Monday, March 31, 2014

There's Only One Important Brick

Ever look at a brick building and tried to find a brick in the middle that really mattered? I doubt it. That would be foolish.

And yet that is what we do with people every single day. We look for the person that we think will matter more than the rest of us. Good luck.

We look at actors, musicians, politicians, athletes. We look for them because we believe if they matter, perhaps we can hitch our cart to their wagon. Then, perhaps by proxy, we'll matter. Because of our connection to them, maybe someone will look at us and believe that we are significant.

Of course, we'll be wrong.

1 Peter 2 talks of us being living stones. If we matter, we matter together. We have a single task....together.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. ~1 Peter 2:5

Oh, and there actually is one brick that matters. It's found in the corner and it's called the cornerstone. Spiritually speaking that's Jesus. And anyone in construction will tell you the cornerstone is the most important. It begins the foundation. It sets the direction.

By being connected to the cornerstone, the One that really matters, we matter. Thats where we find our significance.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Yeah, Not Everyone Believed. Can You Believe It?

Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.~John 11:45

John 11:45 says many of the Jews believed after they saw what happened to Lazarus.

Many? Not all?

Jesus just raised a guy from the dead by telling him to get up. I'm not sure what miracle these guys were waiting for. Does it have to be two people raised from the dead? Should there have been a cloud of smoke and some thematic music for Lazarus to come out to? I'm thinking Eye of the Tiger

I know Jesus said that some would not believe even if a man were to rise from the dead. I'm sure Jesus knows what He's talking about. But that doesn't make it any less ridiculous. I don't know about you, but I don't see many dead people get up and walk again. Trust me, if I did, that might be something I'd recall. 

I'd also like to believe that if I saw a dead man rise from the dead that I would give glory to God and just accept it. But a new show on ABC has me rethinking this. It's called Resurrection. I'm not advocating everything (or anything) on the show, although the writing is good and the questions are compelling. 

It's about families mysteriously receiving loved ones back from the dead, years after those loved ones die. Three episodes in and they are discussing the belief and doubt of different people. Despite the presence of a pastor in town, one who ironically doubts more than others, the show isn't totally focused on faith. But it's hard not to comment on what you believe when dead people start walking around again. Even harder when it's not about zombies. 

I have no idea where the show's direction will go, but given modern day surroundings, it does at least make me pause and reconsider how I would respond. At the very least, it begins to make sense why only many, and not all, chose to believe when Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Guy's Guide to God, Girls, and The Phone In Your Pocket



Well, I'd like to tell Jonathan McKee that he wrote this book about 20-25 years too late. But since we're about the same age, I suppose I can't hold that against him. But Guy's Guide to God, Girls, and The Phone In Your Pocket is a bold package of advice I could have used more of when I was a teenage guy.

I have read a lot of Jonathan' writing, from previous books to faithfully following his blog. If you're in youth ministry, or a parent of a teen, you should too. The subtitle to this gem is 101 Real-World Tips for Teenage Guys. He could have just as easily called it Tellin' It Like It Is!

McKee doesn't mince words when handing out this advice, nor should he. If men want to be treated like men, then they should stand up and hear the truth like men. Jonathan has written a book aimed at teenage guys and thought it through in doing so. Each chapter is short and has good questions to ask of yourself, or use in a small group setting. I don't think my 10-year old son is too young to begin considering these things in our father-son outings.

Each chapter includes a biblical reference for deeper thought. Because good advice should have a foundation, and I believe it does. This book is filled with practicals on how to treat (and attract) women, as well as advice on surviving a zombie apocalypse. Laugh now, but every boy scout knows it's better to be prepared.

Jonathan also offers deeper advice, such as the wisdom in planning ahead, making courageous decisions that require honesty and how to approach building your character. Good quality stuff from start to finish.

You can find this book on amazon.com, but if you're connected to my youth ministry, you can bet I'm going to make some copies available.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ministry Monday: New Does Not Equal Scary

I recently had a youth event where I still needed a few permission slips a couple days before we were to leave. I emailed a PDF copy of the form to those parents, reminding them I needed it filled out. Within 20 minutes, I had received signed copies back by email. Ah, technology.

Twenty years ago that would have been an afternoon running around with pen and paper. Not fun.

As I think about it, I love all the new tools. I love the information available to us via the internet. I love being able to provide lots of information via the internet. I enjoy using projectors and computers over an overhead projector. I like the fact that I can post pictures from an event on the same day the event took place rather than wait for a week for my film to come back. 

