Monday, December 22, 2014

A Year in Review: The Story I Had Fun Telling

Well, what do you know, it's another review! 

Luke 8:40-56

They knew she was dead. They knew it!

There was this guy that lived a long time ago. He did things. He did amazing things. And he spoke truth. But the truth was so amazing, people had a hard time believing it. They didn't accept it, or didn't want to accept it. 

But he would do these amazing things anyway. He would do them for free. So word began to spread and people began to call him for help, hoping he would do something amazing for them. 

One such time these parents had a young girl who was dying, so they called this guy. He agreed to come, but as you might imagine, people who can do amazing things often get stopped and distracted by other people who need amazing things done. 

And that happened. He got stopped. By another woman who was in need. She'd been bleeding. Actually she'd been bleeding for a long time. This was in a day and age before reliable healthcare. It was also a day before health insurance. (You can decide what has been gained.)

She came up and distracted this guy who did amazing things. And an amazing thing happened. She stopped bleeding. He didn't apply a band-aid. He didn't need to. He just did amazing things. 

Unfortunately for the parents of the young sick girl, the little girl died while the amazing guy was busy doing amazing things. But when the amazing guy heard this, he told the dad not to worry about it. He wasn't being insensitive, he simply had an amazing plan. 

The only problem was the girl was dead. They knew she was dead. 

The guy who amazed said she was only asleep, not dead. But they laughed at him, because of what they knew

So he decided to do something amazing. He took the girl, whom they knew was dead, and told her to get up. And then an amazing thing happened.

She did. 

They knew she was dead. They knew it!

But Jesus, more than just a guy who did amazing things, changed what they knew. It's as if He said, "Is that what you know? You know too much. Here's what I KNOW!" 

He does not depend on our time schedule. He does not require our perspective. He has no need of our knowledge. After all, He is aware that our lust for knowledge got us into the sin-predicament that He fixed. 

Jesus never seemed to bothered by keeping a schedule. Didn't He make last-minute plans to come to dinner with Zacchaeus? Didn't He linger while Lazarus lay dying...then dead? Didn't he discourage Martha from concerning herself over when dinner would be served?

We worry so much over knowing what needs to be done and when. Believe me, I am in the same boat. But perhaps it is time we acknowledge what we don't know. Maybe we should spend more time in awe of what we don't know. After all, if we trust Jesus, then we can know He will do amazing things. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Year in Review: The Story My Kids Still Talk About

True story. My kids still talk about this. This is from August of this year. 

Last month, when we had that giant storm come through and cause all sorts of ruckus, I was awoken in the middle of the night by my wife saying, ‘There’s a tornado warning. I have all the kids downstairs. You should come downstairs.’ 

Jen and I have been married for over 17 years. We’ve had discussions on what to do in a storm. Despite my tendency to scoff and doubt weathermen, I went downstairs and promptly fell asleep on a couch next to one of the kids. Jen stayed up for a few more hours on high alert.

After about an hour of the roof not falling in around us, I went back to bed, seeking a spot where a child's leg would not be lodged in my back.

I think we discovered our differences in storm situations back when we were engaged. She was spending some time in Florida one summer, when the people on TV started telling us to evacuate to nearby schools because of impending hurricane-like weather. Jen looked to me and asked what we needed to pack and if we had an emergency bag to take along. I just laughed while my dad changed the channel to find something else to watch on TV.

We laugh about it now (well, I laugh about it now) but it’s a perfect example of how our beliefs should dictate our actions. My family didn’t take action that day in Florida because we’d never before been hit. (I know you can say there is always a first time, but that’s for another sermon.) Our actions reflected our beliefs.

We might want to ask ourselves, if all of our actions were written down, what someone reading our story would assume we believe. What do we really believe?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Year in Review: The Reminder I Need

I'm posting some of my faves from this past year. I'll post your faves if you tell me what they are. 

It's harder than it looks. That's what one of the teens said after a student led night. I wanted to respond with, 'Yeah, that's why it's called a job.' But that might have been misconstrued as harsh. Besides, if we're being honest and nice about things, we could say this about most things. 

If we are to actually look back and consider what high school was like, it was harder than it looks. The other people, to whom we continually compare ourselves to, also have a job which is likely harder than it looks. And it would be nice if someone looked at our responsibilities and realized that we're not sipping lemonade with our feet in the sand. Unless, of course, your job is to taste test lemonade while sitting on the beach. Then your job is not harder than it looks.

And we all hate you.

Having said all this, just because a job is difficult does not mean we shouldn't work at it. And in the context of youth ministry, we should also be sharing it with our students. If for no other reason than Jesus didn't just call on professionals, we should share the job. Here's why...

We're not liars.
If we tell students and parents and volunteers that ministry is not just about what we, as pastors, do, then we might want to apply that truth. That means including others in the tasks of ministry. That means involving their voices and their ideas. 

We're not superheros. 
Yes, we have a gift. But we don't have the only gift. Our students are not Lois Lane waiting for us to fly in and rescue them. They are partners, younger brothers and sisters, looking for us to guide them into using their gifts and abilities in the ministry. 

We're not going to live forever.
Okay, in the spiritual sense, yes we will. But here on Earth, we will need to be replaced. We constantly need to be multiplied. We need others who will continue the work. Where better for them to gain that experience than under the supervision of those who have gone before? 

Yes, it will be harder than it looks. Both for them who are stepping up for the first time and for us, who are showing them the inner workings of what we do. No one ever said we shouldn't do something base don the degree of difficulty. 

