Monday, April 24, 2017

But I Wanted It

As I've said before, I'm looking for a new place to do youth ministry. Job searching in itself can be a full time task. Unfortunately, no one is paying me to look for a job.

And when you haven't had to find a job in 15 years, the whole experience can feel brand new. And nerve-wracking. And quiet. So very, very quiet.

I may spend a few hours here and there sending out my resumes and writing cover letters. But the churches I'm sending my information to have their own timeline. And sometimes that timeline does not involve acknowledging my presence. Which is fine, especially if one of the churches I've applied to is reading this right now.

I understand those looking for youth pastors will have their own agenda and their own timeline. But it leaves me sitting here with a deafening quiet around me.

I am choosing to walk by faith through these days, picturing God working behind the scenes (always behind the scenes) and holding His voice very still, until He is ready to reveal to me His master plan.

Ultimately, I choose to see Him as a good Father in this situation. The truth is that I have heard from a few churches that they are going in a different direction. Since all I had invested was a few emails, it was easy to keep looking elsewhere.

But there was one place where I visited and thought it might end up being the next place for my family. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it to be the place. But it's not the place.

But I wanted it. 

From my perspective, it would have been a good fit. The staff, the people, the location, the set-up. All of it would have worked, at least in my opinion. But it's not the place...even if I wanted it to be.

Life is like this sometimes. We have our opinions about what would be good for us, but like any parent knows, God has a wider perspective. The child may want ice cream late at night, but a wise parent knows that won't be good for the child.

Perhaps, in this situation, we can even say that this might be a time where God has something better for me. It can be hard for us, as mortals, to see life this way, especially when our sight is so limited. But this is where we lift our eyes towards Heaven, and trust in the One who can see all.

So what are you after right now? Have you been waiting a long time? Are you wondering why God's voice has been fairly quiet?

You're not alone. And I don't mean me. I mean God. He hasn't left you alone.

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. ~Deuteronomy 31:6

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Sunday and the Smell that Wasn't Gas

Warnings were given. Then warnings were ignored. I was even among those who shared the warning. Then I promptly ignored my own warning. 

Yes, I know how that sounds.

I was in my office, while children from our church's childcare, played happily downstairs. Then a teacher suggested that the weird smell coming from parts of the building might be a gas leak. 

A phone call to the gas company and an escorting of the children out of the building, I went back to my office. After all, it was Friday and Sunday was on the way. As I attempted to jump back into my task list, I had the operator's words running through my head. 

Wait outside the building for one of our technicians. 

I imagined the technician showing up and scolding me for waiting inside the building. 

Him: Why are you inside the building?
Me: Well, I have this to-do list.
Him: You smelled gas?
Me: Yes, but it's Easter Sunday this weekend and I'm not ready yet.

At that point I imagined him making exploding noises with his mouth. So I took a few things outside and worked there until he showed up. Because....you know... I couldn't finish my task list if the building exploded with me in it. 

And I did need to finish that task list. 

It got me pondering how much I live out what I say I believe. After all, I believed there was at least a possibility of a gas leak. Otherwise, I wouldn't have called. And shouldn't my beliefs determine my actions?

As a pastor, on the weekend of Easter, shouldn't I be modeling a belief-turns-into-action kind of lifestyle? If I don't practice at least a small amount of common sense over a minor inconvenience, how can anyone possibly expect me to shape my entire life around a belief that the God of the universe came to Earth, lived, died and rose again? 

The reality is that many people don't actually expect Christians to live their life based on these beliefs in the miraculous. And why? Because Christians don't tend to live their lives based on said beliefs. 

So maybe it was a small step of growth for me. I did leave the building. The smell wasn't gas, but feel free to guess what it might have been. I returned to the building and finished my task list. I was ready for Easter Sunday. More importantly, I am ready for my actions to reflect what I believe. 

Are you?

Monday, March 20, 2017

What We Accept As Normal Is Just Crazy

Imagine we know this guy. But he's got some problems. Everyone is aware of this guy and his problems. And like most guys who have problems, this guy's problems become other people's problems. 

Maybe we didn't care to do anything about this guy when his problems were just his problems, but now that his problems are everyone's problems, we agree something has to be done. 

So we do something. 

We problem solve. We attempt solutions. But let's assume none of our solutions work. As crazy as it sounds, we might stop attempting solutions. 

Really?!?

In the Gospel of Mark, we read about Jesus and His guys coming across just such a scenario.

So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
~Mark 5:1-6

The man possessed could not be controlled but still bowed down to Jesus without Jesus even commanding it. The presence of Jesus demands our respect. It is also interesting that this demon begged in the name of God.

