All Posts By

Mike Johnson

Children’s Ministry Eternal Thinking Ministry Parenting

The Salvation Story and Christmas

A Salvation presentation at Christmas? Isn’t that a bit heavy to share with your children in church during this season? Christmas is a merry, joyful and happy time; a season of excitement and anticipation. Should we really be talking about the death of Jesus at a time like this?

One word: YES!

Christmas first and foremost is the celebration of the start of the Salvation Story. We all know that Jesus came to this earth to live as a Man while remaining fully GOD, He lived a perfect life. As GOD and Man, He took the punishment for our sins, so that we wouldn’t be required to take the penalty ourselves. Then, on the third day, He rose again and gave us the glorious hope that we too will rise again and be with Him in Heaven for all eternity. When we accept Him as our Savior, His gift of righteousness is placed upon us, and our sins are covered in His blood that was shed on the cross. Therefore, when GOD the Father sees us, He sees only the righteousness of Jesus, allowing us to now have a relationship with Him.

This righteousness that Jesus gives us is a gift that is, and will forever be, the greatest gift we could ever receive. This gift opens up the door to living the life that GOD has for us. A life of fulfillment. A life of selflessly giving ourselves for others in the name of Jesus. A life where GOD promises to do great things through us and ends with us joining Him in Heaven and spending all eternity in a place that is so wonderful even our wildest dreams are but a shadow of its glory. However, in order for the children in your ministry to receive this gift, you must first present it to them. Just telling the story of Jesus being born as a baby doesn’t adequately communicate the point of the gift He is to all of us, a gift that culminated with His sacrifice for us on the cross and resurrection on the third day.

This is why the salvation story should be presented at Christmas. Children look forward to opening presents on Christmas morning. They enjoy the anticipation and the excitement of imagining the fun they will have while playing with those gifts and the happiness the gifts will bring. But those earthly gifts are temporary and fleeting. Children must also be thinking about the greatest gift that was given to them on Christmas morning. They should enjoy the anticipation of the life He promises to provide them. They should also experience the giddiness of looking forward to the beautiful life they will have in Heaven; a place where they will have happiness and joy, unlike any they will ever experience here on earth. 

Jesus is the greatest gift to humanity, and it all started on Christmas morning. Give your children the greatest gift you could ever present to them and allow them to open the gift of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Give them the chance to experience the joy of becoming His child and all the wonderful things that entails. After all, with as many kids who come only twice a year, this may be your only chance to share Jesus’ gift with them. Take advantage of this opportunity to give them the glorious hope they can only find within GOD’S plan for their life.  So once again yes, share the hope of Jesus during this time of year and help every child to see that Salvation is what Christmas is all about!

That’s A Wrap! Christmas series includes the salvation message in lesson 2. Go to iseeitproductions/christmas to learn more.

Behind the Scenes Eternal Thinking Leadership Ministry

Forgetting The Past

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, ‭“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:13-14‬

I was sitting this morning reviewing some of the verses I have committed to memory, verses that over the last several months have calmed my spirit and renewed my focus and passion. As I was going over this particular verse something jumped out at me in a new way that I would like to share, something that we all tend to deal with off and on. It has to do with forgetting the bad things of the past.

It is easy for us to look at the things of the past and start to dwell on them, to allow our minds to be consumed by them. The problem for all of us is that there are always bad things in our past and dwelling on them leads to nothing but misery and anxiousness. Why? Because ultimately those bad things are dead. They exist in a garbage pile and the only power they hold over us is the power we give to them as they call to come and spend time with them. As we listen, we begin to believe their lies that tell us we are weak and that we have no choice, that we must come back to them and experience them again and again. However, when we keep going back and living with them, their rottenness makes us spiritually and emotionally sick inside. We begin to focus only on how bad this garbage makes us feel and we soon fall into a cycle where the worse we feel, the further we are pushed into the dead garbage surrounding us. Now, it is impossible to focus on the future. Instead, we can focus only on our despondent present which is dominated by the past. What a miserable place to be!

Paul says, forget the past! Turn your gaze and your body in the opposite direction and look forward to what lies ahead. Our focus needs to be on the heavenly prize that God has called us to. A prize of hope, joy, peace, eternal contentment and happiness. Our focus needs to be on the GOOD things that will come as we walk in His ways, things that bring life, not the decaying dead things of the past. Christ calls us to a life of victory, not a life of reliving past anxiety, hurt, sadness and bitterness. But to live this life we must look ONLY to the future – to where life resides.

