Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What Do You Pray For?

I like my lists. They help keep me organized. Aaaaand, I probably get a bit too much pleasure out of checking things off my lists. But, like I said, they help keep me organized. There's really only one weakness to a list.

You do have to look at this list in order for it to remind you.

Last week I was preparing to take my youth group on a ski retreat weekend. It was a perfect time to make a list, which I did. But the thing about making a list is that it sometimes helps me to remember more clearly what  I need to accomplish. In this case, I had a packing list.

As I was packing, I was visualizing what I had written down. I packed and packed and...never looked at my list. It wasn't until hours later, while driving a noisy bus with even noisier teens that I was feeling I had forgotten something. And that's when it hit me.

Snow boots?!?

Really...snow boots? I didn't forget extra socks...or a magazine...or a charger for my phone. I didn't neglect to bring snow pants...or permission slips...or directions. No, I went to play in the snow...WITHOUT SNOW BOOTS!!!

I spent the next 20 minutes fuming, angry with myself for not using the list I had made. I might even have prayed for God to make the snow boots materialize. I might have even considered bartering with God...over snow boots. After going over this problem in my mind, and with still a couple of hours left to go, I realized I had better things to pray.

  • for each teenager that was going along with me; their safety, their fellowship, their spiritual growth.
  • for the leaders, for the speaker and the band
  • for my family still at home
  • for my attitude when faced with challenges
So I did. I prayed for each teen, specifically by name and need. I prayed for the weekend to be a momentum shifter and for my lack of boots to not be an issue. I prayed for my joy and my peace to not be taken. 

And you know what? I believe God answered each of those prayers. Now, if only I'd known....

I would have prayed for the church bus to work all weekend. 

But that's another story...

Monday, January 26, 2015

You Had One Rule!?!

You had one rule! One. Rule!!!!

That's what I would say to Adam and Eve. I imagine that's what a lot of people would say to Adam and Eve. 

We have lots of rules. In fact, you can even find books of ridiculous rules that have been made. For every dumb thing that has been done, a dumber rule has been made to keep it from happening again. 

For example...
In the state of Florida, if an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle. Well....yeah!

In the state of Indiana, it is illegal to catch a fish with your bare hands. So much for the days of letting men be men.

We have so many rules, in fact, that we have arguments over interpretations of these rules. Adam and Eve broke their one rule. We break every rule. Perhaps rules are not the problem. My belief is that they are not the solution either. 

For the solution, we turn to Ephesians 2:8-10. Recently I shared this with the youth of our church, telling them they were God's masterpiece. 

I started the discussion by asking them to share the worst thing they had seen someone else do. I would have asked for them to confess their own sins, but I was trying to promote discussion, not do a group impression of a room full of crickets. 

(By the way, the most random sin they came up with was some guy who supposedly burned a box of kittens. People are sick.)

After each instance of someone else's stupidity error in judgment, I would say to them, 'That's not enough to keep God's grace from you.' 

After that, I asked them to list the good things they have done recently. This list was a bit easier, since who doesn't like being invited to pat yourself on the back. Am I right?

With each good deed listed, I replied, 'That's not why God saved you.'

And it's true. There's nothing we have done so awful that kept God from dying for our salvation and extending His invitation of grace our way. AND...there's nothing we have done so great that God sat back and said, 'Well, we gotta give him a seat in Heaven.'

My hunch is that you're nodding along in agreement with least, in your head. If so, I have a question for you. 


Why do we still hold out all these rules and standards above people's heads, as if dangling a carrot above their heads? While we may understand that grace and faith should naturally lead a Christ-follower to good deeds, don't we understand yet that the carrot we dangle looks rotten? Even for those who hunger for something...anything that offers more in life than what they are currently experiencing, holding out the measuring rod only serves to keep others at a safe distance. 

If the tables were turned, Jesus might be the one asking us why. Why don't we offer more of the free gift that was offered to us?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Food: A Love Story

I saw the cover and knew I would have to read it. Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan. If you've never heard the comedy of Gaffigan, he's most widely known as the 'Hot Pocket' comic. But I would call myself a fan of a lot of his stuff. 

Jim is not loud or yelling at you. His humor is almost ninja-like, sneaking up on you in his delivery. I listened to the audiobook version of his other book, Dad is Fat. Awesomely read by him, I've never had a more entertaining drive. And I despise long drives. 

In Food: A Love Story, Jim ponders the ins and outs of practically all foods across America, even going so far as to give us a map of how each region should be named, after the foods most popular there. One can read about his quest to make all food comfort food, except seafood, which he clearly has a distaste for. 

At times, I cannot tell if Jim is attempting to communicate an important message about the amount of food we have here in America. Even if not intentional, the fact that a guy can write so much about America's obsession with food is telling and should cause us to think while we laugh. Mostly family-friendly, if you like his stand-up, it won't be difficult for you to hear his voice as you read his book. 

I received this book for free from my friends at Blogging for Books

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When the Blind Man Tells Me I Can't See

I'm a youth pastor.

Oh I can gloss it up. I could tell you I'm an Associate Pastor. I could go on about how I have other responsibilities that make me more than what my calling would have you believe.

But I'm a youth pastor. And most days I'm perfectly fine with that. After all, it is a calling and it's something I love. But one thing I no longer even try to deceive myself about is that people are listening to me. I give announcements at youth group about items which teens will ask about later, as if I've never spoken. I'll share ideas with big people (you call them adults) and their eyes will glaze over while they wonder what the senior pastor thinks. I preach and often wonder what, if anything, people hear.

With all this ignoring going on, you might ask why I blog. Oh, another day, people, another day.

Despite this, I continue to convey truth, even if nobody hears me. I'm a youth pastor.

