Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013: September

September, for whatever reason, had an uptick in traffic, so a few of September's posts could have won other months, in terms of being re-read-worthy. Enjoy a few more of 2013 as we bring on the New Year!

The Bible has all the answers, including staving off death.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013: August

It should have been obvious to me when looking for popular posts from the year that one including a  quote from Miyagi would make the cut. Continue to enjoy some highlights from 2013 as I take a short break. 

Live or Die, Man? It's a question we all have to answer.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best of 2013: June

I'm re-gifting you some of my best posts from this year while you celebrate more important matters with your loved ones. Here is one from a series I will likely have to bring back in 2014. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Best of 2013: May

It is an interesting process for me to look back and see which posts were most popular. Here's one that combines my ministry and my search. 

Tell me something. Who are you building into? 

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best of 2013: April

Don't look now, but it looks like a serious post got taken seriously. I'm re-gifting popular posts from 2013. Happy Christmas Eve!

Here's the best of April. Do you disagree?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best of 2013: March

I know, I know, you have no extra time to read today. Shopping days are about to get singular. That's why it's review time around this corner of the internets. You're welcome.

Here's my best from March. Do you believe in ghost stories?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Best of 2013: February

It's almost a New Year and I'm gifting you with the best of what I got from this year. Apparently I'm volatile during the winter, because the Best of January was also a rant. But the traffic doesn't lie.

Here is the best from February, my rant about Ketchup.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best of 2013: January

Well, 2013 is almost out the door. Will you be resting the final days of this calendar year? Probably not and neither will I. That's why I won't bore you with new stories. I'll let you play catch up until after the New Year begins. But I'll make it easy on you. I'll select one of my posts from each month, likely the one that received the most traffic. 

It's my Christmas gift to you....more of me!

Here is January's post, a rant about tooth fairies.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess


Is it possible to like and hate a book at the same time? I suppose so, if you realized that the truth is what you needed to hear. And when I hear truth, I know it calls for a response.

This is not truth like water is wet. I don't need a response to that, except maybe to have a towel handy.

This probably is more truth than 'these cookies are life-changing'. In 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker has written truth that calls for a response. An actual, life-altering change of course and direction.

The premise is simple. Throughout her own life and circumstances as a pastor's wife, she came to realize her family had too much. As she writes about the need for a balance between feasting and fasting, she decided to go through 7 months of fasts from different areas in her (and her family's) life. This included one month of only eating 7 foods and another of only wearing 7 articles of clothing.

As you read through her book, written in interesting journal style, you'll come to discover those weren't even the challenging months.

I loved the book. I made sure my wife was reading along, so we could be convicted together. Hatmaker's writing style is convicting, but she's down-to-earth enough so you actually begin to think you could do some of this stuff as well.

I hated the book. Let's face it. I'm comfortable. I like comfortable. Comfort and I have a long-standing agreement of trying to be together, though life and responsibilities often try to get in the way of our relationship. This book calls for change. This book has caused a rift between comfort and myself.

I would urge everyone to read this book. It was worth the money. Because perhaps comfort isn't the most important relationship I should be worried about.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Do I Have Klout? Do I Need Klout?



Klout.

I'm not even sure how I discovered it. It may have been an ad from another social networking site. Or I may have been invited by a friend. But now I have it. Sort of.

Klout is a differently spelled version of clout, meaning influence we have. Not to be confused with the first definition, that being a blow to the head. This, of course, would be the kind of clout I need more often than attaining any sort of influence on people.

But I have Klout. It's a site where I plug in all my other social networking sites and Klout tracks all my activity. Here's their purpose statement: We’re helping millions of people unlock their influence and grow their Klout. 

Let me say right away I have no problem with the makers of Klout. The rest of what I have to say is also not an indictment of my friends who I know use Klout.

However...

For me, Klout became just another game. Why? Because Klout takes all of your social networking site activities and measures it. Then it gives you a number. (Read: score.) I now had a new website to visit, to check out my number.

To make matters worse, I could see the numbers of my friends and colleagues, Facebook friends and bloggers alike. To state it another way, I could see who I was winning and losing to. Because in my mind the number instantly became a score. The higher my number, the better I must be doing, right?