So, to move forward, we must leave behind any betrayal, disappointment, anger, frustration, hurt, or ill feelings toward anyone who has wronged us. We must then set our face toward the bright, shining SON and press on toward the Heavenly prize. We must focus on the great things GOD wants to do with us in the future, the things He promises to do through those who seek Him and serve Him, and press on. For when we walk this path, the dead things will slowly become farther and farther away. Then, praise be to GOD, their cries will eventually be too distant to be heard.

Behind the Scenes Children’s Ministry Leadership Ministry Production Uncategorized Volunteers

How do you know when it’s time to go?

For 25 years I was the Children’s Pastor at Fellowship Church. When I started, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that GOD had called me there and my plan was to ultimately retire there. But sometimes GOD’S plans are not our plans, which I discovered anew as He began to challenge my heart to move onto His next adventure for me.

So, this begs the question. What do you do when you think GOD is leading you toward a new future that you never dreamed of? How do you know that it is truly GOD calling you into that future? When you begin anything in life, how do you know that GOD is truly leading you? These are questions that have far-reaching ramifications and if you don’t know the answer to them you will lead a very wandering, unfulfilled life. Recently I addressed these questions with my good friend Tom Bump in his podcast Kid’s Ministry Collective. If you listen to it at 1.5 speed you can be done in 30 minutes or so. My prayer is that by living out these biblical principles you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that GOD’S plan is your plan. Click here to listen

Eternal Thinking Leadership Ministry Production

What is the purpose of life?

A few years back, I did a dramatic message called the Game of Life at Fellowship Church. As I was looking through some old drives today, I discovered one of the times I performed it around six years ago. Sherry Horton, a fantastic actress, participated in it with me and did an unbelievable job. When I first wrote the message, GOD had slowed me down with a broken wrist and banged up head (I had fallen off my roof in the rain). During this period, I had a GOD given desire to write something that would allow people to see the beauty of Salvation and how Christianity is the only religion that can make real sense of this crazy world. 

The day that I was to give the message for the first time, I woke up in a panic. The anxiety and spiritual warfare that hit me was almost unbearable. I remember sitting out on our front porch with Karry and telling her I should probably not do this message. The risk was too high for failure. She reminded me of the circumstances involved in GOD giving it to me and encouraged me to step out in faith and trust that GOD would do with it what He choosed. It’s been 15 years since I first performed it, and I believe that GOD brought it across my path because it’s message is something that needs to be shared.

Behind the Scenes ISeeIt! Productions

Make Any Idea Come To Life (Part Four)

The cautious optimism of the treehouse IDEA had now turned into full expectation. As the IDEA pushed past the Development stage, it could see the finish line in the distance. It had successfully been through the Dream Stage, the Design Stage, and now the Development stage and there was no doubt in its mind it would soon be all that it dreamed it could be. But, being brand new at this “becoming a reality” thing, the IDEA didn’t realize that the next stage was going to be the most critical yet…The Do Stage.

Those working on the treehouse with me arrived at my friend’s house ready to build. The IDEA had been formed, put on paper so others could see it, and the details and supplies needed had been placed in an official Step by Step. Now, the day of the build, everything was in place for success; the people were there, the plan was there, the supplies were there, even the donuts were there (thanks to my wife who is always looking out for us). But, although we had everything ready to go, there were still some intangibles that would be needed throughout the day to make the end result perfect.

Wisdom and Instruction – Not everyone on the job will know how to do everything, but one or two will need to. I call these people the Trade Specialists. They provide wisdom on all the ins and outs of the project to make sure it is done right. For example: they know how to properly drive a deck screw without stripping it out; how to use a circular saw and speed square to get straight cuts; how to make sure everything is level at all times, but most importantly, they know how to look at unexpected issues that arise (which they always do) and give a strategy to work around it.

Communication – Someone needs to be in charge of keeping everyone busy. Sometimes the Trade Specialist can be distracted while others have completed their jobs and are waiting for more. The person in charge of communication hears when others have needs (tools, instruction, etc.) or are looking for something new to do and acts on it. This “Communication Liaison” keeps up with the building strategy outlined in the step by step and stays in close contact with the Trade Specialist, keeping him/her abreast of the project and consulting on issues that need further assistance. Beyond this, the Communication Liaison keeps everyone in motion by understanding the Step By Step process and keeping the people moving in a logical progression.

Patience – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a treehouse can’t be built in a morning. I have found that people, myself included, always underestimate how long it will take to construct something and they often get discouraged over the fact that it is taking longer than expected.  The Trade Specialist and Communication Liaison must encourage everyone that things ARE going as planned and remind them of what is on the horizon – a completed IDEA!

