Monday, December 28, 2015

Messy Grace

Wouldn't it be nice if, when someone merely mentioned the name of Jesus, people became Christians with no baggage, no past and no consequences from their past? What if, at the very mention of grace, everyone became nice and neat and could simply take their place next to us in our favorite pew? Not our seat, of course. But next to us in a pew that miraculously and suddenly had room for one more.

Unfortunately, that is not the way grace, or pews for that matter, works.

I recently finished Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, a book I believe should be required reading for every Christian. Oh, I suppose the ideas have already been recorded somewhere in a book that is considered required reading for Christians, but somehow many of us have missed the application of truth that the Bible offers.

Does it make sense if I say that Messy Grace is groundbreaking while not actually offering anything new? I don't mean that in merely the sense of 'there is nothing new under the sun' as we read in Ecclesiastes. I mean that Kaltenbach has literally taken the example of Jesus and the encouragement of the New Testament writers and applied it in the way which should be foundational for people who say they love Jesus.

Caleb writes that grace is necessarily messy, because it is the mixture of truth, something we often use as a weapon, with love, something we don't use enough of. To make matters even more sticky, he applies it in this book to the subject of homosexuality. But not simply the topic, but the people who identify as homosexuals.

He admits that people on both sides of this divide will likely disagree with him at points along the book, but thankfully, he wrote it anyways. I was thrilled that Caleb did not simply give us bumper stickers or new banners to wave, but gave us practical action points and plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Like many books, this one offers discussion questions along the way, making this a good group read. I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books. They don't tell me what to say, but simply ask that I say something.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Story is a Call to Action

This is something I shared with my youth group recently...because not even a Christmas party is an excuse to stop pursuing teens with the clarion call of Christ. 

I found a list of the "must-have" gifts for Christmas for the past 30 years. This is what had to share.

In 1983 everyone had to have a cabbage patch doll. In 1985 we just had to have an $18 Pound Puppy. In 1989 American households scrambled to get a new Game Boy, followed by the 1995 Beanie Baby craze, and the 1996 Tickle Me Elmo frenzy. In the ensuing years American consumers knocked themselves out to buy the following top yearly must-have Christmas gifts: a new iPod (2002), A Wii (2006), a Kindle (2010), the Angry Birds Board Game (2011), the Doc McStuffins doll (2013), and the Frozen Sing Along Elsa Doll (2015).

Not much over the past 30 years has changed. We’ve proven over and over again that we’ll buy lots of garbage in mass quantities. Except for the serious collector, most of us no longer have any of these items, nor do we want them. But, at least for a year, they were must have.

And if any of you have ever been Black Friday shopping, you know that getting a hot items takes planning, some dedication and focus, and maybe the shedding of some blood.

But I wonder where else in our lives we see such focus and dedication.

Casting Crowns has a song where they talk to Bethlehem as a city and asks them if they realize the King of the universe came into their city while they were sleeping.

Have we ever truly considered the kind of sacrifice Jesus made?

Maybe the first Christmas for Jesus was a lot like Christmas vacations for us. It all starts out pretty good. Some days of shopping and some more parties. Then we get to wake up on December 25 and open up gifts. That’s a good day.

Then we have another whole week of family, something we don’t always do well with. Yeah, we love these people, but sometimes 2 weeks with them pushes our sanity to the limit. Hear me clearly, it shouldn’t be like this.

Maybe we’d prefer to get the gifts and then go do whatever we want to do.

What if Jesus’ experience was like that? What if He looked past the scratchy manger, the smelly animals, and the smelly people? What if he enjoyed hearing the angels singing and the shepherds worshipping? Maybe He even enjoyed the wise men coming a few years later with gifts?

But then He endured a trip to Egypt. How fun are long-distance trips by donkey? What if He didn’t like being treated as a child? What if the pressures of being a teenager didn’t sit well with Him? What if He wasn’t interested in carpentry?

I haven’t even gotten to the part of His life where He started telling people He was God and they gave Him grief instead of respect!!!

At any point in time Jesus could has been uncomfortable or offended or sad. At any point Jesus could have decided that the whole earth mission was pointless and went back to Heaven.

But He didn’t. Why? I think John 3:16 provides our answer. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’

God loves us.

God understands that without Him, we die and live eternity without Him.

God wants us to be with Him. “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” ~2 Peter 3:9b.

Have we ever had a focus like that? Have we ever wanted anything so bad, that we were willing to deal with discomfort and adversity in order to get it? Do we approach Jesus the same way He approached us?

God spoke with shepherds, led wise men on a long journey, made a mom out of a virgin and gave a step-dad the biggest responsibility ever. Why was God willing to intervene in all of these people’s lives? Because He loved a whole lot more people.

Are we willing to bring discomfort to other people? Are we willing to offend them if needed, with the bold claims that God loves us and sin exists in us, and these two are incompatible? Are we willing to embarrass ourselves and be counted in with people who are accused of being weak-minded, fairy-tale following fools?

Do we have the focus to remember the Christmas story during the dreary days of winter, the long weeks with tests and homework, when parents don’t get us and friends reject us? Can we remember that this story is not simply something we read before we open up presents, but an invitation, a call to action? 

 Jesus was willing to stand out for us, are we willing to do the same for Him?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas and Noise

Each Sunday our children collect change for missions. As we got closer to Christmas, the big bucket was emptied for year-end numbers. And this was how the great juxtaposition of Christmas and noise was about to be experienced. 

As our ladies played a special number on the piano and organ, our kids collected change. Except now, the change they collected was dropped into an empty bucket. Can you hear the change thumping and clanging against the empty bottom of a 5-gallon bucket? I could. 

The background to the noise was the playing of O Holy Night, a soft and melodic tune. Or perhaps the background to O Holy Night was the change being dropped in the bucket. It's kind of hard to say which was which now. 

But it was the familiar sounds of Christmas mixed with the familiar sounds of....noise. One might have wished us to plan differently and have the ladies play apart from the collecting of money. That would have been one way to go, I suppose. 

Yet I imagine the first Christmas was a strange mix of angels singing, barnyard animals mooing and bleeting, and....despite what the one carol suggests, even a crying baby. 

Can you hear it? It's the mixture of music and noise. It's the mixture of the heavenly and the earthly, the supernatural and the mundane. It's God meets Man in its most perfect form. 

It feels out of control. It looks messy. But maybe that was the point. If God came to Earth to show us His abundant love for each of us, then there was necessarily going to be a meeting of the perfect and the imperfect, of good and evil, of light and darkness. I don't think God got down here and was surprised by how messy the world is. 

Perhaps that is part of the lesson of Christmas for each of us. We can sing the Christmas carols. We can wrap gifts in pretty paper for friends and family. We can enjoy the most Pinterest-perfect Christmas goodies. But the news on Christmas Eve will still be bleak. The problems that existed before the Christmas season will still exist after. 

It's Christmas and Noise. 

But I have hope. I believe the sounds of Christmas, the true sounds of Christmas, will overcome the Noise. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Love Does Not Envy

Among the silly and insignificant things I post here, I also share the chapel moments I have with a room full of preschoolers. I'm honestly not sure why I go in with a plan, since I never know what's going to happen once I open my mouth. Herding cats might be more predictable. 

I'm taking them through 1 Corinthians 13 this school year. Here was the latest...

“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy.”

I've always marveled at the transition between being thankful for everything we have on Thanksgiving Day, to shopping for all the new stuff we want to be thankful for on Black Friday. So I asked the children the following questions.

  • How many of you have made a Christmas list for your mom and dad?
  • How many of you are looking forward to seeing Santa?
  • What if you don’t get everything on your list? Will you be mad at Santa? Or will you be thankful for what you do get?
There is something that often happens around Christmas that is a problem for everyone; boys, girls, and even Moms and Dads. It’s called envy. That means that we want what other people have.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” ~Proverbs 14:30

At this point I pulled out a regular egg, clean and white.

Let’s pretend this egg is what all of our hearts look like at first. Then we start to look at what other people have. We begin to want what they have. We become envious of what they have.

