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Tag Archives | scripture

How to change students’ relationships with the Bible

My first night at my current church, I asked students to grab a Bible. I don’t remember what we were exploring. I do, however, distinctly remember the stunned look on their faces.

I didn’t think much of their reaction until my second gathering, when the same thing happened. At that point, I asked someone what the deal was. He responded, “We don’t use the Bibles. They’re just our youth room doorstoppers.”

I thought – or maybe more accurately, hoped – this student was joking.

It quickly became clear he wasn’t.

In the six years since, I’ve made it a point to use the Bible every time my high school youth ministry gathers. Intuitively, I know this is important for students’ spiritual growth.

Over the last few years, I’ve gleaned a few anecdotes to support this practice. Now I’ve also got some evidence.

Over the year year, I’ve had the privilege of working with professor, author, and researcher Terry Linhart on a study for InterVarsity USA. One of our findings from this study is that students’ relationships with Scripture changed from restrictive to life-giving when they actually began reading it for themselves and applying it to their lives.

To some degree, I know that seems like Youth Ministry 101.

Yet, think about it.

When it comes to Scripture, how often are students actually the one’s reading and digging into it?

So often, as youth workers, our model in youth ministry is to teach.

We read the passage.

We interpret the passage.

We tell students what to think about the passage.

We tell students how to apply it to their lives by making a command we expect everyone to follow. Rarely do we follow up with students about this. When we next see them we’re already focused on a new lesson, not on what, if any, difference the application from the previous gathering has made in their lives.

What might happen if we replaced this model with one that shifts the focus from us to students?

Such a model would require us to talk less and prepare more.

It would necessitate a space wherein we invited students to open the Bible, actually read it, and together dig into passages to wrestle with their meaning.

It would challenge students to apply a passage to their lives not in one, universal way but in a way that accounts for their unique faith stories and life circumstances. It would also hold students accountable for applying Scripture to their lives. It would follow up with students to debrief that process. In so doing, it would invite students to share how Scripture – and God – is shaping and making a difference in their daily lives. That, in turn, would spur students on in their journeys of faith.

Make no mistake. It’s far more difficult to create this type of environment and facilitate this kind of discussion than it is to give a talk.

Yet, it’s worth it.

It just might change students’ relationships with the Bible and in so doing, their relationships with Jesus.

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What if God isn’t speaking?

Recently, I found myself in a Bible study in which the leader asked, “What is God telling you to do as a result of this passage?”

I had a moment of absolute panic in which I thought, “Nothing. Right this second, I honestly don’t hear God saying anything to me.”

That thought was quickly replaced with, “You can’t say that. You’re the youth pastor. What would people think if you said ‘Nothing’?”

In the end, my fear of being judged kept me from being authentic. Rather than admit I heard nothing from God, I lied.

Let me say that again.

I’m a youth pastor and I lied at a Bible study.

In that moment, it felt safer to me to make up an answer than to appear as though God wasn’t speaking to me.

If that’s true for me, how much more true is that for the students in our ministries?

When we ask questions like, “How is God speaking to you through this passage?” or “What is God calling you to do right now?” how often are we forcing teens to lie? To make something up in order to save face?

My guess is ALL THE TIME.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I believe Scripture is living and active. I also believe that God speaks to us today and that oftentimes, he does so through Scripture.

What I don’t believe is that God necessarily speaks on command.

As a result, when we ask questions like, “How is God speaking to you through this passage?” I fear we’re inadvertently teaching kids to lie.

The good news is there’s an alternative.

Instead of asking kids, “How is God speaking to you through this passage?” or “What is God calling you to do right now?” ask questions like,

1. What questions do you have about this story?
2. If you were Character X in this story, how do you think you’d feel?
3. Who in this story do you most relate to and why?

The first question invites students to readily admit their questions and doubts. In doing so, it communicates that they never need to lie in order to save face; That instead, their questions and doubts are always welcome. The second invites students to enter into the story as a participant.

The third question also invites students to enter into the story, this time by relating and uniquely applying it to their lives. Because Scripture is filled with stories of confused people, this kind of question gives students the freedom to admit their own faith struggles.

Rather than force them to lie, questions like the ones above invite kids to honestly engage with scripture.

Ultimately, doesn’t honest scriptural engagement foster a faith that’s far more secure than one built on a lie?