Besides, if we can show one more person just a small glimpse of what pastors do all week, then we have done something very beneficial. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Year in Review: Understanding Women

I'm posting reviews from this past year, but don't be surprised if I add some new content here or there before 2015. Here's one I could have written last week and just changed the ages on and I would have still been accurate. 

At breakfast one morning, my 10 year old son noted that his 12 year old sister is up before him every morning and yet always seems to be around and ready to leave last. It's a true story. Oh, she tries, she tries. But every morning we have somewhere to go inevitably ends up with me pushing the 12 year old to get out the door. 

Without offering any fatherly wisdom to my son's observation at this point, I smiled knowingly.

He continued.

"I have, like, four main things I do every morning. She has, like, ten and I don't even know what half of those things are."

Honestly, I couldn't say it any better myself.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Year in Review: When I Looked Back This Year at the Previous Year

I usually end each year by posting some of the faves and best posts from the year. It's fun to look back, plus it gives me more time to focus on Christmas shopping. With that in mind I welcome you to the first of a few faves.

Recently our church had our Annual Society Meeting, a great time of mirth and merriment that makes birthday parties feel like dental appointments. Since I had so much fun writing and giving my report, I thought I would share the joy here. 

Honestly, what follows is close to my heart, and only a portion of what I shared at the meeting. 

I sit before a blank screen each year and think through what I want to say to this esteemed audience. Realizing this is the twelfth time I have done this doesn’t exactly make it easier, wondering how I can keep this fresh, since I am quite certain many of you have taken copious notes from previous years. Obviously there are a few things I want to accomplish;
    • I’d like to paint myself as the Stephen Hawking of Christian discipleship.
    • I’d like to point out several of the many deserving volunteers who have given much.
    • I want to offer hope for what’s coming while not making all that’s happened so far seem pointless.
    • I’d like to be funny.
So, with all these goals set before me, I set to writing, realizing I may not accomplish any of my goals.
I did ask my wife if she had any good ideas. Perhaps doubting that anyone is actually listening, she suggested I pull out my report from my 5th year and use that. (That would be 2007) The references to people no longer here and programs no longer used might tip off the few of you still listening.
Then she suggested the airing of grievances, a nod to the show Seinfeld and their made-up holiday of Festivus, where family members took the holiday time they had together to tell one another all the problems they had with one another. This seems absurd…and yet, I have been prone to try things just as crazy. Does anyone recall those 6 weeks of sermons this past fall?
If we accept that not everything is perfect around here…
If we consider that things can always be improved upon…
If we are willing to internalize the need for better without allowing it to cause us to feel defeated already…
Then maybe an introspective look at what we’re doing around here would be a good thing. Or, in other words, what would a report sound like if I were to say what I actually think needs to happen?
Our church adopted a mission statement last year which states,
The purpose of the WLFMC is to serve Christ, His Church and our community
by making more and growing better disciples in the Lord Jesus Christ.
More and Better. Those are not words we would use if we were content with what we have. Otherwise our mission statement would read that we are to serve Christ, His Church and our community by doing the same thing we’ve always done and hoping for more of the same.
More and Better. Those words sound, to me, like we have an agreed upon goal that what we have here, in worship and community, is good enough to share with others. I would agree with this notion, offering that this kind of thinking is in line with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, both given us by Jesus Himself.
How can we make more and grow better disciples through our systems of Christian Education? Our reach is to all ages. While I would normally start with children’s ministries, I realize that real-time results do not often happen that way. There was a survey done last year dealing with families and Christianity.  
It found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow.
An American study found similar results on the impact of fathers. It found:[32]
  • When both parents attend Sunday school, 72% of the children attend Sunday school when grown.
  • When only the father attends Sunday school, 55% of the children attend when grown.
  • When only the mother attends Sunday school, 15% of the children attend when grown.
  • When neither parent attends Sunday school, only 6% of the children attend when grown.

So I believe it is imperative that we consider how we approach discipleship in keeping with reality. So let’s begin with adults, and specifically, men.
We have a system of discipleship we call Connection Groups. This includes our Sunday School classes. We have a concept of scheduling based on the semester schedules of the school systems. Is this because we are all in school or have children and teens in school? No.
But seeking More and Better means we base our systems on those who are not yet here, not of those who are already here. To put it in a way Jesus would, ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’ So our system, at least in concept, is set to benefit those we do not yet have a lot of; primarily young families, singles and college students.
Why is this important? Because we need to be about seeing adults connect in groups where their faith can grow. If we are to believe even a shadow of the statistics are true, then the development of the faith of one generation will affect the discipleship of the next.
What is my goal? Nothing short of 100%. I don’t say that flippantly, nor will I count 2014 a dismal failure if we don’t have every single attendee of WLFMC in Sunday School or a small group, but: If discipleship is important at all, then it is important enough for all.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

True Love Project

I was recently offered the opportunity to review True Love Project by Clayton & Sharie King. The subtitle is How the GOSPEL Defines Your Purity, and the Kings do a fantastic job of laying a great foundation.

Because we have all heard, and maybe even taught, that purity should be the goal, which means waiting for sex until marriage. But I hope Christians can agree that purity is so much more than that.

What I received was 3 separate books. There is the classic book, which could be read by anyone, regardless of which boxes you check when asked about age, beliefs, married or single. The book has follow-up questions after each chapter, lending it to use by a leader in a group setting. Like I said, Clayton and Sharie do a good job laying the foundation on what purity looks like and why it is important.