Then I pulled out an egg I had soaked in a glass of coke over night. 

Soon our hearts will begin to look like this second egg.

You know how too much sugar can cause cavities in your teeth? When we envy “stuff,” it can rot the attitude of our hearts, just as the cola will rot the eggshell. I let this egg soak overnight in a can of soda. If I had left it longer, the soda would start to eat away at the eggshell.

  • How does envy damage your heart?

The Bible also says that love does not envy. Because when we love God, we believe He will give us whatever we need. Then we’ll be thankful for everything He gives us.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy.”


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Real Christmas Story

If I write a non-Christmas article in December, will I be ignored by everyone who started listening to Christmas music in October? If I write a Christmas-themed thought, will I be ignored by all those sharing the spirit of Grinch and Scrooge?

Silly me, forgetting that most people ignore me all year long. Why would December be any different?
As anyone who writes any article, blog, book, etc. can tell you, there is an attempt, perhaps assumed and unspoken, by the author to reach the reader. Right where they are. If there can be some magical connection point between those who are not even in the same room, then the goal has been achieved.

This is why many simply choose to write whatever is on their heart. If I share my heart in an honest and open way, the thought process goes, then whoever miraculously happens to be touched was likely at a point of needing that word. So cast a wide enough net and you may just snag a few more readers along the way.

Others will aim their writing where they think the need is at the moment. These authors are after the same goal, mind you; they simply come at it from another direction. They want to touch the heart of the reader.

And while comments sections abound, and the forms and abilities to contact authors are numerous, it can still cause a moment of fear to spread through the author, wondering what impact his words will make.

Obviously, I can't speak for any other author about their feelings, but if any of this is accurate for anyone else, it could also have been true for the Author who sent a Word 2,000 years ago. His omniscience aside, He had to wonder how people would receive His Word.

We can read that Word and know exactly what was on the Author's heart. In fact, we can also know that there would be many who would choose to ignore His Word, His heart, His calling.

And yet...

There would be others. Others who needed what He had to say and received it like a long drink after a tiring journey. Some who were convinced after a short time and others who struggled the entire way to belief.

Unlike many authors who may never fully realize what impact their writing has made, the Author knows. In fact, when the connection point between Writer and reader is made, that is when the real story begins.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Love Is Kind

This year I am helping preschoolers memorize some verses in the Bible that talk about love. They are found in 1 Corinthians 13. It had been a month since the previous chapel time I led, so I wasn't expecting much when I asked them if they recalled what we talked about before. But one kid quickly called out, 'Love is patient.' I told that young boy he won the day.

Then I told them I was going to talk about the next aspect of love, kindness, by telling them a story.

Once there were these 5 guys that were friends. But one of those friends was paralyzed. Do you know what that means? It means he couldn’t move his arms or legs.

Let’s pretend we can’t move our arms and legs. Just as an aside, I'm going to figure out how I can include this story in every chapel. Those kids all sat frozen while I told the story. 

One day those friends heard that Jesus was in town. So the four friends that could move decided to pick up their friend, carry him on his bed all the way to Jesus. When they saw a big crowd, they decided to dig a hole in the roof and lower their friend right down in front of Jesus.

Jesus saw their kindness and healed their paralyzed friend. Then he was able to get up and carry his bed home. It was at this point that I told them we could all move our arms and legs again. That was also about the time I lost many of them. 

That is kindness and love is supposed to be kind.

Proverbs 3:3 tells us to wear kindness around our neck. I asked them if any of them had a kindness necklace at home. To my surprise, and maybe yours, they all said they did, in fact, have such necklaces.

I don't normally call kids liars, but I did at this point and then explained what Solomon was talking about when he said we should wear kindness around our necks. That’s kind of a funny way to say it, but I think it means that God wants us to always be kind, to everyone we see.

Another verse says “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” ~Ephesians 4:32

In other words, because God was kind to us, we should be kind to others. I was going to ask them for examples, but most of them were still trying to convince me they had kindness necklaces. So I lovingly and kindly closed our time together in prayer.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Snowflake Just Like You

So, the next time you see a snowfall and your first instinct isn't to pause and stand in awe f the Creator, you may want to check yourself. Listen, I get it. I was born and raised in Florida. Snow was what my grandparents talked about. Snow was something we saw in movies.

But now I have lived over half of my life in these places where the white tundra is just expected for half the year. You call it North. I've asked God for forgiveness for what I call it.

Recently some guy I've never heard of (I'll give him credit below*) took amazingly close up shot of individual snowflakes. What I see is evidence of a Creator. But not just a Creator. A Creator that doesn't seem to care what you and I give Him credit for. Take a look at these and consider that, for thousands of years, these flakes have been falling on the ground, mostly unnoticed for their stunning beauty and individual style. 

snowflake10  snowflake9  snowflake8  

snowflake7  snowflake6  snowflake5

These unique flakes, all beautiful, fulfilled their purpose and virtually nobody noticed. They fell. They came together with thousands of other unique flakes. They formed something noticeable, for a time, on the ground. Then they simply melted away.

It kind of reminds me of....people. Yes, people. You. Me. That one guy who lived in that one place and did that one thing. All of us.

When I think of the totality of humanity, I see the evidence of a Creator. But not just a Creator. A Creator that doesn't seem to mind what He gets credit for. Take a look at people and consider that, for thousands of years, these people have been walking the planet, mostly unnoticed for their stunning beauty and individual style.

These people filled the Earth. Many of them have fulfilled their purpose. They came together with other people, perhaps forming something noticeable. Then these people simply melted away.

The snow hasn't begun to fall around here yet. When it does, it will be unlikely that I will take time, nor have the ability, to notice the beauty of each individual flake. But I will try to thank the Creator for what I know is there.

I may even try to do the same with the flakes around me that I know to be people, each made with loving care by a very creative Creator.

*These photos by Alexey Kljatov, using a homemade contraption, are extreme close-ups of an individual snowflakes.

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Search of Adolescence

You could call this a portion of a book review, or you could call this my attempt to bring something more scholarly to this space. Either way, it is likely best described as my acknowledgement that I am not the first, such as Sir Isaac Newton recognized when he said “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

See, though I know it was not original with me, I began my youth ministry career by repeating that what I do is not about a religion, but about a relationship. At times I imagined it seeped into my brain from some of my youth ministry mentors. But I have been reading In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea by Crystal Kirgiss. Now I see the idea goes back much further.

In this book, Crystal battles the idea that adolescence is a modern day construct. Showing how previous generations dealt with the people we know as teenagers, she proves her point well. At one point she quotes John Greene and Solomon Stoddard, a couple of preachers from the early 1700’s.

“God will have no respect at all to any service that you offer up to him, as long as you withhold your hearts from him…For this, as has been hinted, is the foundation of all religious practice…For while this is neglected, the doing of other things will be to no purpose.” Youth were encouraged not just to attend Sunday services but to live a life of obedience all week long because God is “not only their father’s God, but their God also.” If they learned to worship faithfully now, not because they had to but because they wanted to – because “God has given rational souls to you that you might understandingly praise the Lord” – then it was believed they would continue in the faith and fulfill their spiritual purpose: to glorify God.

(In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea, pgs 105-106)


I’m hoping that my teens not only recognize this idea, but are encouraged, as I am, by the idea that we are not the first generations enjoying a struggle of seeking out God in a relationship that matters.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doing Your Daily Duties

In a discussion with college students I led recently, we stumbled across the title of what will need to be a future book I write. For now it will simply have to be this blog post.

Doing Your Daily Duties: How to Avoid Becoming Spiritually Constipated. I know, I know, you would totally buy this book. Just let me write it first.

Our discussion, when it wasn't appealing to my third grade sense of humor, touched on the matters we say we want to accomplish each and every day. Things like prayer and Bible study to be sure. But also an unrelenting focus on the things that matter to God.

We acknowledged that we want these things to matter to us, but often times Netflix and the desire for a nap crowd out the time we have. I think it goes almost without saying (though I'm typing it right now) that the matters of God carry more for us than anything else we find to do. And yet?