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Setting Goals For Small Groups

I am a goal setter. It’s how I can tell if I am successful in what I am doing. I think successful small groups are the ones that set goals for the year. A lot of the time, leaders do not really set goals for the small groups they are leading. They just simply meet. Which is great. Which is part of it, but not all of it.

When leaders set goals for their groups, they know what they are striving for. When students set goals for the group, they know what they are striving for. Goals can be different for each group, leader, and student but going on for the year without goals you will never know if your group is growing the way you want it to grow.

Here are some great goal ideas leaders and students to go through the year:

Numerical Growth Goals: As a leader I love to see something grow. Setting a numerical goal might be something you and your group want to do. Maybe you want to see more students come to your small group. So put it out to your students in the group that you want a 3 person growth by the end of the semester. Set that goal. Have the group go for it.

Scripture Goals: Set what books of the Bible the group wants to go through and in how much time. Maybe it’s a goal to memorize a Bible verse a week. Students can help come up with the goals in the beginning of the year and see if they can reach them before the summer time.

Serving Goals: Have you and your students set a goal on how many serve projects they want to complete for the year. You can check to see what your church has to offer for local community service. I do have to say, the times I serve with my boys are some of the great moments our group has had. It pulls them out of their comfort zones and right into being the heads and feet of Jesus.

Parental Goals: Being a small group leader of students means you are going to be dealing with their parents. Think of some parental goals you might want to set for you as the leader. Some goals I set for myself with my parents is to make sure I send out an email with our study materials once a month. To make sure to talk with them every time I drop one of them off somewhere of if they are being dropped off somewhere.

Setting goals for your group will help you determine growth and to see where you have been. I would suggest you and your group set some sort goals to make sure you are growing in some way.

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A look inside–the One Minute Bible

I’m not sure our little team of shipping elves were completely ready to get bombarded with 100′s of One Minute Bibles sold as a result of yesterday’s post… but they pulled it off by shipping as fast as they could!

We learned some great lessons from this sale: (1) price matters, (2) 50% off is a great sale, and (3) people are hungry to get teenagers in God’s Word–which is thrilling to my soul.

If you missed the details of the One Minute Bible sale (reg. $14.99… now, $7.99 till the end the of the year) you can read more about it here. This has been our best-selling product for 10+ years and I’m always so thrilled to get copies into the hands of youth workers. I know this is a great tool to get teenagers reading the Bible–for many of the reasons I listed in the previous post.

Here’s my challenge: ask your teenagers to read the Bible [at least] one minute a day. If they want to read more, each day’s reading within the One Minute Bible has a related reading plan (which you can see as you scroll thru the sample below). In addition to every day’s Scripture reading, there is a “special feature” on every page (that I wrote): It’s either (1) a devotional, (2) a commentary, (3) a theological word defined in student-friendly language, biblical personality profiles, and unique, weird, and humorous facts.

Take a look for yourself…scroll thru the first several pages:

One Minute Bible Preview

If you want to go straight to the page where the One Minute Bible is located, click here:

Question: What do you do to get teenagers to read the Bible? Leave your comment here:

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three ways to maintain your humility

the legacy of Joash, a summary:

He was crowned at an early age, seven, and ruled forty years. His life was pleasing in the eyes of God.

The chief priest Jehoiada was his counselor, and showed Joash kindness.

“Some time later,” (2 Chron 24:4) Joash begins a program to rebuild the temple. The people give cheerfully, and the temple is rebuilt.

Then Jehoiada dies. New counselors come.

Joash abandons temple worship, exchanging God for false gods. The people follow his example.

God sends prophets to bring the people back. They did not listen. Joash kills the prophet Zechariah, son of Jehoiada.

God sends trouble upon the people, an invading army. Joash is badly wounded, and later murdered in his bed by his officials.

A sobering life, a scripture I couldn’t quickly passover. Here were three ways I was challenged to maintain my humility–dependance on God.

…..| Remember that anyone can fail from any height, spiritual maturity isn’t proof against sin.
…..| Listen to good advice, even when it’s not what I want to hear.
…..| Watch for the warning signs, God will warn when I’m going off track because he wants me to remain in his love.