The other two books are more devotional style, one for guys and one for the ladies. I would recommend you get copies of these into the hands of your teens. 40 Days of Purity is the time frame, which may seem like a long time for teens to focus on one subject. But considering that media will spend years filling their minds with their own agenda-driven messages, 40 days seems like a good start.

I was given these books by my good friends at Salem Publishing and YouthWorker Journal. They give me books in exchange for an honest review, which is what you just got! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

What Do We Expect?

What do we expect? I mean, what do we really expect?

I was looking at this info-graphic recently. You can click on the image if you want to expand it. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

In it they show how very little even Evangelical Protestants agree with what has historically been perceived as absolute truth. Perhaps you've seen and read info-graphics like this before. Sadly, I can't say I was surprised by most of the numbers.

What did catch my eye was the statistic that showed only 47% of Christians strongly agree that Heaven is a real place. While it is disturbing to actually consider that half of all Christians don't actually believe Jesus is preparing a place for us, did you catch the wording?

Strongly agree?

This tells me the question was: Do you believe in heaven? And the possible answers were; Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. I'm going to go ahead and assume Neutral was a possible response to keep survey-takers happy. 

How do you strongly agree with something like this? If the group giving the survey believes in absolute truth, shouldn't there only be two options, Agree or Disagree? I either believe Heaven is a real place or I do not. I don't think Heaven is sort of real. 

This kind of survey taking has implications on us as we get closer and closer to Christmas. I celebrate Christmas because I believe God came to Earth as a baby, through a virgin, with a noble step-dad in Joe. I believe shepherds proclaimed the birth and that wise men brought gifts (a year or so later). I believe in this story because I believe the Bible to be true.

I don't strongly agree because that is lending emphasis where emphasis is not needed. This is absolute truth. I live by these truths with great fervor, which may bring some to assume I believe in them strongly. But save your adjectives, because if I didn't believe in it, I'd be celebrating this holiday with a focus only on myself. 

Truth matters. Do you agree or disagree?

Friday, December 5, 2014

God's Public Relations Guy

I could be the public relations guy for God. I'm smart. I know what looks good. I'm not saying God doesn't, but who couldn't use a P.R. guy every once in a while. Someone to explain why the Flood was a good idea. Someone to extrapolate as to why Pharaoh had to go. Someone to talk to the press when things get a little out of control.

Or perhaps someone to kindly suggest things to God. Listen, I work in a church. I see things. I watch the ups and downs of lots of lives. I see how it impacts the lives of others and how the general mood of an entire church family can move.

There have been moments when I believed it would have been a perfect time for a miracle. Yeah, a nobody-could-do-this-but-God type of miracle. I'm not talking about a Lifetime Movie kind of miracle where the bad boy decides to make a good decision. I'm talking proven, walk-on-water, heal-the-sick, turn-water-into-wine, there's no way that could happen, kind of miracle.

I'd even coordinate the timing. Mid-service, just as the pastor is praying for something big, the big happens. Do you want to talk about something that would make a difference in the prayer meeting attendance? I'm talking about a big time miracle here. Something that has us quoting Tommy the doubter, 'I used to believe because I was told, but now I have seen!'

I've seen these moments come and go while God remains silent. Maybe that's too strong a feeling for some, but they just don't know their history. This is the question that philosophers have been asking since the dawn of time. They've been asking God....why?


Why do bad things happen?
Why does death come here?
Why does evil sometimes appear to win?

Don't you see, God? This could have been when you showed up. This could have been when you made an entrance. This could have been when you showed everybody what you're all about. This could have been.

But it wasn't. You let the moment pass. The opportunity slipped by. How does God not see these missed chances the way I do? It could have been huge. It could have been a game changer. How did He not see it?

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so aremy ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. ~Isaiah 55:9

On second thought, maybe God doesn't need a public relations guy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Bronze Shield That Made Me Sad

A bronze shield. Who would have thought so much discouragement could come from a bronze shield? But when I read 2 Chronicles 12:10, which tells us King Rehoboam of Judah put bronze shields in the royal treasuries, I immediately thought of how discouraging that must have been.

You wouldn't think so, would you? After all, a bronze shield would defend. It would protect. It would do what it was made to do.

And yet...

If you flip back a few chapters, to the description of King Solomon's reign, you read of excessive opulence. We read of vast riches and people living in the lap of luxury. Foreign Queens visit and swoon over the organization, the ritual, Solomon's wisdom and yes, the riches.

For a few chapters we read of all the wealth Solomon had, including a fleet of ships which seemed to have no other purpose than going around getting Solomon more stuff. 2 Chronicles 9 tells us the ships would come back into port every 3 years loaded "with gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks."

Apes? Far be it from me to question the wisdom of Solomon, but apes? Peacocks, sure. When you want a splash of color to offset all the gold everything, bring in some peacocks. Apes? Did they amuse Solomon? I don't mean to monkey around with scripture, but I'm just imagining the mess apes would make.

I digress. We're told that silver was seen as common and everything was gold, including the shields Solomon had made for his army. Gold shields which weighed 15 pounds each. Like I said, silver was common. Everything was made with gold.

But when Rehoboam succeeded his father Solomon, we're told he neglected God and turned away from Him. And God didn't like it. God used the Egyptian army to come and ransack Jerusalem, and they took all the gold and made the Jews servants. So Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze shields.