Had we a Savior tapping on our shoulder to remind us of what we say we value, it would be easy to let Earthly things dissipate. However, the soft whisper of His Spirit does not often equal the smack upside our head that we actually require.

I concluded that our need for community is still great. Let's be honest; it's no fun to watch someone suffer in their bowels, spiritually or otherwise. So accountability, when offered with grace, should not be withheld or rejected. 

Our daily duties are not something to be left undone.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Call to Worship, Or Called to Worship

When I became  youth pastor at my current church, I had a job description that probably looks very similar to many other youth ministry job descriptions. Maybe all job descriptions. There was a line towards the end of the list of my roles that said; other duties as assigned.

It's a bad thing to have that line in a youth ministry job description for two reasons. First, you shouldn't use the duty around youth pastors. After all, we hang around middle schoolers and this just begs us to chuckle at the use of words that can have double meanings. 

Secondly, and more importantly, those other duties (snicker) can begin to swallow your time whole.

I digress. 

I was leading in worship and shared some thoughts, but I thought I would use this space to expound.

Have you ever had one of those Sundays when you simply wanted to get into the worship time? Maybe most Sundays are a battle between how your reality looked the rest of the week and your desire to engage in worship. It's not that you don't love God. It's just that the rest of life really gets in the way. It can be really distracting.

However, let me offer two details.

We are always worshiping something. 

If not something greater than us (God), then something lesser than us (false gods). Or even worse, we will hold ourselves in the highest esteem. It's a simple equation. Look at your last week and find out where your greatest energies were directed. That's what you worship.

Don't get this confused with the things we do as an act of worship for God. After all, I believe God did create us to worship in our work. And if everything we are called to do, both work and play, is done with a heart full of joy and thanksgiving, then we are living a life of worship.

If that's true, then...

You should bring your worship (of God) with you.

If Sunday morning is where your worship of God begins and ends, then I would suggest that worship of God is not what you have been participating in. Perhaps what you worship is some habit of appeasing your parents or your spouse. Maybe your worship is only a shadow of what is actually true.

But if God has been what you have been worshiping, then that overflow will come in and unite that worship with everyone else who is bringing in their worship. Unity, who knew?

So, the next time you enter a church, be sure you're ready to worship. Perhaps you will be so ready you will want the worship leader to stop talking so you can get to it. But, seriously, let him speak. After all, he did prepare.

So, who has your worship?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Love is Patient

From time to time I will be posting a short teaching moment I had with the young children who attend our church preschool. This one involved a purposely mistaken drawing of my home. I say purpose;ly mistaken so you don't think I live in some weird world.

So, I started coloring again. I was going to wait to show anyone, but I just couldn’t wait. I’m going to show you a picture of me at my house on a sunny day.

Doesn’t this look good? What do you think? Am I a natural artist?

These kids, who I've noticed struggle with staying in the lines, were quick to notice my mistakes. Of course, that was the point.

It looks like I got a lot of things mixed up in my drawing. Sometimes we get things all mixed up in life. Do you ever fight with your brother or sister? Have you ever told your mom or dad no? Have you ever refused to share? Ever been grumpy?

Did you know that sometimes even moms and dads get things mixed up? Even adults get angry, sometimes we fight and say things we should not. We need to do better.

Fortunately, God loves us, even when we mess up. And one of the things we can learn about love is that love is patient. That means God is willing to wait for us to do better. And while He waits, He loves us and forgives us.

We need to show love this way as well. We need to be patient with our friends and wait our turn. We need to be patient with our brothers and sisters and share our toys. And we need to be patient with our parents, when we need them to help us.

Because love is patient!

I’ll have to fix this drawing, but it might take time for me to learn how to be a good artist. I’ll have to practice patience.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Called Out in Church

Have you ever been called out in church? I have and I’ll never forget it.

I was sitting in the back row of church, safely away from my parents and, I thought, anyone who could see me not listening to the sermon. That particular Sunday, an older leader in our church was filling in while the pastor was away.

A teenager at the time, I was doing what I’m sure none of the teens in our church do. I was passing notes and making jokes with my friends, who were very clearly being a negative influence on me. (Insert tongue in cheek here.) That’s when it happened.

The substitute-preacher called out, “You boys may think this is funny, but death is a serious thing!”

Fortunately he did not call us out by name, although that did not end up keeping me out of trouble from my parents after church was over. Since I could not actually tell them what the sermon was about, I had no defense.

The only solace is that I’m sure I won’t be the last person to have been called out in church. Nor was I the first. The letters we read in the New Testament were often read in a church service, then passed around to other churches. If we read the letters like sermons, then we often find shout-outs at the end. This was Paul’s pattern, greeting people he knew in each town.

In Colossians 4, one such shout-out ends up looking like a call out.

“Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” ~Colossians 4:17

‘Hey Archie! You’ve got a job to do; don’t forget it!’ Honestly, I see this verse and try to imagine what the previous conversations have been like between Paul and Archie. I imagine that while Paul was in Colosse, these two established a relationship and discussed what God might have for Archie to do. And now Paul was reminding him to get it done.

Today this sort of thing would likely be done by email or text message. We rarely see private conversations being held in public worship services and I’m not suggesting that I might try that from the stage.

However, I will point out that we have very likely had conversations. If we haven’t, then you and God have. I’ll also point out that much ministry is happening within the Church today. But we haven’t escaped the declaration by Jesus in Matthew 9 that ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’

Many exciting things are happening right now. Make sure you’re a part of completing the work ‘you have received in the Lord.’

Monday, October 5, 2015

Loving God, Teaching Preschoolers

I told you I would be sharing how my preschool chapel times go throughout the year. I'm attempting to teach God's love, which is actually a bigger topic than we ever give it credit for. Here was my introduction to the topic.

I like to play games that involve a ball. One of the reasons is because balls do not have an end.

See this ruler? It has a beginning and an end.

A ball does not have an end. It just keeps going and going. That’s like God’s love for us. God’s love has no end. He has loved us ever since He made us. He will always love us, no matter what.

There is a second reason I like this ball. You can share it. A ball is more fun when you play games with it with other people. With a ball, you don’t keep it to yourself. You share it with others. God’s love is the same way. It’s better when we share it.

We’re going to try an experiment. I want to toss this ball around. If we want to show love, we will toss it to someone else. But in order to show love, we will toss it gently. It would not be love if we tried to keep the ball to ourselves. It would also not be love if we tried to hurt someone with it.

Believe it or not, this actually worked out pretty well, except for one thing. Preschoolers are not very good at catching. It's a good thing I chose a beach-ball. 

In the Bible, there was a guy named Paul who tried to define love for us. He said that if we didn’t have love, we were like a gong or clanging cymbal. Nobody wants to listen to that very long. 

They were getting squirmy at this point, so I pulled out some mini-cymbals and got their attention back pretty quick. They agreed that it was an annoying sound. Win!

Our goal is to live a life of love. The next time you see a ball, I want you to remember that a ball is like God. The ball does not have an end and neither does God’s love for us. A ball is something to share, just like we want to share God’s love with others.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Teaching Little Children the Most Excellent Way

Every year I share in the chapel duties for our Church preschool. Being a type-A, I like to plan it out for the entire year. I will be given 12 opportunities (give or take) to grab and keep the attention of 60 preschoolers. Yes, I am willing to be crazy and loud and funny in order to accomplish this.

Sometimes it works. Other times my wife, who is the preschool director, just gives me the nod as my signal to pray and close and hope for better the next time. After all, sometimes leading a mini-Bible study with little ones is like herding cats, although I've never actually tried this.

To give you an idea, I have tried many extreme object lessons; juggling, dancing, playing guitar, telling silly stories, etc. Mid-stream I will have one of these young kids raise their hands. I mistakenly assume they are about to ask some good theological question based on my amazing teaching. More often I hear their new dog's name or some silly comment about bodily functions.