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change things up (spiritual ruts part 5)

Sometimes the rut isn’t very deep, and we only need to make minor changes to get our spiritual life back on track. Everyone needs a spiritual growth game plan and that plan ought to have some variety. People approach structure and spontaneity differently…so I leave it to you to figure out how much planning and how much variety you need. Don’t forget you need both. If you’re in a rut, go for what you’re currently lacking. If you lack structure, add some. If you have lack variety, do something different.

Here are a bunch of different options to give you some ideas (this isn’t an exhaustive list, you’ll probably think of some things that are missing

>> JOURNALING – Making the time to write down your thoughts has TREMENDOUS power to help you grow. The words are never good enough to describe what you’re thinking and feeling, but they help make your mental life more specific and concrete. In this you can reflect openly and examine honestly what God is doing in your life.

write about a meaningful passage or verse…explore
write about your life, examining your deeds, words, and thoughts
write out your prayers, this can help you stay focused in prayer
write out major life lessons and reread them periodically to remember what God has taught you in the past

>> THINKING – Staying focused for an extended time is hard for everyone, but the benefits are real: what we think about determines who we are (See Romans 12:1-2).

Meditate on a single verse or phrase, turning it over and over to consider what it means.
Memorize a scripture that is especially meaningful and personal. This change the way you think and give you power when tempted.


>> PRAYER – Every relationship is improved by talking, and prayer is nothing more than simple communication with God

make a new prayer commitment: set an attainable time goal to pray, choose something that’s a little bit more than what your current habit.
pray out loud: this may feel a little awkward, but saying the words can help created a deeper focus.
Say nothing, and just listen. This is tough, it’s hard to “keep yer mouth shut.”
Confess your guilt, forgiveness is ESSENTIAL to grow spiritually, and God wants us to ask him specifically for grace.
Kneel while you pray, approaching God in humility does wonders for a heart.
Sing a favorite praise song.


>> READING – God’s Word is the best way to learn about him and who he’s made us to become. All believers have the Holy Spirit who will teach us as we take time to be with God.

Read a large portion of Scripture (two chapters or more) to get general ideas and thought flow
Read a small portion of scripture and carefully digest each verse
Occasionally make the time to read an entire book of scripture
Read a devotional book
Do deeper study and read some Biblical study reference materials


One last thing: location is important: it’s good to have a consistent place where you can easily retreat to be with God and free from distractions. It’s also good to have some special places (like a beach or a
park) where you can enjoy God’s creation.

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reject ritualized religion (spiritual ruts part 4)

So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there–so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. Isaiah 28:13

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. Matthew 6:1


It’s abundantly clear in scripture that God is concerned with the condition of a person’s heart. Action divorced from motive is hypocrisy. We lack integrity when what we do isn’t a true reflection of our heart. God is looking for pure hearts, not fake and falsified rituals. We cannot simply look good (according to others), we must also be good (according to God). God’s rules are a roadmap for worship and a pathway to life. They are not a set of instructions for winning approval from Christians.

One of the great tragedies in our world: when it comes to shooting our wounded, Christians are expert sharpshooters. Criticism that covers up guilt creates a fake environment that’s not safe to share spiritual weakness. When weakness can’t be shared, we descend into going through the motions so we don’t get picked off.

Don’t do spiritual exercises when you don’t feel like doing them. Ignore that advice and you’ll ritualize your faith. Your devotion to God will become nothing more than a series of meaningless and empty actions. They will keep you from being attacked by other believers, but you’ll be dying on the inside. “Going through the motions” isn’t a trajectory that’ll keep you growing spiritually. You may impress others, but you won’t impress God.

Here’ is how this principle looks in my life. I hesitate to share this because your expression of faith can’t be carbon copied after mine. If I don’t feel like going to church, I don’t. Maybe I’m in a super bad mood and shouldn’t be around others. This principle can be taken too far (which is where the "Obedience Principle" comes into play). I won’t skip a spiritual discipline more than two or three times. After that, if I don’t feel like doing something, there’s a good chance my feelings need to be changed by my actions.

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what I admire about doug fields

I’ve known Doug for more than 20 years. I have admired him since our first conversation. He is my friend, pastor, hero, leader, ministry partner, best friend. Somewhere in there we became like brothers, although I’m much younger brother always needing quite a bit of help. After my dad, there’s no one else whom I’ve respected more than Doug.

