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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Rick Built Something?

It's true, we can find ourselves doing the wrong thing.

As I have been in the midst of searching for what's next, I have looked at various opportunities for work and tried to imagine myself doing those things for 40+ hours a week, for the next several years. Because while every job might not be comparable to a day at an amusement park, it beats searching for a job.

I asked myself what a youth pastor does when he's no longer vocationally pastoring youth. How do the skills of a pastor translate to a world outside Sunday morning?

One such opportunity, a very temporary one, seemed to garner attention from those who know me. They seemed concerned, though not necessarily for me. One such friend was talking with my wife, heard the word construction and immediately asked why anyone would let me build something. To be fair, it's a good question, only bested by, why would anyone pay me to build something?

That's right, people heard I was doing construction and they were instantly afraid.

  • For me, how I would likely get hurt if I were allowed on any machinery. 
  • For others around me, how I would likely hurt them, again, if I were allowed on any machinery. 
  • For whatever I was building, because how could you trust the integrity of a building, knowing it was built, in part, by the same guy who came up with silly games (on a weekly basis) and enjoyed the conversational skills of middle schoolers?
Oh I get it, and fear not. I was doing more destruction, preparing the way for people with actual skill to construct. But as thankful as I was for the friend who gave me the job for a few weeks, I knew I needed something that wouldn't destroy my soul.

Obviously, I don't mean that in the spiritual sense, but we all know there are things we can see ourselves doing for 40+ hours a week and there are things which, over time, will move us to be someone other than who we are.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Looking Back, With Purpose

A lot can happen in a year. In the book of Numbers (yes, people do actually read Numbers), we find the Israelites celebrating the second Passover. That means they had been travelling in the wilderness for a year since leaving Exodus. And a lot had indeed happened;

  • They watched Pharaoh's army drown in the Red Sea.
  • They worshiped God at His holy mountain.
  • They received the 10 commandments, along with all the other details of God's Law. 
  • They built the Tabernacle, along with the Altar and all the other pieces of furniture God commanded.
  • They learned about proper sacrifices for any and every occasion.
  • They assigned the Tribe of Levi as priests and numbered every other tribe, to organize the men of fighting age.
Besides this, in Numbers 9, we learn they came and went at God's leading. The very presence of God came in a cloud that covered the Tabernacle. When it lifted and moved, so did the Israelites. When it stayed where it was, so did the people. 

We're not given any indication that the people complained about this process, but come on, it's the Israelites. Of course they complained. I can imagine people asking why they were stopped for so long. I can imagine others complaining when they had to pack up and move along. It's like a husband a wife agreeing on where to set the thermostat. Someone is going to be unhappy. 

I imagine the people getting comfortable, because that is what people do. We get accustomed to life as it is. We like knowing what to expect. It gives us a sense of control, even if it's a false sense. 

It was about a year ago that my wife and I began to hear from God that changes were coming. We had been serving at our church for quite a while. We had grown comfortable with the way things were. We had a sense of control, which, honestly, is ridiculous when you are doing God's work. 

Now we look forward, with my wife learning her new job and me still looking. But, perhaps because we live in the same town, it is also easy to look back. It occurs to me there are two kinds of looking back. The first kind is looking back and praising God for all He has done in and through your life. The second kind is looking back and asking God why He didn't just leave you where you were. 

The Israelites were on the precipice of change. In Deuteronomy 1, we read about their great failure to trust God. They saw the inhabitants of the Promised Land as an unconquerable foe. They looked back and asked God why He didn't just leave them in Egypt. They had been there over 400 years. Though it wasn't ideal, they were comfortable with the way things were. 

They should have looked back at the previous year and praised God for what He was doing in them and through them. Because they didn't, it cost them. 

15 years is a long time...change is hard. But I wouldn't change a thing. I choose to trust God for each step. I choose to look and move forward. When I do look back, it will be with purpose.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spoiler Alert

I have had some extra time to read books lately. While I allowed myself a short break into the world of fiction, I have also been reading Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer. Here's a quote:

For unlike the rest of humanity, Christians are not confined to grief responses that can never do anything but make us die a little more each day: trying so hard to act like we're not sinners, or to act like our sin is not really a big deal - at least not as bad as it seems when we're the most bummed out about it.
But, yes, it is.
It's bad. Majorly bad. 
(Emphasis mine)

If we stop to consider this, it makes sense. For those of us who live on this side of the greatest sacrifice in all of history, Jesus is like the greatest spoiler to a story where we can know the end. Yes, we're sinners. But we know Jesus came to die for our sins.