So Jesus does His thing and casts out the demons. (That's right, this guy was dealing with multiple demons. Yikes!

I might not even be all that surprised by anything in this story just yet. After all, the people did try to solve this issue. And when things start getting messed up in the spiritual realm, I understand it's going to take Jesus to bring a solution. But towards the end of this story, we get another glimpse into how people respond to Jesus. 

A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid.
~Mark 5:15

They were afraid of a man fully clothed and sane? The demon possession had become their normal. People always prefer what they know, even when it is less than what God intended.

I think this shows that we tend to tolerate what we deem normal, even if it isn’t ideal. If our first response to trouble isn’t to turn to Jesus, then our first response is not our best response. We shouldn’t turn to God after we’ve tried everything else. When a problem arises, why wouldn’t we try the best solution first?

Could you imagine this type of lunacy in any other area of our lives? 
  • If our doctor suggested he wanted to remove our appendix by going through our leg, we'd find a new doctor. 
  • If we knew the fire department in our town was going to form a long line from the location of the fire to the nearest lake, and that they would share a bucket in order to fight the fire, we'd probably find the number of the fire department in the next town over. 
Go ahead and think of any problem you desire. Literally any problem. If your friend comes up with a great solution but then suggests he'd like to attempt other lesser solutions, it might be time to get new friends. 

Yet this is what we do with our lives time after time. We acknowledge that our current situation might not be ideal. Have we done anything to change it? Have we even considered asking God what He might want to change? More than likely we have just come to accept that not everything is going to be awesome in our lives. 

That acceptance might be okay, but if we suddenly find ourselves skeptical about things that we should find normal, then we might want to stop and question what we have become accustomed to. 

Because this story ends with the 'normal' people pleading with Jesus to go away. So, to summarize, a demon possessed man roaming the neighborhood is something we tolerate. But Jesus healing the demon possession isn't. 

So what are you dealing with and what solutions have you looked for?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Praying for My Kids Leads to Me Praying for Your Kids

I prayed for my kids today. I prayed that they would avoid or rise above the tools, the jerks, the mean kids that populate our schools. As I prayed I wondered where those kids come from. What is their home life? What makes them tick?

Then I prayed that my own kids would not be the type of kids I was praying for their protection from. 
You see, if we accept the fact that we're all sinners, then we have to accept that our own little angels might not always be angels. There is no one righteous. We all needed the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. That mean that each of us need strength to not be the reason another person has to endure.

For awhile, way back when I first had a child of my own, I assumed these monsters grew under rocks and were the spawn of some wild dingoes that were allowed to integrate into regular society. 

But then Jennifer and I had a second child. And we encouraged them to play together. That is, until we didn't. There were moments when we suddenly felt more like pro wrestling referees than the parents of two (mostly) normal children.

Then we had a third child.... wooo boy!

So that is why I prayed for my kids and your kids. But when we're done praying, how can parents help their children to fulfill these prayers?

Remind them how they feel...

That's right, the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I know, pointing this out means admitting our kids aren't perfect. It might mean receiving eye rolls from them as they smell another lecture coming their way. But since much of how teenagers behave is based on their emotions, it might be a good idea to keep them focused on how they feel when they are mistreated. 

If you remember the pain you felt when you run full steam into an electric fence (it was an accident, I swear) then you won't likely do that again. Unless, of course, you're attempting to drive traffic to your YouTube channel. Likewise, if your teens remember the pain of being mistreated, it might help them to treat others better. 

I believe most Christian teenagers don't start out looking to hurt others. It happens because they forget. Or they simply don't have a plan for dealing with real life situations. So... 

Discuss situations with them that often come up. Let them brainstorm.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. And since teenagers, like most of us, want to be a part of solving their own problems, we should tap into their own creative solutions. 

Jerks have existed since all of us were in school, even if our teenagers believe we used tablets made of stone for our schoolwork. Tap into some of your own repressed memories of bullies. Use some stories to discuss resolutions. At this point, your good stories help and your horror stories are funny. Oh, and they can relate what not to do. 

If the remember how they feel and they go in with a plan, many of our prayers will be answered. But don't let that stop you from committing to #3.

Continue to pray.
As my teenagers like to remind me whenever we are discussing the pitfalls of watching anything PG-13, 'Dad, we're hearing a lot worse than that in our schools.'

It's not exactly comforting, but it does remind me that they are not sheltered in a church service, or even a setting where everyone is expected to act like an adult. They are in public school, a place where I intentionally send them, knowing public education doesn't just come from teachers.

Now go and pray.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pastors Should Stick to Preaching the Bible

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for coaxing, relaxing, sharing and making people feel good about themselves. 
You don't remember Paul writing that to Timothy? Me neither. But by the way people act in church, one might assume this is what we believe about scripture.

