Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Youth Minister's Manual

Have you ever been part of a panel? I'll bet you have. I imagine you've done something impressive enough in your lifetime that someone has asked for your opinion to be shared with others. Maybe it was a panel on grocery store couponing, or the best practices of educating your children on the finer points of dressing themselves, or even a panel on solar panels.

I'm not sure what that last one would be like.

This may come as a surprise, but I have never been part of a panel. Until now. I received an opportunity to be part of the YouthWorker Journal panel review. I know, it sounds glamorous. You know what it means? I read a book.

The book is called Nelson's Youth Minister's Manual. It is part of their series of ministry books. This one was written by Theresa Plemmons Reiter, a 30-year youth ministry veteran. She's seen and done a lot of stuff and decided to go back and write about it.

It's a short book, just over 200 pages, making this a handy resource for youth pastors. As I read through this book, my first thought was that none of this was rocket science. But then I remembered that I'd been doing youth ministry for 14 years and I had learned many of these lessons the hard way. I also realized that a whole new world of youth ministry was being realized as my years have passed along.

For new youth pastors just starting out, there is no excuse for not learning from others. There never has been a good excuse for not learning from those who go before us, but now we have so much that is readily available. This book is a great example of that.

Theresa offers chapters on handling interviews, arriving at and leaving a church, and keeping current with trends. She handles somewhat philosophical topics, such as understanding the different theologies in various denominations. But she also offers practical insight by providing good basic information on handling emergencies.

No one book covers every scenario for every youth pastor and every church, but this youth pastor's manual would be a good idea for any leader to have on their shelf for reference.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Extra Day

Tomorrow is February 29! Woo hoo! I don't remember what I did last year on February 29. Or the year before. Or the one before that. If you're on to me, you know it's because it only comes once every 4 years. But to tell the truth, I don't recall what I did 4 years ago on the last February 29.

I suppose if I was one of those people who celebrated a birthday only once every 4 years, it would feel different to me. But it's not different to me. I celebrate my birthday every single year. It's pretty much me taking off from work, eating cake and soaking in all the joy of everyone being focused on me. (Yeah, I struggle with center-of-the-world syndrome on my birthday.)

But I see February 29 coming and I feel like I should do something special with it. It's a gift. I know, I know every day is a gift, but this one is rare. It only happens once every 4 years. I look at this like those rare days when there is nothing on my calendar and nothing on my to-do list. When I see no meetings and no projects, I start to salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs at the sight of meat.

What can I accomplish with an extra day? In what way could I relax and celebrate the day away. I try to think of something that I wouldn't normally get to do, like a movie marathon or video-gaming the day away. What if I followed up a morning nap with a tasty lunch and an afternoon nap?

But this is where my problem arrives. Too often, I have looked to fill in any extra time with stuff that is focused on me. It would seem I suffer from centered-on-me syndrome more often than just my birthday. I wonder if you're feeling the same way.

We could choose to look at this extra day and ask what we can do for ourselves with this extra time. Or we could choose to look beyond ourselves. What if we offered something for someone else? I'm not talking about enormous long-term projects that will have you committed for the next several years. What if we focused on smaller ideas that might make someone's afternoon brighter? Or easier?

What if we didn't view all of our extra time as our extra time? If it's not about us, then our time is not ours alone. Perhaps, as we seek out ways to be less significant in our own eyes, we could use our time as a gift, and give it away.

I'm going to challenge us all today. Tomorrow is an extra day that we won't see for another 4 years. Find someone, anyone, and give up some part of your day (even 5-10 minutes). Then we'll come back on Thursday and report on how we did. Good luck everybody!

Monday, February 27, 2012

God First, Man Second: Love Series, part 4

Whenever we hear stories of sacrifice on the part of people, we marvel. We admire their ability to give up something for the sake of another. Obviously, the bigger the sacrifice, the more we revere that person. It's nice when someone gives up a seat for another person. It's really nice when one gives up a kidney.

