Monday, February 19, 2018

Something to Pray About

She said to pray for a student who was standing near us. To be clear, she asked all the students in the building to nod so that people near them would know they were a middle school or high school student. 

Since I’ve reached the age where everyone under 30 looks like they could still be in high school, this was a smart thing to do. It would be awkward to start praying for someone’s high school career and find out they graduated in 2012. But, for me, it was also unnecessary, because I was standing next to my middle school aged son, with his two sisters just beyond him. 

She directed us to pray for these students in light of what recently happened in Parkland, Florida. No problem! I pray for my three, and several others, every single day. It’s not just guns I fear. It’s temptations of every variety, the peer pressure that comes from every side, the stress of trying to perform well academically and socially, and on and on and on. It’s also that they would stay safe from every stupid impulse that pops its way into their still-developing brains, both the brains of my kids and the ones around them. 

It didn’t take long for my prayers to form. Lord, may my children never know the fear that is running for your life while some twisted individual wields a gun, deciding to kill whomever may have hurt their feelings and as many others as possible. 

It struck me mid-prayer that I was not praying a simple prayer. These school shootings, happening regularly for at least 20 years now, are random and always end with a few commonalities. Most people do not see them coming. They happen in often idyllic towns where many people knew the perpetrator. And they always open up the gun debate. 

It struck me mid-prayer that I was not praying against gun laws. If we can ignore the media circus that is what we call our news cycles and the politicians who use them, I would like to point out a simple truth. While people on either side of the gun debate continue to think exactly as they always have, real people mourn real loss. 

It struck me that I was not praying about anything small. I was praying against sin nature. We can talk about the pros and cons of gun laws, the ins and outs of mental illness and the would’ve, should’ve, could’ve of every single disaster. But we will be wasting our breath. 

It struck me that, even as I prayed for my children’s safety and against the sinful nature of anyone who might chance to cross their path, I also needed to pray for the sinful nature that battled within myself and my children. 

This, sadly, is where our wheels will continue to spin, never understanding that we are not simply praying for our own loved ones and against anyone else who might pose a threat. Or, as someone once wrote, ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood.’ 

So yes, prayer is needed. But make sure you know what you’re praying for. And keep in mind which enemy you’re praying against. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Who I Think I Am Doesn’t Matter

If you will indulge me, I will be honest with you. To say last year brought about a little bit of change would be like saying the Titanic’s first voyage was a bit of disappointment. Or that Tom Brady has found a level of success throwing around a football. Or that millenials communicate better through memes than words.

Yeah, the changes were big. If you weren’t sitting around, just watching me live my life, let me give you the Sparknotes version; My wife and I each got new jobs, after having worked in the same building, together, for 15 years. After a couple of months of unemployment, my wife got a new job at a new church. After a few more months than that, where I dabbled in construction and pretended to enjoy substitute teaching, I got a job in marketing.

All of these changes have left me thinking plenty of thoughts about who I am, what I do, and just how I have come to find myself where I find myself. Be assured, this isn’t about gratitude. I love the story I get to share about how God provided for my family in 2017. But big changes bring with them a disorientation and a questioning of what you thought you knew. About life and about yourself.

I wouldn’t label it a crisis, and you shouldn’t either, but when someone switches career fields after 20 years, it is going to make you ask questions about your identity.

There are parts of my identity which I am glad to bear. Father. Husband. After 2017 and the adventures that came my way, even Working Class Citizen is a label I enjoy applying to myself.

There are others, which I enjoy, but may not want to be solely known for. Basketball player comes to mind. Why? I enjoy the sport. I enjoy playing. The guys I play with have given me a nickname - The Liability. Yes, these are friends...why do you ask?

But if some of the mistakes I’ve made on the court became synonymous with my identity, I’d have to deal with a lot of mocking....ok, a lot more mocking.

Even those parts of my identity that are most meaningful, like being a father and husband, can end up being a negative thing. Mean father. Jerk husband. I’ve been both, but not to the point of being solely known for that. Of course, it depends on the day you ask my children...and my wife.

