A little phrase…

Catalyst is a big conference. Thirteen thousand attendees. Twenty countries represented. I lost count of the number of laptops in the sound pit.

In just two days a massive amount of information is thrown at those of us who have gathered to take it in. One of my friends calls it “drinking from the fire hose” and he’s not wrong. There is so much to take in, that it is impossible to catch it all.

But even in the midst of all of that, each time I am there, I find I am struck by one little phrase that one of the speakers throws out. Often it’s not the main point of their talk. It’s just something that, for one reason or another rings in my ears and rolls around in my brain.

This year that little phrase comes from Matt Chandler. He said, “God works in the mess.”

And I thought – Thank God! Because life IS messy. It is unpredictable. None of us know what tomorrow will bring.

And that might be overwhelming.

Except that God works in the mess. And that means, no matter how messy the day, or the conversation or the meeting or the issue, God is at work in it.

David wrote these words in the midst of being hunted and living in caves to keep his enemies from finding him:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands
Psalm 31:14-15a

He wrote this, I believe, because he understood this little phrase: God works in the mess.

Celebrity…

One if the ideas that ran through many of the talks given at Catalyst this year was the danger of celebrity. For Canadian pastors, this might sound like a uniquely American problem. I mean, after all, in the Canadian context a “mega-church” is one that has over a thousand members (as opposed to the American benchmark which I would put at around 5000+). At one of the conferences I attended in Atlanta, I heard a pastor say, “Hey, when we started out, we were a small church, too. In those days we only had 1,500 people on a Sunday.” This was at an Orange conference, which focusses on family ministry, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to hear the same sort of statement made by Catalyst attendees. There is no doubt that church is bigger in the USA. The world of church is very different south of the border.

So any of us who toil away in Canadian church world, where a big church has a Sunday attendance of 200+, might be tempted not to heed the warnings about celebrity. How famous can one actually be when your whole congregation is less than a hundred people?

But I have long held the theory that the cult of personality, the problem of celebrity, is just as pervasive in a small church as in a large one. All pastors find themselves put on a pedestal at one point or another. Sometimes it is because we helped a family through a crisis. Sometimes it is because of our teaching. Sometimes it’s nothing at all that we did, but simply the fact that our congregants may have been raised to think of their pastor in an elevated way.

The trouble starts if we start to believe our own legend. When we do that…well, we start to find our identity in things other than that unshakeable child-of-the-King-ness that I wrote about the other night. Our identity isn’t changed. Nothing can change the fact that we are children of the King. But it is like we develop identity amnesia. We forget that our hope, our joy, our life is found in the fact that we are children of the King. We start to look for life in other places…in the adoration of those we are leading, or the successes we are experiencing in our leadership.

And the reality is: that never satisfies. We are children of the King. Everything other than His love falls flat.

Take a deep breath and a long hard look at your life, and ask yourself this: are you looking for life-joy-hope-peace-affirmation from anything other than God’s love?

If so let me share with you something Jon Acuff said during the conference (told you I’d end up blogging about him more than once): the Living God of the Universe knows your name…and that is as famous as you will ever need to be.

MAKE

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At Catalyst, Atlanta, this year’s theme was: MAKE. I have to admit, when I first heard that the theme was “make”, I had no idea where the conference would go with it. Of course, now it all seems so obvious.

We are made to be makers. We are made in the image of the Great Maker. Anything we do that makes instead of destroys, reflects God and leads us closer to the people we were made to be.

The word make showed up in so many different aspects of the conference – there was the Maker’s Market, where attendees could buy fair trade goods to help make a living for those in need; there were the talks, all of which were about making something (making culture, making peace, making history); and there was the idea that drove Catalyst this year: that God is making us into the leaders He wants us to be.

I love the idea that we were made to be makers. We are made to be makers of peace, makers of disciples, makers of relationship, makers of beauty, makers of hope. We are made to be those who build up instead of tear down. We are made to make someone else’s day, to make their lives better, to make their joy complete. Because that is what Jesus has done for us.

And because when we make, we reflect the image of God.

And I loved the idea that God is still making me. That God is still making you. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, God is never finished with us. He is always shaping us, forming and reforming us, making us.

There is a song by the Christian band Gungor (it’s the lead singer’s last name, in case you were wondering), who happened to lead a fair amount of the worship at Catalyst this year, called “Beautiful Things.”

The chorus goes:

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust,
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

I think it has to be the most encouraging thoughts I have come across in a long time…that as messy and confusing and broken as my life sometimes feels, God is making a beautiful thing out of it. Every once in a while I get a glimpse of the beautiful things God is making out of my life – and when that happens I am amazed at what the Great Maker is capable of doing with my efforts.

And you know what? It’s not just my life, that God is making beautiful things out of…but the life of anyone who chooses to live in relationship with God, anyone who chooses to be a maker. God is making beautiful things out of your life. Even if you cannot see it right now.

Because God is the Great Maker and He never leaves us and never forsakes us. He will always be making us new.

Recovered…ish.

A little over a week ago I was in Atlanta for Catalyst. It was an amazing time, and God had so much to say to me during the conference. But the reality is that for an introvert and a process-thinker like me, it takes a while to recover from an event like that. Not only was there a 16hr drive each way (I know, you think we’re crazy for driving, but man I love a good road trip!), there were also two intense days of leadership teaching from high energy speakers in the midst of a crowd of 13,000 people.

On the one hand, I love Catalyst and all it has brought into my life in the past two years. On the other hand, once it’s over I just need TIME to recover. That’s how God made me. And I am learning not to fight it, but to embrace it.

I still think the greatest thing Craig Groeschel has ever taught me is that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is rest. So I have been allowing my brain and my body some rest in the past week. Of course, the world keeps turning, and I cannot hit a pause button on the the things happening in my life and the community of faith where I serve. Even still, I would say I am recovered from Catalyst and ready to begin writing about it.

As I sat in the last session of the conference, I made a list on my iPhone notes about blog ideas that came from all I experienced during the conference. So this is my way of telling all of you who take the time to read my blog (what a blessing you are to me!) to get ready to hear a whole lot about Catalyst and the great things I learned there. My hope is that God will use these lessons to touch your heart in beautiful ways.

And now, as I close the book on a long but wonderful day, my prayer is that you may find rest when you need it. That you may be released from the heavy burdens you carry and may truly believe what is said in the Psalms:

It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.
Palm 127:2 NLT

Make…

This morning I received an email from Catalyst – the leadership conference I attended last October. It was an awesome two days of ‘drinking from the firehose’ as different church and business leaders poured their wisdom into 6000 gathered church leaders. So it is perhaps no surprise that I smile every time I see a Catalyst email in my inbox.

This one came with a video promo for this year’s Catalyst even in Atlanta in October. I purchased my ticket within days of arriving back home last year.

I have watched the video at least four times today. Each time I have been reminded of the lessons learned and the experiences had at last year’s event. I am so excited to get to go again this year.  Check out the video, and I’m sure you will understand my excitement. By the way – the band whose song is featured in the vid is called Seryn and they opened last year’s event. You can see them in this clip – look for the dude with the long red beard and the chick with blond dreads playing the violin!