A bronze shield might get the job done, but when people know they should be using gold shields, your perspective shifts. Some might get the idea that I am promoting upgrading your phone or tablet. But we're thinking much too low. We have been offered treasures in Heaven and still we chase after things in this world.

Perhaps we need to see that all we have down here are a bunch of bronze shields.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Just the First of Many Christmas Devotionals You Will Read This Month

The last two weeks of November have been quite the struggle for me. But to properly share this struggle, I have to go back a couple of know....when big box stores began putting out their Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music in certain parts of the store. You know the stores.

I can be counted along with all those complainers, the self-righteous (and self-appointed) judges who criticize our society for stuffing ourselves with Halloween and then immediately start the gorge of unneeded things for Christmas, all while ignoring the one holiday that celebrates contentment.

Then people...people you and I know, started posting Christmas music videos. I watched it. I enjoyed it. But it wasn't time. You don't listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving, when it is also acceptable to decorate your home. I've held this standard for a few reasons down through the years:

1. A lot of Christmas music can get annoying if played more than 4 weeks in a row. This is especially true given the fact that much of the music we hear is 17 songs sung by 1,000 different artists.

2. Can we insert jingle bells into any song and automatically make that a Christmas song?

3. I don't accept cold weather coming so early. This really has nothing to do with music, but if you're going to sing about hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts, then I will have to acknowledge the snow outside.

4. I didn't want to become one of those people, putting their Christmas cheer on before it was time. I guess you could consider me the Grumpy Cat of holidays.

So, just what is my struggle?

For the last two weeks I have really wanted to begin listening to Christmas music. Maybe it was just one too many trips past the Christmas section on my way to get a rake, since I still have leaves falling from my trees. Perhaps it was something else. Either way, I have a justification, which I need to provide to keep my holiday dignity.

If Jesus is the reason I celebrate this season (and He is!) then can my jubilation for Him really come too soon? If my celebration of Christmas is really not misguided, misinformed or misplaced (and it's not!) then surely I should not keep it to a predetermined schedule.

Let's not forget that, despite whatever history has done to try and dismantle our worship, this holiday is a reminder for us that God loved us and sent His Son to die for us. This is just the quiet and humble beginning to a rowdy victory party which we will someday take part in with God.

Maybe next year I'll begin listening to Christmas music just after Labor Day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Raking Discipleship

No one will ever accuse me of always being on top of everything. Ideas bounce around in my head for a couple of weeks before I ever put them down. So the fact that I am posting some thoughts about raking weeks after I last pulled out a rake shouldn't really be any surprise. My only defense is that truth doesn't fade. 

I can't decide if it is more satisfying to see the ginormous pile of leaves separate my yard from the street as if I'm building up a harvest-themed barricade from any passersby. Or if I enjoy watching the giant vacuum owned by our township when it comes around and removes any evidence that leaves were once on my yard.

About a month ago, before it began snowing, I got out my leaf blower. I knew leaves were just starting to fall, but I thought I would tackle the task little by little. I did the same thing on Saturday. I did even more raking the following Monday. The good news is that my youngest daughter was able to jump in the biggest pile we have ever made. I may have even lost track of her a time or two in there. The bad news? I still see leaves on my trees.

I did have three helpers, though they weren't always happy about it. When I asked my teen why she disappeared for awhile, I came around the side of my house to see her creativity combined with her work. 


Even with teamwork, I focused on 'team' while my kids seemed focused on 'work'. When the snow began to fall way too early for anyone's good, the team spirit hit a new low, especially since there were still leaves on the trees. How is this even possible?

Our walk of faith can often feel like this; performing the same tasks only to be told we'll need to do it again. I assure you, it makes a difference. Don't forget how often we are encouraged in the Bible to carry on, to keep on, to not give up, to keep looking forward.

The truth is that our habits now will be revealed later. We may convince ourselves that we have done an adequate job raking leaves out of yard. But when they show up in piles of snow, the truth will be inescapable. When next spring comes and wet nasty leaves litter the yard and need to be bagged, the truth will be felt.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ministry Monday: Ask Me Anything

I started a new segment in my youth group meetings called Ask Me Anything. No, the idea is not original with me, but I forget where I stole the idea. Here's how I do it.

I have a box in our youth room labeled Ask Me Anything. Next to it is a stack of cards and a couple of pens. Students have been encouraged to literally ask me anything. And they do. From which of my own kids is my favorite to challenging me to perform a handstand, they ask anything.

I take some each week and answer them. Many are ridiculous, but some are serious. Those are the questions I am after. I let them do this anonymously so they feel the freedom to ask what's burning on their hearts. If it's anonymous, they don't have to worry about being mocked or ridiculed. We do a lot to practice the safety and welcoming attitude in our youth room.

Recently someone asked why bad things happen to good people. We took some time to discuss that, though it could have been a question that was discussed for months. One thing I offered is that the choices we make have an impact on others. Then I got this follow-up question:

Why do other people's sins effect us when you had nothing to do with the sin yourself?

Here's my answer. (Yes, even a pastor's answers have 3 points.)

1. We were meant to live in community. This will necessarily have positive and negative outcomes.
2. Sin effected Jesus as well and He absolutely had nothing to do with it.
3. This works in the reverse as well. Other's good choices will also bless our lives. (See: Jesus.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Start Over

This is going to sound a bit like a first world problem, and I suppose it is. Yet I'm telling you this story to share, not complain. Here's what happened.

