Monday, November 6, 2017

The Last Arrow

Since leaving the youth ministry position I had held for 15 years, jumping into a still unknown future, I have been purposeful about some of the books I have picked up.

I realized that this season, where I would get to choose what to read and focus on, might not come again for some time. In the words of a pastor, it might be the sabbatical no church was going to give me.

So I chose a book on purpose. I chose a book on listening for God’s voice. And my latest read is about measuring success by making choices differently than the average person might.

The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus is that and more. The subtitle, Save Nothing For The Next Life, gives you a peek into the direction McManus would take his reader.

Using the short story of Elisha and King Jehoash in 2 Kings 13. If you’re not familiar, Jehoash is king of Israel and he is in trouble. Going to Elisha for help, the unique prophet asks the king to strike the ground with a quiver if arrows. The kings does so, striking the ground 3 times. Elisha is angered, saying only partial victory will come because he did not continue striking the ground.

There can be much that we learn from this story, just as with all scripture, but McManus uses this as a catalyst of encouragement for us.

There are choices we each make, based on fear or habit or any other weakness, which leave us living lives we either didn’t want or didn’t expect.

Change how you make choices and you change the outcome of your life. From knowing our purpose to choosing who we surrender under ourselves with, McManus tells story after story of people who discovered the fullness of what God wanted to offer them by choosing to chase after all that God has to offer.

I received The Last Arrow from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah. They ask that I tell people what I think.

What I think is that if more people, myself included, would take encouragement like this to heart, we would achieve more than we could possibly imagine. Personally, I have never before been at such a crossroads. But instead of fear, I have only hope and optimism for what God is preparing me for.

You can find out more about the book here;

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Eye Roll and the Exasperated Exhale

I have a fool proof system which tells me when I am being annoying. It’s my teenage daughter. Level one annoyances might merit a smirk from her. Level two gets the eye roll. But when I am full on annoying I get the eye roll plus a loud “Oh my goo-ood-ness." The goodness is exaggerated and elongated to include more syllables than the word actually contains, so there is no confusion on my part. 

As her dad, I understand there is a balance of being a parent that cares what she thinks and being a parent that knows she'l thank me later. But there is also another continuum, where as an inquisitive mind, I stir the pot and see how much I can push her before I start to get eye rolls from her mom. I've had plenty of time to learn the non-verbal communication system from the wife.

"Oh my goodness" doesn’t just come out when I’m an annoyance. It comes out whenever the teenage daughter is annoyed by anything, which could be dumb drivers who chose to leave their house 5 minutes before we left our house. It could also be something as mundane as her siblings choosing to exhale too loudly. Silly mouth breathers!

This communication system of my teen daughter may even come out at times of real injustice. But much like the boy who cried wolf, I tend to not hear her cries of exasperation anymore. (Don't tell her. She still thinks I hang on every word.)

The truth is, this teen girl is pretty special to me. I do hear her heart. I even agree with many of the things she finds unjust. Where we disagree are my judgments. When she seems surprised, I remind her that I would hold some more of her opinions if her opinions were logical. Aaand there's the eye roll.

But she’s not the only one I can see rolling eyes and exhaling exasperation. I can see it in God as He scolds the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah. What follows is something I believe should be required reading for every Christian who has gotten too comfortable playing church, something I imagine God finds annoying.

10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
16 Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
17 Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
~Isaiah 1:10-17

Monday, October 23, 2017

Did You Hear That?

Oftentimes it’s the right thing at the right moment that sets us forward on the right path.

I’ve detailed for you the many emotions, struggles, and answered prayers as my wife and I stepped out in faith this past year.

I have watched God work in personal ways that defy logic, leaving me sharing stories that, admittedly, sound ridiculous.

When I ask God, on those long days, how I have come to find myself substitute teaching, it doesn’t take long to recall the moments where I have definitively seen God directing our footsteps.

Sometimes the right thing is a right book. Recently I read Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God, by Mark Batterson.

When I read books, I mark up the pages with quotes I want to be able to find again. Then I turn the corner of the page for easy access. I have turned the corner of so many pages in Whisper that I probably should have stopped.

Batterson gives us 7 love languages that God uses to speak to us; God's Word, Desires, Doors, Dreams, People, Promptings, Pain.

I can honestly say I have heard God’s Whisper in each of these languages in the past year. So what makes this book so helpful?

It is confirmation of a lot of what I have heard from God during this time of transition. It is also a reminder of how God may choose to communicate with me in the future.