The only part of my identity that is truly safe and secure from all misunderstanding is being God’s child. I’m forgiven. I’m redeemed. I’m called for a purpose. (Connect to recent thoughts from Colossians) 

What have you been called? What have you called yourself? Consider the adjectives that you might couple with those labels. It would be really easy to hear you're a child of God and immediately think, undeserving child.

While that may be accurate, it's not how God sees us. He simply calls us His own. If it's good enough for Him, then it's good enough for me. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017, The Year I Never Expected

Like so many people, I end each year thinking about the year that was, and perhaps even resolving how I want the new year to go. But I guarantee you, no matter how much time I put into thinking last December, I never could have guessed how 2017 was going to go.

For starters, here's a couple of sentences I never thought I would speak.

  • I’m dropping the kids off at youth group. 
  • I’m ok being without a job for a few months. 

Both sentences go together, because as many of you know, I told the church I had youth pastored at for 15 years that God was telling me it was time to go.

Now I know that when someone invokes the voice of God into a decision, it can sound like they're passing the blame onto the Deity. After all, who's going to argue with the voice of the Lord? I imagine people largely fall into 2 categories on this matter.

Group #1 imagines the youth pastor just wants a change, but doesn't want people to dislike him for making the choice to leave.

Group #2 wonders when the youth pastor started hearing the voice of God.

For group #1, all I can offer is the invitation to walk where my family walked this year and then ask yourself if you'd make that choice...willingly. For group #2, I sometimes wondered the same thing. But the results can only be explained as being of God. For I never dreamed up the results.

To describe the results, let me offer you a few numbers.

3. Number of months I went without a job. When I did rejoin the workforce, it was in the highly lucrative position as a substitute teacher. I'm not complaining, since I was happy to be getting paid at all, but whatever we're paying teachers needs to be doubled immediately. Pro athletes should be told they can play games for a living, but the revenue goes to those investing in the next generation.

40. Over 40 actually. That's the number of churches I looked at, interviewed at, or had some level of interaction with, looking for a job. I really thought I was going to remain in youth ministry.

1. My family assumed we were moving. We really did. I applied far and wide. I told God I was willing to go wherever. When the job at Grace College came my way, I laughed because it was as if God was answering, 'I want you across the street.' That's right, my new job is 1 block away from the church we were at for 15 years.

My family learned a lot about trusting God this year. We used the word adventure a lot, because we knew, whatever happened, it would be God leading us. We learned about contentment, understanding that Clancy's Chips, a Doritos off-brand, do not taste quite the same, but get the job done.

We are keeping our hearts and minds open. We understand that it would be easy for us to assume that we can take our lives back over, because God did some huge things this year. But when one sees God work, in so many miraculous ways, as we have seen Him work in 2017, all we should do is live in thankful response and prepare for the next adventure.

Bring on 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

You Are The Beloved

Are there any other readers out there like me? Do you like to dog-ear pages and underline the quotes that move you? Or, if you're reading with tech, highlight and bookmark the pages that cause you to think?

There have been certain books I've read, where I have more page corners flipped over than not. Don't get me started on what I do with all those highlighted passages and underlined quotes. I'm working on a system, but it's kind of like taking sermon notes. I can always go back, plus I pay better attention when I'm intentionally listening for stuff to jot down.

If you read like me, and are a fan of Henri Nouwen, there is a book where you can leave all the pages pristine, because every page is like a highlighted quote. Gabrielle Earnshaw has compiled and edited quotes from all of Nouwen's classics, giving us You Are The Beloved; Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living.
In the introduction she notes, "Henri had a lifelong struggle with loneliness and anxiety." Ultimately, his personal struggles led to his singular writing focus, one in which the reader understood that God loved him before and without any personal effort.

So far I have read about a month of daily readings. I use them to begin my day with a proper focus, often sharing the quotes with my family, to share the wealth of love in Henri's writings.