My daughter has an iPod Touch, something she got after saving lots of nickels and dimes. And in a twist of fortune, when it stopped working, it was one week before the warranty ended. Even better, we were headed to Chicago and an Apple store. The process was quite delightful as they happily replaced the product and my daughter walked away with a new iPod.

Just a week later she shared how quickly the battery was draining. I took it as a sign she was using it too often. But such was not the case. So I placed a call to the Apple store. They told me to restore it. This, of course, meant emptying it of all its data and restoring it to factory settings.

Suddenly, I realized that for all the jokes we make about Microsoft (fix every problem by restarting), this was, in essence, the fix for the Apple product.

But isn't restarting the fix for a lot of life as well?

Make a bad decision? Start over.
Having a bad day? You need a restart.

I mentioned this idea to my daughter Jacie and said there was a sermon in there somewhere. She immediately thought of the song Restart by Newsboys. I knew instantly that I was raising her right. And, who knows, maybe she will be a pastor herself someday. For now, she can be a resource of ideas. Speaking of, here's the video...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

JESUS & the 5,000

I continue my year-long series with preschoolers, telling them stories of Jesus. We're memorizing John 3:16, because the reason Jesus had any of these conversations and performed any of these miracles is love. 
What did you pack for lunch?
What is your favorite food to pack for lunch?

A long time ago there was a young boy who heard about a great crowd going out to see a famous person. You might have heard about this crowd. And you have undoubtedly heard about the famous person. The crowd was an unnamed mass that you know by number.


This young boy was just following the crowd to see this famous person. This famous person was Someone who did miracles. He healed people. He walked on water. He told great stories. Do you know who He is? Of course, it’s Jesus!

But this young boy did what nobody else thought to do. He packed a lunch. This was smart, because back in those days, you could not simply go to a grocery store or stop at a McDonald’s.

This young boy was listening to Jesus teach and watching Him heal people. Then one of Jesus’ friends came up to the boy and asked him about his lunch. Would he mind sharing? He only had 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish. ‘If Jesus wants it, I’m willing to share.’

Jesus prayed over the food, which is what you should always do before you eat. Then Jesus started breaking it up into pieces and handing it out. He kept passing out food until all 5,000 men, plus their wives and children, had something to eat. This was no small snack. The Bible says that everybody ate until they were satisfied. I think that means some people probably had seconds.

Could you imagine if Jesus shared your lunch with 5,000 people? What if He took your peanut butter sandwich and your goldfish crackers and was able to feed 5,000 people with just that lunch? It would be awesome.

This tells me that Jesus can do great things, no matter how old we are. As long as we are willing to share, Jesus can take care of everyone.

Why would Jesus do something like this? Because He loves us.

What I didn't tell the preschoolers was why Jesus was in a remote area in the first place. We have heard about Jesus wanting to talk with His disciples after they came back from their field trip. We know Jesus wanted some time alone after his cousin John the Baptist was killed. But Mark 6:31 tells me all I need to know. 

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat.

They were on a lunch break...which became a working lunch. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ministry Monday: Getting Something Out of Worship

This is a portion of something I shared with the teens recently.

You still have stuff to learn. So do I.

Have you had those conversations with your parents where everything seems fine and then, out of nowhere, you’re in the middle of a lecture? You know, you’re all laughing, perhaps playing a game, when the conversation takes a turn. Maybe you’re all laughing and having a good time when your dad says, ‘See, why can’t you always be like this? You’ve had a bad attitude lately and I want you to respect your mother!’

Well, that is a little bit like what this songwriter does here in Psalm 95.

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,” ~Psalm 95:6–7

We often use Psalm 95:6-7 as a call to worship. It’s even got a song that we’ve sung. But watch what happens when we continue through verse 8-11.

If only you would listen to his voice today!
The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
as they did at Massah in the wilderness.
For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
even though they saw everything I did.
For forty years I was angry with them, and I said,
‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me.
They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” – Psalm 95:8-11

Did you see it? It's kind of like;

Come let us worship and bow down….now stop being a dirty little sinner!

I believe God wants us to be humble as we worship. The person who thinks they have arrived will not get anything out of worship. So go ahead and make this personal. What did you get out of your most recent time of worship?

Friday, November 14, 2014

If the Bible Were Presented Like Articles I See on Facebook

I'd like to think I am above the fray. I'd like to think that I am not attracted to the drivel that is like a magnet for the faceless and nameless group of morons (none of whom are people in my family, church, work, etc... and surely not in your circles either). Unlike others who appear to be evolutionary steps behind us, I am not sucked into links that promise to make me weep for hours, laugh uncontrollably or spontaneously wet myself.

Yeah, I'd like to think that. Then I find myself clicking on a link. Curiosity and all that, right?

What cracks me up is that many of these links are good stories, some are old jokes and the rest are...well, you know. But I realize that the internet is like a metropolis, where the signs have to be bigger, brighter, and bolder to get our attention.

All of this got me wondering what would happen if Biblical stories were presented like articles I see on Facebook. Here's my list. What would you add?

God sent His Son to Earth. What happened next will blow your mind.
Moses lifted up a stick in the desert. What he did next was unbelievable. 
A young boy picks up 5 stones. What he did with them was simply amazing.
A new diet used by young men has Babylonian doctors shaking their heads. 
A young king is granted one wish. What he asked for will leave you shaking your head.
A woman is caught cheating. How he responds will stun you.
Two of his friends ask the unthinkable. His response? Perfect.
What she does after her husband dies will leave you in tears.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

JESUS & the paralyzed men

I have been telling stories of Jesus to the children at our church's preschool. You can read the others here and here and here. With preschoolers, you can plan all you want and think you're creative. But there's always a wild card to factor in; the preschoolers.