The challenge is always to find a topic or verse that can be broken up into small toddler-size chunks. So one year I chose to teach the fruit of the spirit, since it’s a nice list. Another year I focused on stories of Jesus interacting with different people. This year I thought I might tackle the topic of love. 1 Corinthians gives us a nice memorable list. The kids might even memorize a few verses along the way.

After reading it through a couple of times, I realized how complex love can be. But I will forge ahead because, after all, it is the most excellent way. I’ll post my chapel ideas here and let you know how it’s going.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Parenting Win?

Before you read this story, let me be clear on a couple of things which should be obvious for anyone who knows my family.

  • Sarcasm is a love language.
  • Sympathy is not in abundant supply around here.
A few nights ago, I was sharing some wishes with my children for my funeral. I told them I wanted a closed casket, but at the end I wanted the organist to start playing 'Pop Goes the Weasel'. Then I wanted them to look at the faces of everybody as they sat and watched the casket. (Yes, I saw this joke on Facebook.

My kids responded that it was as good as done. They even had an idea for a lever that could make the casket open at the appropriate time. 

Fast forward to the weekend, where I was dutifully mowing the lawn. Some bees, which must be straight out of the pits of hell, came out of the ground and stung me in both my ankles and my pinky finger. 

I left the mower behind, and with much anguish, called out to my wife, who quickly made a paste to take the sting out. (I assure you this is the only bright spot of this story.

As I cringed, I told my loving wife, who has given birth to my 3 beautiful children, that she has never felt such pain as what I was currently feeling. Knowing she would pull the labor-and-delivery card, I said this was like "giving birth through my finger". That's right! I said it!!

I also indicated to my wife that I thought this might be the end for me. I might die. That's when one of my aforementioned beautiful children (the 9-year old) came out and said, "Well Mom, at least if Dad dies, we can do that thing with the casket." 

My finger still hurts, but at least my children are growing up funny. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Kind of Church I Want to Be a Part Of

I wear a few different hats at my church. That may be understating things, but suffice it to say I get to know a lot of different people in a lot of different age groups.

One of the benefits is the relationships I build with multiple generations and the vantage point from which I can see where our church is at. On any given Sunday, I will have lots of different people that I would like to catch up with as several people that might seek out my attention.

Yesterday was one of those days. But I should mention that one of the areas I oversee is that of children. And children will get your attention....ummm...whenever they can.

I was leading in our worship service, which will involve leading the singing as well as calling ushers to collect the offering. This year in our church, we have children collecting change for missionaries.

So while the ushers are collecting money in an organized fashion, we have about 20 kids running around the sanctuary, shaking people down for their loose change. Then they make their way to the stage where they drop the change into a big container.

And that's when this one young boy sought out my attention. After dropping some change into the bucket, he crossed the stage to where I was, lifted up his shirt sleeve and proudly showed me his tattoo.

There's a service going on? Doesn't matter.
You're not a sailor? Who cares!?!

This is the kind of thing I want happening at my church. It's a place where people seek one another out. It's a place where the flow of what was planned can be interrupted for the spontaneous. It's  a place where we can celebrate what is going on in our lives, even when that celebration centers around a no-doubt temporary tat that will be gone by next week.

That's the kind of church of which I want to be a part.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pregnancy

I am currently in the middle of a teaching series with my youth group on Romans 8. Wow, does this chapter have a bunch to say. Here's a small taste of something I shared and the scripture that went along with it.

Pregnancy is a funny thing. A woman gets pregnant for the first time and she is normally excited. This is a married woman. An unmarried woman gets pregnant and she is cursing and panicking, which is why we save sex for marriage. I digress. A married woman is excited. She can’t wait to tell her friends and family.

Then something happens over 9 months. She goes through some changes.

In the first trimester she experiences something called morning sickness. She’s puking, she’s sick and it’s not even flu season.

In the second trimester, she is beginning to show a baby bump, which means certain clothes don’t fit, but her appetite is back. She has these cravings for certain foods. The husband happily obliges.

Then the third trimester shows up. Jabba, I mean, the wife, just wants the jar of pickles to herself. The only clothing that fits was sewn together by Omar the Tent-maker. Sleep is impossible with this basketball making it difficult to get up, much less roll over.

Oh, and then we have what is called labor and delivery. There’s water breaking and swearing that reminds you of bad movies you’ve seen. There’s pushing and groaning, blood and goop and, after hours of this, a little mini-version of yourself appears. The mother and baby are united and all the pain suddenly disappears.

But there’s one more miracle of childbirth. As difficult as it was, after the baby turns one, most mothers say something odd. ‘Let’s have another.’

What?!? What women understand is that the pain is worth it. The discomfort, the groaning, the loss of sleep and sanity are all worth it. And this is what Paul is trying to explain to us. We “wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship”, enduring the pain for a while, because we have a hope. We don’t see it yet, but we wait patiently.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
~Romans 8:22-25

Do you have hope?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Things I Won't Consider At 99

I am not yet middle-aged. At least, that's what I tell myself. If you double my life, I'll be 20 years from the century mark, which I fully plan on reaching. And while I'd like to think I'll have as much awesome then as I do now, there are probably things I won't be doing. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Exercising. If I make it to 100, I'll treat myself to some days without getting the heart rate up.
  • Eating healthy. All cookies, all the time. You never know when it might be your last.
  • Going to the bathroom just once in the middle of the night. Let's just be realistic here.
  • Working. Except maybe as a Walmart greeter. It could happen.
  • Having more babies. I'm not saying I couldn't. I'm just saying I wouldn't.
But there was a guy I read about recently who was having babies at 100, and for him it was a big deal. Reading the story of Abraham and Sarah takes only a relatively few chapters in the book of Genesis. But it stems over 25 years of their lives.

What is interesting early on, of course, is the struggle they have to have a kid. They live by faith(mostly). They attempt to fulfill God's promise through their own means, Abraham even having a child with another woman.

But what struck me recently as I read is that for most of his life, of you had told Abraham that someday there would be an annoying children's song in which his name was invoked and we were encouraged to move our limbs, he would likely have thought you were making fun of him.

I think God is funny like that. It's ironic, don't you think?

Buy for the most part, Abraham lived by faith, and this faith was credited to him as righteousness. Right living simply because he believed God would do what He said He would do.

...even to the point of circumcising himself as a 99 year old man. Ouch!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Things I've Said to My Children

I've said some things to my children which, upon review, sounded pretty stupid. And we've all heard the classic parent answers which require answers we wouldn't enjoy. For instance, 'Do I look stupid to you?' 

Seriously, who wants to hear the answer they'd get from a grumpy child?

So when I saw a book titled Things I've Said to My Children, I knew this was a must have. Nathan Ripperger has saved and illustrated some of the more odd things he's said to his children.

Anyone who isn't a parent won't get this book. They might have it in their possession, but it will be lost on them. But for that club that can only be joined by suffering sleepless nights and crazy trips to the grocery store, as Nathan said, where children lick the grocery carts, this will be a funny read. 

Since it's illustrated and filled with short quotes, it's a quick read. Half the fun for me was imagining what was going on in their house that led to several of these quotes. I've been there, Nathan. We've all been there. 

I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books for review. They don't tell me what to say. They simply ask that I say something, which now I have. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How We Prepare For Worship

I was reading Exodus recently and realized just how different things are for us nowadays than they were for Moses and the Israelites.

Let me start with the Israelites...

We see God commanding the people to consecrate their firstborn children. Here were their requirements:
  • Make bread without yeast.
  • Get rid of all yeast. All of it. 
It was like when your mom would say she didn't want to see any mess in your room. God wanted all things yeasty to be gone. But we're not done yet.

All firstborn males had to be redeemed. This was done by sacrificing the firstborn sheep and goats. If you had a donkey, you could switch it for a sheep. But if you didn't, God wanted you snapping the neck of your donkey. I have to wonder if that would cause the other donkeys to lose trust in you. Perhaps they would be a little nervous when they saw you come around again.

Nevertheless, this is how the Israelites prepared for worship.