Yeah, I think I'm ok with that last line. Giving up a kidney is nice. I wrote that nonchalantly, as if you can just call someone up and borrow a kidney like you might borrow a cup of sugar. Does anyone borrow sugar anymore? If they do, have you heard of them measuring out a cup in return?

I'm a little off topic by now, but here's my point. In our world, where newscasters say 'Good evening' and then proceed to tell you why it's not a good evening, we like hearing stories of people helping one another. It reminds us that the bad news is not, in fact, all the news.

But Jesus did this long ago, in a fashion that is beyond words. By doing so, he gave us a definition of love.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us love not with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

As with anything good, God is our example of all things good. This is why He comes first. Jesus modeled for us what love could look like. He leads, we follow.

Now it's your turn. What story of sacrifice has touched your life? Or share a story of something you gave up for someone else...from the small to the large.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Using Scripture in Ways that Aren't Helpful

Ah, the Bible. A useful tool for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness, right? Just don't assume it should always make you feel better.

The other morning a bird flew right into our bay window. My wife commented that the window must be too clean and that the commercials are correct. My two young girls, 10 and 5, both started crying. We looked as the bird just dropped to the ground and sat there.

Its neck was a little to the left. Anything could have caused that, right? Just because it wasn't moving didn't mean anything. It was right before we were leaving for school, so I didn't want them leaving upset. So I was trying to think of a soothing scripture to share. So I said, "You know that God saw that too, right?"

My 10 year old looked at me with tear-filled eyes and didn't say anything. She had to wonder what kind of robot monster I was to implicate God in the death of this bird. Thus I figured out another way we use scripture in unhelpful ways.

1. Implicating God

While what I said was technically true, I can't help but wonder if I unwittingly caused my girl to ask, for the first time why bad things happen and God does nothing. God saw it too? Ok, it's true that a bird does not fall from the sky without God knowing it. And while I believe that God may have chuckled at one of His birds doing such a stupid thing, that was probably not the verse to use with my children.

Just because it's true doesn't make it helpful. Here's the rest of my list for using Bible verses in ways that won't help anyone.

2. God has good plans for you.

We normally quote Jeremiah 29:11 here, stating that God promises good plans and great hope. It looks great on a graduation card, but we also use it when someone is at the lowest point in their life. I'm sorry you lost your job on the day your mom died. Just keep in mind that God has a bright future for you. Did you see this letter from the IRS in your mail?

3. God ended their suffering.

This one is largely a timing issue. We'll hear news of someone losing someone close to them. Because we're uncomfortable with tears and pain, we remind them that at least God didn't let them suffer. We'll use verses from Revelation 21 that talk about there being no pain or suffering in Heaven. What we don't mention is the flip side of this crusty coin that says, Of course, your suffering is only beginning.

4. Using God's will as an out

Paul said it first in Acts 18. He was being asked to stay longer. He declined but then offered that he would return, 'if it was God's will.' I imagine this has been used to the point now that we hear it and assume something bad is going to happen.

I'll see you tomorrow.
~If it's God's will.
Do you know something that I don't?

We also use this as a great stall tactic or when we want to pass the blame on to God when our friends do not get their way. I guess it wasn't God's will for me to encourage you and go out for coffee. It's kind of hard to argue against God's will. But it also makes it a verse that does nothing to make us feel better.

There's lots of ways to use Bible verses in ways that aren't helpful. I'm sure I missed some. What ways have you seen or (mis)used scripture?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Moses & The Mountain

If you take time away from TV and internet at all, you can find people that talk about how not staying connected constantly affords them a lot of extra time to get things done. Yeah, I get that. But you can also find lots of people on the internet saying the same thing.

And as I take a close look at certain Bible stories, I  can see the truth. Let's look at Exodus 19 as an example. Moses and the Israelites have left Egypt and come to Mount Sinai. Look at what happens.