What’s Doug does is easy to explain: he loves God deeply, he loves his family passionately, and he loves the ministry entrusted to him by God.

What I’ve admired about Doug has been SO MUCH more difficult for me to explain. I’ve gone through several pages in my journal, trying to find the words to describe our friendship. I was tempted to write nothing. However, I needed to say something—even though it will be incomplete—because I want others to have a peak at how he has shaped my life:

Doug is honest, open, and authentic.
In high school I’d bring my friends to church by saying, “you have to hear this guy, he talks about God and he is real and not fake.” 30+ students on my team also found this quality admirable. WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET. This has never changed in him.

Doug is patient, forgiving, and humble.
I can’t number the times I’ve done something impulsive, foolish, or even evil and had it directly impact Doug. He has been his habit to respond with grace. When there’s relational conflict, Doug keeps short accounts, not letting a grudge develop. He doesn’t shirk his responsibility to say sorry when he’s wrong.

Doug is passionate, pure, and holy.
He has a deep friendship with Jesus, and it’s the most important thing in his life. He loves scripture, and constantly seeks intimacy with God. He’s reflective and self-aware, and not afraid to tackle the Ugliness within. He’s aware of his own faults and imperfections. His life is one that is set apart, committed to God’s Way instead of the World’s way.

Doug is wise, discerning, and understanding.
He is not satisfied with the superficial and simplistic answers. He understands people and has great insight into their character and struggles. He is more than a great communicator; his teaching exceeds his charisma because he’s committed to telling the truth.

Doug is compassionate, encouraging, and gentle.
He cares deeply. He works to help others love Jesus more. Doug is a master the nudge: able to correct a person with a light touch.

Doug is funny, positive, and encouraging.
He understands how humor ought to be used: to create joy and break down walls. He has NEVER been preoccupied with self-glory. His words are legendary: able to motivate and inspire and activate and build up ANYONE.

Doug is driven, dedicated, and fearless.
He works tirelessly to build, develop, create…his ministry is a stewardship, and he doesn’t waste time or resources entrusted to him. He is that strange mix of dreamer and doer, seeing big things and doing the little things to get there. He is a leader, and shuts out the chorus of fools fearlessly.

Doug is faithful, trustworthy, and loyal.
He has been a great friend to me. I have trusted him with everything and never felt at risk.


>>that’s the best I can do!



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(typed on my phone at practice, so forgive the typos and such)

My oldest, Max (8), was disappointed with some things at school today. Here’s what I’d tell him when he’s older and if he wanted to hear it:

1. It’s ok. Admit it and accept it and don’t let it become a source of shame, regret, or anger. Scripture is filled with people who were disappointed. Everyone hopes, therefore everyone will be dissapointed.

2. Share it. Dont bottle it up. Don’t carry the load alone. Tell it to God and tell it to another person. God isn’t shocked, he’s not afraid, and he won’t get angry. If you don’t have someone safe to share with, then you have big problems to attend to. You have bigger problems if you’re not talking to God. We need the release that comes from sharing.

3. Examine it: is your dissapointment legitimate? Scriptue and wisdom are your guide. If you have the right, identify how you might specifically surrender and trust and wait in God. If you do not have the right, fix your thoughts. Set your mind on things above, set your hope upon the Lord.

Is it this simple? Yea, it really is, but it will NEVER, EVER feel like it.


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My name is Matt McGill.

My name is Matt McGill, and this is a little introspection.

I’ve love Jesus and have been taking him seriously since 1986.

I love to think (I’ve had to learn this because I’m aggressively impulsive by nature.).

I hate inconsistency (especially in myself).

I am ambivalent towards time and calendars (“now” and “not now” is good enough for me).

I love to see other people express their passion.

I ask a lot of questions, some of them are good. I’m interested in everything. I am more confident than most. I think carefully and speak carelessly. I’m too blunt and work to be sharper.

I am reasonable and logical (most of the time). I argue with passion and persistence.  I lack persuasion and a strong desire to be liked by others.

I can bring out the best in people, but it’s usually not comfortable. I push, I pull, I poke. I’ll find if the center holds.

The process is the product because every finished thing can be made better through another process.

I’m challenger and a crucible. I am a catalyst and a crusader.

