Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm a Grace Guy

I have to be gut-level honest here. I know that many pastors and people and churches can be all over the place when it comes to our focus. I have always been a grace kind of guy. I will always be a grace kind of guy. I have, at times, felt guilty about this, as if grace is somehow inferior to law, inferior to deeper thinking, somehow a 1st-grade mentality to our Christian discipleship.
But I don’t agree. I believe even the Law that God gave Moses had grace in it. How else do you explain that a man can commit a sin, which is so heinous to God that death is required, but God steps back and says, ‘You know what…kill this goat and a couple of birds and we’ll call it even.’
How is that even close to even? Fair? No, it’s grace. However you interpret salvation and end-times and works and faith, the whole system is based on grace, an undeserved gift from God.
Where am I getting this from? James chapter 4, that's where. Check it out. 
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive,because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 
So, if James 4:1-5 is the problem, verse 6 is the fix...
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:“God opposes the proud    but shows favor to the humble.”
...then verses 7-12 are the way forward.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[d]or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it,but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
So, if God can offer grace, so can I. If you need to find some, just come on by. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Strangers At My Door

I'd read enough about this book and the author to expect that I would feel convicted, the holier-than-thou way of saying I thought I might feel guilty. You know, comparing one guy's sacrificial lifestyle to mine own, feeling that mine fell short. I do this often, in many situations, assuming that God has called all of us to do the exact same thing, even though gifting and situations are vastly different.

I suppose it's a good thing I choose to read the insides of these books as well.

Strangers At My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a good choice for a read. You might recognize his name as being connected with Shane Claiborne as these two founded the New Monastic movement, focusing on intentional rhythms each day of prayer and community. They do this while living in hospitality houses, communities they have intentionally made to welcome anyone who might knock on the door.

And that's exactly who and what you'll find in this book. The stories of many interesting and various people who have knocked on the door of Jonathan and his wife Leah's North Carolina house. Listen to his own definition of what they have there:

We are an extended family of sorts - a broad community of married and single people with different work schedules and skill sets, all committed to sharing what we have and making a life together. We are not a shelter, maximizing our resources to most efficiently meet the pressing need. We area  community - a peculiar sort of family - that must maintain a delicate balance between guests and hosts, employed and unemployed, workers and visionaries, do-ers and be-ers. Growth requires not only more space but also more people who can be successfully integrated into our family system. (pg79)

You won't get preachy reasons from Jonathan on starting your own community. You won't even read about the nitty gritty details of how they make this lifestyle work and manage to pay all the bills.

What Jonathan offers is story after story of the people who have come and how they have changed his life and his perspective. He doesn't paint himself as a hero or a savior to this community. Showing faults along the way, he writes about the lessons learned by all in this multicultural and multiracial family, something we can all take away as lessons in getting along with our neighbors.

Like I said a few paragraphs ago, reading a book like this can cause one to feel the need to start their own hospitality house in their own town. And maybe more need to do that. But that's not the only thing one can learn from this book. Perhaps learning about a greater capacity to love one another would be a great take-away for anyone who takes the time, not just to read this book, but to consider the opportunities we have whenever we come across a stranger.

After all, it was Jesus who said that He was a stranger, and it is up to us to let Him in.

I received this book for free from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah. They ask that I say something about the book, but assure me it doesn't have to be nice. You can purchase this book at http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/. You can also check out more info at the following sites;


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Good Luck With Your Political Agenda, Charlie!

Ridiculous and offensive? Sure, maybe I have been that.

Conservative minded and openly opinionated using my blog space? Not normally. And the reasons I normally don't are many. Mainly, you can find that kind of stuff everywhere. I prefer to focus on issues of significance, desiring God above all else and, of course, youth ministry. I figure if people would get over themselves and love God, then most problems in the world would be solved. 

