Wednesday, January 18, 2017

If I Had a Parenting Do Over

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Opening a Jonathan McKee book is like starting a conversation with a friend. I know, I know...he has written several parenting books (many of which I own) and he has written lots of youth ministry books (most of which I own as well). It would be so easy for Jonathan to come across as the guru who knows all.

But the very title of the book, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, reveals his heart and authenticity. Jonathan is the friend who is in the trenches with the rest of us. He writes this book about 7 Vital Changes I'd Make.

The book reveals some parenting mistakes Jonathan has seen through his years of working with families with teenagers, as well as mistakes he made personally. Parts of this book were really convicting, as if there were cameras in my own home.

But that's the point. Teenagers everywhere have common struggles. So do their parents. This book comes along with some very practical advice on how to honor God in our parenting. Along the way, we should experience a closer relationship with our children.

After giving us the changes he'd make, Jonathan goes one step further and gives us easy applications to the theories we just read. This is something every how-to or advice book should do.

Parents, I would encourage you to put this easy-to-read book on your reading list for 2017.

Monday, January 16, 2017

God's Victory Depends On Us?

There’s a pivotal scene in the superheroes movie The Avengers, which I think we can all agree is now a classic, along with other greats such as Gone With the Wind and Rocky. 

That's right, I just compared a superhero movie, to a classic sports movie, to simply a classic. That's the kind of ridiculous I am.

Without revealing all of my geeky knowledge of superhero movies, suffice it to say there is a bad guy, Loki, who is bringing an army to earth. And there are the good guys, the Avengers, who are trying to stop him. One of those good guys is Iron Man. And just before the big battle begins, Iron Man makes a speech to Loki, where he concludes,

It's all on you, whether your plan succeeds or fails.
How is our focus on God like this? Not in a combatant way, of course, but our whole trust should be in God. This is His plan, His mission, and it's all to His glory. So the plan, whether it succeeds or fails, is all on Him.

And of course, we can have confidence that it will succeed.

Here’s the thing about this truth. If we say we trust God to be victorious, then we have to be all in. We can’t waffle between the sides in this war. Choosing to not take a side is to choose to not put your trust in God.

Jesus modeled this when He was tempted in the desert. The devil tempts Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Jesus was hungry. If He had any doubts about whether God would let Him starve, He could have chosen to have some bread right then.

Then the devil tempts Jesus with ruling over the kingdoms of the world. If Jesus had any doubts about whether He would rule over all the nations of the Earth, this was His chance to grab them.

Lastly, the devil tempts Jesus to throw Himself off the highest point of the Temple. Both Jesus and the devil knew God would send angels to protect Jesus. This wasn’t about protecting His life, but about attracting public attention. If Jesus thought He needed to become the first century Evil Knievel, this would have been a grand opportunity to make a splash. If Jesus had any doubts about His ability to draw a crowd, He could have chosen to do this.

But Jesus didn’t succumb to any of these temptations, because, just as He taught us to trust in God the Father, He did so as well. He knew the outcome was all on God.

Understand that God’s love can be believed because it was proven by action. If we say we are going to love people, then it must be shown by our action.

Something we like to do in youth and children’s ministries around Thanksgiving and Christmas, is to ask youth to list the things they are thankful for. Oftentimes we’ll get blank looks returned to us, as they struggle to figure out what they have to be thankful for.

Fresh on their minds is a recent math test, a fight with their sibling, a list of things their friends have but which they don’t. I often find it helpful to return to a list of the basics, things that are universal for us all.

  • Even in industrialized nations, we don’t have to look far to recall all the beauty God has made. Look to nature to see the beauty of God. Look up to see the vastness of space. Even if buildings and streetlights impede our view, Google it and look up some of the incredible views around this globe.
  • Look to the manger to remember how God willingly humbled Himself to be surrounded by us.
  • Look to His life and miracles to discover how God will bend the laws of nature simply because He can.
  • Look to the cross to remind yourself that there is absolutely nothing God was not willing to do to bridge the divide that stood between us and Him, a gap that was present because of our choices.
  • Look to a resurrection that tells us death is not the end.
  • Look to the promises lived out in the book of Acts, as we read how Jesus will return, but that He won’t leave us hanging in the meantime. His Holy Spirit, complete with guidance and power, has been imparted on every believer.
God's love is proven by action. And the success of His mission is resting all on Him. Perhaps we should live this year as if we believe that. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Surrender to His Mission

Like many other pastors, and especially youth pastors, I like to pick a title that catchy, and perhaps bordering on irreverent. Here was the idea I had for my most recent sermon.