A typical Sunday morning for my family looks nothing like this. The most preparation came when they were younger. This involved us throwing them in the bath, whether they needed it or not. (I'll let you in on a little secret; they needed it.)

There are the cries of having nothing to wear that's nice. There are searches for dress shoes, since they've disappeared since the previous Sunday. There are attempts (and failures) at sneaking out of the house in less-than-expected dress. There's breakfast being eaten and those little eye-boogers being removed. Then smiles are demanded, so that it looks like we haven't fought before going to worship Jesus.

Sometimes we are as prepared as we look, sometimes not.

But here's the catch. When God set this up for the Israelites, He also was looking forward.

“And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’ Then you will tell them, ‘With the power of his mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery." ~Exodus 13:14

Have you ever had your kids (or maybe your spouse) ask you why we have to go to church every week? I think I have a new answer for my family. ‘With the power of his mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery."

Monday, July 27, 2015

If I Were Jesus...

My mother-in-law was treated unkindly by someone claiming to be a professional in the medical field. This happened about a month ago, but no, I’m not still fuming over this. I feel bad that it happened, but that's not why I bring it up.

As my wife was sharing with our whole family about the injustice served to her mom, our kids became justifiably upset (I'm glad they care). They started telling us what they would have told the so-called professional had they been in that situation. I began to hear how my kids might treat telemarketers in the future. It wasn’t pretty.

And that's when I saw it. That moment parents enjoy...a teachable moment. 

I stopped their bravado and simply asked them how they thought Jesus would respond to injustice or being treated unfairly. How would Jesus respond to the healthcare worker?

Jacie, our oldest responded, as if Jesus, with, "Oh yeah, I'll just heal myself!" My son, always a bit too quick with his wit, responded, "If I were Jesus, I would have said, 'Do you know who I am?'"

Sigh...teachable moment gone. 

Actually, it wasn't. It was simply delayed until we stopped laughing. 

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself how Jesus might actually respond, were He in our shoes? How might Jesus respond when His schedule was wrecked, His expectations unmet and His dreams dashed? Yes, the Apostle Peter told us Jesus left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

But, in the moment, that’s often easier said than followed.

I think we often miss what Jesus actually did when He found Himself in need. He looked to His Father in Heaven. I find it interesting that the first two comments from my children, in the situation above, alluded to power and prestige. And that’s often the way we respond to difficulties.

But if Jesus looked up for help, perhaps that’s the example we should be following. 
What would Jesus do indeed?!?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No More Busy Seasons

Here's a little something something I wrote up for our church newsletter. I figured you might like it here as well.

Can we all agree to officially let go of certain phrases? I know everyone likely has their own peeve over a certain word or phrase. One of mine is “this is a busy season for us.”

First of all, I don’t know if you’re referring to season by weather, by sport, or by when all your reports are due. That’s right students; reports never go away, even after you graduate college. Get used to it.

I’m not here to judge our busyness. I’m busy, you’re busy, we’re all busy. For families with children, that’s just part of life, even when you limit each child to one extra-curricular activity per season. Yes, I said season.

So, if we’re all so busy, how do we do anything? Perhaps without realizing it, we make time for the things that are important to us. Some of those things give us natural reasons to make time for them. For instance, a job gives us money, so we can pay for pesky things like mortgages and groceries. Making time to clean (our bodies, our homes, our clothes) makes it possible for people to hang out with us without gagging.

We make time for church because God is important to us. He has made a difference in our lives, so we take time to worship and serve Him. We just completed another year of kidZone, our midweek children’s ministry, where almost 20 teens and adults made time to serve every week. Why? Because, on some level, they value children.

Do you know who else is busy? Don’t think too hard because I’m going to tell you. It’s the Church! In fact, it’s our Church! We have lots of different groups and ministries going on, to various ages, to people inside and outside the church, for people who have a little time and for others who seemingly have no time.

We have these ministries because they matter. We have these ministries because we love God and we want to see others come to love God. More and Better is what I see in our church mission statement.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul wrote it:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. ~2 Timothy 4:2

Paul was writing to Timothy, but the encouragement is for us as well. So, I know you’re busy. But what are you going to make time for? What I’m really asking is; what do you value?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Getting Rid of Stuff

Do you want to know the best way to be ready to return to work after a vacation? I've discovered it.

Consider this. You've worked for a while (perhaps a long while) to save up money to get away. Family vacations are nice and all, but going anywhere is going to cost you some cash. And for the sake of argument, let's assume you added some extra time off. You won't be at your destination all that time. You just added a few days at home, in order to get some stuff done.

There it is.

You just gave your wife unfettered access to your skills and labor around the house. That garden won't weed itself. The thorough cleaning and reorganization of a kitchen needs a partner, right?

For us, it was cleaning out the garage. Because when you clean out any other area of the house, the garage becomes the new catch-all. Let's just put this stuff we don't want to look at in a bin in the garage.

Cleaning it out later became cleaning it out now. When moving the vehicle and the bikes out of the garage does not leave a lot of uncluttered space, you know the job needs to be done.

But now the difficult part of the job is deciding what to do with all that stuff.

  • The tools you used once. 
  • The gloves and balls and bats.
  • The wedding gifts you received almost two decades ago. 
  • The toys your kids have outgrown. (Maybe the grand-kids will like this stuff.)
  • The trophy you won for a spelling bee in first grade. (Yes kids, spelling is important.)
  • The graduation caps and gowns. (There might be a costume party, right?)
  • Old pictures and yearbooks. (Seriously, how cute was I?)
Five hours after we started, I was driving a truck-load of stuff to donate. Let it fill someone else's garage. The fact is that we did not need this stuff. We hadn't used it in 20 years. Even some of the stuff we kept was mostly for sentimental value. Very likely, our kids will have to sort through it when we die. We'll consider that payback, I suppose.

It was unnecessary clutter. And if you're looking for the spiritual connection from a pastor, here it is. Go check out Galatians 5 for your spiritual garage. There we find the Apostle Paul talking about freedom from the law, which was simply clutter in the way of our freedom in Christ. 

You'll also read about the acts of the sinful nature, which we've all got a list of. Some of it will bring back memories and some of it will be hard for us to let go of. But if we take an honest look, we'll realize it's just taking up space that could be better used. 

The biggest difference in cleaning out the spiritual garage and getting rid of stuff we don't need there is that we don't need a few days off to get it done. You simply need to partner with God and let Him sort out the junk. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Associate Pharisees?

Were there Associate Pharisees?

I like to think I have some experience with being an Associate Pastor. Even though I've only worked at 2 churches, I have worked with 8 different Senior Pastors.

Yes..., I know that's a lot.
Yes..., I have wondered if it's me.

But being an Associate means different things to different people. It means different things to the people working with the Associate and it means various things to each Associate. What I have discovered is that it primarily means being willing to follow the leader. Leadership comes from the top and to become a good complement, one must be willing to follow the vision being given from the top.

So one day I wondered if there were Associate Pharisees. We read about these religious leaders all the time. Surely there were some junior members. There had to be someone to work with the kids, right? Someone had to lead those overnight trips with camel racing and Dodge Scroll. (The trick to Dodge Scroll is to avoid being hit by the jot and tittle.)

Joking aside, have you considered what or who you are an Associate to? What is the vision you are following? Who are you choosing to be seen with? Fairly or not, I have been seen as being of one mind with every senior pastor I have worked alongside of. The same truth will apply to you. Fairly or not, you will be judged as being most like those you like the most.

Perhaps we should be viewing ourselves more often as Associates of Jesus. If you read the gospels, you see that the people Jesus chose to associate with were not seen very fondly by the world. Or by the church, for that matter. But they flocked to Him. They saw their need of Jesus. They knew there was something special about Him.

They were quite ready to be Associates of Jesus. So am I. How about you?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Treating Jesus Like We Treat Our Girlfriend

I want to tell you a little bit about my first girlfriend. (This was before I met Jen.) I was head over heels for this girl. Because I was so ‘in love’, I was willing to do anything to be able to date her and tell people that I was dating her. So she had some standards that she wanted me to reach for if we were going to be a couple.