However, today I have a problem. Specifically, I have a problem with the cowards at Disney and the writers of Good Luck, Charlie
Listen, I have 3 young children. Finding television shows to watch that 1) are entertaining for children and, 2) don't make me want to gouge out my eyes and ears, can be hard to find. This refers both to cartoons and live action. There's only so many wide-eyed, blinking cartoon characters I can take, having them ask me questions about where their map is or which Mouseketool they should pick. But live action shows can be even worse, as I have a hard time understanding how any self-respecting person can act like that...even for money. 

But Good Luck, Charlie became a family favorite. No, the acting wasn't exactly Oscar-worthy. But many of the jokes were sharp and several long-standing jokes were well-timed. Yes, the children would often get into trouble, doing things I told my kids they should never try. The dad, like most shows on TV, is little more than a goof, which is an unfortunate message our society accepts. 

Yet most of the themes were innocent enough. Even as Teddy Duncan, the teenage daughter and main star, dated throughout the series, her interactions with boyfriends stopped at small kisses. Enough to make my youngest daughter remind me that boys are gross, but nothing that would cause me to have to have 'the talk' with her. 

That is, until their most recent episode, which aired on January 26, 2014. In it, the Duncan parents set up a play date for their youngest daughter and realize that the other couple is a lesbian couple. For a show that has been deemed family-friendly and has never dealt with any issues regarding sexuality, this was a big jump into making a statement of what viewers should deem normal. 

I am fine with the conversation being had. I understand that not everyone thinks like I think or feels like I feel. But this is beyond cowardly on the part of Disney. Without warning, and totally out of character for the show, they decide to introduce a topic that demands more back and forth than, 'Hey, look what we've deemed to be something everyone should accept.'

Good Luck, Charlie is about to end it series run. It has only one farewell finale to go. So, well played, Disney. No one will threaten to stop watching your show. Even if they do, no loss on your part. I would think, even for those who agree with homosexuality, this should not be seen as a victory. This is comparable to hanging out with people all night, then deciding to tell them how you really feel about them just before you leave. 

As I said, I understand not everyone will agree with me, but if we agree with a person's right to choose, that courtesy should be extended to parents as well. Keep in mind, Disney, that with this show ending, I am now at a crossroads of choosing which channel to turn on next. 

So, good luck with that political agenda. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ministry Monday: Reports Can Be Fun

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.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lessons From a Funeral

My wife's grandma passed last week. She was 95, had faith in Jesus and was ready to go home. Here are some of the highlights. 

Family is very important.

I mean this from a Christian point of view as well as a physical factor. Having someone to hug, someone to reminisce with and someone to understand what you're going through is vital to the healing process. This particular week meant not having my wife around for a few days, while funeral preparations were made. While I may someday declare my heroics of taking care of the kids as a single dad, I'll admit that 1-course meals and outfits which may or may not match is nothing compared to the emotional strength my wife provided and offered to her family. 

Taking a timeout from regular life, both to celebrate the life of a loved family member and also to consider our own mortality is only made richer when the words, embraces and casseroles of our Christian brothers and sisters surround us. 

Considering what it's like "for those who have no hope" in the face of death only instills in me a hunger to make sure no one is without. 

There were so many teachable moments for our children. 

My kids are still young. While this was not the first time they had heard of death, this was the first service they went to, the first viewing they experienced and the first time they got to contemplate the sequence of events; from "great grandma is sick" to "great grandma may not make it" to "I have to tell you something."

We talked about the purpose of a viewing, to why we put our bodies in a box. All the while, we kept reminding our kids about the truth of Scripture, that "we don't mourn like those who have no hope." We kept assuring them that God did answer their prayers to relieve great grandma of any pain. We rejoiced that we would someday be reunited with her in Heaven. 

Any trip or event with children is bound to provide laughter, if you keep your eyes open. 

I explained that funerals are celebrations much like a wedding. My kids, apparently paying attention, noted that a wedding means cake and a funeral mean pie. Well, they aren't wrong about that! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Deliver Us From Me-Ville

You could say it was the title that drew me in. Deliver us from Me-ville. Just saying it out loud makes me chuckle. It's the kind of title that makes me want to jab you with my elbow, all the while smiling and asking you if you get it.

