • How many of you have experienced divorce?
  • How many of you have a master’s level education or above?
  • How many of you did not graduate high school but have a GED or some sort of equivalent?
  • Any democrats in here?
  • How many of you were born in the north above the Mason-Dixon line?
  • How many of you were born in another country?

Again this is a safe environment where you will not be judged….

  • How many of you have a past in addiction whether it is alcohol, drugs or pornography?
  • Last one, how many of you have experienced some sort of abuse (physical, sexual or mental) in your background.

Let’s take a deep breath. There is this lie from the handiwork of Satan himself that says God only saves certain people. As if God loves republicans more than he does democrats. As if God loves people who have been to church their whole lives versus those who just made it. Here is the gist of this sermon, the big point…

“God, by his grace and mercy, wants all to be saved and the gospel is for everybody.”

Let that marinate on your heart rate now. Let that sit in your stubborn chambers where the “ideal Christian” image sits. God saves the person who cusses like a sailor and get’s drunk all night long and God saves the person whose worst words are “silly goose” and who feels guilty drinking a Pepsi. You know what I mean? God saves all of us and we should be courageously unashamed of that fact.

Some of you are walking around saying, “I never tried drugs and I never have touched alcohol and I have gone to church services my whole life and feel like my testimony to God is insignificant.” Hogwash! Praise God that he saw it fit to save you from that situation and now uses your story to teach all families that God-fearing people can raise another generation of God-fearing people. Some of you are walking around saying, “If church people only knew of all the things I have done they would not want me into their church.” First off, it’s not their church it’s Jesus Christ’s church. Secondly, if they really knew about all the things you have done and if they had an ounce of authenticity in them after hearing about the things you have done they would not say, “How horrible you are,” they would say, “How great is our God!”

Don’t you think it’s time church that we become a little more authentic and a little more genuine? I am not saying we have to unload every personal detail every time we come to services but I can honestly say that many of you I know but few of you I know on a deep, personal level. The apostle Paul was very upfront about who he was and how God saved him from the wretched person that he was. There are a ton of verses I could share (especially in Acts where he recounts his conversion story a couple of times) but I felt like this one sums it all up…

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Cor. 15:9-10)

In context Paul is talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how Jesus appeared to him who was the least of the apostles. He calls himself one who was “untimely born.” Paul is forever having to defend his apostleship to people who think he is a nobody. Imagine the criticism he got:

“This guy is not one of us, he was a persecutor of the church. How dare he think he can tell us how to run this church?”

“He was not an apostle as he barely even saw the Lord Jesus.”

Yet, Paul understood that and in the wake of his past he came to the conclusion that the suffering, the persecution and the pain he causes to the church he could do nothing about right now. He said, “by the grace of God I am what I am.”

I think churches are starving for people like Paul who just puts all of his cards on the table and lets whatever falls to fall. He does not say what he did gives people license to do bad things but he allows other people to see how God can save people from horrible circumstances.

CONCLUSION

So there is this myth that there is this certain type of person God saves. It does not exist. He saved a rich tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus and he saved the woman caught in adultery, in the very act. How rough would that one be if a woman caught in adultery interrupted our services begging to be saved at the very instant? We would probably escort her out so we would not disrupt the order of worship. God saves all kinds of people. If we want this church to grow we need to be more authentic. We need to be the church that does not seek other church-going people but we need to be the church that seeks the people nobody wants… the unchurched. There are plenty of churches in this county who brag about their numbers when all they are doing is swelling from other churches. We need to be that church where unchurched people look at and say, “I want to be a part of that.”

How do we do that? We started today… honesty, integrity and openness. I titled this sermon God’s Kaleidoscope. One definition for kaleidoscope on Dictionary.com was, “any complex pattern of frequently changing shapes and colors.” Sounds a little bit about what church is supposed to be. As the leaves change in the fall I am reminded about how different people from church are. We come from every background imaginable and the one common theme is that we are all trying to give God his glory and reach others to do the same. We all are spared by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ so that we do not live lives in the “used to be” or “what could be” but we live in the already.

So we have all been a bit honest. This should help us reach others. This should help us start. We do not have to have this mask put on. “Fake it until you make it” is a cliché for people who don’t know what they are talking about. Let’s stop faking. Let’s stop living in our empty cisterns of despair. Let’s live in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I am not scared any more are you? Let’s do this church! My name is Robbie Mackenzie. I used to do drugs, I used to drink heavily, I was not a virgin when I got married, I treated God like a genie in a bottle and God saved me from all of that. HIS GRACE REACHES EVEN ME….


[1] Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 57-59). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[3] The idea from this came from Matt Chandler’s masterful sermon entitled, “City on a Hill – Part 1: A New People” preached at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX on September 2nd, 2012.  http://www.thevillagechurch.net/sermon/a-new-people/. Some of the questions are directly from his sermon.