We all like using a scripture verse to prove something we already believe. But when one is used against us and our personally held, but not well thought out, convictions, then we begin to squirm.

Actually, we do more than squirm.

We cry out. We blame. We point fingers. We shoot the messenger. There must be something wrong with the other, because otherwise I might have to look inward.

How dare that pastor try to teach me something new? Doesn't he realize that might cause me to change?

And when those same scriptures are used to rebuke me? Get off your high horse pastor! We can be friends, but not if you're going to meddle in my personal affairs.

If I wanted to be corrected, I'd go see a math teacher. I thought we came to church to feel better. After all, it's a scary world out there. I say this without a thought that my corrected behavior might make the world, even slightly, better.

I didn't come to church to face difficulty. I didn't assume there would be this work. It's almost as if you think you were sent here to prepare me for something more.

Nooooo, pastor. The fact of the matter is that I am not equipped for all the scariness of the big world out there. So I must conclude that you are doing something wrong.

Perhaps if the pastor would use the scriptures correctly...
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16
Oh.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Christians Should Make a Difference

Here you and I are, just starting our day with a bowl of Cap'n Crunch, and people are out there making changes in the way we are governed. And there are other people out there studying the impact it makes on people. 

So what changes and what impact are we talking about today? The impact made on high school students when states change the policies about same-sex marriages. You can read the article here for yourself, but here is a summary of their findings;
This difference-in-differences analysis of representative data from 47 states found that same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. The effect was concentrated among adolescents who were sexual minorities.
Translation: They asked adolescents who would identify as something other than heterosexual if they had attempted suicide before and after the legalization of same-sex marriages. 

Please note, that while I regularly look to use snark in my writing, this isn't one of those times. Suicide is the second leading cause of adolescent death. Is the research limited? Yes, but isn't all research? Do they acknowledge that there are many reasons adolescents attempt suicide? Yes. 

The research isn't what bothers me, nor are the findings. I'm not surprised to hear that adolescents who believe they can attain what they see as a normal life, including the possibility of marriage, would be less likely to want to end their lives. 

Check out part of their analysis on the findings;
Legalization of same-sex marriage is also often accompanied by media attention and increased visibility of sexual minorities, which is associated with increased social support for the rights of sexual minorities. This increased social support could translate into improved familial and peer acceptance of sexual minorities, which has been shown to be associated with improved mental health.
What does it say about the church and our society that teens who identify as homosexual need the government to step in and tell them they are acceptable as a part of society.

We can argue all day about what is right and what is wrong, but I believe the church, that is, the people that make up the church, should be the difference makers in statistics such as these. We should be the ones that people point to and say, 'They really made a difference in my life. They showed me that life was worth living.'

I fear that we, as Christians, would instead be labeled as those who made others feel judged and insignificant. If we, who know the Creator, can't pass along to others a sense of purpose and belonging, then what exactly are we spending our time on?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Changes Are Coming

Abraham. Moses. They would be great examples. Joseph, Gideon, Daniel and even Job would be good examples.

Although I wouldn't want to compare what I'm going through to Job. Especially when it comes to wives. My wife has never encouraged me to curse God and die. She has threatened to cause me harm, but I'm fairly certain that was because I was acting like one of the kids.

I digress. The point is I can direct your attention to plenty of people from history who have heard a command from God and obeyed. What made their obedience impressive was they often had no idea where they were going and what exactly would happen when they got there.

Abraham, especially, has been a man of faith I have been thinking about a lot lately. The dude is just living his life, for a long time in one place, just doing his thing. Then he gets a call from God to move. He's given a promise and told to trust. And Abraham does.

Now I'm not attempting to put myself on the level of Abraham, but....

After almost 15 years at our church in Winona Lake, Jen and I have heard God calling us to step out in faith and look for the next stop. This has not been an easy process, especially for a couple of people who have planted themselves firmly and done our best to meet the needs of those around us.

And at least Abraham was told what land to go to and what was going to happen. We are not yet sure where God is taking our family. A family with 3 children, by the way, only know Winona Lake, IN as their home.

Is there still work to be done here? Absolutely. But we are trusting in God's still small voice that when He says it is time to go, then it is time to go. Even Jesus understood that there would still be work left undone when it was time to go somewhere else. (See for yourself in Mark 1:35-39.)

Though this may be the biggest move, and the biggest change, our family goes through, we would ask for your prayers. Our plan is to search for youth ministry positions far and wide while we finish the school year here in Winona Lake.

Oh, and if you hear of any place in need of a youth pastor and his crazy awesome family, would you let me know?