Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Independent Butterfly

It is our sense of individuality that pushes us to pursue our own dreams and desires, sometimes at the expense of others.

I had a group of teens together for a few days. Among other things we went to meals together. But since we had both guys and girls in this group, there was waiting involved. Waiting by guys. Waiting for girls. That's when one of the guys, Warren Lampkin*, decided enough had been enough.

Warren: I'm going to breakfast.
Me: Don't you think we should wait for the girls?
Warren: No, I'm an independent butterfly.

I'd never met a guy prior to this who referred to himself this way and decided that it was a good moniker, but Warren did. And Warren walked. Fortunately for the girls, Warren doesn't walk that fast and we were all able to catch up with him. But I think his point had been sufficiently made.

I suppose we all have a little independent butterfly in us. It can be good if we want to be inspiring and sing Celine Dion songs, but on second thought...

Perhaps if we really understood how connected we really are, we would be quicker to hold each other up. If we only knew how much our affecting others affected us, we would work harder at sticking with our friends. There is nothing shameful with holding another's hands and calling out together 'ohana'. That means family, in case you didn't know. And as Lilo and Stitch can tell you, family means that no one gets left behind.

So find your friends and hold on, or be forced the way of the independent butterfly.

*His real name.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tree Ball

As a youth pastor I pretend to be able to keep up with teenagers. Admittedly, this was easier 10 years ago than it is now. I know I'm not alone. For instance, I can remember a time when I did not have to keep track of what was said on Facebook and what was said IRL. Don't be confused by my use of text-talk. IRL is one of three abbreviations of which I know the meaning. The other two being lol (which I refuse to use) and rotflshidmt (which is simply ridiculous).

My inability to text proficiently aside, teenagers continue to be a group that grab my heart, while at the same time confuse and frustrate me. A better example is the youth group game. I have rarely, if ever, been successful in getting an entire group of teens to play, much less enjoy, a youth group game. And sometimes what I find stupid they find amusing, for hours on end.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when one of the teens suggested Tree Ball. What's tree ball? Simple. Teens climb a tree while the leaders take playground balls and throw them at the teens in the tree. If we connect, we get points. If we don't, they get points. Seriously? This sounds more like what happened to me, against my will, just after being pantsed on the way home from school. I wouldn't have been caught so often if my knee-high socks didn't keep falling down. Needless to say I never got any points in this game.

But I was told by my teens that this was, in fact, fun and could even be tied to spiritual themes. Take Zaccheus. He was in a tree. He was hated enough that people probably wanted to pelt him with playground balls. Of course, they didn't, because Jesus was in the area, and people always act their best when a pastor is around.

But what was the deal with Zaccheus and the tree anyway? Sure, I know he was a wee little man, but couldn't he have gotten a seat with the children in the front row as the Jesus parade was passing by? We often applaud Jesus because he ate with tax collectors and 'sinners', but isn't it just as big a deal that he ate with Zac, the weirdo in the tree?

I suppose there is something to be said about how far Zac went to have some time and attention with Jesus. After all, when's the last time you did something crazy just to spend some time with Jesus? Perhaps there is something to this little game after all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

They Don't Like Me?

With appreciation to Dan Kimball and his work on They Like Jesus, But They Don't Like the Church, I have to say that this may have been one of the most difficult sermon series I've ever been a part of.

I've found out first hand that people didn't like hearing this. It was almost as if people wondered why Jesus had so many fans. After all, what did He really ever do for people?

Perhaps one of the reasons we tire of hearing that people like Jesus and hate us is because we are arrogant in our lifestyle. We assume they don't really know Jesus. We claim they don't really know us. We start to get all out of shape when someone attacks our beliefs, our standards, our church, our book, and especially our Savior. So it becomes extremely disarming when someone likes what we stand for but doesn't like us. We don't even know how to respond to that.

Why can't they see our meager efforts and be changed by it?

The bottom line is that God's Spirit will change their lives, just as He changed our lives. Yes, we can do much to stay out of God's way and not muck it up while He is working. But we can also do much to further His work, as long as we understand that it is His work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Say Cheese

Despite the natural outcome of my nature to imagine itself to be more than what it really is, I enjoy looking at pictures of outer space. I say despite because it can only lead me to one conclusion. I'm small. But it doesn't matter. I still like to view pictures of outer space. I like to take pause during my day and look up in the sky. And although my telscope would like to see farther and more variety than the Indiana sky, I do enjoy seeing what I can see.

There is such beauty and vastness, it is nothing short of awe-inspiring. But then I ran across this article while cruising the information superhighway. “The Planck telescope was sent by Europe into space to take pictures of the entire universe to try to understand the origin of the universe and how stars are formed.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7872190/Planck-telescope-reveals-universe-image.html)

I didn't italicize anything on purpose. I want to be sure you are paying attention. They sent a telescope into space to take a picture of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE! Are you kidding me? Entire. Universe. The whole thing.