Exodus 19:3 - Moses goes up to the top of the mountain and receives a message from God.
Exodus 19:7 - Moses goes back down the mountain to give the people the message.
Exodus 19:8 - Moses goes up (one would guess to the top) to tell God what the people said.
Exodus 19:14 - Moses goes back down the mountain to prepare the people for when God will come to the mountain in a way that all the people can see. Three days pass.
Exodus 19: 20 - Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God.
Exodus 19:21 - God tells Moses to go back down and warn the people not to touch the mountain. Moses replies with, 'I'm pretty sure the people know not to touch the mountain.' Or something like that.
Exodus 19:25 - Moses goes back down the mountain to tell the people not to touch the mountain.

Moses goes up, Moses goes down.

Maybe you're more patient than me, but about the second time up that mountain I would have been asking God some questions. 'Hey, before I climb back down this mountain, is there anything else I should know? Anything at all?'

Because I would think that there might be a more efficient way to have accomplished all that they did in Exodus 19 than the way they accomplished it. This is not even counting Moses going back up to the top of the mountain in Exodus 20 to get the 10 commandments. It certainly does not count any of the other trips up and down.

Mount Sinai was like around 7,500 feet tall. That's taller than the Appalachian Mountains, though not a stall as the highest points in the Rockies. That is to say, this wasn't a short walk in the park. Did I mention that Moses is an 80-year old man at this point? It would appear that Moses had nothing better to do than to go mountain climbing every other day.

I think this may be part of our issue. We find it hard to imagine doing things so inefficiently. Up, down, up, down. Isn't there an easier way to get this done? That is the wrong question. Moses and the Israelites were at Mount Sinai to worship God, who by the way, had just saved their bottoms with a few miracles along the way.

Should hurry-up-and-get-to-the-point be our goal? Can we not find and make the time to worship God in a way that pleases Him? Can we not use our time in a way that God will find honoring?

We need to remember that God is not something to be added to our to-do lists, only to be checked off in the same way we accomplish grocery shopping and changing the oil.

When is the last time you took time to be with God, without looking at your watch?

Monday, February 20, 2012

God First, Man Second: Love Series, part 3

There is so much name-calling in our world. It might be ok if they were nice names. But sadly, as my childhood would attest, they are not. It might even be ok if we left such things behind as children. But sadly, again, we do not. Whether it is the more subtle way we, as adults, barrage each other with names, or the way each of us chooses to live in response to those names, we live the results of these names.

As children, we lack subtlety. The name calling is cruel and with no concern for feelings. If a child sees it a certain way, he calls it out. Big noses, facial blemishes, funny smells, awkward laughs; children will notice it all and identify one another by those differences.

And as much as we'd like to think we mature, our calling out of political differences, awkward mannerisms and choices will be called out. Then we identify and distinguish and place people in boxes that we don't often or easily let them out of. Even in the church, we wield our judgments like we hold a Jesus-cushioned hammer.

But here's the thing about name-calling. We allow it to become our identity. But we've already been given an identity. From God. I's one we should embrace before and above any identity given to us by one another. Even the good variety.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. ~1 John 3:1

Here's the truth. When we place God first, we value His words first. He has called us His children. The Apostle John emphasizes it with exclamation points! That is what we are! If you know God, you can believe this.

It's the only name-calling we need to listen to.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hello? Is It Me You're Looking For?

This picture always cracks me up. Every time, without fail.

But it hits me that this is the exact question everyone is asking, not just Lionel Richie. We want to know that someone, somewhere is looking for us. It is our felt need to be needed.

The good news is that God came looking for us. Ever since the fall of Man, when God asked where we were, He has been the One seeking us. We get this confused and assume it is the other way around. It's not. If you look, you can see it in God's eyes.

Once we answer this, we can get over ourselves. Instead of looking for some sign that people find us significant, we can turn our attention to the only One who can truly find us...oh, and show us how significant we are to Him.

Now I believe you know just what to do.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loneliness Has a Cost

Guys like Chuck Norris and Bruce Willis have done us a dis-service. I say that, though I enjoy the Chuck 1-liners and Bruce's movies. But what they have done, along with others like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, is to give us an idealized picture of being alone.

