5 Tips for College Graduates

UM GraduationOne of the joys we have at HMCC is being able to invest in college students.  They will be the next generation of world leaders, and we get to see many of their lives transformed during their time on a college campus.

At the same time, I’ve watched as a lot of students graduate from college and struggle with the transition to single adult life.  This is a hard transition for anyone, but perhaps even more so when someone has been part of an immersive spiritual community during their college years.

Knowing how difficult these changes can be, I have a few tips to share with you to help navigate the struggle.

  1. Own your spiritual health.  One of the blessings of our college ministry is that there is a lot of structure and accountability to help undergrad students grow spiritually.  This is very beneficial, and I’ve previously likened it to going through boot camp.  The thing is, at some point you have to move on.  You won’t always have someone there to make sure you’re reading the Bible or spending time in prayer.  You won’t always be able to hang out with your LIFE Group every day of the week.  You’ll need to take ownership of your spiritual health, because nobody else will.
  2. Focus on what’s ahead.  Reflecting on your days in college is great, and you’ll probably be reminiscing about it for the rest of your life.  But if you don’t focus on what’s ahead, you can easily sink into an unhealthy nostalgia that actually hinders your future growth.  Complaining about how you can’t hang out til 2AM anymore, or how it’s harder to connect with people when you aren’t stacked on top of each other in apartments won’t do anything to help you move forward in life.  Acknowledge that your college years are behind you, thank God for what He did during that time, and look ahead to the new lessons and experiences He has planned for your future.
  3. Dive into a new community.  One aspect of looking ahead is realizing that you’ll need to develop new friendships.  Your college friends will end up all over the world, and wherever you find yourself, you’ll need to immerse yourself in a new spiritual community to help you grow and invest yourself in.  You don’t need to ditch the close friends you made in college, but holding out on building a new community won’t help you or anyone else.
  4. Context is flexible.  Purpose is constant.  Recognize that what you experienced during your college years was a very specific, isolated context which you will likely never find anywhere else.  You don’t want to end up like Will Ferrell in Old School, thinking that real life is only found by returning to campus.  Context changes, so hold it loosely.  But your purpose should remain the same.  Whatever new context God places you in, you can still grow spiritually, serve God, share your faith, and be part of transforming the world.  Don’t let your sense of purpose be dictated by where you are.  Let your purpose direct how you approach your new job, city, or neighborhood, and God will show you that He has decades of testimonies waiting for you to discover them.
  5. Enjoy yourself.  Personally, I loved starting working life.  If you are resolved to enjoy the new opportunities and relationships in front of you, there is a lot of fun you can discover in your post-college life.  The transition will be challenging, but sometimes facing and overcoming a new challenge can be one of the most fulfilling, enjoyable experiences of your life.

I’m excited for all of this year’s graduates.  Some of you will join our Community ministries at HMCC and continue to grow with us.  Some will move across the world and do incredible things for the Lord.  Wherever God takes you, I pray you will live out the mission you’ve been part of during your time in college.

Reflections on Passion Week 2014

20140421-153538.jpgIt’s Monday, and Christians around the world are slowly resurrecting after a Passion Week full of activity. I’m trying to grow in reflection and thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this past week.

  1. Prayer is powerful.  Our church has been praying together for this year’s Easter Celebration and for friends and family who would come for the entire season of Lent.  God hears and responds to our prayers, and this truth was obvious in how we saw Him working throughout the weekend.
  2. Preach the cross.  I had the privilege of preaching on Good Friday, and I was convicted that I needed to simply present the truth of what Jesus did on the cross without any embellishment.  In the end, the important thing is that we’re able to focus on Jesus, and I felt we were able to do that.  His death changes everything.
  3. Stories are powerful.  I was once told that “someone with a story is never at the mercy of someone with an argument”.  There are many people who argue against Christ, but after hearing 27 people’s testimonies at the baptism on Saturday, I think it’s undeniable that Jesus is working in their lives.
  4. The body of Christ is awesome.  So many people invested time, energy, and prayer into our church over this past week (and for weeks beforehand), and it was cool seeing everything come together.  Designers, dancers, musicians, greeters, teachers, intercessors, and so many more all used their gifts and talents to serve in specific ways.  And the rest of us all got to use smiles, conversations, and invitations to make an impact.  I love being part of a church where so many people are involved in ministry.
  5. There is real HOPE in Christ.  Pastor Seth Kim preached a great message for us from John 20:1-18, and I was reminded that Jesus really is our only true source of hope.   This hope isn’t just for those who already know Jesus, but for those all over the world who will believe in him through our testimony.
  6. It’s about community.  I enjoyed all of our services during Passion Week, and felt that God was working through all of it.  But at the same time, I’m reminded that life change really happens in community.  Easter Sunday can be a starting point, a celebration, or an encouragement, but the main event is when we begin to grow in community and live out our faith together in our daily lives.  I’m looking forward to many new people getting connected to our LIFE Groups so that they can see how we live with our hope in Christ.

He is risen!  I hope you had a great Passion Week!

The Opportunity of Limited Resources

by http://www.flickr.com/photos/julianlim/

“My number-one theory is that style is proportional to your lack of resources – the less you have, the more stylish you’re likely to be.” (Beth Ditto)

Many of us live with the desire of having more resources at our disposal.  We think, if only I had more time, money, education, property, etc., then I could reach my full potential and accomplish great things.  While having abundant resources can certainly provide opportunities, the paradoxical truth is that limited resources are much more likely to produce good fruit in our lives.

Think for a moment about those you know who have access to seemingly unlimited resources.  What have those resources done for them?  In many cases, access to such resources allows a person to become entitled, lazy, self-centered, and aimless.  That isn’t the case for all people, but that’s why David Rockefeller said, “When you have a lot of resources, the most important thing is to have had good parents and to have been brought up by people who gave one the proper values.”  In a resource-rich environment, personal growth actually goes against the grain.