Perseverance – This goes hand in hand with patience. People need to be encouraged to press on, even through adversity. Sure, it may rain a little, it may get hot, unexpected problems may arise, but the people must press on. All good and worthwhile things take work!

Fun – No project is worth doing if you’re not laughing a little and enjoying the process. Some people (again, my wife) are naturally good at this by helping people to look beyond their tasks and enjoy the process. These people have the unique ability to keep others entertained, while not getting them so preoccupied that the job languishes as a result. Do you have someone fun for your next job?

Excellence – The Trade Specialist and Communication Liaison need to be encouraging everyone to pursue excellence at all times. It’s easy as people begin to get tired to start cutting corners. But, each person needs to be reminded that every small task they are assigned to needs to be done in a way that brings honor to GOD and earns the approval seal of the Trade Specialist.

Celebration – When the job is completed, and everyone is standing back looking at what they have accomplished, remind them what they have been able to pull off. Only a few weeks earlier an IDEA about a treehouse was just a dream in someone’s head. Now, standing proudly before them is the finished product.  Enjoy the moment. Let everyone walk around and see their handiwork. Give high fives. Commend them on the excellence with which the project was completed and most importantly, remind them how their labor will bring joy, happiness, and excitement to children for many years to come.

5 years later…

The IDEA sat in the tree on a warm summer morning, reflecting on how it came to be as the sun rose on the horizon. Many years ago, with some fear and trepidation, it had moved through the Dream Stage, the Development Stage, the Design Stage, and the Do Stage and, because of that, it was now experiencing the joy of holding memories of countless adventures from imaginative children. Every day was a blessing and, thanks to the continued efforts of its owner, the IDEA was standing the test of time with ease. A gentle breeze blew through the air, and the morning sun broke through the swaying branches. The IDEA sat warm and content knowing that shortly it would hear the back door slam and the voices of children filling the air. 

A new adventure would soon begin.

Behind the Scenes ISeeIt! Productions

Make Any Idea Come To Life (Part Three)

The treehouse IDEA was cautiously optimistic. It had moved from the Dream Stage and had now made its way, courtesy of the Design Stage, onto paper so all could see and grasp its potential. It was hard for it to keep its excitement in check as it imagined itself sitting high up in a tree, basking in the summer sun, birds singing in the nearby trees, children laughing as they steered the pirate ship off to Neverland, and the joyful privilege of growing older with the very children who were playing within. Oh, how it could not wait for that day! But, in spite of all this excitement, the IDEA was still a bit worried. It knew was still vulnerable because it was absolutely dependent on the owner to press onto the third stage of the process: the Development Stage.

Being the owner, I saw that things were now clicking along. The treehouse IDEA had made its way onto paper and I could now visually see what it was going to look like, and the supplies it would take to build it. Now I needed to move onto the next stage – The stage of Development. This stage is a logistical stage where all of the details are worked out so that when the next, and final, stage arrives everyone will be ready to build.

  • Supply lists are formed (based upon what the IDEA looks like on paper).
  • Materials are ordered and secured.
  • Dates and times are put on the calendar.
  • People who will help are contacted.
  • The weather forecast is watched with great interest, etc.

The Development Stage is critical because if affects how long the project will actually take to complete. The lesser amount of preparation, the longer the build. For example, if people arrive to help work on the project and you still haven’t made your trip to Home Depot, they will be sitting around when they could have been working. If no one took account of the weather and coordinated scheduling of alternate days for building, the project would languish on for longer than necessary as sunny days come and go. If you haven’t thought through everything needed, people will be sitting around while you run to pick up the next vital piece.

In this stage, one thing that I have found to be extremely important is taking the time to sit down and create what I call a Step by Step. This is when I look at the whole project on paper and imagine each step it will take to complete it. Nothing is too insignificant and should be written down. For example:

  • What is every supply that needs to be purchased or gathered?
  • In walking through a “visual build” in my mind, what exact tools do I need to bring to accomplish each step? (This is a big one! There is nothing worse than getting to a site and having to “make do” with a tool that wasn’t designed for what you are using it for. Screwdrivers are not good chisels, measuring precisely is not best done with your feet, and installing 500 screws with a manual screwdriver will test anyone’s patience.)
  • What time in the morning will we leave on the day of the build?
  • Check traffic before leaving to find best route
  • In order to get the right amount of wood I need to stop at several Home Depots on the way. What are their locations.
  • Where are the supplies located in Home Depot so I can make a mental map of where to go for time efficiency (I can waste a whole lot of time at a hardware store getting distracted if I’m not careful)
  • How will I pay for the supplies?
  • When we arrive at my friends house, how far will the supplies need to be carried. (As I picture unloading the supplies I remember the splinters I always get when I haul wood and I put gloves down on my list of things to bring)
  • Hopefully you get the idea 🙂

The Step by Step is the key to the Development stage. A poor Step by Step will leave people scratching their heads wondering if you know what you are doing. A good step by step will reduce most problems that will occur when the project enters its “let’s do it phase”. A GREAT step by step will eliminate almost all problems and it will allow the project to run smoothly where everyone participating will have a great time!