Rather than be scared of this new technology, we should embrace it. I'm guessing when running water became available in households, there weren't very many women arguing to still take a bucket to a well in order to get water. 

I am not saying we should simply trash everything we used to use. However, there is some very ugly, and very stained carpet, that needs to go in many churches. Providing sermons and sermon notes and resources online does not change the message, just the medium. 

But while we can embrace all the new tools afforded us, there is still one ancient we hold on to. The Ancient of Days, Jesus Himself, the Word who stood over the beginning of creation, never changes. His love and grace never change. His lordship in our lives never changes. 

We may sing some of the same songs. But let's not be afraid to plug in a guitar or two and let it rock. Don't be alarmed if a video reinforces a point. Jesus may just be smiling at how the church continues to be relevant. After all, we do have the only life-altering message people need to hear. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Have Changed My Mind On Something and I Think You Should Too

So I've come to accept an opposing view on something pretty big. No, it won't make me a heretic. It centers around social media. It's new, it must be evil seems to be the mantra for many who have lived long enough to remember life before Al Gore made the internet. Okay, maybe that's not fair. Perhaps we should say that sensationalist media has led many to believe that social media has way too many temptations to appreciate the good that can come from it. 

But now I'm wondering if we're not attacking an entity (the internet) but a generation and how they relate. As this article I'm about to link to points out, social media is the social equivalent of yesteryear's malls. This is where teens are. Good things happen. Bad things happen. Kind of like when we were all teens.  

My new hero Tyler Smither said it well. I'll get it started here and you can click below to finish this article. It's worth the read. 

by Tyler Smither
Every few weeks, it seems, there is an article that makes the rounds among the youth ministry circles of the interwebs. These articles all tend to say the same thing: social media technology, specifically the apps on teenagers’ phones, is dangerous and is being used by our students in very unhealthy ways. This social technology is evil and it must be shunned!
For the many folks who are looking to teenagers to provide some sociological evidence of the fall, this line of thinking simply isn’t true. Sure, there are instances in which some teens misuse their social media apps; you may have even witnessed this in your own ministry setting. However, the vast majority of teens are not using social technology in this way. To assume that they are is missing the much bigger picture, and is actually doing a lot of harm to our witness as the Body of Christ.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

We've Never Done it That Way! Are You Sure?

I was reading through Genesis 5. That's the riveting story where we learn the ages of Adam and the next 7 generations, when they had their first baby boy and when they died. Yeah...riveting. 

If you actually sit down and focus on the numbers, it's kind of funny. Adam had Seth when he was 130. Even if you account for Cain and Abel being around 20-30 when 'the incident' happened, that means Adam became a father first at around 100 years old. (And we shouldn't assume that Cain and Abel weren't teenagers when things got out of hand. 

Seth was 105 when he had Enosh.
Enosh was 90 when he had Kenan.
Kenan was 70 when he had Mahalalel. 
Mahalalel was 65 when he had Jared. I imagine there was some unrest when this happened. Only 65? Are you sure you're ready to be a dad, Mahalalel? After all, you're only 65. 
But then Jared waited until 162 to have Enoch. That's more like it. Become stable and live a century and a half before settling down and having a family that will depend on you. 

Oh, none of this accounts for how long they lived. Adam lived to be 930. That means he became a grandpa at 235. At least he was still young enough to get down and play with the grandkids. I'm sure Eve appreciated that. 

Of course, Seth became a grandfather before he turned 200. Imagine the energy he still had! 

Why do I tell you all this? Flip on over to Genesis 11 and you can read the timeline between Shem, son of Noah, all the way to Abraham. While Shem had his kid at 100 years of age, the next 5 or 6 generations started their families at ridiculously young ages. They were all in their 30's. Who starts a family at that age? (never mind the fact that I was 26 when I started mine.) 

Terah was at least a more respectable 70 when he had Abraham. Then, if you recall, Abraham received the outlandish promise that he would have a boy in his old age. This is all about perspective, isn't it? 

Why did Abraham and Sarah doubt? Why did they laugh and scoff at the idea? Even if they were unaware of the ages of Adam and his descendants when they had kids, hadn't he ever noticed that his own dad was fairly old when he had him? 

Granted, Abraham ended up being 30 years older than that, but the principle here remains. It doesn't take us too many years to get stuck in new habits and then fight against those being messed with. Our new habits quickly become old habits and pretty soon we're being told what can't happen because we've never done it that way

History is funny like that. Perhaps we should keep in mind that not only are we tiny specks when compared to God. We are tiny specks when compared to the history of mankind. Just because we haven't seen it happen in some way doesn't mean that it never happened that way. Or that it couldn't happen in a new way! This refers to everything, from the methods we use to read scriptures to how we collect money to the programs we use to teach our children the greatest story ever told. 

