Spring Break…

///It’s no lie that most of us need a break at points in our life. Between work, church, counseling, etc., we find ourselves spread thin with responsibility.  Being overworked and under appreciated is a very common theme in our world.  It eventually causes us to have a moment where we feel like the only thing that’s we can do to overcome this burden is to escape.  Escape the struggles, problems, classes, frustrations, drama, and all the other junk we deal with on a regular basis

As I write this, I’m sitting in a Coffee Shop on South Padre Island, TX, for Spring Break 2015.  I have the honor and privilege to work alongside 700+ college students as they seek love “breakers” who are working towards escape.  We’ve spent the last few days driving in vans on this small island, picking up anyone who would take a free ride from one club to the other.  From one drunken night to another. From one mistake to another.  All along the way we speak with them, getting to know who they are, where they’re from, and what they love most about life.

What we’ve discovered is, many of them don’t love their life.  That’s why they are here.  Many of them know the Jesus of the Bible, but he hasn’t taken root in their life.  They can say the right language and do the right things, but inside they are hurting and broken.  And somewhere along the way, someone convinced them that forgetting meant to escape.  If you cannot remember what you did, then you cannot feel bad or guilty.

But at what point does the running away become the way to live?  When does the escape turn into the reality?  When does temporary forgetfulness become forbidden fruit?

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (‭Matthew‬ ‭11‬:‭28‬ ESV)

What many of want more than a break is rest.  Rest from the frustration of life.  Rest from school and work.  Rest from social dependence.  Rest from the burden of sin in our life.  The Gospel is rest for the weary.  A call to persevere.  It’s freedom from the burden of guilt and shame that weighs heavy on each of us.

Maybe what we need is not a break at all.  Maybe what we need is rest.///

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Gospel Saturation…

///  I love coffee.  Maybe even a little too much.  It quite honestly ranks as high as water on my drink scale of life.  As a kid, my mother always told me that coffee would stunt my growth.  As a teenager, they said it helps grow hair on your chest.  When you get to college, you use it stay awake.  As a pastor, you use it for a conversation piece or spontaneous meeting.

Coffee is good.  In seminary I began my fondness to coffee through the french press brewing method.  I can say that it made my 4-Cup Mr. Coffee drip brew look like an old tire.  It changed my perspective on how to really enjoy a cup of coffee.

///Saturation///

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…(Ephesians 4:13-15 ESV)

Saturation is the state of being soaked, impregnated or imbued thoroughly.  Gospel Saturation is the state of being immersed in the good news of Jesus, soaking it into every pore of your life.

The idea of being saturated with the Gospel was the french press of my life.  It moved me away from a mediocre faith to a faith that I can enjoy.  A faith that does not weigh me down or rely on tradition.  The Gospel changed my perspective on my life, my family, and the church.

When you combine ground coffee and hot water together to make a french press, you exchange the two elements identities to now make one thing: coffee.  After a period of soaking, you separate the grounds from the water, leaving a behind a delicious cup of coffee.  Before the ground coffee, the water was just water.  But after the grounds sat in the water for a period of time, it began to infuse the molecules of the water to produce a new liquid.

I realized that in my life, the Gospel should hold the same process.  I should become different after meeting with Jesus.  Something that is not old and tired, but something that I enjoy.  Saturation is a natural part of existence.  We tend to get overwhelmed in ourselves, our hobbies, our families, etc.  What we need is people who are overwhelmed by the Gospel; to move their affections towards Jesus, allowing Him to conduct their lives.

Make today a good cup of coffee.  Let the Gospel penetrate your very life.///

Jesus + Lenses = Vision

I grew up having horrible eyesight.  Throughout elementary school I struggled seeing the board, seeing the clock, making out details, etc.  It was awful!  I needed glasses, and not the cool, “hipster” glasses.  No.  What my family could afford was the super thick, metal frame, huge lens, old man glasses.  It was not pretty…and not even close to “cute”.  Yet, I did not need style to fix the situation.  Instead, I needed the proper set of lenses so that I could achieve the best focus.

