one really weak question

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:18)

Here’s the backstory:  Jesus enters the temple courts and finds too much “business” happening, animals were sold and money was being exchanged. Jesus was “consumed with zeal” and drove out everyone that turned the temple into a market.

The people who didn’t like it confronted Jesus. They wanted a sign, something that would establish his his authority.

Jesus could have preformed a miracle on the spot, but he didn’t. He could have talked about the sign he had just preformed (creating wine at a wedding), in effect saying, “ask around, others know my authority.” Instead he talked about the future, in a way that was confusing.

They asked the wrong question.

They should have known Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (quoted by Jesus in the other gospel accounts). The temple was to be a house of prayer, not a den of robbers. Why would Jesus need to do a miracle when the truth was self evident–at least it should have been. At a minimum, they should have asked a question, perhaps something like

“Teacher, why are you doing this?”

Ignorance is better than foolishness…but these people were fools–made so by their selfish pursues. Looking for authority when they should not have needed it. If they were more concerned for the truth, and authentic worship, they would have resonated with the Words of Jesus.

Instead, they wanted something fantastic.

We are dazzled by the fantastic–that’s human nature–but when we demand it from God, we presume too much. It is not our place to put God to the test.

There is another problem with demanding things from God. This attitude reflect a posture of the heart that is too hardened by entitlement to hear God speak. Jesus could have done a miracle, but they would have made another excuse.


Silent service is the difference between shutting up and speaking up

Perfect Storm Factor #1: I have a ton of ideas and opinions about nearly every subject.

I’m constantly thinking about things that I don’t understand–which is all the time because the world is a confusing place. I am constantly making mistakes and work to correct them. Some people call me quick witted–but I’m just sharing what I’ve already been thinking about. In school, some people are natural geniuses other people do a lot of homework. I’m in the second group. I’m not smart, I just think a lot.

This leads to deep convictions. I know I’m not always right, but I’m typically more confident than most that what I’m talking about is correct.

Sounds arrogant. I know. That’s not my heart. When I’m unsure of stuff, I try to give it an appropriate “I could be wrong…” but I don’t do a great job of this. #WorkingOnIt

Perfect Storm Factor #2: To make communication matters worse, I get real comfortable really quick. I somehow lost the basic human social skill that says, “take your time to get to know people.*”  No one has ever accused me of being a diplomat.

As an aside: I love diplomats. Some of my best friends are diplomats. I envy their patience and self-control and have learned to follow their example. (Although, based on this post, it may not sound like it! HA!!).

Perfect Storm Factor #3: The final factor of this relational conflict causing “perfect storm” is that I really like to be understood by others–especially people I respect. When I feel like I’m misunderstood, I typically (over?) confidently (over?) share. I never wonder why my closest friends get worn out sometimes.

Anyhow, I could have cut everything before this sentence and had a perfectly good teaching. Such is (my) life.

The discernment of when to speak and when to keep quiet is a difficult for just about everyone. From what I’ve observed**, most of us speak too much or too little. Thankfully, we have God’s Word to guide us:

Proverbs 26:4-5
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

For many years, I saw little practical wisdom in this scripture beyond, “Sometimes you need to speak up, sometimes you don’t.” I was fine with that, and it did little to slow down my speaking up.

Years later I discovered / received from God a*** clue for discernment: do not speak up when you will be like the fool, speak up when you can show the fool his (or her) foolishness.

Since then, I’ve been a lot more quiet. Many fools are confidently convinced of their own wisdom…and if I try to do anything about it, I’ll be a fool myself. In these situations, it’s my job to work harder to earn the right to be heard.

So here is my prayer:

Lord, Help me to correct every fool who will listen, to be a silent servant of those who won’t.

Lord, Help me not be wise in my own eyes so that I can hear the answers to my own foolishness.


*Originally, this line was, “work hard for people to like you” … but that sounds so dismissive/condescending of people whom I’d label diplomats.

**This is one of those phrases I use to try and soften the “strength” of my opinion / conviction…did it work? Did this footnote kill that?

***typically, I’d write “the clue” rather than “a clue” … because for me personally, it was a definitive clue.

Three Dollar Grace

Every morning, I drive my oldest son two miles to his school. I love that time. I look forward to it. I consistently pray about it and ask God to give me the right things to say. Every morning looks a little different—and this is a result of my personality rather than my design. Some mornings, I pray for the entire trip. Most mornings we talk about small things. Sometimes, we don’t talk at all—we both consider the morning to be a bitter enemy.

The other day he asked for some money (which, at this point, is still rare). “How much?” I asked.

“One dollar—it’s for school.” As I reached into my wallet, I had the idea to give him everything I had—a whapping three dollars—to make a point. He accepted it with a smile.

“Do you know why I gave you way more than you asked for?”

“No.” The smile turned into a slight smirk…he was expecting a joke, I think. I joke a lot.

“I want you to remember something. I gave your more than you asked for because God does the same thing—if you ask for what you need, he gives you more than you expect. When you ask for what you don’t need, he doesn’t give it, because he knows it’s not in your best interest. So, our responsibility toward God goes in at least two directions. We ask and we trust. We should ask for what we want and trust God to provide what we need. Growing up means learning what God wants for our lives. If we don’t get what we need, then we have some wrong ideas about our needs. Now, tell me, why did I give you more than you asked?”

Later that night, I pulled up Ephesians (3:20) and said, here’s the principle I was talking about this morning:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”

I don’t get these ideas very often—I’m not creative in this way. The day after this we talked about pro-football and video games. It’s not realistic to “hit a homerun” every morning. My goal is to be intentional: to pray and think so that I might see where God might be leading.

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.