I had a discussion with a youth minister friend of mine about some struggles I was having in which I felt like I was on an island. Let me explain. My youth group and college students love to sing. Many members in the church love to sing. They get together and they sing and sing and sing. Many of the members seem to be “lost in worship” and the desire is to sing more and more and more. I had a discussion with a lady one time that I think illustrates what I struggle with:

Lady:  “Let’s keep singing and singing, this is wonderful.”

Me: “Why don’t we sit down and read Scripture for a while.”

Lady: “Where’s the fun in that?”

So I talked with the youth minister about my struggles with this and he made a profound statement. He said, “I think what’s going on is our generation at church is over-devotionalized.”

Profound…

I struggle with this because singing is an act of worship that brings me closer to God yet I think the church, youth ministries, college ministries (insert Passion Conference comment here) and other ministries places too much stock in the worship event. We have become over-devotionalized and under-discipled. I asked the church last night, “What is the most important mandate for a follower of Christ?” (From Robert Lupton’s book, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life). 3 or 4 people answered and every one else was dead silent.

I ask questions in bible class about what God demands from them and how to begin a relationship with him and I get blank stares. We know how to close our eyes to “How Great is Our God” and sit in a circle holding a candle professing our faith yet when it comes to leading others to Christ and talking to people about our relationship with him we struggle. Why? We have placed too much stock in the event (i.e, the “moment”) rather than the process.

I am all for singing and for devotionals but there is something wrong with our focus when we have singing days, singing nights, singing this and singing that and we do not have a yearning for our brother down the street. With all things balance must be normative but I feel like the New Testament agrees with my thought process as you can only find a handful of Scriptures about corporate worship yet you find scores addressing discipleship. Think about how much money is spent on the worship auditorium, worship media, worship ministers, worship training, worship bulletins, etc.

I think I can back it up…

We are over-devotionalized (event/program based) and under-discipled (process).


This post is from a dear friend Rob Hatchett. Rob is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and is currently President of Crye-Leike Franchises, Inc. He is married to the former Rachel Parker and they live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He and Rachel worship at Clear Creek Church of Christ in Hixson, Tennessee where he is their song leader. I believe you will grow from this lesson as it will draw you closer to understanding what intimacy in worship is like…or what it should be like.

Intimacy in Worship

I Samuel 16:7 – Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

I believe 1 Samuel 16:7 can be applied correctly to many areas in our spiritual lives. I’m afraid one area where I haven’t let this verse apply is in worship to God. I’ve spent countless hours of my life critiquing how other people choose to worship God.  I observed some people as being too emotional in my opinion. I observed others as being too unemotional in my opinion. But the fact is – while I’m busy looking at the person’s outward appearance, God is busy looking at their heart.

So I begin this blog by repenting for at times appointing myself the hall monitor of worship services. Whether you attend a church where your song service consists of the greatest hits from 1840-1940, or you attend a church where it resembles a high school pep rally – if God can see a heart of worship then it doesn’t matter what people like I used to be have to say.

I personally get a little nervous when I read about the Pharisees because I see so many verses about them that at times could apply to me.  Take this verse for example from Mark 7:

6″This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,.
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

My worship transformation from Pharisee to Intimacy started with my prayer closet. I had read about Daniel praying 3 times a day in his closet but I had never really done a lot of that private stuff by myself. I was much better at my public relationship with God (sounds like a Pharisee doesn’t it?).

One day I decided it was time to get in better physical shape. My plan was to run 3 miles each morning and then I thought I would try spending 20 minutes in prayer. This sounded like an insurmountable task! Not the running though. That was the easy part. I didn’t know if I could actually spend 20 minutes communicating with God. I really didn’t know what to say. My personal prayers usually consisted of me telling God the things that I needed him to do for me that day and that usually took less than a minute or two.

Truth is, it wasn’t easy when I started. I decided to start mixing in some scripture reading and worship music with my prayer time. That almost made it like God was talking to me and then I was talking back to Him. I started feeling a connection with God that I really hadn’t felt before. Strange how that works! When you spend quality time with someone you start feeling a lot closer to them. Plus – my prayers stopped being completely about what I needed God to do for me.  I started looking for people each day that I could pray for and I actually started asking people if they needed me to pray for anything in their life. Even more, I started asking God to show me ways I could bring Him glory in my life.

In all my years of Christian high school, Christian college, and regular church attendance, this was the most intimate I had ever been with God.

This intimacy in prayer then changed my worship in song. I was the regular “song leader” at our church but I realized that my focus was simply trying to help people sing well. If I was going to lead, I wanted to be a “worship leader”.  However, as I was losing my selfishness in my prayers, I could feel God tugging on me that I needed to lose my selfishness in worship as well. This meant I needed to stop leading and simply learn to worship with my heart in song.