Let's look at the facts. One guy with a limited arsenal takes out an entire army whose sole purpose for 2 hours is to rid the world of the 1-man show. Never mind that the loner can only shoot so many people at once. Never mind that it would appear that every terrorist army is made up entirely of people who couldn't hit a barn, much less a huge, hulking warrior. We're also supposed to believe that these mavericks are all witty and have extra time to charm a lady.

It doesn't work.

Even if it did, we seldom look at this from the other side. A recent story, which I found here, brings the other side to light. It appears that an entire town, Sodeto, Spain, bought lottery tickets for a Christmas lottery known as 'El Gordo'. The entire town, that is, except for 1 man.

Everyone else in town bought tickets, with numbers that matched. Then they won $950,000,000! That's not a typo. Each ticket paid out $520,000. So everyone in the town just won $520,000. Everyone, that is, except for this one guy, by the name of Costis Mitsotakis.

Talk about feeling alone. Now it doesn't look so good. The shine of being a commando has worn off. It has the more realistic feeling of cold and lonely. Yeah, more often than not, 1-man armies lose.

This is why God encourages community. From giving Eve to Adam to ensuring that the first church understood the responsibilities of community, God has been telling us over and over again that loneliness has a cost.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. ~1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Are you a maverick? What do you find to be the hardest part of depending on other people?

Monday, February 13, 2012

God First, Man Second: Love Series, part 2

I love my children. I think what I love the most is the opportunity I have to pour knowledge and compassion and common sense to them. In this way, they won't be stupid like the majority of people driving on the road. Wait a second, what was that I was saying about compassion?

I do enjoy the ability to pour knowledge into my kids. Things like logic don't come automatic with these little ones. Perhaps it does, but they haven't taken the time to think through everything just yet. That's where I step in. 

'Did you do what I asked,' I'll ask. 'Not yet,' they will respond. Aha! Then you have not done what I asked. I like logic. Until you enter college, logic is simple. It works. It makes sense. 

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. 1 John 2:3-6


Either we have obeyed God or we haven't. It's actually quite simple. We can give our reasons for why we have failed, but it doesn't change the outcome. We just end up sounding like little children, not understanding, or wanting to understand, logic. 

So let's not make this about us. Our love for God is not made complete unless we obey. God and His commands come first. What we want is secondary. This is how we show love. 

I'm reminded of the fact that love is an act of the will and not a feeling. Oh, we can feel it, but if we wait until we feel something, we might not obey. That would make it about us again, wouldn't it? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

I'm the Parent of a Pre-Teen and I Know It

Not every time in the car with my kids is spent trying to have a teachable moment. But sometimes the teachable moments find you, smack you upside the head, then leave you feeling dizzy. Last week I had one of those mornings.

I was driving my 3 children, all under 10 years of age, to school. We live 5 minutes from school, so what could possibly happen. On this particular morning, the kids were chatting away while I listened to Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio. Since it was about 10 days from the Super Bowl, they were discussing the players in the game, including one Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots.

*Background note (in order to understand the story): Mike and Mike are humorous when it comes to sports. One of the things they do is create songs for certain athletes, to reflect their personality or sports prowess. The songs are all remakes of other popular songs. 

Back to the story...

On this particular morning, they were allowing fans to vote for a song for Tom Brady. Among the finalists, which they played on the radio, was a remake called, I'm Brady and I Know It. Being a youth pastor, I immediately knew it was a remake of LMFAO's song called Sexy and I Know It.

As I listened to the funny remake, I heard Jacie, my 10-year old, exclaim, 'I love that song.'

I about drove off of the road. Are you kidding me? How does she know that song? Where had I gone wrong? Wasn't she just singing last week about wheels on a bus going round and round?