First of all, who even decides this is possible? I've been part of family photos where the guy taking the picture (usually the dumbest Uncle who somehow married in) can't seem to fit the whole family into the frame. Even Leonardo daVinci had to have all the apostles move to the same side of the table in order for them to fit in the picture of the Last Supper.

So how in the world does a telescope find its way outside of the universe in order to turn around, tell the universe to say 'cheese', and then snap a picture? I'm not saying I was the brightest philosophy major ever, but thinking abstractly isn't exactly a mystery to me. But stepping outside the known universe in order to capture it on film seems like one of those things our parents would have left for God.

Secondly, and perhaps less importantly, how in the world can the Europeans control a telescope from outside the universe and AT&T can only provide coverage for 97% of the United States? Like I said, perhaps this is of less importance, but I would just like to see if I can get a cell phone from Europe. Shouldn't every call be local?

Can you imagine the scientists working with this telescope? 'Don't click the button until Pluto passes by, or we'll get a fuzzy picture.'

All of this universe picture taking leaves me realizing that, ridiculous idea or not, I am infintely small. I can remember as a kid looking at a map of the United States I would enjoy finding my home town. This is so far beyond that that it does not even allow for comparison.

We're small. Specks of dust on a ball on a string in the lost area somewhat off-center of the total known universe. Accepting it is the only response we can use in order to move forward. Because only when we accept this truth and begin to look outside of ourselves will we be able to catch a glimpse of the One who made this universe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

You Have Heard That it Was Said

Recently one of the teens dropped this one on me, rotflshidmt. I don’t use most of these simply because I have not received a copy of a text-to-English dictionary. I’d rather just type it out. But something this ridiculous is just begging to be used. It stands for 'Rolling on the floor, laughing so hard I dropped my Taco.'

There are obviously many problems with this. Do you really want to be on the floor of a Taco Bell? Who actually has friends that are this funny? Do you realize how hard it is to clean up a taco off the ground? There is so much filling that it will take forever.

But it did get me thinking. Are there things in my life that have distracted me from other, more important things? Sure, maybe I’m having a good time in life. But what am I missing? This isn’t about wanting more just to have more. But I would hate to be guilty of Jesus’ warning to gain the whole world and yet lose my soul.
The Bible actually talks quite a bit about remembering and not forgetting and keeping up certain habits daily, weekly, all the time. I have selected just a few.

In terms of connecting with God…

Psalm 119:16
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
In terms of connecting with others…
Hebrews 10:25
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
(This also has to do with worshiping God, but the focus is on together.)

In terms of ministry…
Acts 6:2
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

1 Timothy 4:14
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
We each have gifts and a special call to some part of the shared ministry. What is it? What are we doing to grow our gifts and use our gifts?
What have we dropped that we should pick up? Daily habits?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The 4-year Old Menace to Society



She seems cute and innocent, right? Well, she is cute. But she is far from innocent. I have two other children (her older siblings) all too willing to throw her under the bus when it comes time to place blame.

Just this morning I had my 8-year old describe in detail how Jerica (pictured) ripped a toy shopping cart from her grasp. The 8-year old wanted me to retrieve it for her. 'I'm not going in there,' was my reply, 'not if she can overpower people twice her size.'

No more than 20 minutes later, my 6-year old son showed me how his 4-year old sister was strong-arming him and throwing him up against the wall, as if she were some insane member of the Mob telling a cohort exactly how it's done around here. (By the way, there is not much funnier entertainment than watching your son reenact this event by grabbing his own collar and throwing himself up against the wall.)

I didn't buy it. After all, this little girl was idly standing by practicing her perfect princess smile while batting her eyes. How could I believe she was capable of such brutality? Then again...

Doesn't darkness often masquerade as light? How many other seemingly innocent things am I allowing into my life that are actually weapons of mass destruction? I guess it's true what they say about judging a book by its' cover, because when Jerica was asked about these accusations, a slow smile spread across her face. Guilty as charged.

Truth is to be sought after, no matter what it looks like.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why Do We Fall Down?

I feel somewhat like Alfred, butler to the Caped Crusader. This is due, in part, to the fact that being a butler is probably the closest I will ever come to being a superhero. The other reason is that I took my kids skating yesterday. And... well,... there was a lot of falling.

This was the first time that my older two had been on real roller skates, as opposed to the plastic deal that fits over your shoes. My 4-year old still had those and she had a blast. But the older two looked like Goofy on skates, all while wishing out loud that they could have skates like their younger sister. And why not? Have you seen little kids with these skates? The only time she fell was, I think, more of a pity fall for her older siblings. She is used to imitating them, so if they fell, it must be fun. But the rest of the time she clodded along as if doing her best impersonation of Forrest Gump running when he first loses the leg braces.

After kissing the hundredth boo-boo from my other two who simply refused to look natural on skates, I pondered why we fall down. Here's what I've come up with.

