Thursday, June 15, 2017

15 Years

15 years. In most areas of life, that might not seem like a long time. But in the world of youth ministry, that can seem like a couple of lifetimes. I saw 7th graders become high school graduates and then repeated that cycle.

15 years. That's 780 Sundays, not accounting for vacations and other days missed for any number of reasons. Granted, in a church where many people have lived their whole lives in this community, I was still on the young side, but still, I became a mainstay.

It began in July of 2002 and ended just this year, in June of 2017. Now that I'm on the other side of it all, it seems that it was both all too brief while also, at times, felt much longer than it actually was.

There is so much that can be said, that I feel should be said, that it seemed appropriate to share in this space. Even if no one were to read this, I find that my thoughts find a way of easily being leaked through my fingers as I write.

15 years. What lessons would I pass along that I have learned?

Be thankful. 

I worked at a church that, at times, seemed to have more than its fair share of drama. But so many good things happened as well. It's so much more than viewing a glass as half empty or half full. The glass has always been full; of ups and downs, highs and lows, things to praise a God about and those to ask Him about.

I'm thankful for the people who supported me. For those who appreciated me. For those who built into me. For those who trusted me to accomplish something much larger than myself. For those who joined in with me, even when the ideas were crazy and had only a small chance of success.

Be resilient. 

You don't stay at a church, or perhaps any job, for 15 years without having a few opportunities to leave. For my wife and I, the first time would have been when our new home of just a few weeks didn't feel like our home.

The next hundred opportunities to leave came after as many moments of restlessness. But establishing a foundation of who you are and what core values you want instilled in your work only come after a willingness to see those values planted deep. And then watered and nurtured over and over again.

The opportunities to leave may, at times, seem like welcome release from whatever the current challenge has grown into, but staying through difficult times means you'll have opportunities to model things like reconciliation and forgiveness. And longevity means there will come a time when you go from asking questions about how things work to being asked about how you would like them to work.

Be willing.

I suppose this last lesson was also the latest lesson for me to learn. When we are comfortable, it can become difficult to learn. Oftentimes a push is needed. I had come to be known as the youth pastor who stuck around for so long that the idea of leaving almost seemed ludicrous.

Step out? Step away? God, don't you realize what I am trying to accomplish here? Don't you understand what I will lose if I leave?

Then God nudges me and asks me if I realize what I could gain by stepping out obediently in faith. And that, my friends, is when the peace beyond understanding takes over and you place your future in His hands.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This Is How Jesus Makes Plans

27 On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”
~Mark 14:27-28

Even as Jesus told the disciples they would all betray Him, He was planning redemption by telling them where to meet up. This is how I would paraphrase this conversation.

Jesus: You’re all gonna betray me.
Disciples: No way bro!
Jesus: Yep, and I’m gonna die.
Disciples: What???
Jesus: Here’s where we should meet next week.

Is it any wonder the disciples had trouble keeping up with Jesus? But here’s the thing. We hate on these guys because they didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them. We criticize because they didn’t know what was going to happen.

But how often have we had to study and ask to figure out what Jesus was talking about? How often have we known what Jesus was doing in our lives before He did it?

I think we should try trusting Jesus more. He may lead us through some tough times, but He has a plan past the troubles. Just like He told the disciples where to meet up after He rose from the dead, before He was even dead, I believe Jesus is calling us to meet with Him.

The truth is I am in the midst of some fairly big decisions at the moment. I have no idea where I might find myself and my family living within the next 2 months. Yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

But when I pray, I remind God that this is His journey I am on, His plan I'm a part of and it is most definitely His glory at stake. I stand in a sea of question marks right now, but when I find myself on the other side, and my presents becomes my past, foresight becomes hindsight, what is now foggy becomes clear, then I will shout praise to God, who has remained faithful.

This is how Jesus makes plans.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not Having a Job IS My Testimony Right Now

This isn't what I expected when I made the announcement. To be fair, I'm not sure exactly what I expected. I knew I was taking a step out in faith. Whereas Lebron James was able to famously say he was taking his talents to South Beach, all I could say was that I was taking my talents...

To where? Who knows!

So yes, I have sent out resumes and cover letters. Yes, I have followed up on those contacts. I have done my due diligence.

Nothing yet.

I have been to an interview that looked promising. I have heard back from churches where I didn't make the next step of interviews. Meanwhile, I'm left with my unwritten expectations of what searching for a job would look like.

As it turns out, not getting a job right away to move towards might be the best thing that's ever happened to my family. And it might be the best thing for your family too.