I really wanted to date her, so I said, ‘Lay it on me, babe.’ (Those are the kinds of things I say to woo every time.)

She wanted us to talk every day, at least on the phone.

She wanted us to go out on a date, at least once a week.

She had some rules for how I should act, both when we were together and when we weren’t. After all, she said, ‘I’ was now an ‘us’ and we should consider how people view us, even when we weren’t together.

I really wanted to date this girl. So I agreed to her standards. How did I do?

The first rule was that we talk every day, at least on the phone. Well, this was before cell phones, so this was kind of difficult. It meant I had to use the phone in our living room, where my whole family was always at. Sometimes I didn’t want to talk on the phone. I didn’t always want to sound mushy, like new couples do. When I did call, sometimes it was hard to pay attention to what my girlfriend was talking about because there was something good on the TV. So, when we did talk, I was often distracted. To be honest, I did not meet her standard on this rule.

The second rule was that we would go out on a date, at least once a week. Well, this was before ‘this guy’ had a job, so money was scarce. My dad didn’t exactly see the need to fund my ideas of classy dates. But I didn’t want to make my girlfriend think I wasn’t willing to class it up, so I would often tell her what I wanted to do. When I did have some money, I was sometimes busy or tired from other stuff that week. To put it simply, I did not meet her standard on this rule.

The third rule was more like, ‘rules’. She wanted me to think about ‘us’ and who I was representing. So, basically, I was supposed to rethink everything I said and everything I did, and make sure it was something that would make her look good. This was hard. I had habits. I had friends. They didn’t always care what my girlfriend thought about what we said or did. And quite frankly, my girlfriend had lots of ideas about how I should be acting. I don’t even remember all the things she said. Sometimes I would tune her out while she was talking on and on about us. It was just too much, and obviously, I did not meet her standard on this rule.

Clearly, we didn’t last long. I’m not really sure why. Other than the fact that I broke all the rules and I just made her up.

If we treated our girlfriend like we treat Jesus, we wouldn't have a girlfriend very long.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Blank Space

I just know that some of you saw the title and are reading now, hoping for lyrics to a Taylor Swift song. My apologies.

Yes, T. Swifty does have a song titled Blank Space, where she writes about her ex-lovers and the apparent vacancy for the next ex-boyfriend. But I have a different picture of what a blank space can offer.

Blank space offers a space for grace.

I have conversations with people all the time where the unspoken request is for grace. Deadlines weren't met, relationships need to be restored, wrongs have been committed. While there is certainly an understanding of consequences in most people's minds, it occurs to me that the blank space we can offer provides a way out.

This way out is not something people immediately consider. After all, what's done is done and there's no going back, right? But I see a blank space that says otherwise. New deadlines can be established. Relationships don't need to remain broken. Wrongs can be made right.

The Church should always have a blank space.

Every school year is a blank space, giving us a new chance to be a student that tries.
Every new job is a blank space, giving us the opportunity to offer our best with a team.
Every move is a blank space, offering a fresh slate to be who God made us to be.

But some of us are way past school age. Perhaps a new job is not out there and a move is impractical. What hope is there for us?

Every new day is a blank space. Every new day we awake, we have 12 hours of decisions to make. What will we make of this day? What kind of person will we be?

Every Sunday is a celebration of these blank spaces. We come together, as people of grace. Some of us come feeling more broken than others. Some of us come attempting to fool ourselves and others about our brokenness. Nevertheless, we come. We need the blank space.

We need the healing. We need the restoration. We need the grace. We need to be reminded that there is a blank space. The blank space is not there for our next mistake, but for our name to be written next to Jesus. Since creation, Jesus has had a plan, carried out to perfection.

Next to His Name is a blank space.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Do I Still Blog?

The question has occurred to me more often in the past month than it likely has to everyone else combined. Do I still blog?

As a type-A, I like to see order in things, especially my life. When order is not seen, I struggle.

So, do I still blog? I ask myself the question. For starters, if I don't blog anymore, then that checklist of things to write about can stop plaguing me.

If I don't blog, then I can fill that writing time with something else. Like a nap.
If I don't blog, then I can bother people with something else.

It occurred to me that perhaps writing was just a stage. I had some stuff on my mind and I needed to get it off my chest. Maybe that's all it was and, now that I got it off my chest, I can simply go for a bike ride.

If you go back on my blog (not that you should), you'd find the overarching story line to be about my insignificance. The fact that I recognized my insignificance was something I felt like should be pointed out.

Well, I am still insignificant. And I still feel it should be pointed out.

There's no guarantee of how often I will do that. Once or twice a week is probable. I'll post about what bothers me, what amazes me, what startles me or simply what strikes me as blog-worthy.

If you're still along for the ride, let's go.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Getting Myself Off of Injured Reserve

I'm not sure why I'm exercising.

That's what I said to myself for two weeks. To be honest, I've said it more often that that. But, in particular, I said it for two weeks. Here's why...

I had hurt my leg and was unable to run hard, which meant I was unable to play basketball, which I love to do. I love playing it. I love watching it. I enjoy talking about it.

I play some early morning basketball twice a week. The guys I play with are all better than me, which means I try my absolute best every time. In order to do that, I exercise the rest of the week to stay in good shape.

But now my ability to go play basketball was gone. So what was I exercising for? Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can talk all you want about staying in shape and health and blah, blah, blah.

The fact is the lure of the cookie is not going to stop and if I can't run, not much is going to counteract the results of my answering when the cookie calls.

I'm not sure why I'm working so hard.

That's what I have sometimes been tempted to ask myself. Not just for two weeks, but every week. For the uninformed, I am a pastor. A youth pastor to be specific. I have obligations which involve other people and come 2-3 4-5 times a week.

Everything I do during the work week, in some way, has an effect on what I do at church activities. I enjoy worshiping God and teaching people. If I did not get to do these activities, I'm fairly certain that my work during the week would become pointless.

Why prepare a lesson for nobody to hear?
Why select a song for nobody to sing?

What are you doing this week?

I'm hopeful that you find yourself doing something productive this week. I'm hopeful it will impact someone else in a positive way.

Don't lose sight of that.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Day I Replaced a Spark PLug

I changed a spark plug on my lawn mower and got the lawn mower working again.

For people who know me, that statement will cause them to be amazed, in more ways than one. Some will know how my talents in all things mechanical are quite lacking and they will be impressed, Others will wonder how a grown man got to my age without ever having accomplished this before.

Let my naysayers talk all they want. I won't be deterred. The facts are that I have other talents. I can do other things. Some of those other skills are even needed by other people. The 6 year old inside of me wants to say, 'so there.'

It's not for lack of effort on my dad's part. He tried. He really did. He fixed everything we owned while I was growing up. He invited me out to learn and to help. It turned out the best way I could help him was by keeping the flashlight steady.

But now that he's gone and my stuff won't fix itself, I have to learn a few things. So I googled. Yes, I google imaged a spark plug. This was after reading the lawn mower manual and finding out this was a common problem.

Total moment of honesty: I had no belief whatsoever that if I was able to locate the spark plug on my mower that I would be able to find a replacement in the auto parts store. I had less faith that, once I installed the new spark plug, it would actually fix the problem.

But I did locate the spark plug. I did find a replacement part, thanks to the kind lady at the auto parts store. I did get it back in properly. did fix the problem. Hooray, I got to mow my lawn.

So, I changed a spark plug on my lawn mower and got the lawn mower working again.

For what it's worth, if you have a lack of proficiency in some area, and you somehow muster the courage to conquer that foe, I will applaud you as well.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Look Up!

My kids play soccer. We could have opted for an inside sport, but then there's no chance of watching your kids play in the rain while you freeze on the sidelines. Who wants that?

Is that mud in our van ever going to come out? Probably not, but at least we watched 3 scoreless games. Hooray soccer!