People Jesus liked hanging out with more than he liked hanging out with people at church.
Maybe that's too wordy a sermon title. But read through the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and you’ll discover a list of people that Jesus liked spending time with; sinners, kids, smelly fishermen, prostitutes, drunks at weddings, women with shady pasts, tax collectors, ....

I speak slightly with tongue in cheek because the truth is that we are those sinners and people with shady pasts, no matter how much we try to play dress up.

The truth is we worry about a lot of stuff. If the stuff we tend to worry about had as much impact on the kingdom of God, compared with the commandments and commission of Jesus, then maybe we’d have a reason to stress ourselves out.

But it doesn't. Sorry. It just doesn't.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that your problems aren't real. I'm not saying that your problems don't have to be dealt with. I AM saying that Jesus told us to find our peace in Him

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
~Matthew 11:28-30
I AM saying that Jesus told us to give Him our burdens and to seek His kingdom first

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
~Matthew 6:25-27
I would love to hear a sarcastic tone in the words of Jesus here. I could imagine Him asking, ‘Aren’t you far more valuable than birds? Duh!’ But Jesus is much, much better than I. So I believe these words came from His lips gently, almost as if He’s unsure how we have not heard this message before.

‘Don’t you know how much more valuable to me you are than any silly bird?’

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
~Matthew 6:28-33

Surrender to His mission. If we did this… If we practiced joy, kindness, and thankfulness more than we worried about any do not commands, maybe we would notice just how much God is working around us and how much more He would work through us. Until then, we may have to settle for God working in spite of us.

Our grand mission, called the Great Commission, has been given to us. Our great command, love God, love people, has been handed down from a Supreme Court where we don't have to worry about who will be appointed next, because God will not fall off His throne.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Surrender To God's Love

Matthew 3:13-1713 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus is doing a pretty cool thing here, being baptized. This marked the beginning of His ministry and connects Jesus to the people He came to save.

I work with teens and, of course, have a couple of them in my own home. There is this fascinating dance between parents and their teenagers. Parents have to somehow impart wisdom to teenagers without it sounding like a lecture. Their best bet is to somehow trick the teenager into thinking that they, the teenager, came up with the good idea all on their own.

Teenager: Mom, Dad, I think I should show more respect to adults.
Parents: Wow, that’s a great idea! What a novel concept that you thought up all by yourself.

Teenagers, on the other hand, attempt to make right and good decisions without it being noticed by their parents. They don’t want the fanfare, because then they might have to admit they learned something from their parents. Pshaw, I’ve always known how to make every right decision in every area of my life. Please don’t make a big deal out of this.

Now Jesus is 30 years old when He gets baptized, so perhaps He’s past all the moves and countermoves of adolescence. But if there was any part of Him that didn’t want His baptism to cause a scene, that hope flew out the window as God the Father decides to part open the skies and send the Holy Spirit flying around like a dove. A spotlight shines on Jesus and a big voice from Heaven booms, ‘That’s my boy!’

God the Father may have as well been wearing plaid pants, a striped shirt, had a gaudy camera slung around His neck while waving real big, ‘Jesus! Hey buddy! Over here! Looking good, Jesus!’

I drive my teenagers to school in the mornings. It’s been getting cold recently, and my daughter has been taking a blanket with her to keep warm in the truck on the way to school. She’ll tell you it’s because her father won’t warm the vehicle up. I think she’s trying to extend the feeling of still being in bed. Regardless, she leaves the blanket in the truck when she gets out. A couple of weeks ago, just as she opened the door, with lots of students pouring into the school, I yelled out, ‘Baby, don’t forget your security blankie!’

She rolled her eyes, responded, ‘Nice’, then closed the door and escaped any further embarrassment as quickly as possible.