I’m always watching, always wondering and always testing and always considering and always comparing and always examining. Always learning and always growing.

This is a summary of my life.

Part One: WOMB

In 1973 I was in my mother’s womb and somewhere inside her bones were the seeds of a cancer that would take her life when I was nearly five years old. I still remember the funeral. From time to time, I still need to forgive God for letting that happen.


Words can’t express how much I experienced in a single year. In 1986, I decided to take God seriously. I clearly understood my calling to full time ministry, and I burned my house down to the ground.

Why did I start taking God seriously? I had friends that were the best at everything. I was friends with the best athlete. I was friends with the most popular person on campus. I was friends with the toughest kid, and even the smartest kid. I wondered what was the best of all these things. Being an athlete would only last into my 30′s. Being the most popular wasn’t worth it cause eventually I’d get married and it can’t be that tough to be popular with one other person. Fighting was obviously worthless. Being smart would probably last the longest, but smart people weren’t necessarily good people.

I wanted to pursue that which was the best and would last the longest. I decided that my soul lasted forever, so taking care of it was the best thing I could pursue. I would be the best I could at this, and do whatever I could to help others take care of their souls.

It was months later that I knew I’d be doing this for the rest of my life. How could I not spend most of my life helping other people take care of their souls? I have since learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: smart people and dumb people. For the smart people, God takes his time revealing to them what he wants them to do; and after a while, they figure it out. For the dumb people, he tells them his plans early on, in no uncertain terms, because he knows they aren’t smart enough to figure it out and will probably screw things up. I was in the second group.

I also burned my house down cooking french fries. It was seven days after my birthday, which also happens to be two days before Christmas. My dad wasn’t happy. We built a new house. I was the first kid on the block to have a CD player because insurance replaced my tape player. For some reason, I’ve never really regretted burning my house down. Mistakes happen.

Of course, this was the third fire I had started within a four months. My first fire got out of control because I was eating deviled eggs for the first time in my life. Of course I was eating and burning at the same time. When I was all out of this new delight, I went back to the house “real quick.” I was too slow. My second fire burned out of control right away. I view this one as my Dad’s fault because he mentioned in passing that a green branch can’t burn. He was wrong.


High School was amazing in every way. There’s too much to write about. My dad, my football coach, and my youth pastor (Doug Fields) taught me everything I needed to know about life. I started dating Misha because she asked me to her prom. College was great. I studied in Israel for 4 months. I learned Hebrew and translated the book of Jonah. After college I lost all of my Hebrew since there’s not much need for it in youth ministry.


In 1995 I graduated school and went to work at Saddleback as an intern. I was making between 400-500 bucks a month. I ate out a ton which I could afford because I didn’t buy car insurance. Before the Mish and I got married, I discerned the specifics of my calling in life: I was to serve Doug Fields. I loved Saddleback and really loved youth ministry, but God wanted me to help Doug. He needed a lot of help, so it was a good fit. I said to Misha: I’m called to serve Doug, what do you think about this? She was on board.

Doug and I worked wonderfully together. We’re different enough to complement each other and we’re similar enough to communicate clearly and quickly with one another (most of the time). This is true of our skills, but also of our ministry values.

This scripture has been best picture of my service to Fields: “Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, ‘I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me.’” (2Sa 12:27-28 NIV)

Doug is a man of kind words and thoughtful affirmation. Of the thousands of encouraging words he’s said, one that sticks out the most was when he thanked me for being a kingmaker to him. He said, “I feel like you’ve been like a Samuel to me.” Including this is self promoting, but it’s the best illustration of these years.


In 2006 I made the most difficult decision of my life: I quit Fields. I’m going to try really hard to boil down the most difficult decision of my life: I was unhappy for about 2 months. This has never happened in my life. There was nothing different about Doug, there was nothing different about me. Everyday I’ve welcomed the day knowing what I was supposed to do and how I was going to do it. If I got sad, I either changed the person or I changed myself. I’ve never been sad for more than 2 days…let alone 2 months. I worked HARD to understand it. I couldn’t. In the third month of my discontent, I surrendered it all to God. I refused to think about it. If it came up, I’d read a passage in scripture, or do something else. Then I had the feeling, the idea, that I needed to quit fields and do something different. I was SO ANGRY AT MYSELF. That I’d give up just because I was feeling discontent for 3 months?!?!? Most people live with 83 years of discontent, and I was going to give up!?