Like my prayers, this was pretty tough at first. I decided one day to close my eyes in worship as I was singing. I know everyone is different but closing my eyes really helped my focus on God. I couldn’t see anyone else and though my eyes were closed, I could see myself sitting at the throne of God. Songs that I had sung all my life took on a new meaning as I was now singing them before the throne of God. As I lifted my hands in worship, it was now because I was reaching out to God and not because it was a standard act of worship.

My father-in-law described his worship in a way that really impacted me. He called it his “love fest” with God. That’s the best definition of worship I had ever heard. Worship has nothing to do with showing up to church to sing. Worship is about having an intimate connection with God and expressing our love, adoration, and praise in whatever way the Spirit leads you. I just wished it hadn’t taken me 28 years to figure this out.

So here’s the question for us now. How do we teach/train our younger generations to have an intimacy with God through worship? The main way they learn is by observing other Christians – not just in corporate worship settings but also in day-to-day life. Are these younger Christians observing a “love fest” with God through song, prayer, and mediation from us?


Lesson #4 – What are the implications of advent?

INTRODUCTION

Hopefully, if done right, this lesson will be delivered around (or on) Christmas day and will be good for discussion.  Please feel free to go over what has been taught and learned in the previous four weeks and discuss any revelations that have occurred amongst the students during this focused time.

ILLUSTRATION:  What we are going to emphasize today is the biggest component of Advent: Waiting.  What I want you to do is to introduce the class that we are going to talk about the implications of advent.  Then what I want you to do next is wait.  Don’t say anything, don’t do anything but just sit there.  You can do it for one minute or three minutes.  Inevitably teenagers are going to give you weird looks because they can’t stand 15 seconds of silence let alone a full-blown minute.

ASK…

WAS IT HARD FOR YOU TO WAIT?  WHY OR WHY NOT? 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT US THAT DRIVES US INSANE WHEN IT COMES TO WAITING? 

SAY…

[You can use your own personal story that emphasizes our impatience] I can’t stand to wait!  If a web page on my iPhone does not come up in less than four seconds I become angry.  If I don’t get my Wendy’s Baconator in less than three minutes then I get irate.  I mean how long does it take to throw half a pig on half a cow and throw some cheese in there?  Come on people!!!  We all struggle with waiting because of the digitized, fast-food mindset of Western Culture where we have to experience things right now.

This lesson is to allow us to focus on being ready for Jesus to come with patience but also with anticipation.  This lesson is short, but simple.  Here is the bare outline.

BODY

Two things…

Waiting means we must be ready!

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:44).

“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak” (Luke 12:38).

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  (1 Thess. 5:4-11).

ASK…

IN WHAT WAYS DO WE NEED TO BE READY FOR THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD?

SAY…

When Jesus came John the Baptist prepared the way for the people compelling them to repent for the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mark 1:1-8).  In like manner we are compelled to be ready no matter what the cost may be and that means we are to “bring-in” the kingdom of God by being disciples and making disciples.  You hear of people talking about “Christmas cheer” and what they mean is giving gifts and such but the Christmas cheer is that we need to be ready for the coming of the Lord.

ASK…

IN WHAT WAYS ARE PEOPLE NOT GOING TO BE READY FOR THE COMING OF THE LORD?

SAY…

In the first century they thought that Jesus was going to come soon (you could make an argument that Paul even thought that).  Paul was very upset at people who stood around “idle”.  Paul said, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6).  In other words we have no clue when Christ will come (see 1 Thess. 5:4 above) so we should not give up our labors of spreading good news to the world.

Waiting means we must be drunk with anticipation!

“The LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.Then the hordes of all the nations that fight against Ariel, that attack her and her fortress and besiege her, will be as it is with a dream, with a vision in the night— as when a hungry person dreams of eating, but awakens hungry still; as when a thirsty person dreams of drinking, but awakens faint and thirsty still. So will it be with the hordes of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion. Be stunned and amazed,  blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer” (Isa. 29:6-9).

SAY…

The verse in Isaiah is given to talk about a time when the Messiah will reign from Zion and the people will be drawn towards his reign.  The kicker for the Christian is that Jesus now reigns (i.e. his “kingdom”) and Jesus will always reign.  We need to be intoxicated with anticipation at what we can participate in and what God has called us to do.  “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

ASK…

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD “ANTICIPATION”?  WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

SAY…

I remember the birth of my first son (Kaleb) and the weeks felt like years until he finally came into this world.  There was excitement, fear, desire, longing, responsibility and humility all wrapped-up in a box known as anticipation.  It means we become ready for something and eagerly long for it.

ASK…

IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU/ARE YOU ANTICIPATE(ING) THE LORD’S RETURN?