1. Our feet don't come with wheels. God could have, but He didn't. I think I saw why yesterday.
2. The entertainment of others. Watching people fall down is funny. Especially when watching them try not to fall down. That's even more funny.
3. To strengthen our bodies. Nothing hurts more than a bruise on top of another bruise, but the pain will help you remember when you were upright and cause you to figure out how to make that the norm.
4. We get distracted. I didn't mean to inflict any more pain, but every time I cheered on my son for skating exactly a foot and a half without falling over, he would look my way and promptly lose his balance.
5. We get over confident and move ahead too fast. Again, it's funny to watch, but there is a sinking feeling one gets when they realize they will fall harder due to higher speeds.

Finally,
6. To get back up again. Ok, maybe I got this one from a Batman film. But it is true nonetheless.

Every experience, good or bad, teaches us something. Most of mine, in some way, have taught me that God has got my back. I don't think He's pushing me over, but He is helping me up. And so I will continue to skate. For starters, it still feels good to blow by those 9-year old girls and leave them in your dust. It doesn't matter that I'm more than 20 years older than them now. They still can't catch up. But mostly I will continue to skate so that my last memory isn't of falling down. After all, why do we fall down?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Parenting 101

I would not call myself a parenting expert. I thought I had a few tricks. One of those tricks involved giving our children options so they had the appearance of control. For example, that could be as simple as picking between two different shirts for school, or as deceptive as choosing between them eating their veggies or me eating their cookies. I didn't say the choices shouldn't be obvious. But we have found that for many instances there is less fighting when we give them options.

Then it was used against us. We were walking by the park this past Saturday, when big Bounce Houses were also being set up for 4th of July festivities. Walking by meant walking through, as we weren't planning on staying. This met with disapproval from all our children, but most vocally from our 3-year old. She said, 'Mommy, you can let me play on the swings or let me play in the bounce house.'

Ummm....I guess if a 3-year old can pick up on a parenting trick, it's not all that tricky, is it? Sometimes we have to just let the children know what is going to happen and let them deal. And from a young age, my kids are getting a healthy dose of of pastor-parenting.

When it comes to decisions that involve morality, I have found myself showing them the benefits of making the right choice. Eating your supper merits dessert. Playing quietly during a meeting will get them a delayed bedtime. So often I can show them good consequences versus bad consequences. But life isn't always like that. Sometimes the consequences of a right decision will reap a neutral or negative consequence. What do we do then?

We do the right thing for the right reason.

That is a standard line that my children will have memorized as sure as they learn John 3:16. It is sort of a bottom line that I adhere to. Sure, there may be other good reasons to do the right thing as well, but in the end we should do the right thing because it is, after all, the right thing.

As I'm reading through Isaiah, I came across this memory verse from my childhood.
"But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands." ~Isaiah 32:8
Life may get a whole lot more complicated than a simple one-liner, but truth remains the same. So, are you doing the right thing? Why?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Memory is Fading

Recently I filled in at a church where I have filled in at in the past. To my amazement, someone remembered my sermon from my previous visit, which was well over a year before. This is in comparison to teenagers who frequently forget what I've said before I'm even finished saying it to them.

I'm certainly not to be modeled in this area, for my wife has to repeat whatever it is she's saying to me numerous times. Even my young children have come to me, asking what mommy's directions were. When i realize I have no idea what their mother was saying, I respond with, "You should have been paying better attention. If you can't remember, I'm not going to tell you."

Have you ever wondered if God feels like this with us? After all, look at how much repetition there is in the Bible. How many times does God have to repeat Himself? He reminds them of His identity over and over again; while He is making covenants with them, while He is reminding them of covenants, while He is telling them why they'll be punished for breaking covenants, etc. Shouldn't we all be paying attention?

God remembers us. In the story of Noah, we see God remembering Noah (Genesis 8:1) and remembering the covenant in the rainbow (Genesis 9:15). Later, we're told that god remembered Abraham when he rescued Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29). Still later God remembers Rachel and "opens her womb" (Genesis 30:22). I have a hard time picturing God with a long to-do list. Somehow seeing Him scanning down a list and suddenly saying, 'Oh yeah, no more flooding' doesn't seem quite right. But God remembers us. Therefore...

We should remember God. Just in the story of Israel leaving Egypt we have many, many instances of the people being told to remember. Remember what God has done, how He treated Egypt, how He rescued Israel, how He parted the Red Sea, how He provided food and water in the desert, how He brought them into a land not their own, how He did this, how He did that.

I think this is mostly keeping in mind that God is the main star in this play in which we sometimes mistake ourselves to be the lead. This is why Paul encouraged Timothy to remember Jesus Christ and what He has done (2 Timothy 2:8). Even Solomon told us that remembering God will better profit us than finding everything to be meaningless (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8).

We're also told to remember others. From Paul being eager to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10) to the writer of Hebrews telling us to forget entertaining strangers and other guests (Hebrews 13:2, 16) we're to keep our focus on others as well.

It would seem like our memory is an important thing. So as you celebrate life, be it Independence Day or your birthday, keep that rock in your head sharp. Otherwise you may forget that which should never be forgotten.