The most difficult thing about this decision was that I made it WITHOUT knowing why. I had no reasons… no explanations.  So I made the decision to move on. It was the right one, I had a peace that I hadn’t had in two years. That night I talked to my best friend. I was babbling like a moron. I couldn’t string together three coherent words. I made the toughest decision of my life and I couldn’t explain why.

Don’t get me wrong: there have been PLENTY of things that I couldn’t explain in my life. Plenty of areas where I let God do his thing, and accepted the mystery or paradox for what it was—something beyond me. However, this was totally different.

Over the next two weeks, each day, God revealed to me where he’d been working for the previous 2 years. It was amazing. I won’t go into detail, but there were more than 10 key events that were all working to get me to a point where I’d let go of serving Fields. I had no idea what I was going to do next. I knew two things: Step out in faith, and do something different.


I was gone from Saddleback for 10 months. They were an amazing 10 months. Met great people, worked alongside some great servants, tried some great things…every step of the way I was doing something different. It was very obvious that it was time to move on after 10 months. This decision was as easy as the other one was hard.

Even when I came back to Saddleback, it was something VERY different. In fact, I felt like I was at a different church. I was using some of my lesser gifts, leadership and organizing and neglecting some of my greater gifts (teaching and discipling). I was not discontented, for I was convinced that I was in the exact place that God had for me. Frustration: of course. Discouragement: definitely. Growth: absolutely.

Reading about Moses in the desert struck a chord in me. He was doing things he’s never really done…he was in a foreign land…and he built his family. I too was doing something really different (in the land of ADULTS…leaving the (blessed) land of students.

Now, I’m not saying this is good bible study skills…I’m not saying that everyone ought to allegorize the narratives in the Bible and apply them to their lives. I’m saying that I feel like God was talking to me specifically. He said, wait. Be faithful. Do what you’ve never done before.  Build your family. This time is preparation for what’s next.

(Of course, that last sentence is always true. Today is ALWAYS preparation for what’s next… however, it has never been more personally significant than it has been these past few years)


Now I’m working at Group Publishing, in the youth ministry department. I’m excited for this new season, where I’ll be doing lots of writing and editing. Very much the opposite of my last season.

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on the nature and importance of hope


the nature and importance of HOPE.


Max, Marc, Morgan, Miller, Mac.

I would like to tech you about hope. I have struggled so much over this topic, to find the right words. In my mind, hope is so simple, but when I put it to words, I am simplicity is nowhere to be found. No other subject has done this to me before. Let’s see how I do.


1. Hope is a positive expectation for the future. Tomorrow, I hope to enjoy some ice cream.

2. Hope is supremely powerful because it is connected directly to joy and all forms of action (thinking, speaking, doing.). It’s impossible to have joy without hope; also, it is impossible to act without hope. Every act is done in anticipation of a positive effect. Every joy comes from the waiting for or experience of the object of our hope.

3. The object of our hope is never possessed. When it is possessed, it becomes certain knowledge (which is certain, where as hope is not certain because the object is not yet possessed). This ice cream is good.

4. Everyone hopes, everyone is always hoping, everyone has many hopes, and these hopes often conflict and contradict one another. Understanding yourself, and others, will be achieved when you discern the hope. Most people are unhappy and hurting. This is because they hope in the wrong things. When you tell a person about their false hope, rarely will you change them, they must experience the emptiness. This is why I think it best to, most of the time, to give a selfish person exactly what they want.

5. Although hope is always present and working, man do not think much about their hopes. It is an evil thing to understand a person’s hopes and then treat them harshly. A person’s hope is the thing they treasure most, and the knowing of a hope, combined with the knowing of how to destroy that hope is a despicable act. I have done this too often to others and it makes me sad.

6. Hopes can be strong or weak; they can be in worthy or unworthy objects. Weak hopes impact us little, and don’t last long under pressure or frustration. Strong hopes impact us much, and stand against the storms of frustration and disappointment. Worthy hopes grant us the joy we seek. Unworthy hopes deceive for a time, and then they destroy us. Hoping in the praise of others will lead to a joyless life.

7. Fear is really a kind of hope. Fear is the hope of the avoidance of pain and hurt. It is a horrible hope to have long term, because we were made to run towards good. Avoiding bad is not the same thing as running toward good.