See, it's a play on words.

Nevermind.

David Zimmerman has written a good book here on helping us move. Move? Yeah, from our current address in Me-ville. He points out, without apology, that living self-centered is not where we want to be.

It would be easy for us to assume the destination is We-ville. After all, don't we teach community? Yes, but not for the sake of us. So, We-ville should not be our forwarding address.

David continually points us outward, to a life focused and lived for God. He uses several stories from the life of Peter to draw out the truths of how we should be focused, not on ourselves or our plans, but on God and the plans He has for us.

I readily acknowledge that I am drawn to books that discuss our need to get over ourselves. But let's not make this about me. I believe everyone has a need to get over themselves. In fact, let me make it about David for a moment, and one paragraph he wrote in particular.

The highlight for me was a single line: “Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you.” I understood immediately what the line was suggesting: If God wants to do great things with me, so be it. If God wants to ignore me so he has more time and energy to do great things with someone else, so be it. I was just fanatical enough that evening that this seemed like reasonable service, a perfectly sensible commitment to make. So I honed in on that line as I prayed silently to my God: “Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you.” I left that service happy and blessed.

I thin that's a pretty good prayer for life. You can find this book here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Are You Willing to Beg for It?

Luke 4:42 tells us the people begged Jesus not to leave.

"Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them."

He had just healed many and cast out demons the day before. This response is a nice change from the reception Jesus got in Nazareth, but still Jesus refused.

Jesus was in isolation, praying from the night before. I can imagine that refusing to stay with people would have been difficult.

What strikes me on this story is the people begging him to stay. That's not just a courteous invite for more lunch. I understand they were receiving something from Jesus and possibly they wanted more, but still.

That response is in sharp contrast to the way many of us deal with Jesus. When is the last time you begged to be with Jesus? Seriously think back and consider when you couldn't wait to go to church. Can you name a time you woke up early, unable to go back to sleep because you were so excited to spend some time in prayer?

When is the last time you heard a child or teen begging to go to church? Or fighting you when it was over? Do you have a notebook full of stories of people wanting more church activities every night of the week?

We treat Jesus like we're doing Him a favor by giving Him some of our leftovers of time and energy. To see our culture, one might expect Jesus is begging for us to hang around in a similar way many churches cry out for somebody...anybody....to come and attend a worship service.

But that's not how it works, is it?

When we stop and consider the truth about how this universe works... You know, petty little details like who made it, how it was made, who messed it up, who is fixing it. Small details like sin and salvation, Heaven and Hell, mercy and grace, etc. When we actually stop and consider the truth, it should change how we live it out.

I think we need to come to a point of understanding where we realize we should always be begging Jesus to stay. I know He has promised us much and I don't doubt those promises. Neither should you. But when it comes to what you want out of this life, you should be willing to beg for more of Jesus.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ministry Monday: That Was Supposed To Work

Chalk it up to experience, but I usually know what to expect from teens. This isn't to say that I'm never surprised by what they say or do, how they act or feel, but in a general way, I've learned (and re-learned) their culture. 

But my job isn't limited to simply working with teens. No, a few years ago my local church decided I would be a good fit to oversee working with jello. 

Yes, jello.

Jello is wiggly. It's hard to grab. It stains the carpet. It comes in all sort of flavors. Some of you might assume jello is a metaphor for working with the older ladies and helping them plan their mother/daughter teas or ensuring there are different types of salad at the next Missions Brunch. 

Nope, jello would refer to a much younger group. Kids. (Insert over-reacting woman's scream right here.) The horror. Perhaps this can be chalked up to my inexperience, but I feel lost with children in a ministry setting. They are a great mystery to me. When one of them, from age 3 through 6th grade walks up to me, I have no idea what they are going to say or do. I am clueless as to whether they are going to tell me a cute story or kick me in the groin. Even if they are mid-way through a story about their dog, I stand guarded.....just in case. 