As you can tell, I’m taking my role as a dad pretty seriously.

I’m fairly certain that God the Father was not trying to embarrass Jesus. I’m also quite certain Jesus did not roll His eyes and try to avoid the attention. He surrendered to the love of His Father.

When it comes to God our Father, we should do the same.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

This is Why Christmas Happened

Imagine being in the best place ever. Don't get hung up on it looking like other people's best place ever. Just imagine a place that you never tired of, never grew weary of being and could never imagine some place better.

Best place ever.

Now imagine the best person ever. Don't make this about a boyfriend or girlfriend. Forget the possibilities of tension. Just imagine a person that you never grew tired of, never grew weary of being around, and could never imagine someone better to hang out with.

Best person ever.

In the best place ever.

Now imagine a scenario in which I could give you something to stop hanging around with the best person ever, in the best place ever. What kind of trade would it take? What kind of deal could I make you?

Seems ridiculous, right? What could I possibly have to trade you for being in the best place with the best person? You'd have to be a fool...or at least be fooled into thinking there was something else...something more.

Maybe this sounds stupid to you. Maybe you're sitting there thinking to yourself, 'If I am content thinking I have the best possible situation, why even consider the possibility of something better? Why want for more when I'm already perfectly happy?'

Or maybe you want to at least hear me out. Perhaps the offer intrigues you. Upon hearing the trade offer, which is little more than a curtain hiding a lie, imagine what the best person ever thinks as you actually take the trade.

What would have to happen to cause you to hide from the best person ever in the best place ever?

But this is basically what happened in Genesis 3. I was reminded of this truth as my awesome wife reminded the kids of our church that the Christmas story began in Genesis, where we see the reason why Jesus had to come in the first place.

This is why Christmas happened.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Party!

It seems everyone is busy all the time these days. And then December comes and we all believe we have some superhuman ability to squeeze 25 hours worth of stuff into a 24 hour day.

Sorry, I don't know how well you math, but it doesn't work so well. As a church, we often attempt to remove some of our regular programming to afford families more time together.

So what do we do when Christmas lands on a Sunday? How do you cancel when the holiday is supposed to be about Jesus? I have seen larger churches do so, and I understand. When you depend on a large volunteer group week in and week out, giving them a break seems like the right thing to do.

We also depend on volunteers, but somehow it doesn't feel the same. So, if you look below, you'll see an invite to a Birthday Party on Christmas morning. I know you have your normal Christmas traditions. So does my family. I'm encouraging you to join us as part of your family tradition this year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Overjoyed or Disturbed?

In Matthew 2, the Magi come to visit King Herod. They ask about the King of the Jews. We’re told King Herod is disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. He asks the chief priests and the teachers of the law for details on where the Christ was to be born.

Why are the chief priests disturbed?

Why all of Jerusalem?

King Herod being disturbed, I get. He was a king, and the mention of another king coming would naturally be seen as a threat. King Herod responds and acts throughout this story just as we should expect him to act.

But the teachers of the law? Were they not focused on the prophecies at all? Jesus came quoting the Law and the Prophets. I assumed God’s people would be about looking for the Messiah. They knew enough to tell Herod the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem.

And why didn’t they go to Bethlehem? They hear that a star has been seen, and that foreign kings are coming to see this baby born, but we have no record of them checking it out for themselves. Understand, this is before Jesus said anything offensive. This is before He focused on children and sinners and tax collectors. This is before He exposed the evil hearts of those who were supposed to be Israel’s shepherds.

I didn’t see Cubs fans waiting their entire lives for a World Series championship and then skipping out on the celebration. We’ll celebrate the next one.

Something very wrong was going on in the hearts of these teachers of the law, these followers of God, that they chose not to respond to the movement of God. Something was amiss when they heard about the coming and decided to simply not go.

The Magi continued on, found Jesus, and worshipped Him.

        The teachers of the Law decided not to go, not to seek, not to worship.

The Magi are described as being overjoyed when they found Him.

        The teachers of the law were disturbed.

Where is your heart this season? Are you seeking? If you were to accidentally stumble upon God moving in your midst, would it bring you joy? Or would it disturb you?