Are you feeling stuck in any old habits? Perhaps now is the time to reconsider just how many ways God can accomplish something. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Senah is Missing?!?

When my kids were younger, I did a myriad of silly things for the simple point of entertaining them. I did not think it would ever lead to harm. For instance, who knew you could lose your grip on their ankles just by spinning around? 

Just kidding. You don't have to contact the police. That never happened.

But my oldest is accusing me of emotional trauma. But perhaps you should hear my side of the story. Here's what happened....

I pulled out an old knee-length sock of mine, stuck my hand in and gave this homemade puppet a voice. When I saw how much delight he brought, I added eyes, a nose and a mouth using a marker. I named him Senah. If that sounds like a silly name, it will become clearer momentarily. 

My kids loved Senah and he would make frequent visits for the next several months. Eventually I moved on to other fantastic forms of entertainment. But every once in a while, Senah would be mentioned. Like last week. The kids were looking for him and thought they had found him. It was another sock puppet. (Apparently we have very limited forms of imagination around here.) 

Since this sock had eyes and a mouth drawn on it, and even ears glued to the sides, my kids questioned how I knew this wasn't Senah. I told them Senah had his name printed on his head. Then I showed them another one of my socks, right side up. They read it: Hanes. 

Two of my children gasped in horror, assuming I had done the worst thing imaginable. They told me that they thought Senah sounded like an odd name, but never questioned where I came up with it. Trust has apparently been broken because I never told them Senah was Hanes backwards. 

Meanwhile, the youngest just wants to know where the real Senah is at. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ministry Monday: My Unique Voice

When I first started adding Ministry Monday to my blogging schedule, I wondered if it would become like some of my other themes on my blog. Would it run for a while and then disappear? Would it be like my God First, Man Second series? Remember those? Or would it fizzle like Rick's Rants? Perhaps.

I think my biggest fear when I started writing about youth ministry was that I would be seen as a fraud...a hack....a shadow of a real youth pastor who had nothing unique to offer. Yeah, I can be pretty harsh with myself. (If you've ever thought I had placed high expectations on you, you have no idea what goes on inside my head.)

I knew if I was going to post every Monday about some youth ministry insight, that would mean I would have to have 52 different insights this year. Yes, the thought quickly overwhelmed me. 52 different insights?!? Who do I think I am? I'm not (enter big youth ministry name here). It doesn't matter what name you put in there. If you've heard of them, I'm not them. 

Ah, but that is when it struck me. I'm not supposed to be them. I'm not called to where they were called to be. I'd say I am who I am, but that sounds blasphemous...or maybe a little like Popeye. You decide. 

But there is this. I am a unique voice. Just like the many unique voices I am a pastor to. I can't tell them that their unique voice matters and then not believe it myself. Oh doctor, heal yourself. 

My voice, compared to others in a worldly manner, may seem insignificant. But appearances can be deceiving. That's how insignificance works. It only makes you think you know what important is. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Do You Love Me Enough to Change?

Love does not always mean acceptance as the world thinks about love and acceptance. 'Just accept me and leave me be...' seems to be the mantra of this world. However, when we love someone, we often change our habits when we are around them.

Consider a guy trying to attract a girl. Body spray will only get you so far. At some point he will have to move beyond one-liners and Chuck Norris jokes. Change must come. She may accept him, but he will have to make some choices along the way if he will show his love. 

Consider how we adapt to family members. For those that smoke, they may take it to another room, even in the winter, to appease the family that doesn't. They do this to show love. The needs of others trump the desires of self. 

Consider roommates. They may keep their music down or their dirty clothes contained. They do so because they have accepted this relationship. They continue to do so out of love, even if just a desire to love God through the loving actions towards other people. 

Jesus said if you love me, you will obey me. Change is inherit in the process of falling in love, no less so with God. When we fall in love with anyone, we change what we know needs to change in order to continue growing in the relationship. 

If we were to picture a husband holding on to old habits that he knows offend his wife, we would say he doesn't love his wife enough, if at all. Her accepting him is only part of the equation. She may have accepted him as he was. But where is the proof of his love, if not in the change of his habits? To stay the same means there must be someone he loves more than her...himself. 

