putting a god back in his place

“They took Dagon and put him back in his place.” (1 Sa 5:3)

Under the corrupt leadership of Eli, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant. Like a trophy, they placed it next to their false god Dagon.

Dagon was an important god, adopted by the Philistines from the Babylonians. Although Dagon’s precise nature is unknown, scholarship suggests he was the god of farming, grain, and maybe even fish.

Next to the true God of Israel, Dagon had no power. In the morning, their God was on the floor, laying on his face. If I were one of the angels assigned to this task, I would have chuckled constantly though the night! Of course, this was no mere prank, it was a demonstration of God’s power. Dagon was submitted to God.

When their god failed them, the Philistines propped him back up and put him in his place.

They should have repented and put their faith in the God of Israel. Dagon was a god “adopted” from Babylon, why not accept a new one who has demonstrated his power as the one true God? The next day was worse: not only was their god face down on the ground, but his head and hands were broken off. A perfect picture of utter powerlessness.

Our God is a God of absolute power. Nothing else even comes close. He is Altogether Holy: beyond and above everything in creation. No one gives him instructions or even advice.

We all love to control the important things in our lives. We believe it leads to lasting confidence and comfort. Our drive for control often determines what we worship.

Even when we come face to face with the truth of how powerless our false gods are, we still choose to worship things we can control. 

We know our worship is weak when we work to put God in his place. Our God is no mere statue that can be put on display. First in this room, then in that pone. We may say we worship the God of the Bible, but in our hearts we write a different story.

In spite of our deepest self-deceptions and carefully constructed rationalizations, God can’t be controlled.

Our calling is to submit and follow his leading and turn away from the false gods we worship. When things went sideways, the Philistines put their god back in his place. This is a clear warning that we shouldn’t follow their example.






The McGill Family Christmas Pregame

A few years ago, I noticed a pattern developing on Christmas morning. The kids would wake up far earlier than I ever felt necessary … with more energy than I thought possible. After being dragged from my bed, we’d pause long enough for me to get a cup of coffee, and then my kids would descend upon their gifts with wreckless abandon.

Wolves in the dead of winter, at the height of their hunger, chase their prey with less determination when compared to my kids on Christmas morning. Have you seen a hungry wolf chase a rabbit?

In a few hours after the last gift was opened, a terrible transformation would quickly take hold. Their attitudes would sour. They would leave behind joy and excitement and descend into bickering and discontent.

I imagine that some of this is due to natural immaturity and maybe even the natural aftermath in the release of so much anticipation. But too much of it came from a lack of instruction.

My natural response was to say, “You are so ungrateful!” I wanted (but didn’t) to take all the gifts and throw them in the trash. Maybe even start a bonfire (some people would consider me dramatic and reactionary…Maybe I just like to create powerful memories? #LameRationalization).

In this moment, I received a simple insight: I never told them to be thankful. Yikes. What a fatherhood failure. I knew I needed to make a change because I never gave them a pregame that would set them up to win.

Since then, every Christmas morning, before we open the gifts–when the excitement in the family room is nearly visible in the air–we pause while I share a few thoughts on contentment. This year, I took them on the following journey and said the following:

People are more important than things, and God is more important than people. Things never last and people will let you down, but God is dependable-always and forever.

More things will never lead to more happiness. Content is a problem for everyone, for people with lots of stuff and for people with only a little bit of stuff. It’s a myth that more things will make us content and give us peace. In fact, it seems like the people with more stuff have greater struggles with being content.

When we want more, we think getting more will solve the problem. But that’s not the way it works. Instead, our hearts need gratitude, not getting more stuff.

So. The gifts you get today will test your heart. Stuff isn’t bad, but when it keeps us from loving others and loving God, we have a big problem. Let’s choose to be thankful for what we have now, and let’s be thankful when we’ve opened up the gifts and have new stuff.

Let’s not let things keep us from loving people or loving God.