Let me explain.

When I first started having this conversation with people, I got lots of strange looks.

So you're leaving after all these years.~Yep.
And where are you headed?~No idea.
(insert strange look here)
You mean you stepped out of this job with no idea where you're going? Implicit in this question was the idea of paying mortgage, buying food, etc.

That's right. I am currently in the middle of a risk. In about a month, I have no idea where the income will come from before it needs to go where all the expenses go when they leave my hands. To many, it appears like the dumbest thing a guy, with a wife and kids to support, could make. Shouldn't I have been looking before I gave my current source of income an end date?

Actually, no.

Here's why. My wife and I heard some clear messages from God. Change is coming. Trust Me. Ok, God, we can do that. I've taught enough lessons on faith to know that I'm a hypocrite if I can't live this lesson out.

Abraham didn't know where he was heading when God called on him to father a nation. Moses had no clue what he was getting into. Daniel didn't know the lions mouths would stay shut when he obeyed God rather than the king. Read Hebrews 11 and you'll see how many followers of Jesus followed by faith first and were rewarded later, some after their lives ended very badly.

I'm in the middle of my story. I know God will take care of me. I don't know HOW God will take care of me. But I have reminded God many times that I have answered His call, so how this works out is on Him. I'm obediently following God's call, so that when everything works out, I can give Him all the credit, and all the praise.

I have told people here in Winona Lake to live by faith. Now I'm showing them how I walk by faith.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Because Jesus

Because science. That's why. It's the answers parents can give their kids when they don't know the real answer. It's the answer that movies who delve into science fiction can use when they don't know how to get their hero out of the trouble he's found his way into.

Because science. But it's not the only way to shut down a debate.

I remember coming across a quote from someone who was clearly angry with Christians. He listed all the many things Christians have done wrong throughout history. The crusades, holy killings, and the attempted extinction of people groups in the name of religion. He went on to decry the hypocrites that do whatever they want for six days of the week and then find themselves in church one day of the week. He ended his rant with, ‘but it’s all ok, because Jesus.’

He was very angry. But quite frankly, he summarized the Gospel perfectly. We shouldn’t seek to abuse God’s grace, but all of the wrong things we do can be forgiven and washed away, because Jesus. We can be redeemed and find purpose in our lives, because Jesus.

It is quite possible that this next statement will cause you to relate to me or consider me the worst pastor ever. Possibly both. But here it is anyway...

There are times when I get to reading the Old Testament that I forget (for brief moments I assure you) just how amazing Jesus is. A return to reading one of the Gospels, of course, rectifies this issue.

But the same thing happens at times in churches. We get to discussing other matters. It can cause us to forget (even for brief moments) how amazing Jesus is. Until we are reminded.

I have mentioned here and here about my upcoming transition from my current church. It only seems fitting that I will spend this time reminding my teens of the only One who should truly amaze them.

Why? Because Jesus.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Just How Big is God?

God is so much higher than we are, we can't even comprehend the difference. This very thought should lead us to worship a God who is incomprehensibly greater than us. Rather, it too often leads us to scoff. We attempt to make God in our own image, instead of the other way around.

This is why Jesus was without honor in Mark 6.

Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. 2 The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” 3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.
~Mark 6:1-3

Verse 2 says they were amazed, and then in verse 2b the people attempt to bring Jesus back down to Earth. Do you see this? This isn't a little bit later in the story. It's in the same verse! 

We're amazed...wait a second! I don't think we should be amazed. I take back my amazement.

God’s ways are higher. God’s thoughts are higher. A couple of months ago, during our midweek children's ministries meeting, our teacher was sharing and there was a kid who asked how God could know the future if He wrote the Bible in the past. 

Remember when you used to ask questions like that? I don’t recall exactly how she answered, but it was something along the idea that God knows the future, and for most of us, that answer would suffice. We would just nod our heads and acknowledge this truth. (That is, if we were even still paying attention.) But this kid’s head just about exploded. Now he had multiple questions.

It struck me that we should all be blown away by God. But as adults we like to pretend that we get it. That we get God. But we don't get God. And thinking that we can somehow get God is what gets us into trouble.

Do we even comprehend how arrogant this is? We get God? We understand God? We can explain God?

It's a problem that we think we get God.

But then along comes a pastor who tells us, or rather shows us, that God is so much bigger, even more than we considered. But understand this, no matter how big he paints God to be, he does so with a limited mind himself. 

So no matter how largely he tries to describe God,!

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. 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?