Remembering Mary's Song/A Thought for Advent

            And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.”  Luke 1:46-49

After years of battling chronic kidney disease, I received a new kidney. It was unexpected. At my age, having survived a bone marrow transplant two decade earlier, I did not deem myself eligible. I had settled into accepting dialysis as a future constant in my life. It was six months prior to the operation that my doctor shared the news: if a qualified donor came forward, I could receive a transplant. 

Those months passed quickly. A friend approached and declared, “I’m giving you one of my kidneys.” My doctors looked at her (10 years my junior, never smoked or drank, worked as a physical therapist) and set the date. We passed every test. On August 11, 2014, I received a new kidney. 

As the nurse rolled me out of the hospital, I remember exclaiming: “Oh God, what have You done?” My life, as I had imagined it, had changed. God had changed it. 

Mary’s Song reveals her response to the change God wrought in her life. It is as if, through song, she turns her soul inside out for all to see. What she reveals is as instructive as it is inspiring. 

  • She magnifies God. She gazes upon His greatness. 
  • She marvels at God, that in His greatness He would bless someone of little stature, no social standing. 
  • She praises God for the implications of His act, that future generations will remember and glorify God because of what He has done. 
  • She goes on (in the remainder of the song, verses 50–55) to declare God’s greatness as revealed in His character, deeds, and the surety of His promises. 

When God moves in our lives, how do we respond? If we turned our souls inside out, what song would others hear? Who would our souls magnify, and what would we declare about His greatness? 

In Mary’s Song, she shares her joy. She also models how we might share ours. Moving through this Advent season, we would do well to remember Mary’s Song. And, as God fills, restores, and ministers to our souls, we would do well to learn from Mary how to sing.

About Wisdom ...

Last week I was studying Ecclesiastes and came across this comment:

Wisdom is not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience.  J. Stafford Wright

In the past, I had mistakenly tied wisdom to aptness, using right words at the right time. But it is in fact the product of a growing, internal strength. That was Solomon’s point: The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war… (You can read the full story: Eccl. 9:13-18).

Oh, for wise urban youth leaders! We are in a battle for the minds of our young! Programs can only do so much, but armed with the wisdom of Solomon, we can win. 

God Is, and that Changes Everything

            “… When the foundations are being destroyed,  

                         what can the righteous do?” 

            The Lord is in his holy temple; 

                        the Lord is on his heavenly throne. Psalm 11:3, 4

Question and answer. The realities of human threat and God’s rule. David's response is always striking to read: God is, and that changes everything.

It has been said that some are so heavenly-minded they are of no earthly good. In truth, only the heavenly-minded (those focused not on clouds but the God of heaven) can be of any earthly good.

Urban youth need leaders anchored in the God of heaven.

"Pasturing" Leadership?

I recently had a conversation with a pastor who lost a dynamic youth director. “Unless we find someone at (the former director’s) skill level,” he said, “we won't be able to continue the ministry.”

I’ve heard variations on this theme. “This young man could be a great youth director,” another leader lamented. “But the leaders at his church don’t see it. Why can’t they recognize the person standing right in front of them?”

Decision-makers may spot something that removes a leadership candidate from consideration. But far too often, those in charge miss opportunities to build leaders. Why is this? (1) They may be too busy. (2) Leadership development may not be a priority. (3) They may not know how to do it.

Jesus gave an exhortation to Peter prior to his ascension that I believe extends beyond church pastors to all Christian leaders engaged in people building. He said: “Simon, do you love me? ... Then feed/take care of my sheep (John 21:15-17).”  By “feed” he was saying pasture. Jesus was not telling Peter to cater meals, but rather lead people into discipleship-rich spaces to be nurtured (by Jesus himself) and grow. 

“We really should be in awe of human potential,” said Max De Pree. So many with great potential get overlooked because of a lack of pasturing. In our quick-fix, instant gratification world, have we lost appreciation for the power of transformation, or the joy of watching potential become reality?

In urban youth ministry, it is a choice between addition and multiplication. Do we reach a few or reshape a generation? If we’re going to make a difference, we need leaders that pasture.

Transformation as Mission

Tackled a challenging subject at the Missions Conference last week in Midland, Texas: Transformation as Mission.

While most Christian leaders affirm the biblical idea of transformation, our understanding of what that means, and our self-examination of how we’re doing with it, tends to fall short.

So, I probed: If it is God who transforms, and calls us to participate with him in this life-changing activity, then how do we work in sync with Him? What is our role in God’s transforming agenda, and how should that play out in our ministries?

I will never forget Dr. Cooley’s (my marine biology teacher in high school) statement: “It’s not so important you have the right answer as it is you ask the right question!” It is right questions that lead to better understandings of how life works.

In this case, questions led us to examine our ministry engagements through the lenses of discipleship, servanthood, the image of God (divine imprint), and leadership. It was exciting to see how principles that lead to transforming youth in the city can impact leaders seeking transformative change in poor communities around the globe!