It turns out that she heard the song at a skating rink when she was there for a birthday party with a friend. Thoughts of Occupy Skating Rink crossed my mind, but I shifted into teachable moment mode. Unsurprisingly, when I asked if she knew what the song was about, I heard the infamous line, 'I just like the music.'

If I ever move on to another church and get to negotiate my income, I want to get paid $1 for every time I hear that line. I could support an entire church budget with that income. And some missionaries.

So I am the parent of a pre-teen. Moments like this leave no doubt. Just by having friends and desiring a life, my once (sort-of) innocent children are being exposed to the filth that is passed along as mainstream by our media-saturated culture.

At least I recognized the connection. At least I have been waiting, and losing sleep over, this impending clash of family values and cultural tide. Except now it is my family that will be tested. How will I move forward?

1. With my eyes wide open. We cannot afford to raise children blindly. Forget what you've heard about the best offense being a good defense. Parents need a complete game in order to compete. I am fully aware that my kids are hearing things that I wish they wouldn't. Burying my head in the sand is not an option.

2. With my time well spent. Whether it is driving them back and forth to sports, parties and school, or protecting the family meal times, nothing will replace spending time with our children. That is when we will find out what is on their minds, what is influencing them and what is bothering them. Never underestimate the last few minutes before your child goes to bed. They may just be delaying going to sleep, but some great conversations have happened just before the lights go out.

3. With my research well done. I have my favorites (you can ask in the comments section) and I am sure there are many others. But believe it or not, LMFAO is not on my iPod. My music will one day make my children roll their eyes, when they have clearly left idolizing me behind. So if I am going to know what's relevant for today, I am going to have to do my homework.

That's not a complete list of what we need to do as parents. That's what whole books are for. But know for sure that teachable moments are all around you. Are you prepared?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Who Do You Care About?

Among the other rabble we mostly know as heroes of the Bible is a questionable character by the name of Jonah. Does that sound a bit harsh? How would you put it? Let’s look at his life briefly.

Jonah disobeyed a direct command from God. He was told to go right, he went left. He endangered others around him. When he finally does what God tells him to do, he finds success to be an unhappy occasion. In fact, the story ends with Jonah more concerned with his own comfort while waiting for the people of Ninevah to be destroyed. And who doesn’t like to be comfortable when watching death and destruction?

So, for those of you keeping track, we have a prophet that doesn’t want to actually be listened to. I imagine some of the other prophets might have put a beat down on Jonah, only wishing their audiences listened as well. A prophet wanting to be ignored is like a musician wanting only to sell his art to the deaf.

Perhaps, if we were to go back in time, we would find that Jonah never wanted to be a prophet. Maybe it wasn’t his choice. I understand that. But it is his total lack of compassion that earns him disdain by those who hear his story.


Let’s not be so hasty. After all, February is Compassion month. Where is our sympathy for Jonah? Even more importantly, where is our sympathy for those less fortunate than us. Others may have physical ailments, emotional traumas or spiritual problems. Hmm, don’t we all?

I am offering up a challenge for us all. What if we spent this month finding and supporting some ministry that was already showing compassion? What makes your heart break? What makes it beat and feel alive? Jump in and make a difference. You may just find someone else out there who feels as you do.

The difference you make may not be earth-shattering, but I imagine that it will change the world of someone. After preaching to Ninevah, Jonah was upset by God’s show of compassion, showing he had none himself. On the flipside, we can read many stories where Jesus had compassion on those who were lost and hurting.

I’d recommend doing something inside and outside the church. And when you find someone that shares your burden, praise God! You just doubled your efforts. It’s too easy to criticize Jonah while forgetting that God has called us to go as well. 

Are you heading in the right direction?

Monday, February 6, 2012

God First, Man Second: Love Series

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. ~1 John 1:3-4.

I'd like to personally thank whoever decided that February, the month that contains all that gushy love stuff, should be the shortest month.It's not like I have a heart of stone, but I do think it gets played a little over the top. If anyone shows this to my wife, I believe she'll answer with the standard, 'I'm so lucky to be with him.'