Stop and consider, though, what this is measuring. My social activity. How many times did I post on Facebook? How many times did people respond and react to my posts? Were my comments retweeted? I realize Klout, as a company, has a far grander purpose than keeping up with the number of Facebook likes on my wall, but for me it was just a score. Worse yet, it was a score on how I was doing at life! And not even my real life. Klout could never account for how well I was doing my job, how many real conversations I was having, how many actual lives I may impact.

And yet I allowed a number to impact my day. If the number went up, I somehow felt better. If the number went down, somehow I had failed? Again, I realize the company has a much grander purpose than keeping score, but for me.... for now.... I think I need to lose the measurement.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ministry Monday: Do You Hear That Cliquing?


One might imagine that a smaller youth group would not suffer some of the same headaches that a larger youth group has. To a certain degree, it's true.

I don't have to worry about the sound system working so every teen can hear me from the stage. I don't have, or need, a sound system.

I don't concern myself with where all the driving teens will park. We have a parking lot large enough for us and for the adult evening service that runs at the same time.

I never think about budgeting enough for a speaker or band. The most I do would involve joining with another youth group, probably the larger group that is going to do so with or without my help.

But there is a problem for large and small groups alike. Cliques.

Honestly, I didn't give it much thought because I barely have enough teens to form a clique, much less several. But it crept in uninvited and made itself at home. Apparently cliques from outside of youth group feel free to come on in and join the fun. And fun is the last thing it actually provides. In fact, fun is something no one has while dealing with a clique.

So, what to do?

Deal with it.
Cliques, like any sin, love to live in the dark. If not addressed, the problems can fester and grow and become more than just cliques. So I addressed it. From the stage. I reminded our group of our purpose and our identity. There's no room for cliques in either.

Play against it.
I mentioned this idea a couple of weeks ago, but getting the group to feel stupid together puts everyone on a level playing field. If everyone feels dumb together and laughs together, the divisions become blurry. Enough blurriness can lead teens to realize where the real lines are drawn.

As much as I'd like to be a typical 3-point pastor, that's what I got this morning. If you've got other ideas, I would love to hear them, because this is not a new problem, nor is it one that will go away forever. I'm sure the cliquing noise will be back.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I Am Rudolph


May we all embrace our inner Rudolph.

One of the most beloved songs of the Christmas season started out as an advertising gimmick. In 1939 Montgomery Ward tapped advertising executive Robert May to write a poem that their store Santa Claus could give away to children who came to visit him. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" first appeared in a little booklet published by the department store chain. More than 2.5 million copies were handed out. And by 1946 more than 6 million copies of the poem were distributed.
Rudolph's story came to musical life in 1949 when May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the music. After it was turned down by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded it. Today "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the highest-selling Christmas carol, at more than 25 million units.
What makes this little carol so loved? Some people might say that it's the pluckiness and courage of Rudolph, the alleged hero of the story. But the real beauty of the story focuses on grace. By grace, Santa chooses Rudolph despite the fact that he's a clear outsider and "reject." He has a defect—his big, annoyingly shiny red nose—that has usually disqualified him from getting chosen for other reindeer games. But despite all the other available candidates, who did Santa choose (or "elect") when the fog rolled in? That's right, the one with the weird shiny red nose. The "weakness" that was considered a liability by Rudolph and his fellow reindeer became the "strength" that Santa used to accomplish his mission.
Matt Woodley, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Kristen Parrish, No Cape Required (Thomas Nelson, 2013), pp. 219-220

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wind Farms: My Opinion

Is it just me, or do other people kind of freak out when driving through towns with multiple wind farms? I'm not talking about one or two wind turbines. I'm talking about a small Indiana town with at least fifty.

I'm not sure I believe in the power of wind, first of all. If it were really effective, my children could eliminate my electric bill in no time. Seriously! There is so much nonsensical talking going on in my home that I will discover a way to plug them in and bottle some of this energy.

Ok, no I won't. But if I really believed in the power of wind, I would so try. But let's face it, wind is much less reliable than the magic holes into which I plug all my stuff. Hot air doesn't do any good coming out of your mouth, so it doesn't do any good in large quantities either.

What I think is the sight of unseemly large metal knives cutting through the air gives me the distinct feeling that a scary movie is about to take place. Especially when there is no one else around within sight. Honestly, shouldn't there be people wandering around, utilizing all this wind power? But no, it's just a bunch of creepy turbines rotating slowly.

It kind of creeps me out.

But perhaps this is just me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Most Important Thing Happening

I have been a fan of Mark Steele since reading his book Flashbang. That still remains a book I try to read once a year. I find Mark to be the hilarious sort you can hear tell stories over and again.