Vision has a huge significance on helping us get from where we are to where we need to go.  Without my lenses, I cannot make out any details unless it is inches from my face.  I cannot look forward with confidence, and at many times I sit still for fear of what I might trip over or step on.  At night, when I’m not wearing my glasses, I walk around my house slowly with hands out to feel where walls, chairs, beds, end tables, etc., are placed so as to avoid breaking a toe.  I have bad vision without the proper lenses.

In ministry this works the same way.  For the fortunate leaders who have 20/20 vision, I envy you.  But many of us need help in achieving 20/20 vision.  In my personal ministry, vision works with me placing myself in the right frame of mind and sight.  Without the proper set of lenses, I cannot achieve the greatest sight potential for my ministry.  In other words, I can’t look forward, peripheral, or detailed.  So why is the right set of lenses important?

Forward Vision

We have to able to look forward in our vision for ministry.  If we are not enabled to look forward, then we find ourselves searching aimless with our hands out, seeking our destination and grabbing for anything that might help us better understand where we are presently.  We begin to pick up books, materials, mentors, etc., to help us further understand our present situation and how we can best seek God to find out where He is moving in our ministry.  Discovering resources is great for helping guide our programs with a proper Christ-Centered Vision.  But the key to all of this is making sure that you are looking forward.  If young adult, collegiate, and youth culture are going to continue to push forward, so must we!  This is not to say that some former practices, traditions, and programs should be thrown out the window, but rather they should be challenged against your God’s vision through the proper lenses.  Ask yourself questions like, “Is Wednesday night youth still necessary?  Is there something that we can put in place of…?  Does a visitation program fall in the vision for this ministry?  Is spending money on large events to attract students/parents/collegiate/etc. a part of the vision Christ has for us?”  You have to answer those questions personally according to how God is leading your ministry, but we need to make sure that every so often we check our senses.  We do not want to continue to do something “just because that’s how we’ve always done it” and in turn immobilize ourselves or our ministry because we cannot see five feet in front of us.

Peripheral Vision

I cannot stress enough the importance of peripheral vision in ministry.  Many times in my personal walk and ministry, Satan has not attacked me in front of my face.  He’s too much of a coward to let me see him coming.  Satan instead attacks me from the side, flanking my spiritual and ministerial weaknesses.  In turn, I find myself doubting my worth or effectiveness in ministry because my focus has become misguided.  It’s important that when you begin to properly establish a Christ-Centered vision, you factor in the attacks that might come from any angle.  If you are moving in a direction that God has for you, then you cannot avoid attacks from Satan and his many devices.  Proper lenses help me achieve better peripheral vision, which in turn helps me become more aware of spiritual warfare surrounding my ministry and life.  When I think of sin in my life I refer back to Genesis in the story of Cain and Abel.  As God recognizes the impending disaster of life between brothers, he encourages Cain at the end of Genesis 4:7, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (ESV)  We cannot escape the presence of temptation. We must center our sights on Christ, so that our awareness of temptation, and its desire to consume our life to the point of sin, gives us hope that through Jesus Christ we can rule over sin.  Spiritual warfare can kill a vision and a ministry if it is not fought with a correct vision and plan.  When you fight battle with correct vision, you must also lead your team to understand that Satan is on the prowl, so as to make sure that everyone is fighting Satan and not each other.

Detailed Vision

The ability to make out details is crucial to ministry.  Casting a vision without a plan is like going fishing without a pole, net, boat, tackle, or whatever.  Every detail is important, even the flexible ones. Flexible details give you a starting point to alter the plan to better suite the vision God has given you.  In other words, if you say that you are moving away from traditional Wednesday night worship to community groups,  have the details of what that will look like.  Are you going to do host homes?  Are you meeting at the local coffee shop?  Who is leading the studies?  How will you break up groups?  Does everyone involved need background checks?  Do students lead, college students, adult leaders, etc.?  Details are important!  If God gives you a vision – to seek Him, serve the church, and serve your community – make sure that you spend ample time working out the details.  No one wants to follow a leader into battle who has no clue who he’s fighting, why he’s fighting, and where they are being led.  If that’s your approach to battle, you will die!!  However, the leader who can lay out the details for his army and position them correctly according to their gifts, has a far greater chance of success than the leader who has no vision, direction, or plan of attack.