There has to be a better way to communicate what I’ve just written, but I cannot find it. I suspect you ought to read the previous points a few times to untangle my chaotic thoughts. However, I am crystal clear on what is next: our hope in Christ.

I am convinced there are too many hopes in Christ to count, you will spend your lifetime discovering new hopes, they are in scripture, on every page, and easy to learn.

Our most important hope is the hope of eternal life with Jesus in heaven. This hope is unshakable and will give us the strength to endure absolutely anything this world or it’s master, can throw at us. (I am referring to our responsibility as we persevere, I am not discounting the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit). This hope is the ultimate anchor for the soul.

When you woke up this morning, why did you get out of bed, what were you hoping would happen? When you last lost your temper, think back to the moments before, what were you hoping in? Consider how much joy and peace you have right now, what is the source, in what are you hoping? Consider deeply your sorrows and your surprises? What was the root? In what were you hoping?

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I’m not going to play GOD today

Feeling overwhelmed today. This means I’m trying to play God. I’d rather practice some unhealthy self deception and say, “I’m overwhelmed, isn’t it great I’m so ___________” (insert appropriate pride builder).

So, I decided I’d re-read the chapter from scripture I read yesterday, since I obviously didn’t take it to heart. Here are some notes from Hebrews chapter 11:

  • faith is certainty in our hopes, hopes are the things we want but cannot see
  • the ancients understood this
  • faith understands God as the creator
  • faith offers sacrifices to God
  • faith results in righteousness
  • faith leaves a legacy
  • faithful people, those who please God, are used by God
  • it isn’t possible to please God without faith; faith believes God exists and that he gives rewards
  • faith builds the impossible, improbable
  • faithfulness “condemns” the world
  • faith is obedience, and that may mean moving to an unknown place
  • faith trusts God to do miracles
  • faith lasts a life time… until we die
  • faith rests in the promises of God, things “seen” but not yet possessed
  • faith longs for something better, a “heavenly country” were we might be citizens
  • faith is expressed to others, “i am a stranger here, looking for a better place”
  • faith offers even the most precious things to God, even our children
  • faith means blessing our children (?)
  • faith breaks the law (when God is leading, of course—no free ticket to anarchy here!)
  • faith rejects privilege and prestige, when God is leading
  • faith obeys God, even when it’s a first, like the first Passover
  • faith walks through the miraculous way that God provides
  • faith obeys, waiting for God to show up
  • faithfulness can be practiced by anyone, even godless prostitutes are our example


We wait, no matter what!
No matter the troubles, the trials, the temptations..
We are called to obey, to do what is before us, look forward to what is ahead. There will be a day when we stand with the faithful in the presence of God and live with him for eternity.

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thoughts on a life of sacrifice

What I find compelling about Jesus’ life and teaching is that he doesn’t ask us to do anything he didn’t do himself.

In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, this is your spiritual act of worship

This scripture has always been troubling for me, no matter what the state of my spiritual health-in highs and in lows-I come away with deep conviction and a quickened heart beat. Questions plague me as if I’m helpless prey: 

>Am I a living sacrifice?
>What, exactly, does it mean to sacrifice?
>Am I holding back by holding on to something?
>Is my worship spiritual or ritual?

As I have reflected on this scripture and several others, here is what I have seen:

At the core, a sacrifice is an offering that’s willingly OFFERED to God. Forced sacrifice is oppression. We must choose to give up ownership and all the rights and privileges associated with the gift we surrender to God.

We cannot give away something we do not possess. God requires OUR BODIES as a sacrifice. In the past, he required an animal that was personal property. God calls us to give out of what we have personally earned.

Without worth, a sacrifice carries little meaning and power. Giving something you don’t really want is little more than dropping off your junk at the thrift store. Your body is a good thing. The money you earn is good. God called Abraham to give up Isaac. These offerings were good, gifts from God. A true sacrifice always carries with it a piece of our heart.

Sacrifice isn’t just discipline, it is more. Discipline means doing what you don’t naturally want to do. Many people are disciplined to work out regularly and eat well. This kind of self control yields predictable results, it is a safe hope. Sacrifice is discipline that doesn’t know the outcome. I’ll trust God and surrender, but I don’t what he’ll do. I will be good, but it is also unknown. Sacrifice is a dangerous hope.