Because we know the solution from the start, we minimize the problem.

But imagine life before Jesus walked the Earth. They lived through years of offering sacrifices, attempting to live out the details of a Law they hoped would make them clean once again. But I imagine, in order to feel real hopelessness, we'd have to go back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve had a conversation with God.

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine the dread when they realized they had broken God's one rule? Picture the fear, when you realize you have disobeyed the One who made you, who gave you everything and gave you ultimate freedom, save for one rule. No wonder they hid when they heard God's voice.

But we don't live with that fear. Because on the very day we understand our sin, we are also told about the rescue. Unlike many parents, who tell their children to go wait while they think of a punishment, we are now offered both problem and solution in one moment.

If God had told me what was coming next right when He told me it was time to leave my job, I would have missed out on a lot of learning. There would have been no faith at all in that. Certainly, I had my assumptions, like another ministry position would be offered quickly. When the assumptions ended, the learning began. And thanks to God's patience with me, I'm still learning.

I had a teen in my youth ministry who, whenever I would quote from Revelation or teach about Heaven, would put his hands over his ears and cry out, 'Spoiler Alert! I haven't read the end of the book yet.' Yes, he was the senior pastor's kid, and he was joking...I think. But he knew what we all know.

Spoiler alerts can ruin the experience , which is why God takes His time revealing his solutions. So be patient and enjoy where the Author of your story takes you each day.

Monday, August 21, 2017

What Does This Mean For Me?

As I shared last week, the Nier household has been in full-on celebration mode. The Nier children have completed the first week at schools they didn't think they'd be attending. We are not moving from a house we thought for sure we'd be selling. And my wife is happily getting settled in at her new job.

Many congratulations were given (thanks, friends!) but several asked me the inevitable question.

So what does this mean for you?

Believe me, that is a question I have been asking myself since I first announced I was resigning. And since June, the question has loomed like a large cloud over every one of my days.

From certain people, I could hear the questions they were perhaps too afraid to ask out loud. Are you trained to do anything besides play with teens and work one day a week? I write that, tongue planted in cheek, but don't be fooled. I've asked it of myself. What does a guy, who has only ever wanted to be a youth pastor, do when he is no longer a youth pastor?

What does this mean for me? When I first resigned my position, people asked if I'd be looking for a senior pastor position somewhere. I scoffed and said I would never turn to the dark side (with apologies to all my senior pastor friends). I have been and remain of the mindset that youth ministry is a specialty ministry that is still very much needed. I believe we need mature (insert your own joke here) and experienced youth pastors (read: in their 40's and older) who still love teenagers enough to continue on.

I thought for sure, seeing hundreds of churches looking for youth pastors, that I would be employed in this area before the summer was over. But now we all know that didn't happen.

Now that my wife is employed (at a church), what does this mean for me? What does this mean for my own calling? Was I hearing God incorrectly? Did I misunderstand?

While I clearly have stopped looking for paid youth ministry positions around the country, I won't stop being involved in youth ministry. Every healthy youth ministry has volunteers, and as I encouraged my own volunteers through the years, what they do has incredible impact.

I said when I stepped out in faith to look for a new job, that I was practicing what I had preached. I will do the same in this area, and volunteer where I worship.

Make no mistake, I still need to find something to do during the week for someone who will trade me income for services rendered. The wife doesn't want a house-husband. I think that's mostly because I don't fold the towels properly, or something like that.

So I am still praying for what's next. I am encouraging anyone who will listen to do the same. And not just about me. There are things going on in your life.

Transitions. Questions. Direction change. A call to be involved and serve. A desire to renew connections. Perhaps even a pause to remember what makes you tick and renews your strength.

So what does this mean for you?

Monday, August 14, 2017

I Never Saw This Coming

Seven months ago, I never saw this coming. We had just told our kids that we were going on an adventure, one that began with informing the church we'd been a part of for 15 years that God was moving us elsewhere.

We told our kids that we didn't know yet where we were going, but that we would trust God to lead us where He wanted us. We acknowledged there would be difficult parts of this adventure. We knew saying goodbye to friends would be hard. My wife and I prayed about the transition and what impact it would have on our children.

There were parts of this adventure I'd have preferred not to have experienced. There were hard conversations, doubts, lots of prayer and more conversations. I've shared some of the experiences here, here and here. Actually, there's a few more, but you can find them for yourself. I wouldn't want to be accused of over-linking.