She gets me.

Reading through a small letter like 1 John, one can forget that the author was a burly fisherman type. Well, now you remember, because I just reminded you. So if a big guy can talk about love, I guess we can too.

Just like John, our job is to talk about it. That's what we do. We proclaim. We talk about what we have seen and what we have heard. We do this because there is nothing better being done than the love shown by God.

And what do we get out of it? Our joy is made complete. That's right. Notice that we're not completing God's joy. God is first. He is complete. Man is second. We point to the #1 and celebrate.

Happy Monday, everybody!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pick Me!

As I scroll around the blogosphere I see ideas that I think I might like to emulate. Yes, one of those things is using big words like 'emulate'. Another is doing interviews of people that might have something to offer to the reader. Unlike other blogs, I have no one of great significance that has even heard of my blog, but we may still learn something from him. 

Without further adieu, I bring you 'An Interview With An Idiot (Otherwise Known As Me)'. 

Rick Nier...Woo!: Welcome to the blog, Rick. Thanks for stopping by.

Rick Nier: No Problem. I'm a big fan of your blog.

Rick Nier...Woo!: Please, you embarrass yourself. So, speaking of embarrassing, I hear you had a somewhat interesting adventure this week.

Rick Nier: I did. I swallowed a guitar pick.

Rick Nier...Woo!: Was it a dare?

Rick Nier: Uh, no. Although the nurse at the ER asked the same question.

Rick Nier...Woo!: So, hmmm. The questions how and why come to mind.

Rick Nier: I wish I knew. I had my guitar pick in my mouth, a perfectly normal thing for a guitar player to do. Then, as I was talking, it shifted in my mouth. It all happened so quickly.

Rick Nier...Woo!: So then what did you do?

Rick Nier: What could I do? I grabbed another pick. The church service must go on.

Rick Nier...Woo!: But weren't you in some pain.

Rick Nier: Oh heck yeah! It was a mixture of feeling like you were shaving your esophagus and housing a room full of toddlers in your stomach. That is, if all the toddlers were throwing balls of acid at one another.

Rick Nier...Woo!: So I am assuming you had it removed.

Rick Nier: Not that day. After a couple of hours, the pain subsided, leaving me to think this might pass the way nature intends things to pass.

Rick Nier...Woo!: Nature probably frowns upon swallowing hard plastic objects.

Rick Nier: Right. So when the pain returned, I did have it removed.

Rick Nier...Woo!: I'm sure people would like to know how it was removed. After all, if they've stayed this long for the interview, they clearly have nothing else to do.

Rick Nier: It involves tying a Swiss Army knife to the end of a rope. It's a special Swiss Army knife that has a flashlight, so the doctor can find the foreign object, and then he uses those little tweezers to grab said object.  It doesn't take all that long. I still found time to put in 8 hours at work and tuck my kids into bed.

Rick Nier...Woo!: So, being a pastor, I'm sure you're going to wow us all by spiritualizing this whole story.

Rick Nier: You know me well. Proverbs 21:23 says "Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity." I think it speaks for itself.

Rick Nier...Woo!: It certainly does.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Corruptible

I recently went through an intriguing novel by Mark Mynheir called The Corruptible.

The story centers on Private Investigator Ray Quinn, a retired police officer, taken out of the force before his time due to injury. The story begins when Ray gets a case with a very wealthy client. Stolen information and murdered suspects draws the reader in fairly quickly. Twists and turns keeps the pages turning.

There are a few points when the individual spiritual needs of Ray seem forced into the story. But let's face it, when you're distracted by life, your spiritual needs can often seem forced in. It also seemed to jump at points, but that could be my mind working slowly as well.

Over all, this was an interesting story, teaching me to trust nobody. Is it possible that everybody did it? You'll have to find out for yourself by reading the book.

I received this book for free from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah. They help me add stuff books to my Kindle, asking only that I say something. They don't corrupt, which is nice. I am free to say what I want.

You can purchase this book from them here.