Proper lenses achieve optimal focus.  And with optimal focus comes sight or vision.  Remember that your vision is not designed to help you become successful.  It’s not designed for you at all.  It’s design is for the Kingdom of God and the advancement of that Kingdom.  We fight a mutual enemy in Satan and the sin that seeks to devour our lives.  So let us spend quality time with our Maker, asking Him to give us a clear vision for battle and advancement of the Kingdom across this beautiful creation He has gifted us with.  Peace be with you.

Are You Creating a Self-Serving Youth Ministry?

My name is Charles Rikard and I’m selfish.  For years, I tried making ministry about me and my personal achievements.  The value of my life was placed highly on the numerical and spiritual values that I placed on the students and adults that I serve.  In turn, I neglected important relationships and overlooked important spiritual leaders.  I’ve discovered over the past year though that the success of the ministries I oversee at the church I serve has little to do with me, and more with what I’m asking God to do in my church and community.  Understand though, that I have to be centered in a deep relationship with Christ in order for my prayers to be properly placed at the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  And honestly, there have been moments over the past 10 years where a Wednesday night or Sunday morning has left me dismayed because it did not achieve for me the satisfaction of looking in the mirror and saying, “You’re doing a great job!!  God is truly working.”

It’s hard to confess these things… but why?  All of us at some point struggle with our own identity in ministry because of the different circumstances that we encounter.  Throughout seminary and beyond, I discovered that most pastors go through a season where they struggle with their role in ministry.  When we encounter these struggles, we begin to change things about who we are in order to adapt to what we think might work.  And on top of that, we attend conferences where we second guess our efforts because of the success of others we know in ministry.  We do the same small groups, youth Wednesday nights, college bible studies, church fellowships, etc.  But for some reason, the dynamics are much different.  Of course there are many factors that contribute to the success of certain ministry programs between churches that deal less with programming and more with environment or cultural climates, but the personal heart struggles are still the same.

Over the past few years, there are some verses that I’ve clung on to that help keep me grounded when I try to take the ministry of my church in a selfish direction.  For the rest of this confession, I’ll focus on one section:  Acts 1:12-14.

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” – Acts 1:12-14

There are a few things in my life that I have gathered from these verses.  So to finish, I want to give you a few things that God’s Word has shown me about myself that I need to address and affirm on a daily basis.

  1. Go to where Christ is leading you:  In Acts 1:1-11, Christ appears before and spends time with the disciples.  While with them, he orders them to return back to Jerusalem and wait.  I’ve asked myself the question before, would God have impressed on them the Holy Spirit if they had decided to go in a direction other than Jerusalem?  Would the church have had as great an impact?  Personally, am I going in a different direction than what God is ordering me to go?  My ministry can only be as effective as the direction I am going.  By pursuing the direction God is calling me too, I can trust that is where He will decide to move.
  2. Pray and wait there together:  Once the disciples returned to Jerusalem, they met together,prayed, and waited for the God to move just as Christ had instructed them.  In order for God to be successful in your ministry, your prayer and your patience have to be front and center.  You cannot expect God to move in area when you are not asking of Him to move at all.  More specifically, are you praying for something of selfish intent?  Are you praying for something that will make you or your team feel better about the work you are doing?  Instead, pray as the disciples did.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to begin moving in your ministry.
  3. Be of one accord:  As the leader of your ministry, ask your leadership to pray in one direction and in one spirit.  This may require that you have a volunteer meeting centralized on prayer and  the how-to’s.  If the apostles had to ask, then do we think that we are above understanding how to pray individually and as a collective.  Instead, lead your people to pray specifically in the direction God is calling you to go.  And spend time with them to make sure that they are seeking personal time in devotion with God.

I hope that this helps you as you begin to see that you are not the only one who deals with heartache in ministry.  Rather than sitting in silence, let’s be bold enough to open up the conversation of ministry ups and downs, without fear of condemnation from our peers and colleagues.  If we find ways to work and pray together, than we get the privilege to reap and celebrate together.  In honor of my former college professor Dr. Robert Foster, “Peace be with you.”