Have you ever seen a litter of kittens all go after the same ball of yarn? If so, you know what watching 7 and 8-year old girls looks like. As they get older, it looks pretty much the same, just with less cute.

One of the things we start talking to all the players about, early and often, is to keep their heads up. A skill they must learn is how to kick the ball without looking at the ball. They can get so focused on kicking the ball in front of them that they become oblivious to everything else around them. Look up!

But once they learn how to maintain control of the ball while keeping their heads up, the game changes. They can see where the opposition is coming from. They can see where their help will come from. They can see a better view of what is happening all around them.

It changes the game.

I find myself taking this advice and using it in my daily life. Let's be honest about this. Life can often be uncomfortable. It can leave you messy and with some scarring. Even as we age, life will treat us pretty much the same way life always has.

There is a truth to life that we teach our children early and often. Look up. When we take our gaze off of what we are doing, the game changes. We can see better where the opposition is coming from. We can look around for where our help is coming from. We get a better view of what is happening all around us.

Indeed, the game changes.

When we ask where our help will come from, we can echo the Psalmist, "My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." ~Psalm 121:2

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dad: A Shopping Experience

Who do you call on when the wife and mother are sick and the family still needs to eat?

Normally I'd say my good friend Papa John. But we'd already called him. The illness lingered on and the children demanded to be fed more than once in a week's time. (Remind me to write about this demanding entitled generation, wanting to eat every single day.)

So anyway, back to the original question. Who do you call when the wife is sick and stuff still needs to be done? That's right! You call the dad!

So I decided to go grocery shopping. I could have made the list myself, but my wife thought I might not always make the best decisions. I'm not sure what she's talking about. Keebler is a quality product, am I right?

List in hand, I trudged alone into the aisled wilderness.

And I wandered.

And wandered...

Recognizing products that were often found in my kitchen, I threw them into my cart. Was there backtracking due to a poorly organized list? Maybe. But don't be so judgmental. I didn't see you out there.

Since we're all well-mannered, educated folk, let me ask you a question or two. Why is there no Ziti in this place? Mini-ziti?!? Was there market research done to find out that people did not like normal sized ziti? Check it out! I can fit five times as many mini ziti in my mouth at one time!

Is it bad that I was much more capable of finding the type of cookies I desired than the type of fruit my wife wanted me to get? On second thought, don't answer that.

I thought I was doing pretty good on time until I checked out and looked at the big clock on the wall. I spent over 2 hours getting this food?!? And we're just gonna eat it and have to come back again next week?!? 

I know I may be a bit early in the season for thanking my wife for being a great wife and mom. But if grocery shopping were the only thing she had to do each week, I'd be thankful for her doing it.

And don't even get me started on the cooking that needs to be done. We're doing this every day now?

Monday, April 6, 2015

80 Years Young

The church I am a part of, Winona Lake Free Methodist, turns 80 this year. We're having a big celebration on April 26. Learning more and more about this church has me thinking about legacy.

I don't remember every moment in my life. Some moments are quite foggy. But three moments stand out with clarity. If you're counting my kids, then you know where I'm going. And at the risk of embarrassing my teenager at just the very mention of baby pictures, I'll tell you that’s exactly what I’m thinking of.

Naked they all came from the womb. There was wiggling and noises and Jennifer and I were suddenly thrust into new roles: Parents! It was a great moment, to be repeated twice more, when I would hold a newborn baby that God had given to me.

In those moments, I remember having a lot of hopes for my children. I remember having dreams of what they would become. Looking back, I know there was no way I could have predicted what Jacie would become 13 years later. Nor did I see what Luke and Jerica would be like. (In case you're wondering, I'm proud of all three of my children.)

This is the way it is when we give birth to anything. We can have a vision for it, be it a child, a new business, a piece of art, etc. But by nature or nurture, things have a way of growing into something we could not have foreseen.

Eighty years ago, some people got together and decided a Free Methodist Church was needed in Winona Lake. I wasn't a part of those conversations. But I imagine they had a vision. I am certain they had a plan. Perhaps it was for one year, maybe five. They had hopes for what would happen in and through this church.

I imagine some things happened like they hoped. Other turns brought changes they would not have originally desired. That's how our lives go as individuals, so we should not be surprised that is how the life of a church works as well.

As I make personal decisions, I like to remind myself that each choice is slowly building my legacy. It is one reason I depend on God to lead me in my choices. So it goes with the church as well. I believe God has blessed many leaders of WLFMC through eighty years. The building has changed several times. The leadership has changed many times over. Those sitting in the pews have come and gone, some to eternity. I believe God will continue to bless, as we depend on Him to lead us in our choices.

Happy 80th Birthday, Winona Lake Free Methodist Church!
 Here's trusting God with the next eighty.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Father Dark

I want to be fair here. I know things are not always as simple as they seem.

But I want to be fair. Most things are not as complicated as we make them out to be.

I received a book from my friends at SpeakEasy blogging. They often have books that stretch me. To be honest, I disagree with much of their theology, and Father Dark by Steven L. Case was no different.

This novel centers around a dark angel. Only because I dislike spoilers will I not go into more details about how far off track I think this book goes.

If this were all that bothered me about this book, I could look past it. After all, fiction can be fun. But....

This book has profanity. Not just the one or two examples used by some authors to show they are relevant or cool, or whatever reason Christian authors choose to grab low hanging fruit.

This book has a lot of profanity. Much of it appears to have no purpose except to remind you the author knows profanity. For those who haven't heard me rant about profanity in books, let me begin by saying I agree with whomever it is who said that profanity shows a lack of vocabulary and creativity.

And let me conclude that I do not think it adds anything to the story, does not make characters seem grittier or more like real life.

What bothers me the most is where this book came from. I first agreed to review the book because I recognized the author's name as someone from the youth ministry world. Steven Case has written several youth ministry ideas books. Writing a novel this vulgar does not, obviously, make those ideas less usable. But I do have to wonder about how he interacts with teenagers.

Because what we believe has a way of showing up in how we live. Even when we're writing fiction.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Easter is Different

Here is what I find interesting. As Christians, we talk about Christmas in December, but that’s about it. To hear a lesson in July about the baby Jesus is like listening to Christmas music in January – nobody wants to hear about it anymore. It’s not that we don’t believe the story, but we basically read about it once a year.

But Easter is different. As Christians, we talk about the resurrection story of Jesus all year long. Why? Because Jesus dying for our sins, and rising again (showing He had power over death) is the whole reason we are who we are. Paul wrote that without Jesus rising from the dead, we have nothing and our religion is pointless.

Go ahead. Say those words out loud.



Say those words out loud while considering what it is you really believe. I can't speak definitively for you, but I know how I feel about things I believe. I know that I certainly don't want anyone considering my beliefs to be worthless or a waste of time.

Think about those words, pointless and meaningless and nothing, as you celebrate Easter this Sunday. If all you worship is a basket and a bunny, then maybe those words won't bother you.

But I don't worship a basket or a bunny. I worship God, sent His Son, Jesus, to die for my sins. I believe Jesus rose again, on the day I now celebrate as Easter.

The story is incredible. It can be incredibly hard to believe. But I do.

That makes Easter different.

Monday, March 30, 2015

This is Who We Are

I'm leading my college ministry group through a fantastic book right now. It's called Think, Act, Be Like Jesus by Randy Frazee. He connects what we think to how we act and the outcome is a lifelong virtue. Here's the latest section our group covered.

Who am I? Can you describe yourself in 5 words? Perhaps you've been asked that question before. If you're like me, your answers have varied, depending on whom you were with, how you were feeling about your life, or what you had for lunch that day.

Slightly different question: which description of whom we are in Christ means the most to you? (a child, a temple, a new creation, a member of the body of Christ, a citizen in Heaven, etc.)

How does this description change how you approach each day?

I believe how we see ourselves impacts everything else; how we live our lives, how we treat one another. If we live fully in God’s grace, we’ll be the most willing to pass that grace around. If we try to accomplish things on our own, we’ll be quicker to expect others to work as hard as we do.