But this. This was different. All the other books I've read by Steele were non-fiction. The Most Important Thing Happening was a novel. Or, as the sub-title suggests, a novel in stories. I wasn't sure what that meant.

After reading a chapter or two, I still wasn't sure. And if you think you're getting the story out of me, you've really misjudged who you're dealing with. I don't believe in spoilers. Sadly, that means this review will be short. But this is a book you should check out.

While reading, you should pay attention to the minor details. And the minor characters. Because there's no such thing.

Come to think of it, that's a pretty good rule for life.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Husband Versus Wife

My wife and I were talking in the bathroom, which is the only place since having children that we can have a private conversation. This time we weren't talking about anything major when my wife said my name. I instantly changed the subject and told her I liked when I heard my name from her lips. 

She rolled her eyes, something I get a lot. Then I noted it was because I didn't think she said my name a lot. She does call to me, just not with my name.

  • Hey you!
  • Boy.
  • Dork.
  • What's that smell? (Technically that's not a name she's calling me, but I know who she is referring to.)
She also agreed that she does not use my name a lot but calls me daddy. No, not for the dirty reason you just thought of. She's normally directing our 3 children to go ask their dad for something. 

But I digress, I say my wife's name a lot more than she says my name. The reason is clear. I need her a lot more than she needs me. I'm always walking around calling her name. I am pretty needy. 

  • Jennifer, what's for supper?
  • Hey Jennifer, have you seen my (insert any number of things here)?
  • Jen, where are your kids right now?
  • Jennifer, can you shave my back?
In terms of significance around our house, I may lead, but the wife is clearly playing a larger role. It's realized most clearly when one of us is sick. If my wife is sick its a game of chess for me, figuring out how to get kids where they need to be, how to feed everyone. No matter how well I succeed, I will post statuses of my herculean efforts. (Fed the kids mac and cheese and managed to pack lunches with pb&j for lunch at school. #winning)

But if I'm sick? There is no noticeable difference in the daily routine. Upon my return to health, I may even thank Jen for stepping up and doing extra. She'll just look at me, furrowing her brow, wondering what was different than any other day. 

I should probably keep this in my mind as I go Christmas shopping for her. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ministry Monday: The Untold Stories

It's Monday morning and this post could easily devolve into a rant about the power of sports. But it won't. If you follow college football, or just listen to ESPN radio casually (like I do), and you have heard the name of Jameis Winston recently. He's the star quarterback of the #1 ranked Florida State Seminoles. He's also the young man who was accused of raping a female college student last year. 

It's being talked about (a lot) by the ESPN talking heads because Jameis is a candidate for the Heismann trophy, the biggest award in college sports. It's being talked about because Jameis is the quarterback for a team likely to be in the national championship game. So ESPN was talking about the court case, only in connection with how it would affect the championship game and the potential award. 

I don't want to get into the nitty gritty of it all. Like I said, this post could quickly devolve into hating on sports and the industry it has become. That's not my purpose...today. But there is another side to this story. Hers. But sports talk Radio doesn't care to cover that side. I get that. Their focus is sports and he is the athlete. 

But if all you listen to is sports radio, her voice will remain silent, especially now that the case has been dropped due to lack of evidence. I'm not arguing that point at all. But it did leave me wondering;

What are the voices that are silent in your youth group? What are the stories that are going untold in your weekly gatherings? Is there more to the lives behind the smiles that come your way week after week?

I can answer that last question most easily. There is always more to the lives behind the smiles. 

Each of my teens is walking in with an untold story. They aren't reporting on the darker side. They want to tell about the good side. They want to discuss the home run, the hard-earned 'A', Much like a Facebook wall proudly tells of our successes, but not our failures. 

So how can we hear the stories?

Have Multiple Outlets

I don't know about the size of your ministry. You may not get to hear every story. Even in a smaller group, hearing every story would be difficult. But even if your main task is on the stage, ensure that someone is hearing the stories. 

Much like the focus of ESPN is sports news, other stations will be reporting on the legal side of this story. Make sure you have multiple people engaging in listening to stories. 

Ask Multiple Questions

You won't get the inside scoop by asking, "What's up?" Hard hitting journalists don't get to the bottom of stories by asking, "How's it going?" You'll have to ask the starting questions and then be prepared to follow up with a second and third question. Some teens may spill just by giving them a knowing look, but others will be hard nuts, involving multiple tools to crack them open. 