There are so many great quotes I could share to encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Batterson introduces the entire book by reminding us that in order for a language to be communicated effectively, our hearing needs to be working. He admits that so many people do not hear from God, not because God isn’t talking to us, but because we aren’t listening. So this book is a how-to in hearing God’s voice. And Mark readily admits we may find ourselves doing crazy things when we start obeying God’s whispers. But as he says;

Those who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music. 

I was given a copy of this book by my good friends at Blogging for Books. They give me books and ask that I say something about them. You can click the following for more information.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Things I Have Learned Substitute Teaching

I've been substitute teaching for a few weeks. I have made myself available to sub for all ages, K-12. Here a few things I've learned;
  • Velcro should be mandatory for first graders.
  • Middle schoolers will change their perspective when you tell them gym is better than math. Good point, teacher!
  • High schoolers want a sub that is chill. I believe the working definition of chill is, someone who will let me text my friends instead of working on the assignment left by the teacher.
  • Seriously, Velcro.
  • Younger kids are ready to run, even before they know the rules.
  • 4th graders can't seem to have enough detail, no matter how simple the game. 
Me: Let's play tag.
Them: What if an alien comes down while I am tagging a person, and the alien abducts that person, are they still it?
  • A raised hand, in elementary school, doesn't mean they have a question. It probably means they want to answer the next question. Or it means they want to inform me how their regular teacher does things differently than I am currently doing them. "That's great, Patrice*. Nobody asked for your opinion."
Can I take this slightly sarcastic list on a bit of a serious note? I have come across several lesson plans which include a list of the kids I may expect to have trouble with. And sometimes you can smell the dysfunction on a kid before they ever open their mouth.

But I have not (yet) come across a student that I found unmanageable. Granted, I only have to deal with them for a day, possibly 2. However, I have found that if we treat students like humans, and less like cyborgs, they tend to respond.

No, I have not managed a classroom for 20 years, so write me off as an optimistic novice if you prefer, but I have dealt with people for 20 years in a church setting. Don't get the mistaken idea that people always show up with their 'Sunday Best' behavior. People are, as God puts it, sinful. They are messed up.

But if we treat people like humans, most problems can be solved without demeaning one another.

Many classrooms have a discipline system in place. Again, I understand a justice system is needed to maintain order. If students believe there are no consequences, then chaos will ensue. So, by all means, don't let me stop you from using your justice system.

But if you seem surprised when no tokens were taken away, no clips were moved down, no class punishments were given, it might possibly be that I understand my role to be greater than simply continuing your work.

While I will commit to getting as much of your lesson plan accomplished as I can, understand that I might be the break you and that kid need from each other. Rather than begin his day with two strikes, because his name was written down as a warning, or because Patrice*, the helpful student will inform me, perhaps I can offer a second chance for that student to engage. Even if only for a day.

Subbing may not be the ideal. For me, it may not be long term. (Probably because of Patrice*.) But I am committed to loving each person I come across with my actions and words.

*Names have been changed to protect the annoying.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Teen's Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices

Listen, there's no getting around this. There's no hoping this is just a phase. There's no going back.

This is the new normal.

Teens are being raised in a technologically advanced world, one where we may one day be subservient to the machines we are creating.

But, forgetting the scary dystopian future you may be imagining, the reality is that all of us are a part of a mobile world. One which loves their social media. The statistics tell us we are using our mobile devices a crazy 9 hours every single day. Every. Single. Day.

This is where Jonathan McKee comes in. Here is a man who spends his time doing the research, shining a light on the realities that are present for parents raising teenagers. Oh, but he does waaay more than that.

He breaks down the numbers and gives us hope that not all is lost. Because it isn't. Jonathan continues to provide resources which help us to pause, take a deep breath, and figure out how we want to utilize this technology in our own families. That's what he's done with his latest book, The Teen's Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices.

This book sets up parents and teenagers to have a conversation. Very early on, he writes, "I'm not going to tell you what to do. You're the one who has to make these choices." He then provides 21 tips for teenagers in making the best use of the tech in their pocket.

But here's the greatest part of what McKee has done for us. He's not giving us tips on how to text hands-free or how to take the best pictures. He's giving us solid, Biblical advice on how to approach the tech we are already using. And he does so in a way that is not preachy or judgmental.

What he's really pointing out to teens is how to live, because these tips are all very relatable. He touches on topics like thinking before you post, or text, or send a picture you'll regret. He warns of the dangers of talking online with people we don't know in real life. He hits the heart matters when he discusses how we deal with online criticism, or questions what we allow our ears to hear and our eyes to see.

He does all of this, while sprinkling in scripture to remind us of the values we should be living out in every area of our lives.