CONCLUSION

SAY…

To anticipate for something you must have some sort of desire to fuel that anticipation.  Anticipating the Lord’s return gets me excited because of a single group of verses:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:1-5).

This is the final moment when the Lord returns and the new heavens and new earth form and all things become completely new.  It is when the curse of Adam is ultimately lifted and mankind is allowed to enter Eden again.  It is where we participate in complete union with God and with his risen saints and we join in the eschaton at the table (see Isaiah 25:6-9) and feast forever.  No tears, no sorrows, no pain, no suffering…peace, perfect peace.

Enjoy this video and I hope you enjoyed this series.  We all can join the early Christians in a popular saying called Maranatha.  It simple means, “Come, Lord” (see Rev. 22:20).  So, “Come, Lord Jesus…Come!”

Church?

October 18, 2011 — 2 Comments

“Despite what most people think, the ‘church’ is more than just bricks and mortar.  It’s always been, and always will be, a fellowship of people that goes far beyond the walls of any building, denomination or meeting space.  It’s a community of people who have found healthy patterns of human relating and new standards for how to treat one another, serve one another, and even forgive one another that run counter to the world.”  Gabe Lyons, The New Christians, p. 161.


This is the last post of this series and I have valued all of the comments tremendously.  The series started not as a defense of social drinking but merely was it ok to be present at a location as a means of mission to people.  Sometimes posts have a mind of their own and it just leads in a different direction.  I loved it though because topics like this need to be discussed in a thoughtful, biblical and humane manner.  Too often we ignore something based on our assumption that it has always been a certain way so we need to keep it that way.  We should never dismiss comments or questions because we assume we are right on a subject.

The poll, to my surprise, indicated that most of you (66%) believe that it is ok for a Christian to drink in moderation.  This topic will surely find no resolve in the coming words but I wanted to share some observations on our discussion.  Hope you enjoy these.

  • A helpful study of the original words does help in our theology but we must do our homework.  Don’t assume a word means something without looking it up in some of the major lexicons and dictionaries.
  • Image is important but image is not everything.  Sometimes our perception of what a Christian should be is (ironically) the opposite of what Jesus said a person should be.  I wonder if Jesus would have been disfellowshipped in some of our churches today for what he would do?  Just a thought….
  • In regards to social drinking one must consider his or her motives.  I still can’t get away from this.  Why are you drinking?  Is it to feel a feeling or, like Samuel Young said in one of his comments, is it to appreciate something God made?  Motives are important.  It is doubtful someone would use Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to use wine for his infirmities but they may be looking to clear his or her conscience.  But…
  • We need to be careful where we place our judgment.  This issue is not limited to social drinking but many other aspects where we may be quick to judge before we consider the evidence.  We will know people by their fruits (Matt. 7:16).
  • Be careful about building-up straw men or chasing red herrings.  Arguments like, “What about all of the bad affects of alcohol?” is still side-stepping the real issue.  I heard one person give all of the statistics about the negative uses (abuse) of alcohol like car accidents, marriages, etc.  While I agree with that negative component of alcohol I also think they are simply chasing red herrings.  I wanted to ask him, “How many people die of heart disease from not eating correctly?” (TV, music, etc.)  The issue is, what does the bible say about it not society’s abuse of it.
  • The principle in Romans 14-15 needs careful consideration (especially Rom. 14:21) before anyone considers to take a drink.  I think if we practice self-denial on behalf of others then it might be our spiritual service to God (Rom. 15:1-2).
I will conclude with something from Isaiah.  In Isaiah 25 we come across a break from the woes and destruction of life for a vision of what life will be like in the last days (eschaton).  In discussion of this Isaiah talks about what life will be like post-destruction.  He writes:
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.

8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (25:6-8)

Sounds a little like Revelation 19-22…the new heavens and the new earth.  Blessings.

I forget where I heard Shane Claiborne say this but he made a statement that has stuck with me for a long time:

We need more Christian bartenders…

The context for his statement was that too often Christians remove themselves from unChristian contexts like bars, dance clubs or even places where the homeless and others hang out.  He alluded to Matthew 9:9-17 where Jesus ate with tax-collectors and sinners and stated that we need to meet Christians on their own terms.  I like what he had to say but the full-time minister in me sees some potential issues:

  1. Are we contributing to someone’s alcoholism by giving them a drink?
  2. Do we simply not speak out of the dangers of alcoholism and just talk with people hoping to be a good influence on them?
  3. What part does image play in this?  What if a teenager in my youth group saw me at a bar with someone?  Does this create a stumbling block?
  4. Do we have to go to bars or could we just leave material for them to look at while they are at the bar?
  5. 1 Corinthians 15:33 states, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”  Does that factor in to this equation?
There is a lot to unpack here that seems to be very ethical in nature.  Like what if one of your recent converts in your church is a Budweiser Truck Driver and their family depends on his income?  What is he to do?  Does he quit and drive for someone else?   What about his influence to his co-workers?  If he leaves will their ever be a positive influence?
I went to an AA meeting as required by a graduate class of mine and in that meeting a guy told me that he would never go to a church because churches don’t care about alcoholics.  They all were spiritual, offering to pray and read Scripture but when it came to being plugged-in to a local church all of them rejected.  “They don’t even know how to handle me at church!”  My heart broke.
So what do you think?  Is this a black and white issue or was Claiborne onto something?  Feel free to post anonymously but I would love to interact with you about this.