In our tree house build, stage three was now complete. Everything in the Step by Step had been taken care of and we were all standing in the back yard smiling at each other on the day of the build. What now?

Now, the fun begins!

To be continued…

Behind the Scenes DIY Production

Make Any Idea Come To Life (Part Two)

The IDEA for the perfect treehouse was alive, excited and nervous. It wanted desperately to move out of the realm of the intangible into the real world but it knew that this was the stage it was most vulnerable, a stage where it could just as easily disappear and be forgotten as come true. As with all dreams in their dream state, this IDEA was warm and fuzzy and full of possibilities, but it knew that in order to move into an actual, tangible play structure someone had to lasso it, pull it down, wrestle and struggle with it, devote time to it and work at it till it actually became part of a child’s life and his future memories. So what was next?

Once I saw in my mind what I wanted the treehouse to be, I realized I had to get that picture down onto paper so its viability could be examined. I knew this next step, called the Design Stage, was critical because once it was completed my dream would be something tangible, something others could see and understand, something that others who knew about treehouses could look at, comment on and offer advice. And so, over the next week the tree house made its way onto paper where at last I could see what would and what wouldn’t work. For example:

The Wouldn’ts

  • No, the hot tub I dreamed about (if only for a second) would definitely not work. There were just a few too many logistical problems 🙂
  • A pole to slide down would be fun, but the branches of the tree didn’t leave a good spot for it to exist.
  • Multi-tiers were out too, the tree just wasn’t big enough.

The Woulds

  • A pirates ship wheel.
  • A silver bucket transport system with pulley
  • And a ladder with a trap door would work nicely

It’s important to note that the Design Stage is a study phase. No matter what your dream is, get it down on paper. Mull over it. See what can be done and what realistically can’t. Let the thoughts/images sit for awhile on the paper and see what pops into your head. I have found that if I give my Dream enough time to sit in the design stage, a lot of new and awesome ideas come about, so don’t rush this! The brain takes awhile to think and process, to ruminate. To allow this to happen, I find it helpful to just sit and look at the design for 15-20 minutes. It’s at that point that my mind somehow kicks into another gear and then the creative ideas come. Many times you may try to rush creativity, and when ideas don’t come fairly quickly you give up and say to yourself, “I’m just not that creative”. Not true! Creativity is often more about patience and persistence than anything else. Give it time. Don’t give up. Something awesome is on the other side of the mental wall.

I also find it helpful to walk away from the thought/design and then look at it again the next day. At that point I re-adjust and massage the ideas from the day before and become amazed at the new things that pop into my head that make the project more exciting.

At this point of the process the Treehouse IDEA was something more than just a Dream. It had form and structure. But, unfortunately, it still wasn’t something that could be climbed into and provide great adventures.

Two more stages would be needed. (To be continued…)

Behind the Scenes DIY ISeeIt! Productions Leadership

Make Any Idea Come To Life

Awhile back a good friend of mine asked me to consider building a tree house for his son. Within a couple of weeks we were standing in his backyard looking at the tree. It was not a very big tree, in fact there was no way it could support a tree house on its own, but immediately the dream of a perfect tree house began to take shape. The little boy in me came alive as we discussed what it might look like and all that it could be. Drew, my friend’s son, added his input – he wanted a rope with a pulley to bring things up into the tree house, he wanted a ladder and a trap door, he wanted to have plenty of room to be able to walk around and use his imagination. My mind began to whirl with the possibilities. Different images filled my head of what this might look like. At that point how it was going to be done didn’t matter, we would figure that out later. Now was just the time to dream. I thought of a pirate ship wheel overlooking the yard, I thought of a pole that could be slid down from the upper deck, I thought of a hot tub (but only for a second), I thought of lights hanging in the tree, a silver bucket carrying up essential supplies from the ground to the upper deck, multiple tiers on the upper level, a sitting area under the tree house that would provide shade from the summer sun. Many ideas flooded into my head, some ludicrous, some simple, some perfect. This was going to be fun.