Likewise, God loved and accepted us as we were. But His sacrifice, done out of love, puts the decision very much on our part. If we accept God's proclamation, will we love Him enough to change?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Greatest Words Ever Spoken



The Greatest Words Ever Spoken, introduced and compiled by Steven K. Scott. It sounds funny to me to say that, because I kind of thought God had already compiled these words. I'm tempted to say I liked this book a lot better the first time it was written...you know, when it was called the Bible. But I won't use that joke.

I did wonder about this book, which was part of why I picked it up. The description said it contained the words of Jesus, so how would this be different from the Bible. I had to know. Plus, how is such a thin book over 500 pages? Upon opening it up and flipping through, I discovered the familiar Jesus paper, used in every Bible I have ever seen. You know the kind, so thin you're not sure if you're treating it well because it's the Bible or because the pages might tear if you breathe too hard.

Nevertheless, Steven describes this very personal work as gathering everything Jesus said about every topic and putting it all in one place. By removing all of the extra narrative, you are left with only the words of Christ. Do you want to know what Jesus said about forgiveness? Here's everything He said on the topic.

Steven has organized this book into nine chapters, displaying what Jesus said about Himself, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, humanity, our relationship with God and our relationships with everyone else. It's all very neatly organized and has a succinct introduction for each chapter. In case we didn't already believe it, Steven gives us more reason to cherish the words of Christ.

Reading through this, I see only one minor weakness. I am a context guy. I like seeing the little details in a story. For instance, when John records that Jesus bent down and drew in the sand. I like that. It's an important detail. With the narrative taken away, you might not know, or remember, who Jesus was talking to, what they asked, or what caused this to be the topic at hand. It simply means that when you are using this as a study tool, you won't be able to use just this book.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't use this. I plan on using it a lot. What better place to start on a topic than the words of Jesus? I would recommend you do the same. It should be noted I received this book for free from my good friends at Blogging for Books. They give me books and I write reviews. Win-win.

You can check out more at the following links.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ministry Monday: Do You Trust Me?

Trust is earned, over and over again. 

Because in youth ministry, the teens eventually graduate and move on. At least, the goal is for them to graduate. If they don't graduate, then you probably have other problems that will arise. You may have had a certain group of teenagers really connect with your personality. Then the next group? Not so much. 

Because in youth ministry, the parent base is always changing. You may have been around a long time, but the parents might be new to your ministry. This may be their first teenager. Pardon them if they don't want the safety of their cherub taken lightly. After all, they did just successfully keep this kid alive for the first 12 years of their life. This may have involved keeping said child from falling off a bed, from choking on a LEGO and even from endangering themselves while having adventures in the backyard. It's not easy to keep a child safe. 

Let's face it, trust, even once you have it, is something you are always one dumb mistake from losing. 

What can youth pastors do?

Remember each kid is a privilege for you to minister to, not a right. 
We preach against the expectant mentality of teens all the time. They assume their parents' money is to be used on them. Is there an updated model of phone, tablet, game system, etc? They need it, don't they? We preach against this kind of thinking as we pray for our teens to mature.

Maybe we need to heal ourselves. Yes, I want parents to partner with me and instill a habit of church (and youth group) attendance with their teen. But if I'm honest, my expectations don't end there. There are events, small groups and leadership team meetings as well to attend. But we should never assume that because a teen has joined our youth group, or just tried it out, that they will always be there for everything. But when they do, I have an opportunity to share God's love and mission with them. That is my privilege. 

Remember to communicate clearly about what you're doing.
It could be an event, a teaching series, a new volunteer leader. Whatever. Keep the parents informed. I have tried to be as present in the life of a family as I can be without becoming a nuisance. This includes a monthly newsletter with lots of articles to equip them. It also includes a weekly email where I let them know what I'll be teaching about in that week. I provide some follow-up questions for them to discuss as a family throughout the week. I include them in other emails which detail cost and registration info for upcoming events. 

Will parents and teens still ask me questions that I answered in previous communications? Yes. But that doesn't matter. Part of my job is to ensure the information is out there, on time and organized. When families know what is going on, and the purpose behind it, trust will be established, maintained and increased. 

The benefits to having trust are plentiful. But the flip side is a ministry killer. When you lose trust, either of the parent or teen, you lose any capacity to be a voice in the life of that family. Trust me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Have a Question?

It's not the question that gets my attention. It's when it is asked.

In John 14, we read Jesus telling His disciples to calm down. Actually, see for yourself what Jesus is saying;

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” ~John 14:1-4

One could almost get the idea that Jesus is tucking the disciples into bed, whispering these calming words as a reminder of His promises. That's when Thomas blurts out his question, "Ummm Jesus? Actually we have no idea where you're going. Could you clear that up for us?"