One of the exciting things about a sacrifice is that it reveals our motives and desires. It shows us who we are, revealing our character. Our sacrifices reveal our true hopes. They are a test of the heart because it is impossible for a person to sacrifice for what we know to be a lie. Sacrifice banishes impulsiveness for it forces us to ask, “now why am I giving this up?” The heart is a complicated place, and sacrificing helps to untangle the confusion.

At the core, it’s impossible for a sacrifice to be fake. When the offering is made, it is given to God. And he is the one that judges motives, he is the one to whom everything is laid bare. We lie to ourselves and others, but we cannot lie to God.


Posted via email from mattmcgill’s posterous

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been thinking about the next letter to my kids, it’s going to be on hope.

As I’ve been thinking about this stuff, I’ve been reading through my favorite books and passages in scripture. As I was reading through Isaiah, it was so dry and silent for me for the first 40 chapters… the kind of quiet times that feel like a batting slump…and then I hit Isaiah 40:31 

"…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength."

It was a good one, I needed some strength and I needed some hope. I need to keep thinking about it and what it means for the soul.

On the pod cast today, there was a question: "What’s been a ministry highlight?" A dim despair descended upon me… it’s been a summer of ADMINISTRATION…I’ve been too disconnected from my decentralized team… I’ve been really focused on the church budget (thank you Lord for it being over). It’s been a dry 10 weeks.

It’s been crazy doing ministry (mostly) alone for the last year and four months. The person I reported to was always available, but he had lots of things on his plate. All of this is going to change soon, as I’ve been granted a few positions, and there’s a new intern. The regional ministry is going to grow from me (plus the voices in my head) to me and three others (one part time). That’s like a large crowd! Far smaller than HSM, at it’s largest was 16 people…but that ministry was a lot more hands on…

back to hope: things are turning around the season of solo ministry is going to disappear… I’m hoping I’ll get to focus on more of what I’m shaped for.

[don't forget to vote...5 stars is better than 1 star... voting will get you ready for the election.]

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excitement and expectations

It’s been a few days since the structure changes happened at saddleback, and the excitement hasn’t faded for me yet. after talking some with one of my friends, i was coming to the conclusion that I don’t think I’ve been this excited for ministry for years…

someone else asked, what do you think are the biggest challenges you’ll (as a leadership team) will face? I didn’t have a very coherent answer at the time, and I probably still don’t…but, for starters:

We face a new ministry context. we’re all in way over our heads…we’re new to this game and thinking about ministry on this level of influence and complexity…now, saying this isn’t particularly insightful: this is what Rick was going for when he chose to make this shift: he wanted to switch from the experienced, founding pastors to a new group. duh, of course this is different for us!

We face biblical standards for relating to one another. It’s a difficult thing to live in community the way Christ demonstrated and commanded. Rick said we would be evaluated on our love for one another, ability to maintain integrity in confidentiality, and our humility. These things don’t just happen, even for mature believers who have been walking with Jesus for a long time.

We face huge and challenging projects. The current top priorities are mind-blowing: budget (short term), 10×10 vision (long term)…

We face the unknown. Being new to the table means there’s a lot we don’t know about. "Expect the unexpected" comes to mind… (and then I wonder if it was a speech writer who created that and didn’t remember the law of non contradiction). I’d rather say "expect the possibility of the unexpected," but that’s not clever or memorable (just accurate).

We face the dangerous temptation that follows blessing. We’ve been entrusted with a huge responsibility, and honestly, it’s humbling…now. However, every human alive has the ability to forget the works and wonders of God, and move toward self-reliance. Pride is a universal problem among people. This is all over scripture (see nearly any part of the history of Israel). Rick has said that few people handle power well… you only have to look as far as your homeowners association to see this truth.

Anyhow, I’m sure there’s a ton of challenges we face…and all of this is simply my perspective, I’m sure I’m missing a lot.

In the essential things, absolutely nothing whatsoever is changing. God calls us to be faithful with what he has entrusted to us. We walk by faith and live in obedience (living up to what we have already attained). We leave behind worry because we’re not the Creator and the Author of life. My ministry tomorrow is nothing more than preparation for eternity, just like the ministry of my yesterday.


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