For this retelling of the paralyzed man with 4 friends, I asked for one lucky volunteer.

You guys sure about this?

We’re going to ask him to lay down in the middle of the floor and the rest of us will circle around him. Then we will tell him he needs to trust the rest of us while we pick him up, and then toss him through a hole in the roof of a house. Crazy, right?

I wonder, would you trust us if I said we were going to do that? What if you were unable to move and I said it would make you better if you let us throw you in? Would you be willing to take that chance?

That’s what 4 guys did with a friend when they heard Jesus was inside the house. Okay, they didn’t throw him. They lowered him carefully, though I think Jesus could have made him all better even if they had dropped him. I imagine that guy on the mat was very trusting and very hopeful that Jesus would heal him.

There’s another story, in John 5, of a guy who had lost hope that he would ever be better. This guy was unable to walk. He’d been unable to walk for 38 years. That’s almost as long as I've been alive! (I can seem pretty old to a preschooler!)

Jesus asked this guy if he wanted to be better. Even though the guy’s answer wasn't the greatest, Jesus healed him and made it so he could walk. (There's a sermon in there for people about how God can do whatever He wants no matter what we hope for. I digress.)

We have a lot of stories of people who Jesus healed. Many of those people put their hope and trust in Jesus. Jesus wants you to put your hope in Him as well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You Make Me So Angry!

Have you ever experienced that moment when your parents are so mad they don’t even spank you? That moment when they are so angry they sputter and stammer and don’t actually say anything? Or maybe they were so furious with you they said something like, “Get out of my sight before I do something I regret!”

Geez Mom, that escalated quickly.

God had a moment like that. It happened in Exodus 33.

God said to Moses: “Now go. Get on your way from here, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. Head for the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel ahead of you and I’ll drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey. But I won’t be with you in person—you’re such a stubborn, hard-headed people!—lest I destroy you on the journey.”
Exodus 33:1-3

‘If I were to go with you I might destroy you.’

That might cause some concern, right?

When the people heard this harsh verdict, they were plunged into gloom and wore long faces. No one put on jewelry.
God said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You’re one hard-headed people. I couldn't stand being with you for even a moment—I’d destroy you. So take off all your jewelry until I figure out what to do with you.’” So the Israelites stripped themselves of their jewelry from Mount Horeb on.
Exodus 33:4-6.

So what brought us to this moment? If you were to go back and read Exodus 32 you would find that infamous golden cow incident. Yeah, it had gotten pretty ugly. Moses is on a mountain with God while Aaron is directing a prequel to Hangover with all the Israelites.

But after getting things settled down, Moses actually goes to God and begs for forgiveness on behalf of everyone. In fact, he goes so far as to say that if God won't forgive them, then Moses wants out now. Stop this ride because I want to get off. 

God and Moses end up having a define-the-relationship kind of talk and get things settled. So what can we learn from all this?

  • It pays to be a friend of God. Spending time with Him leads to frank conversations.
  • God will always be faithful to His promises. Moses was able to talk with confidence because he knew what God was wanting to do. 
  • Oh...also....don't make your parents so angry they threaten to destroy you. That doesn't normally work out well for anyone involved. 

Friday, November 7, 2014


I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had read a couple of books which really helped. Here's the second, which I actually listened to while driving around the corn-filled state of Indiana.

How to change things when change is hard. Seriously, who hasn't dreaded trying to change something? Chip and Dan Heath have written a great how to for all of us. Switch; How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

No matter what area of life you are in, change does not come naturally nor does it come easy. Chip and Dan point out how all of us have an identity crisis. We can want something with our heads without wanting it at all with our hearts. Or even vice versa.

So they dispense with several myths about change. One in particular that stands out is the idea that people are lazy. A very interesting double study, which included chocolate chip cookies (thus piquing my interest) showed that some people who struggle for change are simply tired. Confused? Here's what happened:

A group of researchers brought in a group of hungry college students and placed down a plate of fresh cookies and a plate of radishes. One group was told they could eat the radishes. The other; the cookies. Obviously one group is going to be happy while the other is not. But this was not the real study.

As this was happening, another group of researchers entered the room and said they were conducting a study on who was smarter; college students or high school students. Challenge accepted. The college students were given a set of pictures they had to recreate without lifting their pencil. In reality, the test was designed to be impossible. But what they discovered is that the cookie eaters tried twice almost twice as long as the radish eaters. They concluded the radish eaters had already worked hard at resisting the cookies. Thus, they only had so much energy to give to solving impossible problems.

From this point on, Chip and Dan had my attention. We all know change is hard, but they were speaking to the deeper and basic reasons why coming to a point of change was so difficult.

The rider and the elephant is the illustration carried throughout the book. They write that we can rationalize with people, even explaining to a guy on an elephant where we desire him to go. But nobody can rationalize to an elephant. Either it wants to go somewhere or it doesn't. And it does not matter if the rider wants to go. If the mammoth beast does not want to go, you're not going.

Understanding this split personality in all of us leads us to understanding that we need to speak to our rational side (the rider of the elephant). But perhaps more importantly, we need to convince our emotional side (the elephant).