You can't effectively lead a children's meeting if you are curled up on the ground in the fetal position. 

Here are a couple of examples of the mystery that is children. 

I once gave a little devotion during Big Church about how God uses angels to watch over us. One little boy raised his hand. Guarding my groin, I asked him what he wanted to share. He said, "I believe in angels....I also believe in leprechauns." 

Ah, lesson accomplished!

More recently I was teaching a group of children how God wants our attention. Following the curriculum, planned by people who have supposedly tried this at home, I tried the following exercise.

What was supposed to happen: Child A hold two pencils with arms outstretched. While closing one eye, Child A then attempts to make the pencils touch at the end. Understanding depth perception as you do, you would figure on them failing. 

What actually happened: Child A was unable to close just one eye. 

What was supposed to happen next: A second child would be called up. They would each close an eye and attempt to touch these pencils tips together. 

What actually happened next: Child A (a girl) and Child B (a boy) giggled about having to stand next to each other and sort of, barely touched the pencil tips together. 

The supposed conclusion: It should have been easier when two kids attempted this, thus solidifying the point that God wants us to work together and He often uses other people to get our attention. But these children failed both times and, when asked, said it was harder working together. 

Ah, lesson derailed!

Perhaps my lesson for working with children is two-fold. Always be ready to admit when an experiment doesn't work and teach them what I wanted to teach them anyway. And always protect my groin when they say they want to tell a story.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Truth

I'm teaching my kids the Lord's Prayer. It leads to some fun conversations. We're purposely taking our time discussing the different aspects of this prayer. How it begins is interesting.

Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be Your Name

I want them to really own this prayer. Too many of us only know this as the prayer we say during a service. Depending on your tradition, you say it during communion, after the pastor prays or some other set period of time. But Jesus wasn't giving us something we could all say in unison.

So we read the prayer. Then I asked them to imagine to use their imaginations, much like I want you to do now.

Imagine I invited you to my home. Upon entering, you saw that I had a giant picture of myself placed prominently in the living room. As you might guess, it's a glamour shot. Once you came in, I also told you there was one house rule. It was simple. I rule. Oh, and you should tell me I rule. (In case you're wondering, I am using the 80's version of the word rule.)

What would you think of me? While some of you would not be surprised at this scenario, my kids correctly labeled me arrogant. Then I asked them why this was okay for God. Why is it okay for God to teach us to pray and begin with telling God how awesome He is?

In a moment that made me realize I am not, in fact, speaking to a wall when I speak to my kids, my son answered, "Because God actually IS awesome!" (My son's snarkiness at the idea of a life-size poster of me gracing our living room was duly noted.)

Truth. Word. Yes. Yes. Yessssss!

For God to tell us that He is worthy of our adoration is simply true. For God to tell us anything else would be wrong. It is not humility for God to deflect our praise. He is God. He is awesome! Therefore, He is worthy. His name is to be hallowed.

This is why we begin our prayers with telling Him so.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Flashbang


Flashbang. Allow Mark Steele to provide the definition;

There is a weapon used by our nation's police force and military that is, in fact, not a weapon.... One that sounds off a resounding concussion [and] emanates a stunning bright light that is not actual fire... An explosion but not an explosion. A distraction with no destruction. A big noise and a lot of flash that leaves no lasting mark.
It is called the flashbang. (Flashbang, pg.xvi)

I first read this book in 2010. Why I've never officially reviewed it here is a mystery, because it is one of my favorite books. Mark Steele is a comic and runs Steelehouse Productions, doing all sorts of creative and artistic things.

Mark has written other books, which I have reviewed, but I return to this book from time to time for a few reasons. First, it's a hilarious read. Mark writes in a style where one feels like you might be having a conversation with him right in the room. He openly admits to adding details to stories for the sake of entertainment, without leaving out the truth of the matter.