The entire time, whenever I prayed, I told God an answer would be a good thing, because He would receive the glory. Well, my friends, that day has arrived.

There were a lot of things I didn't foresee coming through this adventure.

  • I didn't know friends would bless us with gifts like they did to help us through.
  • I didn't know one friend in particular would even think to provide us some tickets to go mini putt-putt, because she knew we hadn't really done any fun excursions.
  • I didn't know I'd be blessed to spend so much time with my family. Although there were a few times Jen might have put blessed in parentheses. Apparently I can be the gift that gives too much sometimes.
  • We've played a lot of board games this summer, but we also found lots of extra time to help some friends with some projects.
  • I didn't know someone would think enough of our daughter to pay her way to a youth group trip. Where, by the way, she recommitted her life to Christ.
  • I didn't know someone would think of me and offer me money to do some demolition work.

Through all of these blessings, I searched for a youth ministry position. I worked the process and I moved at the pace of multiple churches, who seemed to be taking their sweet time, only to inform me they had chosen someone else.

And that's when it happened. Just a couple of weeks ago, an email invitation was given to apply for a job locally. Job descriptions and resumes were shared, interviews were completed, prayers were prayed and a call was received.

My wife is the new Children's Ministry Director at Mission Point Community Church (for you local readers). She starts this week.

Yeah, I never saw this coming.

Monday, July 31, 2017

That's How You Train a Toddler

Trust Me.

That was the message God gave us. Trust Me.

Anything else, God? 


I mean, God I am trusting you. I took this first step in faith. It wasn't easy. Perhaps you would like to expound further upon what you want me to do, to learn, to experience?

Nope. Just. Trust. Me.

I'm learning that asking to have more faith or trust in God is akin to asking for more patience. There's only one way to get it, and it's going to take time.

So while I am waiting, I have been reading about Moses and the Israelites in the book of Exodus. I knew this would give me both good and bad examples of how to learn to trust in God.

The Bad Example: The Israelites

In Exodus 19, we learn that their trek from Egypt to Mount Sinai had taken 'exactly two months.' Have you ever considered some of the timeline of the Israelites and their transition from Egypt to the Promised Land? Yeah, we're familiar with the fact that it ended up taking 40 years, due to their rebellion, but consider some of their actions in response to what they saw from God.

Exactly two months ago, they experienced the ten plagues. We walk around talking about this being a hot summer or a cold winter and some of us remember things like that from year to year. Had we experienced even one of the plagues, I would think that might be something that would be fresh on our minds for two months, at least.

In that same two month period, the Israelites also experienced the crossing of the Red Sea, the crushing of Pharaoh's army (in that same sea), quail being hand delivered, manna appearing on a daily basis, and (oh yeah) God leading them in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

They complained the entire time and continually questioned whether God was trying to kill them. Don't even get me started on what will happen when Moses leaves them alone for a few moments so he can meet with God. Speaking of Moses...

The Good Example: Moses

I know Moses isn't perfect, but if God was looking for someone who would be patient (most of the time), He found a winner in Moses.

Later in Exodus 19, God calls Moses up the mountain. Anyone who hikes or climbs mountains will tell you Moses doesn't get enough credit for this. We read Moses climbed the mountain as if it was just as quick and simple as pushing for a floor on an elevator. Mount Sinai was over 7,400 feet. This took some time and effort.

When Moses gets to the top, God meets Him and tells him to go back down to remind the Israelites to stay back from the mountain. Because God couldn't have given Moses that message at the base of the mountain?

Moses questions, but ultimately obeys and climbs back down the mountain. A few chapters later, God once again invites Moses to come up the mountain. We read in Exodus 24:15-18 that God covers the mountain in a cloud, which I imagine is the God-equivalent of closing an office door so you can have a private meeting.

But it says God didn't call out to Moses until he had been there seven days! Moses climbs the mountain (again!) and waits an entire week before God starts the meeting. Had this been a phone call, I might have hung up and told myself that they will call back if it's important.

Moses was content to wait on the voice of God.

Training a Toddler

If you parent a toddler, you no doubt find yourself repeating the same things over and over. Because that's what it takes to train a toddler.

Before we started this adventure, I prayed that God would make His will clear, because I wanted to be sure where He was leading us and what He was teaching us. So now when I continue to hear the one message, Trust Me, I guess I can't complain.

Because that's how you train a child.