On July 31, 2011 I celebrated my 7th full year of youth ministry at Main Street in Springfield, Tennessee.  Seven quick lessons about my/our journey:

  1. Learn to say “no” – All ministers struggle with this as we want to do so much for people in the name of God.  We take on projects, speaking engagements, weddings, committees,  meetings, and a host of other things while our spiritual formation, family and our personal lives turn to shamble.  I read somewhere that every time you say “yes” to something you are always saying “no” to something else.
  2. Try to look for the big picture – A lot can happen in a youth ministry in a short time but also nothing can happen for a long time.  There are different seasons in youth ministry so staying focused and having an idea of what the big picture is will keep you from being distracted by a lot of the little things.
  3. Don’t get too full of yourself – I have blogged about this several times but no matter how great the youth minister is there is going to be something he is not good at and that is going to be painfully obvious to you and everyone else.  Learn to laugh at yourself and do it often letting others in on your laughter.  Have a ton of fun.  Go to Waffle House at 3am.  Laugh when one of your youth group guys goes through a wall at a hotel.  Laugh when a youth group girl passes gas on the bus and blames it on you as everyone writhes in agony at the smell.  Laugh when a youth group guy pronounces from the pulpit the word “Yahweh” as “Yah-hee” and instead of “wiles of the devil” he says, “willies of the devil.”  Learn to laugh and laugh often.
  4. Delegate and Empower – I am horrible at this.  I would rather do things on my own and wear myself out than asking someone to help.  The result…it almost burned me out of ministry completely.  Have a team of people who are your core leaders in the youth ministry who could lead the activities if you were gone.  Speaking of being gone…
  5. Try a slice of humility – This goes along with number three above but we need more humble servants who are John 13 ministers.  In youth ministry we get stepped on (clean the bus, babysit my kids, do the impossible), we get made fun of (second class ministers), we have impossible expectations placed on us by men who have not the slightest clue about youth ministry or teenagers for that matter, we are underpaid, we are overworked, we are extremely talented (cleaning the bus, writing the bulletin, etc.) and we are criticized by 40-60 people who “know” more about youth ministry than we do.  All of that happens to most youth ministers and all I can think about is this verse from Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  Some criticism needs to be addressed some people just need to be talked to in a reproved manner but sometimes we need to realize that we are simply humble agents of Christ suffering affliction to do something we love to do.
  6. Invest in people, not programs – It’s not uncommon for me to change programs in our ministry and I am currently in the process of completely revamping the youth group. One thing that I have not changed is getting to know people, investing in their lives and letting them know how much I love them.  I tell youth group kids that “I love them.”  Some of them are a little creeped-out about it but some of them respond with tears as if they have never heard someone tell them those three words and mean it.  I love them.  I love the parents and I let them know that I am here to come alongside of them.  This is important for when that youth group person is struggling with a situation at college or they have made by decisions in their life they come to me without reservation because they know, if anything else, I will at the very minimum love them.
  7. Don’t lose your soul – Youth ministry is tough.  It has been the most difficult seven years of my life.  I have watched people leave the church and never come back.  I have watched friends lose friends.  I have watched families become broken.  I have watched people who I thought would be soldiers of Christ become servants of idols.  But..I have watched visitors get baptized.  I have watched total reconstruction of lives based on Scripture.  I have watched youth group people find jobs based on their calling and I have seen many good things done in the name of Kingdom.  Friends, don’t lose your soul.  Keep your eyes focused, hang in there and love as you too have been loved.