This is the fourth year in a row that I haven’t heard any complaining and disappointment and wanting more — all the things that spring from a divided heart that lacks contentment.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” — Paul (1 Timothy 6:6)




How To Build Stronger Biblical Fellowship

Learn Names

A name is a person’s most valuable possession and nothing communicates care like remembering a student’s name. It’s easy to say, “I’m not good at names.” Resist the temptation to rest on this excuse! It takes hard work to remember names. When you learn a new name, try to use it immediately in the conversation. Make a mental association and create a visual image and attach it to their name. These may be funny (so don’t share them!). After the conversation, write the name down so you can look it up later. Review your list before you show up to a youth ministry program.

Show Genuine Interest

Everyone wants to know known because we were created with a need to be understood by others. Care about the details about their life. Your interest must be real, if it’s fake, everyone can tell that it’s just an act. A great way to show interest is to ask questions.

Show up with a question or two

Making small talk is tough for most of us. Holidays can make questions easier, but still work to get creative. “What did you do over Christmas?” isn’t a bad question, but it’ll get over-used. Try something different like, “Does your family have any Christmas traditions?” or “Did anyone throw up because they drank too much eggnog?” Personally, I’m a little silly, so sometimes I’ll ask, “did you punch anyone in the face this week? …No? That’s good… did you feel like punching anyone in the face?” Sometimes a silly approach can move into a more serious conversation.

Have Fun

Everyone likes to have fun, but sometimes we think the best ministry happens when we are always serious. You don’t have to be the ultimate extrovert, but you should strive to create a warm, comfortable and inviting atmosphere.

Affirm like crazy

Be looking for ways to encourage and praise students. Avoid the over-use of superficial encouragements (that’s a nice shirt), but start there if you must. The more you know about a student’s life, the easier this becomes. A student might be bummed on a bad grade, you could affirm them by saying, “At least you care about your grades, that’s a good thing!” Catch students doing something right and tell them how good it is.

Look for the unconnected

Cliques are ugly! You know this because you’ve been on the outside. No one want’s to be an outsider, so constantly looking for students on the edges. It’s difficult to be inclusive, we naturally fall into comfortable patterns of talking to the same students. Consistency is great, but not when it blinds us to new comers who feel like an outsider.

Be Involved

Lead by example. Students are watching, and will take their cues from what you are doing. Sing worship songs, actively listen to the message, and jump in and be involved with the games, and speak up during the discussion. It’s not only possible for you to worship during a youth ministry program, it’s also great leadership.

Spread out

Healthy youth ministries have adult leaders who spend time with students—not other leaders. I get it! It’s fun (and easier) to spend time with other leaders during a youth ministry program. Do this at another time! When all the leaders are bunched up together, it sends the wrong message to students.

Avoid Causing Guilt

If a student hasn’t been around for a few weeks or months, NEVER, EVER, EVER say, “Where have you been?” This puts a person on the spot and creates guilt. Instead say, “It’s great you are here.” Work hard to show unconditional acceptance. We don’t need to make people feel guilty, we all accomplish this fine on our own without any “help” from others.

Share personal stories

Don’t make yourself the star of the conversation, but you also don’t want it to be one sided. Be transparent and share about your life. You aren’t interrogating your students, you are having a two-way conversation.

Follow up

When a student tells you about something that’s coming up next week, ask them about it a week later. Imagine the impact you’ll have when you cared enough to remember an important detail about their life.

Spend time one on one

Great ministry happens outside of youth ministry programs. Show up to a game or take them to lunch. Life is busy and while it may not be possible to spend time with a student every week, but if you can make it a goal to meet with a student once a month, your relationships will go deeper. Remember to only spend one on one time wisely—stick with your gender! A guy leader should NEVER spend time along with a female student…and vise versa.

Pray consistently and specifically

God cares more about our ministry than we do—we’re just stewards of the students entrusted to us. Make the time to talk to Jesus about the your students. He will tell you how to minister to them.

Remember that building friendships take time

There’s no such thing as a microwave for relationships. They take time—a lot of it. I wish there was a formula for instant intimacy, but there isn’t. Make a commitment to last for the long haul. Significant relationships don’t happen overnight.