I have two teenagers of my own, and this is the stuff that can very quickly becomes things we argue about. Jonathan has provided a very conversational tool, even offering discussion questions with each chapter.

Do you deal with teenagers in any setting? Then this is a resource you should invest in. You can find it on his website or on Amazon. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Order & Continuity

These days I am a substitute teacher. Given that I am wanting to work as much as possible I have made myself available for every elementary, middle and high school in our area.

Some people, forgetting that I have loved being a youth pastor for half my life, cringe at the idea of subbing for middle and high school.  But I know teens to be awesome people.

I digress. Let me tell you what I enjoy about being a substitute teacher. Variety. In one week I taught middle school p.e., a first grade class and a fourth grade class. If a sub doesn’t like first graders, just hold on for a day. It’ll change tomorrow.

Variety means meeting lots of people and getting to touch the lives of many children. Maybe they struggle with their regular teacher and you can be a breath of grace filled air.

On the other hand, I have no idea what to expect each day as I get up. Will the class be full of basically good kids or a room filled with untamed mutants? Will I find myself dealing with little children who may cry because I did things differently than their regular teacher? Or will I find myself crying because of what I found the students were capable of doing.

Variety is not something we always enjoy. It used to be that I had a weekly schedule I could depend on. I knew, as much as life would allow it, what was on the docket for each day. Yes, even in the world of ministry.

I find myself wandering out of school for another day, asking questions like;

  • Where do I need to go?
  • What day is it?
  • Do I have a child of my own that needs a ride somewhere?
  • Where am I?
  • Who am I today?
It's almost like a Hitchcock movie where I awake from a coma and try to figure out what just happened. How did I find myself here?

Nevertheless, I find myself in these various situations, wondering how I have found myself at this point. As a guy who generally enjoys order, having a specific place on my desk for each item, this element of unknown is very different...and stretching.

If people generally enjoy having some control over their own lives, then I am much like the students in the schools I am working at each day. Someone tells me where to go (not a new experience for me). Someone informs me what I should be doing. And there are plenty of people looking over my shoulder.

Perhaps this is where God wants me right now.  When things are ordered, I don’t look to Him as much as I should. When things are as I believe they should be, I don’t have a need to trust.

So will today find me reading form picture books in classrooms splattered with lots of color and motivational posters? Or will I find myself in a classroom that looks forgotten, filled with students jaded far before their time? Perhaps I will hit the jackpot of substitute assignments and be able to dress as a gym teacher.

No matter, I will remember to look to God who orders my days and sets my path. Easily said. But only faithfully done. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's So Quiet I Can Hear Myself Think


It's been so quiet.

For someone who has been in youth ministry for almost 20 years, quiet is not something I am accustomed to. Not at work and not even at home. Because, oh yeah, my own children are exceptional at being loud. Even when I am alone with just one of them, I sometimes have to remind them that I'm not deaf yet....despite growing up on 80's rock.

Low-talkers my family is not.

So you'll forgive me if I tell you that peace and quiet is not something I have experienced a lot of. And now that it has been exceptionally quiet, I'll admit I'm not sure it's always peaceful.

See, I ask a lot of questions in conversations. This is a habit people down't always admire in me. Just ask my teenage daughter, who is simply trying to tell me a little story. But I want the details! Which friend made the comment? What did their face look like when they said that? Where were you standing?

It's also how I read the Bible. I read these stories and I want to know what happens in between the verses. You know, what are the little details in between the details they give us? Because sometimes those little details can actually be big details.

I remain in the middle of this journey with God, much like each one of you. My jobless summer adventure continues. It's not that I haven't seen God work. In some amazing ways even. Don't get me wrong. I am very thankful for how God has provided and I have seen Him getting stuff done.

And yet...

It's been so quiet I can hear myself think. That's not a complaint you hear from very many fathers. But I have had time and space to think. And ask questions.

Why now?
Why this adventure?
Why me?
Why reveal only part of the plan at a time?

I introspect, with one eye on what I can learn from this entire process, and one eye on the finish line. And I don't even mean the super spiritual finish line, as if I've finished the race. As if!

I want to spy the line that starts the next part of my life. I want to see this adventure end.

But perhaps that is part of my problem. If I see this particular adventure end, will I come to believe that I have learned that lesson and can move on? Will I set these lessons aside, like a book I've just finished, only to select the next reading material, forgetting what I've just read.

God knows me best and He knows the potential for all of that to happen. Perhaps God has me right where He wants me. Perhaps it's quiet so I can learn the lesson. Maybe even until I learn the lesson.

I'm listening God.

So the quiet continues.