Compare that to some of the great success stories of our era.  World War 2, with its accompanying austerity, produced the Greatest Generation.  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer in their garage.  Andrew Carnegie was born into poverty, and created an expansive commercial steel empire, making him one of the world’s richest men.  Albert Einstein’s father’s company went out of business.  For many people, their lack of resources became the crucible in which genius and industry were formed.

Here are just a few of the character traits fostered by limited resources:

  • Creativity: One with limited resources must learn to use them creatively to achieve their desired goals.
  • Perseverance: Without external resources, one’s internal resources of determination, conviction, and willpower are stretched
  • Focus: Tough decisions must be made, and greater focus is put on true values and priorities
  • Stewardship: Nothing is wasted when resources are scarce
  • Courage: Hardship inspires us to take risks for our desired vision

So stop thinking of your limited resources as a roadblock.  What are your limited resources making possible for you?  How can you grow as a person because of the difficult circumstances you are in?

5 Valuable Podcasts for Christian Leaders

podcastChristian leaders often find themselves in the position of giving – constantly.  If we give so much of ourselves, and never refuel, we will eventually burn out and become ineffective at what we are called by God to do.  This is why it is so valuable to always be learning.  Only learners can be leaders for the long haul.

There are many sources of learning we can take advantage of: reading books, meeting with mentors, watching videos, etc.  But one problem with all of these is accessibility.  Reading requires your eyes to be available, mentoring requires your schedules to connect, and videos require your computer to be open.  One antidote to this issue of availability is podcasting.  It doesn’t require anything extra to learn from some great teachers and apply those lessons to your leadership.

For me, this means that every time I get in the car, walk from one place to another, or have a few minutes in the bathroom, I am usually listening to some great content on my phone and reflecting on how I can grow.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts for Christian leaders.  I hope you enjoy.

  1. Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – Andy is the lead pastor at North Point Community Church, and is an outstanding communicator and leader.  I also recommend his book, Communicating for a Change.
  2. Catalyst Podcast – Catalyst is a conference for young Christian leaders, and they have some great interviews with prominent figures in the Christian world.  The podcast hosts try too hard to seem laid back and casual (ie. wasting time), but overall it’s great content.
  3. Perry Noble Leadership Podcast – I love Perry Noble.  He is the senior pastor at NewSpring Church and he tells it like it is, no holds barred.
  4. Exponential Podcast – Exponential is a conference for church planters, and a lot of their break-out sessions get turned into podcasts, offering hundreds of sessions that we can learn from.
  5. This Is Your Life (Michael Hyatt) – Michael is the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and he brings a wealth of experience to his podcast devoted to intentional leadership.

Up/Down

In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the effects of mental illness on people’s lives, and no less so in the church.  Christians are just as vulnerable as anyone to mental illness, but many feel ashamed to share those struggles, wondering if they will be rejected or judged by others.  Because of this, the lives of those afflicted with mental illness often remain shrouded to churchgoers, and we have no idea how to respond when people share their stories with us.

I am thankful that awareness of mental illness is growing among Christians, but it comes at a very high cost.  I have lost count of how many people have shared the pain of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. with me as a pastor, and I feel privileged to counsel and pray for these people who God loves so much.  But for many, the isolation, shame, and alienation from others is debilitating and overwhelming, and all too often results in a tragic loss.  In a world struggling to cope with the painful reality of mental illness, the church must be able to demonstrate compassion, acceptance, and understanding in a way that reflects the love of Jesus.

With millions of people in the United States affected by mental illness, it is almost certain that you know someone, or several people, who are trying to deal with it.  We have a duty to love them, and it is hard to love if we do not understand.  That’s why it encouraged me to discover this documentary on bipolar disorder entitled “Up/Down”.  Please watch it.

4 Keys to Effective Reflection

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakecaptive/

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” (Margaret J. Wheatley)

When we live unreflective lives, we sentence ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past and forego any growth into the future.  I have been rediscovering the value of reflection in recent weeks, and I want to share some things I have learned that can help anyone spend more effective time in reflection.

  1. Defined time and space: With our hectic lives, if something is not scheduled, it will not happen.  It is helpful to decide on a place and time to reflect in, and put it in your calendar with a reminder/alert.  My most frequent locations are my home office, a cafe, my car, or walking outside, but anywhere that is comfortable, quiet, or inspiring to you will work well.
  2. Specific questions: Sitting down with the goal of “reflecting” is an aimless pursuit.  What do you need to reflect about?  Deciding on 1-2 questions to focus on will produce much more effective results from your reflection.  For example: How can I invest in stronger relationships?  What are my highest priorities right now, and how are they going?  What are the next steps forward in my life/career/education?  Who has made a big impact on my life recently?
  3. Tangible decisions: The benefit of reflecting is not in the refection itself, but in the results that come afterward.  Effective reflection will produce greater awareness of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas of needed growth.  Translating that awareness into tangible actions and commitments is what will bring real growth and change in a person’s life.  For example: My friends are valuable to me, but they are getting crowded out of my life, so I will schedule regular hangouts to catch up with them.
  4. Journaling: Unless you have a perfect memory, the reflections and decisions produced during this time will be quickly forgotten.  Valuable time, energy, and inspiration have been lost!  The remedy to this is to develop a habit of journaling during or immediately after you reflect.  Personally, I use Evernote for this, since it is easily accessible on all of my devices and can be searched for tags and keywords later, but pen-and-paper still work as well as anything.

When we put even minimal time into effective reflection, we will reap enormous benefits in personal growth and productivity.  What are some ways that you have benefited from personal reflection?