Use Multiple Opportunities

Some teens will share everything they can in the 30 seconds they have before youth group starts. Others would prefer a one-on-one throughout the week. Some will want a texting conversation while others will email long sagas of their recent journey. 

Besides knowing how they tick, you will need to make yourself available in a myriad of ways and plenty of places. The Church office isn't for everyone. 

The untold stories are often the ones that need to be told. These are my suggestions. What would you add? 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Seeker of Stars

It's part of the greatest story ever told. Yet, details seem to be lacking. No, not enough to keep us in the dark of what happened and what we need to know. But, enough has been left out to make us wonder.

Susan Fish has written a story to fill in some of the blanks. Seeker of Stars, a fictional look at one of the Magi who came to worship the baby Jesus fills in some possible back story. Have you ever wondered what the wise men were thinking? Have you ever wondered about some of the details that led them in and out of Israel?

I am guessing Susan has wondered that and a whole bunch more. She provides real depth to these astronomers and their families. Offering some twists and turns, she surprises us in some places but leaves us with a traditional and realistic look at the Magi's visit to our King.

Even if you've never wondered at the details, I would recommend this as a short read, offering insight as to how God leads people from every corner to eventually fall at His feet in worship. Perhaps this intriguing view will lead you to some answers you've been dreaming about as well.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

This Is How Obsessed We Are With Ourselves

The Oxford word of the year is selfie.

There are so many things wrong with that sentence, where to begin? How about the fact that Oxford even has a word of the year. Seriously, what's this all about? Do the words campaign for votes? Do they give speeches? If they give speeches, do they get extra points for using previous words of the year? Will the previous word of the year present the award?

You might be wondering how many more questions I could possibly have along this line of thinking? Oh, I have a few more?

If a word becomes scandalous, can it lose the award? Will the runner-up step in and carry out the duties of the word of the year? Has there ever been scandal about how a word rose to victory?

So many questions. But I must admit being surprised about a word like selfie winning this. After all, I hear Oxford and I assume a panel of college profs with cigars and suit coats with the elbow patches. I imagine a group of people who know words that no one else uses, much less has ever heard of.

What does this say about Oxford? Aren't they supposed to be above all this? I don't know why I assumed that Oxford would be filled with people who see librarians as being a bit too crazy.

I could be wrong, but even so, how does selfie win?

It says something about us when the Oxford word of the year is selfie.

It says something about our culture when something like the selfie becomes so prevalent that it a) becomes a word and b) becomes the word of 2013. After all, remember when the people who most used cameras were in the least amount of pictures. I can remember when it was a constant source of pain to find some stranger to take a picture of your entire group, trusting they wouldn't take your camera and run in the opposite direction.

Selfie. We shouldn't be this much about ourselves.

Now if only my programs would recognize the validity of the word and stop putting that red squiggly line underneath it every time I type it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Behold the Golden Moo

I'm really surprised the people of God made a stupid decision ~said no one ever.

If people in the Church ever get tired of smacking their heads, we can at least take comfort in knowing that we come from a long line of people of God making dumb decisions. If Hebrews 11 gives us the members of the Faith Hall of Fame, the rest of scripture provides us with plenty of the opposite. 

In Exodus 32, we find another instance of the Israelites performing an Almighty no-no. No big surprise, right? Maybe. This instance involved them getting impatient waiting for Moses to bring down the 10 commandments, so they made a gold cow to worship. That sounds about right. Why wait for God, who is busy saving you, when you can worship something else right now?

Meanwhile, up on the mountain top, God tells Moses that He is giving up on these people. This is the equivalent of when your parents have had it 'up to here' and the belt is coming off and the consequences are going to begin. (I may have some memories of this as a child.)

This is when Moses has to make a choice. 

God has seen the rebellion of Aaron with the golden moo-moo. He gives Moses a choice to start over. God tells Moses to leave Him alone so He can destroy the people and start over with Moses. 

Think about this. Moses was given the choice to lead a stubborn people through the desert or start over and make babies. That was the choice God gave him. If you consider the implications, those are two very different job descriptions. One will involve 40 years of walking around the desert, arguing with people who refuse to recognize the holy. The other will involve a wife and a gaggle of little ones. 

What would you choose? What does Moses choose?

Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ~Exodus 32:12b-13a

We are pretty hard on Moses, thinking about his anger and his disobedience during his lifetime, but at this most crucial moment, Moses chose for God to get the most glory and be faithful to the Abrahamic covenant.

Moses chose against his own comforts, his own desires, his own leisure, to ensure that God would receive glory. I hope I can always make the same choice. 


Oh, and how stupid did Aaron think his brother Moses was? The gold cow just popped out of the fire? Really?!? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Get Your Christmas Rock On!

I'm not sure where you stand on Christmas music. I personally think hearing 57 different versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in one month is more than enough. 

But as I was selecting music for our church's first Sunday of Advent, it dawned on me. We're sick of Christmas music because of what it represents to us. 

  • We just fought over a new toaster with built in MP3 player on Black Friday. 
  • We'll hear everyone and their brother sing Silent Night for the next month.
  • We've dreaded pulling out the Christmas decorations, already knowing it will be mid-January before we find a chance to take them down.
  • We don't know how we'll make enough desserts for all the parties we're going to, or enough money to pay the credit card for all the gifts we want to buy. 
We're sick of Christmas before it ever comes around because it means adding one more thing on top of our already too-full schedules. But this isn't what it is supposed to bring to mind.

This isn't what it meant for those ancient Jews who were looking for a Messiah. Take the hymn, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus for example. We could lump it in with all the rest of the Christmas music and all the headaches that come our way with it. 

Or... we could read the words again and remember why we celebrate Christmas. 

Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free.

Long expected. 

Long anticipated.

For a long time, we have hoped for. 

If we looked at the Christmas and Advent season like this, we wouldn't groan every time we heard a Christmas song. We'd remember that we are celebrating the dawn of a new day, the introducing of a new covenant and the beginning of a new hope. 

I still don't know how full my Christmas party schedule might get, or what I'm buying my wife. I may need to turn off the radio every once in a while still. But I will push myself to remember.

This season isn't about me. It's about the long-expected Jesus. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ministry Mondays: Feeling Dumb Can Feel Good

Ministry Mondays, what's that? Well, as random as my blog can be, why not allow a little of what I do in the mix? I'm not saying it will happen every Monday. I'm also not saying other youth ministry blogs should watch their backs. I'm just saying this is something. And that's not nothing. Here we go...
That's just dumb. 

When you hear that, many things happen.

  • You hope someone is not talking about something you just said or did. 
  • If you know it is something you said or did, you instantly feel regret.
  • You start thinking of a way to fix this so you don't feel so...uh....dumb. 
But what if it didn't have to be that way? What if you could be dumb without having to feel dumb? This is my most recent goal with my youth group. Clearly it should be a constant goal. 

Why?

We can feel dumb everywhere we go. School is just a breeding ground for dumb things to happen. From not knowing how to do what the teachers want you to do to not knowing how to grasp cool. Quite frankly, I think most workplaces can feel the same. Even in the church. But a youth group should be different.

A youth group should be a place of safety for everyone. When we're discussing matters of faith and discipleship, I believe a teen should feel the freedom to fail and fall, picking themselves back up without fear of ridicule. After all, it's tough enough.


The youth room my group meets in has a nickname; the inner sanctum. It promotes the safety we're after in all our discussions. It's also a lot better than calling the room God's Blind Spot. (Yes, they've called it that. No, I'm not comfortable with that idea by any manner of theology.)

So my goal is getting everyone to feel stupid together. Because none of us is as dumb as all of us. No, not really. The reason is that if everyone is doing something stupid, then we won't feel like anyone can poke fun, since they are in on the joke.

Here are some things I have found to help my youth group get past feeling stupid while doing some pretty stupid stuff. 

Watch Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Even if you don't enjoy the irreverence of Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, you'll get plenty of ideas for improv games. Most recently, I played 3-headed genius with my group. Have 3 teens stand arm in arm and give answers to simple questions one word at a time.

Play Pretend
I found a few ideas over at the People and Chairs blog. I'm not advocating everything you might find there, but a couple of improv ideas I found included Red Ball, Knife Throw, and Oscar Moment

This is an exercise involving listening and throwing a red...which you don't have.
It's the same as Red Ball, except much more dangerous, because you are now throwing an imaginary knife.
This is you, letting your inner Keanu Reeves out. Why do I say Keanu? Because he can't act, and you're probably not that great either.

Dumb? Maybe, but I am looking for my group to get over themselves and not worry about what others think so much. What better way than to bring everyone in on the same level?