Thank you Main Street for putting up with me and teaching me about ministry.  I dedicate this blog to seven sets of people in ascending order of importance:

  • Elders – thank you for sticking with me and for supporting me spiritually, mentally, and fiscally.  You have given me raises, bonuses, a van, health coverage, freedom to make good and bad decisions but most of all your encouragment.  Thank you.
  • Parents and Friends – I love all of you.  I know I am not perfect and I know I have done things wrong from time-to-time but you have supported me.  I love you all.
  • Joe and Linda – you are my “daily bread” when a minister does not want to go to the office you make it enjoyable.  Thanks for being a great team.
  • Youth Group Members Past and Present – Words cannot describe how thankful I am for you.  You have made the journey worth it.  Thanks for taking Jesus seriously and for doing radical things.  I love you all more than you know.
  • Kaleb, Amelia, Madelyn and Samuel – Kids you make me so proud.  You are my most important youth group and I want to thank you for making daddy laugh on those tough days and for keeping me going when I didn’t want to go anymore.  I love you so much and as long as I have air to breathe I will serve you with a passion unrivaled in this world.
  • Heather – What can I say?  You are perfect in every way.  Not only am I married to a hot wife but you are also so intelligent and understanding.  Your care for me exceeds the proverb wife in Proverbs 31.  You are a servant and the fuel to my fire.  I love you.
  • God – You have allowed a wretched, hypocritical, inconsistent, unorganized, lazy and unlovable person like me to be called a follower of Christ.  Thank you for your grace, for your daily assurance, for your providence, for your discipline, for your correction. for your providence and for your glorious return.  I love you!

The Graduation Speech

May 16, 2011 — 1 Comment

[DISCLAIMER: It is 3,299 words so pack a lunch and read it then.]

The Graduation Speech

By Robbie Mackenzie (Preached at the Main Street church of Christ May 15, 2011)

            I have done many things since I have been alive.  I have been to South America and Africa.  I have attended numerous World Series games.  I hiked down the Grand Canyon and back up in one day.  I have watched four beautiful kids come into this world.  But there are many things in this world I have not experienced.  I have never jumped out of an airplane.  I have never, unfortunately, found gold on the other side of a rainbow.  I have never been to the North Pole and I have never, ever participated in synchronized swimming.  Something else I have never done is speak at a graduation.  I have probably sat through some thirty graduations and even leaving one in the middle only to arrive at another in the middle.  I have heard every quote imaginable like, “This is the first day of the rest of your life,” and “If it’s to be it’s up to me.”  I have heard many people misquote enough Scripture for me to pull my hair out and by the looks of my hair I have heard a lot of misquoted Scripture.  Nobody remembers a graduation speech because they are all the same.  This is why I am offering you a different graduation speech but in the end it will be forgettable and pretty soon it will be—well—just another graduation speech.

            If I were to graduate again (which may happen) I would want to hear this type of speech at my graduation.  I would want to have someone tell me what really might happen as opposed to God’s plans to “prosper us and not to harm us” (Jer. 29:11; taken out of context of course :)).  Those who have battled drugs, alcohol, divorce, financial heartache and difficult circumstances usually are not the ones invited to speak at graduations.  Why?  People want to hear the wealthy, famous, successful and “problem-free” at graduations yet those people are in the minority.  Most of us fit into the second category of simple, problem-full, but content with our lives.  That’s boring and nobody wants to hear about it.  So this is my attempt to put pen to paper and give flesh to words that I would say if it were the last words I would say to a graduate.  The speech is more about what you really may experience but it is a little uncertain.  So here we go.

            First of all, you’re going to grow apart from your friends.  There are certain people in your graduating class you will never ever see or talk to again.  Even your BFFs, whom you swore, pinkie-promised, and vowed to stay in touch via text, phone, SKYPE, or even just a visit on weekends, will grow apart from you.  It’s going to be awkward when you come home and go back to a high-school football game and see your old buddies.  You will realize they have changed and so have you and it will be a cool feeling knowing you are the college kid.  Pretty soon you will just feel old and then you will stop going back to high-school functions.  The saddest part about going different ways is watching some of your friends who cannot accept the fact that they are no longer in high-school.  They still talk like high-schoolers, hang out with high-schoolers, and their maturity level stays that way for years.  If they could just grow up and move on life would be better but they can’t.  That may be you by the way.  What they don’t tell you after you graduate is that life happens and things get in the way and we just become too busy.  You might even lose a friend tragically in a car accident, overdose, or a physical ailment like cancer or something else.  It’s going to hurt and you will cry.

            You’re going to realize that the boyfriend or girlfriend you thought you would spend the rest of your life with will not work out.  Nor will the next three or four.  You will realize that there are some seriously messed-up people out there who are looking for nothing more to score with you and that is going to hurt.  Perhaps you’re on the other spectrum and you will just wait, and wait, and wait while everyone around you is getting a significant other without trying yet you pray, ask someone out and still nobody will date you.  Then you’re going to go home and it’s going to sting every time someone asks you, “Are you seeing anybody yet?” and then the awkward look you get when you say, “No!”  To make matters worse they will offer you a monologue about them having two kids by the time they were your age.  That doesn’t help either.  Life does not consist in a relationship but it sure beats being lonely sometimes.