Secondly, Mark writes here about topics that I need to hear about. Getting over oneself and living for maximum impact for the sake of Jesus. These are things I should never forget, a theme Mark returns to in this book frequently.

Filled with stories, this book will not keep you from the large stack of other books you may be feeling the need to get to. The dog-eared pages of the copy I own have many underlined passages, reminders of things I should be working on, stories that have helped me see truth in a new way.

Make no mistake about it, this book is not merely for entertainment, although it accomplishes that. Mark writes with an unrelenting purpose that people get over themselves for the sake of living with another purpose. God. But not just God as an idea or a concept. God as a person to chase after, at the cost of leaving ourselves behind. The bottom line can be summed in one more quote I will leave you with, found near the end of this book.

The staggering truth was that God loved me raw though I only chose to come to Him refined. (pg.234)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When vs If

Ahh, the New Year! It's such a great time, isn't it? Especially if you have young children and are still privy to things like an extended Christmas break. For us, on those years when no vacation destination is planned, it involves an extra bit of time for rest and relaxation.

It means longer days of playing with new Christmas presents. It means uninterrupted time to catch up on movies and TV shows clogging my DVR. Of course, that also mean the wife watching more Hallmark movies than should be legal.

But, extended break or not, for many this transitioning of years also gives us pause to think about what we want to do different. Change, of course, can come at any point, but this year brings the desire out, at least for a couple of days.

At this point, a couple of weeks into January, New Year's resolutions may be a distant memory for you. After all, last year worked out okay, right? But allow me to drop a thought or two into your think tank, if you will.

I have often been intrigued by the word when as it is used in the Bible. Not every instance, as a search for the word at Biblegateway.com garnered more results than Google would for Miley's mishaps. Often the word when is used as a transition in a story. But other times when is used as part of a teaching. Consider the following;

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do. ~Matthew 6:2
When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. ~Matthew 6:5
When you pray, don’t babble on and on. ~Matthew 6:7
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious. ~Matthew 6:16

Jesus doesn't use the word if. We can get all worked up about how we do these spiritual practices, but for many, it never happens. But that wasn't Jesus' expectation. He used the when, assuming that followers of God would be doing these things. That's why He spent some time talking about how we should do these things.

But Jesus wasn't the first to make this distinction. David did so back in Psalm 8.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place... ~Psalm 8:3
When is the last time you took to consider? When is the last time you looked beyond yourself and thought about God? When is the last time one of your resolutions included a thought about what God might want? 

Because, without this time of considering done by David, he might not have penned the rest of Psalm 8. 

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! ~Psalm 8:4-9
That's something we should always remember, if only we would take the time to consider. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ministry Monday: Comparing Personalities Does Not Equal Wins for Your Church

I have, at times, not liked how I have done youth ministry. It is easy, too easy, to look around and see something being done by someone else, somewhere else, and assume you should be doing the same.

But I am not someone else.
I am not somewhere else.

I am me. I am here.

Now that the obvious has been stated, allow me to go deeper. Ministry, much like any other career in life, is work. It takes strategy, sweat, creativity, effort and personality. Yes, personality. Every CEO has a personality that, at least to a small degree, determines the direction of their company. The same is true for every church and every ministry within that church.

The personality of the leader is not the only factor, of course, because there are plenty of other...ummm...personalities that will affect the shape and direction of the ministry. But accepting who I am, and who I am not, will be crucial to how I see my ministry.

This is where my continued search for insignificance connects to my ministry. (It's also a rare example of synergy in my writing. Embrace it, because I make no guarantees when this will ever happen again.)

See, when I mention seeing other youth ministries, I am not referring to their rooms or their budgets. I am not thinking about their events or their numbers. Those all get noticed, of course, but what I tend to pay attention to is the personality of the leader. Are they funnier? Are they cooler? Do they have more youth cred?

But, in a moment of total awareness, I am reminded that God did not call me to be like the youth pastor down the street. He did not call me to go and create a mirror image of every other youth ministry out there.

