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.