            You’re going to have to say goodbye to your parents.  Whether you work at home or go off to college you will have to say goodbye to them somehow.  You’re going to have to convince your parents that them moving in with you in your dorm room is actually a horrible idea.  They are going to call you, once, twice maybe three times a day just to hear your voice.  Some of you will want to run from your parents so bad and so fast that you are going to blaze a trail along the way but some of you are not going to want to leave your parents because you will be afraid.  You will get homesick because you’re going to miss the family meals, nights at the park, and games of uno, vacation and long conversations on the way to school.  The phone calls from mom will get really annoying but deep down inside her voice will be like water in the driest African desert.

            You’re going to be broke.  Growing up your mom and dad were like a free-flowing ATM but now that day is long gone and you actually might have to work which, by the way, you don’t have time for.  You may get into credit card trouble thinking you can pay the balance sometime later if you just meet the minimum payment and it’s going to come back to bite you in a very personal way.  Worst of all, you might actually get that date with that someone only to be so broke you have to spend your romantic night at the dining hall or McDonald’s because you can’t afford anything else.  By the way, your mom is calling you and you probably should pick the phone up.

            You’re going to change physically.  It’s a strange thing that actually eating 8-10 Krystals used to be fun and proper nourishment but now all of that eating during freshman year has become a part of your backside that you, literally, carry with you wherever you go.  The concept of “freshman 15” no longer is a myth as you’re just trying to avoid freshman forty as you huff and puff up the stairs to your room.  On top of that, guys you might start to notice that you lose hair at this time and girls you might start getting wrinkles.  Your chaotic schedule and stressful demands does not make your physical issues any better.  You may also get the world’s worst case of Athlete’s Foot because apparently your roommate does not have the human dignity to wear shower shoes or at least cut his feet off.  The sad part of this is that you’re going to realize quickly that the physical issues, from this point on, only get worse.

            You’re going to struggle attending worship services because mom and dad are not there to wake you up.  Wait—is that mom calling me again?  You are going to wonder what’s the point of attending services.  You’re going to look at the people in the church and say it is filled with hypocrites and, you may be right.  You’re going to struggle immensely at fitting-in and you are going to wish you could come back and participate in youth group again but your jerk of a youth minister will not let you.  You’re going to wrestle with what the church is versus what it was in Scripture (welcome to the club).  You’re going to wonder why churches invest so much time, resources and money with programs like the youth, older members, missions, building funds and yet not much time, resources and money (if any) are invested in college students.  For you, church is going to be difficult.

            You’re going to do some things you’re going to regret.  Some of them may be minor but some of them are going to be major.  You’re going to wish you could take it all back but you won’t be able to.  You’re going to remember what your parents said about the dangers and now you’re going to have to tell them what you just did.  It’s going to break their heart.  The saddest part of it all is that you’re too stubborn to learn your lesson and so you’re going to do it all over again.  You’re going to sit there late at night looking up at the ceiling wondering what you are going to do with your life.  You may want to end it all.

            You’re going to struggle with God.  Who is this divine being that was taught so heavily to you?  God has not been helpful to you and by the looks at what’s happening in the world God really doesn’t seem to care anymore.  You’re going to have people cast doubt on your faith with different beliefs, ideologies and philosophical inquiries which some seem possible to believe.  You’re going to try to help your faith by doing what your parents, youth minister or preacher suggested.  It’s going to be tough and in my experience, when the going gets tough sometimes…well…the tough gets tougher.  There are going to be moments when all you can think about God is anger, frustration and confusion.  Like David, you are going to say, “How long, O Lord?  How long?” (Psalm 13).

But…

However…

Nevertheless…

            You’re going to make new friends.  The kind of friends who do not have strings attached to them.  The kind of friends whom you will laugh with, cry with and the kind of friends who will be, like the Proverb writer said, “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).  The friends you make will be in your weddings,Teen girls on college campus at the hospital when you have a baby and next to you when you lose someone you love.  The kind of friend who will utterly depend on you and years down the road these friends will need you most when their own world is turned upside down.  You’re going to go to baseball games with these friends, have cookouts, go on mission trips with them and you might even have the opportunity lead a few of those friends to Christ.

            You’re going to meet someone…it may take years…and you know what…it may not happen.  You’re going to look at that sweet lady who keeps asking you if you’re married yet because she had two children by your age and you’re going to smile and say, “that’s not what God wants me to do right now.”  God will make it happen if it needs to happen and you’re going to be just fine with that.  You just might have four kids before you are thirty though and people, by the way, will make fun of you and call you crazy and psycho but you will realize that you will be 47 by the time your last one graduates high-school which will be the age your buddy will be when his first one starts middle school.  But it’s also ok if you wait that long.  You follow what God wants you to do not someone else.  It’s ok to be crazy so don’t change that for a second.  In the words of the musician Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long.”  You’re going to be able to look at the person you will spend the rest of your life with and vow to be with them in sickness, and in health until death due you part.  You’re going to get that same passion every time you go to someone else’s wedding and you’re going to wake up each day feeling unworthy to wake up beside the most beautiful person in the world…not your youngest child who crawled in the bed…but your spouse.  You’re going to really feel blessed to be next to that beautiful person especially when you make it to the mirror in the mornings.