I won't go into all of the steps here, What I picked up is the need for more creativity when it comes to change. This will be key no matter the change. From diet and exercise to institutional overhaul at your job, change can be accomplished if we remember that everyone struggles with change, but acceptance come when we show the real need.

This book was filled with great stories and illustrations that showed, over and over again, the need to communicate well the need for change. Of course, having a solution to put in place is the perfect second step.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Strengths Finder 2.0

I recently read (or listened) to two separate books which have benefited me when it comes to my profession as a pastor. No, I haven't overhauled everything I do...yet. But action begins as thought, and thoughts come from ideas. I like the ideas I read in these books. I'll give you the first one here and the other one in a couple of days. 

Strengths Finder 2.0 is actually more than a book. It's a test.

Don't concern yourselves. There's no study required. You read the introduction of this book and set aside 20-30 minutes for an online test. Each book comes with a code for you to submit. (That's probably the only downside, as others can only take the test if they buy a copy of the book.)

Once you take the test, you receive results. What kind? Where your strengths lie in a set of 32 different areas. As I recall, mine were being ridiculously handsome and full of wit.

The premise of this book is that if we work out of our strengths, instead of always trying to improve our weaknesses, we'll be much more fruitful and content in our work. There have been studies which show our weaknesses have a ceiling and will only rise so far, but our strengths can be improved exponentially.

The rest of the book contains descriptions of each strength, what it looks like, and how to get along with those people. An obvious benefit to something like this would be in setting up a team. Knowing who to hire to help improve the team could be a real game changer.

The only thing that would make me appreciate this book and test even more would be going beyond your top 5 strengths. Because that's all they reveal. I would appreciate knowing the rankings of the rest. Knowing which area landed #6 and which landed #32 will make a huge difference in how I approach that area. #6 deserves to be worked on, while #32 can be blissfully ignored.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ministry Monday: Sometimes it's Messy

Sure, it was my idea. But that didn't keep my gag reflex from kicking in. How exactly is it possible to love people and yet be disgusted by the sight of them?

An event I call Blo Chunx, that's how.

For over a decade now, which is how you make 11 sound bigger, my youth ministry has hosted an event we call Blo Chunx. What began as an idea to contain all the messy youth group games to one super-disgusting night has now become an annual event.

Why? It's simple, really. I'll do just about anything to have an opportunity to share Jesus with teenagers. And the first 10 worked well, so we keep doing it.

Armed with a dose of creativity, some help from youth ministry ideas sites and a whole lot of spam, we take disgusting games up a notch. When I mention the next one is coming, I get a mixed reaction of gag reflex and anticipation.

Here's what made this latest one fun for me. It was the first time I had one of my own children there. Knowing she has always been a bit of a picky eater, I kept warning her that I would have an event where her peanut butter might be touching her jelly. She'd been duly warned. 

This is her pictured, participating in an event less disgusting and more exfoliating. Let's keep the fact that I put it on the internet a secret between us, ok?

The best part came later, in another event. I had stuck chunks of spam in a rick or treat bucket. Surrounded by cooked spaghetti, my daughter (blindfolded) reached in and grabbed the chunks of spam and fed them to her teammate (also blindfolded). Her teammate apparently did not like the taste of spam. Or my daughters finger. It was definitely one of those. She started gagging, but did not spew. When the contest ended, both of them removed their blindfolds. Seeing her teammate still reacting to the taste of spam, my daughter lost her lunch...literally. 

Yeah, sometimes youth ministry is messy. But I wouldn't trade it for anything else. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

JESUS & the Samaritan Woman

This is the next in a series of lessons I am sharing with our preschool kids at church. I love telling stories about Jesus. 

I have a question that is just for the girls. Ladies, have you ever thought that boys just kind of smell funny?

Now I have a question for the boys. Boys, don’t you think girls are just kind of weird?

Well, it is true that boys and girls are different from one another. But can boys and girls still be friends and play together?

I think they can. I have another story about Jesus to share with you and this one involves a cup of water.

Jesus and His friends were travelling from Judea to Galilee. But they didn't have cars back then. And most people didn't have horses to ride on. No bikes or skates either. So when they went somewhere, they had to walk. To get from Judea to Galilee would take 2 & ½ days.

Can you imagine walking for 2 & ½ days? (I think Jesus leading the disciples around would have been similar to a teacher leading a class full of preschoolers.)

It was a lot of walking and they would have been hot…and tired. So they stopped in a place called Samaria. Most of the people Jesus hung around with didn't like the people in Samaria. They were different. They probably thought they smelled kind of funny. But Jesus loves everyone.

So Jesus’ friends went in to buy some cheeseburgers while He waited by a well. (A well was where people got water.) While Jesus was waiting, a woman came out to get water. Jesus asked her for a drink. But this surprised the woman because Jesus was a boy and she was a girl. Plus, Jesus was Jewish and she was from Samaria. She was surprised that Jesus would even talk with her.

But Jesus loves everybody.

Jesus kept talking to this woman and He told her why He was there and what He wanted to talk about. In fact, Jesus was so friendly with this girl that she went and got all her friends and family together to come learn from Jesus.

So Jesus stayed around, making new friends and showing everyone how much God loved them. But it wouldn't have happened if Jesus hadn't been willing to become friends with someone who was different from Him.

God loves all the world. He wants us to love everybody as well. In fact, when we love people, we are showing them that God’s love is for everybody.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Will My Life Not Suck?