I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books. They don't tell me I have to say nice things, but the good books they offer make that easy to do. If you'd like to read more information about this book, Henri, or grab a copy for yourself, use the links below.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

I Never Saw This Coming, Again?

Awhile ago I posted news about a new job my wife had attained, one which I never saw coming. My wife works at a church we had known about for years. She is loving it and, I'm told, they are loving her. I still struggle to find a word better than perfect to describe my wife in this Children's Ministry role.

Not long after, I admitted I still had questions. Now that I knew we would not be moving (a prayer, by the way, my children all admitted praying) and I realized I could look for something local and long-term, the question was simple. What would I find to do?

My search continued. My prayers continued to fill God's ears. That God was listening, I have no doubt.

I filled my time as a substitute teacher. I found myself in many different schools, meeting many different people. As much fun as it was, and it was (most of the time), I knew substitute teaching could not be a long-term answer for the needs of my family. Although it was nice to see checks coming with my name on them, I continued to look elsewhere.

A chance conversation with a friend, an update to the resume (again!) and I found myself interviewing for a marketing job at Grace College, a local Christian college here in Winona Lake.

When I was offered the job as Special Projects Coordinator, I think I might have actually visualized my head exploding, all while maintaining whatever appearance of cool I have ever managed. In case you're wondering what that title means, I believe it is an even mix of being the social media guy and doing whatever else they ask me to do.

~Can I start next week? Why yes, yes I can!

So, today, I begin this new adventure, actually working across the street from my previous employ. I have little idea where this adventure will take my family. But, given the year we have experienced, I am not afraid.

I am prepared to jump into this new challenge, embracing, by faith, everything God has for me. And, in case you're, I never saw this coming either. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Manna From Heaven

We often criticize the Israelites for being unfaithful while wandering in the desert, always with sinful attitudes, even while daily receiving miraculous food from Heaven. How could they be so blind? How could they be so stupid?

Didn’t they realize they were receiving daily blessings from God? Didn’t they understand that, every single day, God was proving to them that He thought of them, remembered them, and was providing for them?

Every. Single. Day.

Of course, we could never be so blind. That is, unless we put ourselves in their shoes. Then we might not be so quick to judge. We are told they needed to go out and get the amount of food they needed for that day. 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.” ~Exodus 16:4-5
If we imagine what was going in their heads, it might help us to realize what we have in common with them.

I wrote a while ago of how God provided a job for my wife. This was a job that was perfect for her, and continues to be a blessing, a job that came along at just the right time, in a way where it was clear to us that it was of God.

But I also acknowledged that it left me wondering what God has for me. While I wait (and waiting does involve searching) I have been substitute teaching. This isn’t a long term career, but the need in our schools is such that I am able to work every day.

The system is run through a computer program, where I need to go and check, every day, to find out where the need is. I have taught first grade, which left me whimpering in a corner. More often I have taught high school students, which sometimes leaves them whimpering in a corner.

All the while I have been asking God what He intends for me. I have been praying to God that He would provide work for me. All too often, I have overlooked the miraculous daily manna, of which I am holding in my hand.

How could the Israelites have been unfaithful in the midst of God working among them? How can I?

How can we? The realization that God is always in our midst, always at work around us, always taking care of us, is one that should move us to worship Him daily, and perhaps be a bit less judgmental about those who have gone before us.

If you read straight through the Bible, it can be very easy to forget about the manna from Heaven after you leave the middle of Exodus. But have you ever considered when the manna stopped?

While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan. ~Joshua 5:10-12
The manna fell for 40 years! God never forgets His promises to take care of His children. We may forget. We may get busy in our adventures. We may start to concern ourselves with other things. But God is always faithful.

I know substitute teaching will not be my 20 year career. But I hope to walk into each school I am assigned, assured of Who has led me to this point in my life, assured that God has provided this day's work for me, and willing to be a conduit of God’s blessing to others.

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;