              You’re going to regret trying to run away from your mom and dad so quickly.  You’re going to want to pick up the phone and call them as much as possible.  You’re going to remember their lectures, words of “wisdom”, and caution and know that they were actually right.   If God blesses you with a child you’re going to name the child after your parents because of the influence that had on your life.  However, if home was a nightmare filled with abuse then you’re going to prove mom and dad wrong.  You’re going to make a difference and with God’s help you will show them what you can do even when they told you it couldn’t be done.

            You will eventually make money but still, somehow, be broke for a while.  It will be tough at first (remember the credit cards and loans?) but God will provide and mom and dad will help you out.  I promise.  If you don’t go to college then no worries because no matter what anyone says it’s ok for you not to go to college because, get this, college is not for everyone.  You will show them that you can still provide and work hard and do what God wants you to do.  The church will step in and provide for you in times when you could not provide for yourself.  You will have to fight the evils of consumerism and you will eventually give much of your income to the church.  People will think of you as crazy, stupid and a little off kilter but you will consider that suffering for the kingdom’s sake and little bit like emptying yourself which is what Jesus did for you.  You will have ups and downs financially and there will be days you will have to eat beans and rice and rice and beans but you will make it because all you need is a roof over your head and food on the table.

            You will learn to live with your body.  It’s ok that your body is not in pristine shape or that it’s shape looks like a hamburger rather than an hour glass.  It’s ok.  God just wants you to be healthy.  You will eventually enjoy eating things like salads, grapefruits, tree bark and you will especially enjoy drinking lots and lots of water.  Balding only gets worse and so do the wrinkles and your physical deterioration will be a daily reminder thanks to your kids and sometimes teenagers who decide to take a stab.  Laugh at this and consider it a way God humbles you.  Look at your body as a gift from God and each day is another opportunity that someone else did not get.

            You will eventually grow to love and adore the church.  Yes there are hypocrites in church but your experience in life will show you that there are hypocrites everywhere inside and outside the church.  The church never claimed to be perfect anyways besides there are so many people in the church who have changed their lives drastically because of the work of the church through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The church will need you to teach a class, lead a song, direct a program, visit the sick or teach a bible class.  You will have a renewed commitment to the church and it will drive you and you will soon find out that it is not you that is driving you but it is the Spirit of God inside of you.  You’re going to find out that the church is filled with plenty of people as messed-up as you!  That will put a smile on your face and the face of thousands of angels watching.

            You’re going to think about the regrets from time-to-time and they will enter your thoughts at weird moments.  The regrets will be like a bruise that won’t go away or rainstorm that will not depart.  You may have to call people to apologize for what you did and you may have to tell them you have changed.  You may have to earn someone’s trust back because of what you did but it’s going to be worth it.  You’re going to show God and others that you are a radical disciple who has radically changed.  “I’m not that way anymore” will come out of your mouth as effortless as air discharged from your lungs and you will say it with a smile.  Like Paul, your past will not break you rather it will shape you.  Your story will become a testimony for so many people to hear.

            Then there is God.  He always was and always is and always will be.  You’re going to find him because you’re going to long for him.  Like a fire in the midst of a blizzard you will long for his warmth and light.  He will show up in your life not as a boxed-in, compartmentalized God but as the living, active God.  He is going to lead you to places in life you never thought were possible but pretty soon you will realize that God is in the making-the-impossible-possible business.  You are going to realize that truly Jesus came so, like John told you, “we may have life, and life to the fullest” (John 10:10).  You will long for something John and Isaiah described as the New Heavens and New Earth.  You will feel God’s presence in your life with the utmost assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).  You will feel God in your bones and in your core and it will be most satisfying.  There will still be valleys where the questions of theodicy (making God just) come back but you will know, deep down in your core, that eventually God will reign over all and all will be made right.

            This is my graduation speech and it is filled with paradoxes, difficulties, some contradictions and uncertainties.  But such is life right?  Life is never a linear process but often we find it as a cyclical pattern that repeats itself but rests on the grace of God.  So may you find the friends you need.  May you discover the spouse who is yours or may you rest in the state you are in.  May you love every minute your family is alive.  May you live fiscally sound so you can give until it hurts.  May you rejoice in the body God gave you but may you treat it well.  May you love the church and realize it truly is, like the preacher said, a hospital for the sick.  May you use your regrets to empower and inform your future.  And may you run to God, wrap your arms around him and never, ever let go.

            So, Dr. Seuss was right…a little…“be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.  So…get on your way!”