Before I go any further, I have to clear one item up. One might assume that any person reading a book titled When Will My Life Not Suck must, in fact, believe that their life currently inhales with great force.

I assure you, this is not the case.

I am very much like a middle school boy and I was drawn to the book because of its blatant use of a word I tend to avoid. What can I say, the immature tendencies still rise up within me.

This book by Ramon Presson has a subtitle; Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned. Nope, I don't feel like I have a bitter taste in my mouth towards life either. Though we should not judge a book by its' cover, I do often find myself sucked in (pun intended) by a title.

I am glad I did. Ramon is a counselor by trade and he has plenty of experience dealing with people who, to be sure, have told him how much their life just isn't what they had hoped for.

He believes a perspective shift is required. Using the book of Philippians, Ramon takes us on a journey of the life and times of the Apostle Paul. When writing the cheery book to the church in Philippi, Paul found himself relaxing deep in the shangri-la of a Roman prison.

He had no hope of escape. He had no end line that wasn't his death. Yet we get such gems from Paul as:

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. ~1:18

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. ~2:17-18

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. ~3:7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! ~4:4

Yeah, Paul rejoices through the whole letter with no tangents for complaints. So Ramon takes us through how we can do the same thing in our own lives. Here are a couple of my highlights.

On living like Paul;
I’m totally on board with Paul’s first two desires: knowing Christ and experiencing his power—that sounds like great stuff. But what about number three, the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings? Are you kidding me? What kind of present on your Christmas wish list is that?

On dealing with the bad stuff;
I have discovered in my years of counseling that most people can endure almost anything if they are assured of at least one of two things: 1) they are loved or 2) the current situation or condition is temporary and will either improve or completely pass.

On what to do after the bad stuff happens;
It’s not wrong to ask why, but don’t stake your happiness or your faithfulness on getting a satisfactory answer. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shifts the question from why to what next. The people’s implied question is both past tense (why did that happen?) and pointed outward, away from the speaker (why did that happen to them?). Jesus asks a more immediate and personal question: How are you going to live now?

On helping others with their baggage;
My clients often hear this phrase from me: “Yes, your concern is valid and your pain is true. But it’s not the only truth.”

In the end Ramon reminds us that if we truly feel our lives are not what they could be or should be, then we have to make some difficult decisions about how our lives can be different.

One step for you could be checking out this book.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What's Important?

atheist, god, god loves you, love, religion

God says He is not willing that any should perish. (See Matthew 18:14.)
Meanwhile we argue over who makes it or not. 
You tell me who's thinking with their heart?

Let me say right from the start that this isn't about inclusion. I don't know whether to thank my generation, my parents, my pastors or my God-given brain, but I live in a world of absolutes. There is truth. There is black and white. Words have definitions, no matter how uneasy I may be with any of them. 

Politicians, musicians, actors and reality shows can say whatever they want to fit their own personal agendas, but I was raised in the belief that God is God and it's okay that I don't always understand Him. In fact, why would I want to change my life around someone who I perfectly understand. (My wife would be another great example. I mean that in a good way.)

I make it my goal to know God as much as I can. I want to achieve a closer relationship with Him than I have today. That means jumping headlong into the Bible, where I read that "God so loved the world..." (John 3:16) and that "all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life" (John 6:40). 

I'm as prone as the next guy to wonder about certain people who say one thing but act another. I have questions about how it works...exactly.

But I'm not sure that's my problem to solve, as if Someone better hasn't already taken care of these details. So I return to my introduction. 

God says He is not willing that any should perish. (See Matthew 18:14.)
Meanwhile we argue over who makes it or not. 
You tell me who's thinking with their heart?

Maybe I'd feel better about how I spent my time if I just accepted that God wants everyone. Maybe I'd have a much cleaner conscience if I simply loved everybody the way Jesus asked me to. 

I understand that even Jesus warned us that not everybody who spoke the same language actually meant the same thing. I get that sheep will be separated from goats. (See Matthew 25.) It's pretty scary stuff when we stop to think about it. But I don't recall where Jesus asked me to sit in the judgment seat. 

So, where's your heart at?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stuff You Should Know About Stuff

I was recently given a review copy of Stuff You Should Know About Stuff: How to Properly Behave in Certain Situations. I was selected to be part of the launch team by my friends Tripp and Tyler, though referring to people I've never met as friends is one of the things I learned not to do while reading their book. I guess application comes next.

Nevertheless, Tripp and Tyler have come up with what I would call the Seinfeld series of books. They are saying future anthropologists will call it the Rosetta Stone of how to handle the mundane in life. They might be right.

It's a comical look at how people behave everywhere from bathrooms to airplanes, though I might have missed any comments about airplane bathrooms. Mostly clean, I might have shared this with my children, except for the unnecessary foul language which cropped up randomly and meaninglessly. (Seriously, I feel like a broken record when it comes to this issue in books.)

Sometimes mean, mostly sarcastic, I wouldn't want anyone to take this as a serious guide to living life, but with plenty of crazy references to things that will make you chuckle, this book is worth checking out. I personally enjoy things like this, where people take obvious or mundane and comment on the silliness that is our daily lives.

I wasn't really paying attention to how far I'd gotten in the book (I was reading it on my Kindle Fire) and I let out a disappointed 'oh' when I got to the end of the book. So, if you want to be as deftly able to handle awkward handshakes and how not to be 'that guy', you should probably check this book out. It's stuff you should know...about stuff.

Here are some links if you'd like to check it out.

How to Properly...  #stuffbook