Know that your conversations make a difference

It may not seem like it at first, but when you engage students on a personal level you are making an investment that does have benefits—even if you don’t see them. Over the years, I’ve had countless parents say, “Thank for taking the time to talk with Chris!” Meanwhile, I’ll replay the conversation with Chris in my head and I would have sworn he was in a coma. Students will appreciate the fact that you are authentically engaging them.

What’s missing from this list? What are some ways you have deepened your relationships with others?

Taking action

There’s a lot here … pick one or two and put them into practice for a month. Once you feel like you hit a plateau, return to this list and work on a few others. Healthy leaders are learners. As soon as you stop learning, you stop leading.




Why do we irritate others?

“…her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.”(1 Samuel 1:6)

What moves us to provoke others? Even when we are so richly blessed, why do we feel the need to grind others down?

Perhaps it is a lack of thankfulness, we fail to remember and acknowledge God as the provider of everything we need. Our lack of gratitude hardens our heart to the troubles others face.

Perhaps it is a fear of loosing what we have, and and since we lack a sense of control we lash out and exercise our power.

Perhaps it is greed, and we can’t stand the reality that others may possess what we also have. We see God’s blessings as limited and feel if others are blessed, we will somehow miss out on what we may gain.

Perhaps it is a lack of contentment, we refuse to be satisfied with what we have and so we tear down others because we lack peace. If we are not content, why should others be?

Perhaps it is a lack of joy and in our misery we seek to ruin the happiness of others.

Perhaps it is a lack of confidence, and in our insecurity we think that we make ourselves strong when we shine a light on the weaknesses of others.

The human heart is complex, a maze with constantly shifting walls. We act poorly, and because we don’t take the time to examine our motivations, we easily justify and rationalize our terrible deeds.

What a difficult challenge from Jesus: blessed are the peacemakers! It is so much easier to cause discord than sow peace. We ought to help carry the burdens of others, not add to them. When we live in biblical fellowship, we fulfill the law of Christ.

Life Together, D. Bonhoeffer

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

–Life Together, D. Bonhoeffer

No One Lacks Integrity

Let us consider two essential dynamics of the spiritual life.

Faith without deeds is dead. Belief is not enough.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. Actions are not enough either.


The spiritual life consists of thinking right thoughts and doing right actions. Growing spiritually is the process of thinking MORE right thoughts and doing MORE right actions.

It’s not enough to believe the right things, and only have “head knowledge,” our faith must most motivate real actions.

It’s not enough to do the right things, and simply be a person people consider “good,” our good actions must be born out of a love for God.


Many people can answer tough theological questions and paint colorful pictures describing God … but they aren’t actually loving other people: Living in community, demonstrating grace, and speaking the truth in love.

Many people get along with others and are well liked because they are kind…but they aren’t actually moved by their love for God: acknowledging his power, thankful for his gifts, and trusting his promises.


The spiritual life is like a rope, a pair of cords twisted together.


From God’s perfect point of view, there is no separation between faith and deeds. 0ur actions in the world and attitudes of the heart are inseparable. A tree is known by it’s fruit.


The challenge therefore is not to match up our inner thoughts and outer actions—they are already a mirror image of one another. A tree is known by its fruit.


“You lack integrity!” is a cry that comes from a human perspective. One person sees and acknowledges the corrupt heart of another…


The challenge for the growing believer is to walk in step with God’s Spirit, spend time in God’s Word, and share authentically with God’s people…in these simple practices we receive greater insight into our hearts and greater wisdom in our actions.


Let us evaluate our understanding of what is good and right and true. Is it based on God’s Word or our personal experience?

Let us examine our motivations behind our kind words and good deeds. Are we looking for selfish gain or promoting God’s kingdom?


You know you are growing spiritually when we are thinking new thoughts (or rejecting lies) and when we are obeying more often.


The spiritual life isn’t a list of things to do, nor is it a list of things to know. It is both.