Perhaps, in God's wisdom, He actually created me in a certain way, calling me to a particular group of people who might actually benefit from a personality like mine. Hard to believe sometimes, but I'll put that out there anyway.

Obviously, if it's true for an insignificant such as myself, the same is true for you as well. I don't know what role you fill in your community, but consider for a moment the uniqueness you bring. Embrace it. You might even thank God for it!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Not So Fast

I found this little tidbit while lollygagging around the interwebs the other day. Yes, I sometimes lollygag.

I found it on the Youth Worker website. It makes me want to slow down. Perhaps I should lollygag some more.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes society is in a paradoxical age. Thanks to technology, most of us are talking all the time. We text. We tweet. We Skype and update Facebook and communicate on our blogs and communicate in a hundred other ways. However, Turkle says we're losing the ability to converse.
That's a huge loss, according to Turkle, because it's during conversation—as messy, awkward and sometimes meaningless as they sometimes can be—that relationships truly develop.
"You can't always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come," Turkle says. "It's like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there's something, and whoa." (The Atlantic)
Paul Asay has covered religion for The Washington Post, Christianity Today, Beliefnet.com and The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. He writes about culture for Plugged In and wrote the Batman book God on the Streets of Gotham (Tyndale). He lives in Colorado Springs with wife Wendy and his two children. Follow him on Twitter.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Boy, Meet Women

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.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why I Don't Need to Die to be on an Important List for 2013

This is the time of year when people who died will be remembered. That's not a bad thing. Lists will abound of famous people, actors and actresses, athletes and others, reminding us of the legacy they left behind. World figures will be named and applauded for what they accomplished in life and left behind in death.

But its only a partial list of those who left planet Earth in 2013. It does not include everyone who made an impact. Media outlets cannot possibly list everyone who died last year, along with the impact they made on those left behind. It would be ludicrous of us to expect them to do so. But perhaps this small corner of the world wide web is perfect for a reminder that no impact is so small that it shouldn't at least be acknowledged.

It's why God included the genealogies in the Bible. You know, those parts of the Bible you've never seen in a Bible study and the chapters no one wants to read aloud.

Yeah,those chapters.

I like to think God included them and made them tediously long to remind us that each person matters. David doesn't appear and become the giant-killing king unless Jesse becomes a dad. We don't hear about Abraham if there is no Terah. And don't even get me started on Melki and all the adventures we would never know about without Jannai.

Each person matters. My insignificance does not equal a lack of importance. I play a role. It may be a minor role. But I am on this planet. I am here for a purpose.

So are you. We may not know each other. And if one us goes in 2014, we may not make any list that anyone will ever hear about. But don't you ever doubt that God has you on His list. And somewhere, someday, your name will be listed and called out. God will reveal your impact, your legacy.

And that will be the only list that matters.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Don't Act Like That!

Don't act like that! 

These are the words I say to my children every day. Every. Single. Day. 

Of course, what never gets old is having my children stare at me blankly and ask why their behavior is inappropriate. 

Do you really have to ask? They do, apparently. This is where my answers vary, depending on the situation or the place. 

Don't act like that because it's wrong.
This is the primary reason, as my children get a steady diet of what we believe God teaches to be right behavior (attached to a right heart, of course) and the streaming pile of intolerable actions that come from their sinful black hearts. (Pardon my dark ages piety coming out right there.)

Don't act like that because someone is going to get hurt.
This is also a staple around my house, as someone is always seeming to get hurt. Them, me, innocent bystanders. 

Don't act like that because it's embarrassing. 
It might not be embarrassing to them....yet, though it should be. It will be when I produce photo and video evidence later in their teen years. (Yeah, our kids just liked to dance naked all the time.)
Even if it doesn't, or won't embarrass them, it probably does me.
  • Chasing your sister with a bat around the yard does not endear us to neighbors.
  • Sliding along the freshly mopped aisles of the grocery store does not endear us to the workers.  
  • Asking questions about bathroom-related events does not endear us to...well....anybody.
If you think that reminders to not act like that are done once we pass on to adulthood, then I have some news for you. Ummm....It doesn't!