As I read along, it seems strange because we're more than halfway through the book of John. This isn't the story of Jesus recruiting Thomas. This is very likely not the first Thomas is hearing this concept. But Thomas interrupts anyway, like stopping a pastor mid-sermon. (I've seen this happen.)

But Jesus answers the question, reminding Thomas that He is, in act, the way. That's when Philip comes out with a question of his own. This is when it hits me. My guess is that all of the disciples had questions that they wanted to ask. But they hadn't. Why? For the same reason that we don't always ask questions when we're in groups. We don't want to appear stupid. (It's best to disguise this truth when you can.) We don't want Jesus, or anyone else, to assume we haven't been paying attention. (Although the blank stares often give us away.) We don't want to be that guy!

But just like letting all the fizz out of a shaken can of soda, one question by one brave soul leads to another. Knowing that Jesus embodies the patience that comes with love, He answers the questions. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more questions from the disciples that were not recorded.

All of this got me thinking about community. Oftentimes it takes one person to get things rolling. Many of us may be struggling in the same way, with the same questions, with the same needs, with the same hopes... In the same predicament, all of us could be waiting on one of us.

So be that one who reaches out. Make the phone call. Write that note. Ask the question that may be on everyone's mind. And no matter what your question may be, keep in mind the truth that started the questions. We don't have to allow our hearts to be troubled. We can trust in God, in Jesus. Because He is preparing a place for us.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bring on the Doughnuts!

This is a re-post from a couple of years ago. My feelings on Fat Tuesday haven't changed much. Enjoy the paczki (doughnuts times two), but also prepare for the coming season. 


I’ve been thinking about something. It all started with a paczki. What’s a paczki? You might know what one is, but didn’t realize it was spelled this way. It’s pronounced poonch-key. Still confused? It’s the delightful ‘doughnut on steroids’ that only comes out on Fat Tuesday. I look forward to it every year. I may be guilty of forgetting Valentine’s Day, but I don’t forget Fat Tuesday. I celebrate it.
But celebrating Fat Tuesday was never meant to be a 1-day affair. Of course, Fat Tuesday comes right before Lent, the season that seems to have lost all meaning except for giving up stuff. What we see is many people celebrating Fat Tuesday without celebrating Lent.
This is a problem.
First of all, is it celebrating when you give something up? This may just be semantics, but every time I celebrate something, there seems to be dessert involved. We have cake for birthdays, candy for Halloween, pie for Thanksgiving and cookies for the end of each day. That last one may just be me.
Secondly, and more importantly, why are we so unwilling to ride the ups and downs of the roller coaster? Celebrating Fat Tuesday is easy. Buy a paczki, or three, and you’re all set. You could probably get a handful of friends, at least, to join you. But pass out flyers asking people to join you in giving up something for 40 days and see how well that goes over.
I have 3 ideas that may make your invites a bit more inviting.
Get a proper focus
This isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus. Paul wrote that we are not to “let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
When we observe the practice of Lent, we acknowledge that we have excess in our lives that we can get rid of, at least temporarily. We do so to turn more of our attention to Jesus. It is most properly due at this time as we look ahead to Easter.
Plan ahead
For many years I would remember it was Lent when, on the first day of Lent, a friend would ask me what I was giving up that year. D’oh! Then I would panic and give up the first thing that came to mind. A couple of hours later I would want to change my mind but would feel too guilty. So then I would feel stuck. I could either feel guilty about reversing my decision or I could feel guilty about sulking over what I didn’t have. I don’t think God wanted either of those options.
So now I plan ahead, considering what would be a benefit to my spiritual growth. By giving it more than 5 minutes worth of thought, I was able to allow time for God to tell me what He wanted to do. Then I could walk through Lent feeling good about my decisions and understanding the overall goal.
Celebrate the 'Loss'
Once you have done #1 and 2, it’s time to realize this is a celebration as well. Lent is not something to do with just your serious side. Remember that Jesus warned against looking ‘somber as the hypocrites do’ (Matthew 6:16). Not only do you lose your reward this way, but you forget the overall goal.
Consider this, even when we experience the ‘loss’ of a friend or family member, we ‘celebrate’ their memory at a funeral. The loss is not eternal, so celebrate the way it is helping you grow.
I believe it is possible to celebrate both Fat Tuesday and Lent. You just can’t do both with a paczki.
So there you have it. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s mine. What would you add to it?