But in this stage, there is a problem. The first step of any dream is coming up with the IDEA itself, but many times the IDEA never makes it past the Dream stage, it just stays up in your head – happy, lofty, exciting, ready to drift off with the clouds it co-exists with. But we can’t allow this to happen or it will drift away and amount to nothing. We need to grab that IDEA and pull it down from its lofty heights and wrestle with it. Dreams are tough, they take a lot of effort to subdue. Pulling an IDEA into reality is also scary too. What if I get started and can’t see it through? What if I’m not up to the task? What if my abilities won’t take me where I need to go? And the biggest…what if I fail? Ideas are fun to live with when they don’t threaten us and push us to actually do something. But few things in life are worthwhile without ideas that become dreams. Over the years I have found that GOD is a GOD of dreams and that when He gives you a vision He will also provide the resources if you’re willing to take the next step. And this can even apply to something as small as a tree house.

And so, we decided to take the IDEA of this tree house and give it a chance. But, in order to fully pull it down from the clouds to begin wrestling with its possibilities, a few more steps needed to be taken.

(To be continued…)

Uncategorized

The 3 Greatest Statements In the Bible

For unto us a child is born.

It is finished.

He has risen.

You may not have noticed in this world, but mankind has a problem. We were created in the beginning to have an eternal, loving relationship with our Creator, but something got in the way – sin. Because of it we are kept from having a loving relationship with our Creator. We are utterly hopeless and lost.

Why is this? Because God, our Creator, is pure and perfect, He is Holy. And because of this it is impossible for Him to be in a loving relationship with us as imperfect beings. Imperfection is incompatible with perfection. Imperfection makes perfection not perfect anymore. Our lot has been cast. Our imperfection has only one outcome, eternal separation from our perfect Creator. This is bad news.

But, there is also some very good news as well. God is a God of holiness yes, but He is also a God of love, and even though we were lost to our sin He still desired to have that eternal, loving relationship with us. And so, because of this, He set into action the ONLY plan that could be executed to take care of the sin inside of us. That sin would have to be put to death once and for all. And so He sent His Son, Jesus, to come to this earth as a child, live a perfect life and ultimately be put to death on a cross. It was on this cross that our sin, our imperfection, was dealt with. All of our sin was placed upon Him and, full of sin, Jesus became imperfection for us. As He hung there He cried out, “It Is Finished” and when He did He died, separated from GOD and His holiness. Through His action all of our sin, all of our imperfection, was put to death right then and there.  

But then the miraculous happened. As man, Jesus died and was separated from God for us, full of our imperfection. But as GOD His perfection met the imperfection of sin and destroyed it. The perfection of GOD met the imperfection of sin and sin lost. And, on the third day, Jesus arose from the dead as a conqueror. The work had been done.

Now Jesus sits at the right hand of God and our imperfection has been dealt with. But, this perfection from God does not come to all men automatically. He wants us to give our love freely to Him. He will not force us to love Him and so He gives each of us a choice. We can choose to walk away and stay in our imperfection, willing to be separated from Him forever. But we can also stay and accept the work of Jesus on the cross and, as the Bible promises, become One with Him. In doing so, His perfection destroys our imperfection and we now have the ability to have a relationship with GOD for all eternity, the relationship He desired from the very beginning. This glorious work is what we celebrate today!

Behind the Scenes ISeeIt! Productions

What’s All The Moho?

For any of you who have dabbled in animation, you know that figuring out how to animate a story while worrying about the physical time to work on the computer, numbers of employees working on the project, render times, etc. is more an art than a science. Creativity, tinkering, experimenting and thinking outside the box is essential. We discovered this early on. We have limited resources, limited time and a limited number of employees (not a good trifecta by any means) yet we still want to produce a high quality 2.5D product. We want our animated characters to not have to be modeled in Maya (a 3D animation program) but still give the impression that they were created as three dimensional characters for the screen.

(To tackle the project we decided on a combination of a program called MOHO (formerly Anime Studio Pro) and Maya. Maya would be used to create the 3D environment and MOHO would be used to create the 2.5D characters that were drawn in 2D but would look 3D.)

Sounded good, but we soon discovered what we thought would be relatively smooth (not easy…smooth) turned out to be anything but. We brought our characters into Maya once they were created and we discovered that our render time for 5 minutes was going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 days or so and would cost over $5000. Obviously, this wasn’t going to work for us 🙂 So, the our very creative animators set out to find a resolution to the problem and, at this present time, I think we have found a creative idea. We won’t know for sure until we are ready to render, but it looks very promising. In the meantime, the rigging of the characters continues and within a week the animation process will begin! I can’t wait!