Don’t let those who trust in you be ashamed because of me,    O Sovereign Lord of Heaven’s Armies.Don’t let me cause them to be humiliated,    O God of Israel. ~Psalm 69:6

Let's be real for a moment. We in the Christian community can't seem to go more than a week without seeing some story that makes all of us look foolish. For those on any social network on the internet, it's probably more like every hour. 

But it happens in our local communities. It happens in our churches. Go ahead, just ask your pastor if every person in their church is acting in a way that makes them want to put their picture up on a billboard, alerting everyone around to that person being connected with the rest of us

Now ask yourself if you are acting in a way that could be causing embarrassment. If there's a chance you're not as holy as you thought yourself to be, you might want to pray David's prayer in Psalm 69. Seriously God, don't let me do something so awesomely big and wrong as to cause others to ashamed of me, my church or of you, my God!

If only all believers would pray that every day before leaving the house. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Source Unknown

I want to admit right from the start that this is probably the dumbest way to start off a new calendar year of blogging fresh content. Why? Because I'm not sure about the content.

Intrigued? Let me explain.

I use the app Evernote. I absolutely love it. I can't tell you how many trees I've personally saved just using this app. There's only one problem. The app is only as good and organized as the user. For instance?

I keep a folder labeled blogging. If I have an idea, it starts out in that folder. Then, when I have more time to write, I find that folder and continue my thoughts. It sure beats having Post-It notes all over the place. Since I have Evernote on my phone and my Kindle, I can literally store a note whenever I want.

Evernote = Great.
Rick Nier = Not so much.

I found a poem tucked in that folder titled New Year's Poem. This would seem the appropriate time to share it, which I will, below. But you'll notice I have attributed it to unknown. That's not the name of some new clever hipster pretending to want anonymity. It could be by me. Honestly!?! I can't remember. I saved (or wrote) this note 5 months ago and labeled it for New Year's.

Now I can't remember if I actually wrote this!!!

I Googled it to no avail. Now I am asking you, loyal readers; if you know who wrote this, tell me and I'll offer proper acknowledgement. If no one comes by, I may assume it's so poor no one want to claim it, or it may actually be mine own.

Either way, enjoy this poem as a good beginning focus for 2014.

The gifts have all been given, the wrapping paper removed and recycled,
The lights are out, if not down and packed up, as another year ends,
The story has been told, once again the tale revisited
Of angels and shepherds, wise men and adoptive fathers,
And a King, come as a baby
The songs have been sung, the sales have been endured,
The smiles received, the thanks given, the checkbooks balanced,
All for who, for what, because that is what we do?
Now what?
We trudge on, we move forward, with what to look forward to?
We return to the norm, to the day by day, to the grind,
We look for purpose because we too easily forget,
That the gift God gave did not end on Christmas, for there it only began,
There was still life to be lived, an example to be given, from Him to us and from us to others,
More gifts were to come, as they do from every good Father,
So we look, we seek and we continue to forge ahead
Because the Story is not over, there is still more to do
For in telling and retelling, new characters will be added,
Of people who have heard, and others who change and love
And always a King, come as a baby.
~source unknown 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Best of 2013: December

Okay, so you have almost survived my 'best of' for another year. Congratulations! Starting Monday I'll be back with fresh content, some new ideas, perhaps more rants. And who knows, maybe 2014 will be the year I find true insignificance. 

Quite frankly, December's numbers were skewed and it was a toss-up between two posts, both about topics I enjoy to write about. So here's 2 for the price of one. If you want to read about my wife, go here. If you want to read about youth ministry, go here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Best of 2013: November

Back in October and November of last year I was in the middle of a 6-week preaching series while my senior pastor trotted around the globe. I posted a lot from my weekly sermons. Here's one to whet your whistle, in case people are still doing that kind of thing.

I don't know, maybe Jesus did facepalm.