“In view of God’s mercy…” As we consider this concept, we are left with an obvious response of total surrender to God’s will. He should so capture our hearts for today and forever that we are compelled to give up our lives for Him – from love, not duty; for worship, not works.” Pg122

Out of an understanding of who we are in Christ, our response should come naturally.

The virtue that comes from understanding who we are and giving it all to God is hope. We hope that everything God has promised will come true. We hope that Heaven lives up to the billing. We hope that it will all be worth it. Because, quite frankly, we’re just as smart and talented as others who appear to succeed in this life. So if this life were all we were living for, we’d like to show them.

But we know it’s not. We have a greater hope. We believe there is more than what we see right now. When we say ‘hope’, it’s not a last-ditch effort at something because we were incapable of anything else. We say ‘hope’, it is resting on a firm foundation, a ground that has been tested and proved, long before we came on the scene. We say ‘hope’ with purpose.

That's who we are.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

This is What You Just Put In Your Mouth?

This is the book my wife will never read. She would prefer to remain blissfully unaware. This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? is a book about what's really inside everyday products. As I read it, it doesn't sound like Patrick Di Justo has an agenda or a vendetta for anyone.

He just wanted to know. A curious mind.

But the moment I told my wife that A-1 steak sauce was one of the products listed, she said emphatically, 'Don't ruin A-1 for me.' So we'll keep her out of this. But each chapter has a list of the ingredients and what they do, offer or cause.

Then there's the back story on each investigative search. This was the part of each chapter I most looked forward to, because this was where the fun was. When companies embraced what they were, or tried to hide what they used. Ahh, you have to love investigative journalism. Sometime the better stry isn't what you learned, but how you learned it.

In the end, I don't know that it will change much of what I eat, or don't eat. I'm just a curious mind.

More Info
Author Bio

I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books for this review. You can pick up a copy of it here

Friday, March 20, 2015

More Than Just The Talk

I can't tell you how many times I have been in front of my youth group and said, 'Yes, I'm talking about sex!' It's not that I always plan to talk about sex. But I'm not one to shy away from the topic either.

And every time (really) they look at me as if I've just said something naughty. Oh, wait...they do think I've said something naughty. And it's probably because the Church, in general, has often treated sex as a taboo topic.

We, the Church in general, could choose to go on like this, stuttering and stammering any time the topic is brought up. Or we could fulfill the subtitle of Jonathan McKee's new book; More Than Just The Talk; Becoming Your Kid's Go-To Person About Sex.

Soooo, parents and youth workers, say it with me....seeeeexxxxxx.

Now that we've said it, let's talk about McKee's new book. He lays down a solid foundation, explaining very explicitly that sex was God's idea and sex was God's gift. (Can I get an Amen?!?) He emphasizes this to help change our perspective. Yes, sex has been a very misused gift. But when we're teaching our kids, we should be teaching them God's perspective.

After laying this foundation, McKee goes on to talk about toothbrushes, grandmas, and some of the latest stats and findings. He speaks explicitly and plainly, making the book feel very much like a conversation.

Is it sometimes awkward? Well, yeah, but as Jonathan notes, sex is a very personal and intimate act, so it will feel awkward at times.

Is it straightforward? You bet. He talks parts and desires and leaves no stone uncovered.

Is it Biblical truth? Unashamedly so. There is also a teen book, Sex Matters, to get all these needed conversations moving. It's even coming just in time for all those youth pastors who plan spring teaching themes around purity and dating.

So, if you're going to talk about sex, I recommend this book as a very useful tool. You can pick it up here -

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What Are You Capable Of?

I fancy myself to be just like Batman...without the money, the cave, the vendetta, the car and the cool belt. Other than that, we're pretty much the same guy. Does it help my case that I have a boy wonder? It's my son, but I'd take him over a dude in green tights any day.

I've also imagined myself to be similar to know, but without the super strength, speed, or that thing he can do with his eyes. Oh, and I'm also not from another planet. But he was a reporter and I like to write, though that hasn't been proven much by my blog. At least, not compared to what I used to write.

The first time I write this post, it sounded like an apology. But that's not really the message I want to convey. Yes, I wish I were posting more. I also wish I had super strength or a cool utility belt, but those things aren't happening right now either. Maybe some day.

The truth is I have been keeping busy. I'm not sitting back, sipping lemonade. I've never cared much for lemonade, plus I can't get my kids to bring it to me. I've been doing some of the same things that I used to write about, but more often than not, the words I want to convey remain elusive.

I don't know why it is. I just know that it is.

I also considered making a commitment to post more, but I also do not want to do that. If the words are not real and they do not feel right, I'd rather keep them to myself to simmer. I am still writing. Many posts are incomplete.

So why do I put this out there. Because I don't feel incomplete. I rest content in God's love for me and His mission on my life. And I just kind of figured someone else would need to hear that too.

You might not be accomplishing all you want to accomplish right now. But God loves you anyway.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Clash of Plans

In my youth ministry, we're discussing the last week of Jesus. We started last night by discussing Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. Unlike other times when Jesus came into the holy city, this time He was announcing His kingdom. He proclaimed Himself King. And, of course, he did this with much pomp and circumstance by riding in on donkey?


As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

(By the way, I had my group take parts and act out this scene. Few things are funnier than seeing one teen on the back of another as they play the parts of Jesus and the donkey. I'd like to see a senior pastor try this in Big Church.)

Jesus was unexpected when He came to Earth. He was unexpected in the way He lived. The religious leaders expected a Messiah who would be clean cut like they were. The disciples expected someone who would lead a revolution. It probably shouldn't be very surprising to us that Jesus would do something like this. At the very least, we can say Jesus was consistent.

I think the question we all need to ponder is; why do we expect God to be predictable? Why do we think God will do what we expect?

Think about it. God says His ways are different than ours. He tells us His thoughts are better than our thoughts. Everything He preached is about as counter-culture as one can possibly be. Why would we expect a God, who never did anything that even remotely resembles a strategy we would come up with, to accomplish His mission in a way we expect?

Maybe instead of asking God to do things the way we do them, we should be asking God to be patient with us and let us go along for the ride. After all, if I have a plan and God has a plan, instead of expecting a clash of plans, we should set our aside. Otherwise we will find ourselves telling God that we don't think His plan is all that good.

Good luck with that plan.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Divine Applause

I knew I liked his style of writing. I just didn't recall that I had read anything from him before. Oh, but I had.

The book in question is Divine Applause by Jeff Anderson. The previous book was Plastic Donuts, which you can see my review on here.

I don't know how you read books, but I normally do so with a pencil nearby. I like to underline sections that grab my attention. But since I'm not going to spend the time flipping through a book to look for pencil marks, I also fold over a corner of the page. As you can see by the image below, I underlined quite a bit, as I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Displaying photo.JPG

To say I enjoyed might need some clarification. It challenged me and caused me to stir about the choices I make. So, for as much as anyone enjoys being challenged, I would recommend Divine Applause.

Jeff Anderson has taken Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and reflected on what turns out to be pretty straightforward talk from Jesus. In that sermon, Jesus told us to pray, give and fast and watch what happens in return. Jeff tells us these are the not-so-secret ingredients to getting God's attention and seeing how He responds to us.

Far from being a seek-after-God-and-receive-untold-riches kind of story, Jeff centers in on the sometimes mundane manner in which God responds to His children. He explains this is because we are individuals and God desires a relationship with us that reflects that individuality. But make no mistake, God is watching us.

"But the reality that God is watching speaks of His care. His watchful ways are intended to inspire, not frighten us. This is one of the key mind shifts necessary to hearing god's applause. It all has to do with how your picture God's face." ~Divine Applause, page 15.

I'd include some more direct quotes, but when I choose not to read by my Kindle, where I can highlight and then copy/paste quotes, it means a lot more typing for me. And when I think you should simply get the book yourself, it would also be counter-productive.

I received this book for free from my good friends over at Blogging for Books. They give me books and ask for my thoughts, which you now have.

More Info
Read Chapter One
Author Bio