I'm a dad.

For anyone that has been even a little impacted by Hollywood's portrayal of dads, this means I am a goof, a dork, and answer to my wife. Disobeying me is glorified and what I don't know is better for the whole family.

My reality, with my family, is a bit different. I do lead my household, partnering with my very capable wife. My kids respect my decisions for the most part. After all, they are still kids. But I can think of many times when what I have to say is dismissed as, 'He has to say that. He's a dad. He waved goodbye to cool a loooong time ago.'

But I didn't. My sweet dance moves prove otherwise. Nevertheless, I continue to lead my family, when they want to be led and when they don't.

I'm just one guy.

How can one guy make a difference? Like one small boat in a torrential storm at sea, my influence is minuscule and my success rate seems nonexistent. Though I fancy myself as making a difference for a few, if not for all, it seems obvious why my voice will be drowned out among a sea of voices. After all, I do not have a huge platform. There is no reason for people to look my way, in any area of my life.

So why bother?

For that, we turn to 1 Kings 18. We're in the midst of several great episodes starring Elijah the Prophet and Ahab the King. It's remarkable to me that Ahab did not recognize himself as the foil in these stories. One might think, with bad choices leading to worse consequences, you might start to ask if you were the problem. Not Ahab.

Elijah, while seen later as a great prophet of God, was just one guy on the outskirts of the kingdom, seen as causing trouble for Israel whenever he opened his mouth. In fact, that's exactly how Ahab sees Elijah.

When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” ~1 Kings 18:17

Elijah, wasting his breath, informs Ahab that the opposite is actually true. But those in the dark (Ahab) see those in the light (Elijah) as if they in the light were actually the ones in the dark. 1 Kings 18 shows us this is not a new problem.

So should we really be surprised when people grow weary of our truth and persist that we're the stubborn ones? The judgmental? the naysayers? the impatient? Should we stand in shock as our voices go unheeded and ignored? Or worse, should we be offended when blind people tell us our antiquated views are incorrect?

So, though most of the roles I have leave me in a perpetual state of being ignored, I'll continue to talk. I'll keep living the truth, God give me the strength. And what about you? What role do you play that the world ignores?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Because of That Cross

If the world ever had any interest in me, I am quite sure it is gone by now. And I have good news for the world. The feeling is mutual.

If this introduction is starting to sound a bit drastic or over-emotional, don't fret. This is just my New Year's self reaffirming what I value, what I care for and which hills I will decide to make a stand on. You might be familiar with the hill I will focus on. It's that hill far away where there stood an old rugged cross.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. ~Galatians 6:14
If reading that verse doesn't make you pause for an argument with yourself, perhaps you need to read it again. That, or wake up to the hypocrisy within yourself. I have to believe that somewhere before putting those words to papyrus, Paul had to have had an inner dialogue. Upon reading that verse most recently, mine sounded a bit like this.

Me: Yep, no boasting about myself. That sounds good.
     My inner self: Whoa, whoa whoa. What are you doing?
Me: I'm applying God's Word.
     My inner self: I thought we said we were going to discuss this kind of stuff before you went and                                 did that again?!?
Me: I say it's about Jesus. Not boasting about myself seems like a pretty good way to go about   making it about Jesus.
     My inner self: Is that why you continue to tell your wife whenever you rock at basketball?
Me: Well, she probably won't hear about it on ESPN.
     My inner self: No, she won't. But who cares? Basketball is not even your job.
Me: Yes, but unfortunately for my church, I don't do anything better than I play basketball.
     My inner self: I've seen you play. You're not that good.
Me: Good point. Then I guess I don't have anything to boast about.

In case you didn't notice, my inner self can be pretty mean. But somewhere down inside of my heart, sometimes deep down, I know the truth. Behind all my life goals and my career objectives and even my selfish desires and day-to-day wants, it's all for naught.

Because of that cross.

Let's be honest. My decision to follow Jesus meant I would do a lot of things that seemed backwards to the world. It was only a matter of time before I realized my insignificance in the world, but following Jesus sped up that process. And because I give every decision over to the will of God, I see the emptiness in what the world has to offer.

So if my life goals don't match up with what God has willed for me, then guess which desire has to go. Though it may be difficult to give up certain dreams, knowing the right answer isn't hard.

Paul may have been fairly certain of his words when he wrote them down. Maybe this was something he had preached over and over again. Maybe the Galatians would recognize this line and smile, as if hearing it in Paul's voice.

But for me, this is a prayer. As for me, God, may I never boast about anything except what you have done through Jesus on that cross. Kill my selfish desires so they don't come back.

Take that, world.

Friday, January 16, 2015

We Will Be Landing Shortly

I'm reminded of the Depeche Mode lyrics...

Try walking in my shoes. You'd stumble in my footsteps.

I had my rant ready. The scathing wheels in my mind were turning almost from page 1. Actually, it was page 3. Let me explain.

I received a book titled We Will Be Landing Shortly, Now What? by Mike Hamel. After a brief introduction, he begins his memoirs of sorts. Here's what he wrote:

I am starting this journal to find out about myself and through myself to find God.

There it is. What my apologetics-tuned mind only saw as a bad premise. See, he stated his goal as finding himself first and finding God second. And I instantly thought that was a bad way to go about life. Foundations are key to building a house. I believe that it is only when we find an accurate picture of God that we will truly discover an accurate picture of ourselves.

I still believe that....but....

To be fair, I'm only halfway through the spiritual musings of Mike Hamel. So I really don't know how I'll feel half a book later. But my rant-writing muscles have been subdued as I read his story. A cancer survivor, he was surprised by life's twists when his wife passed away suddenly of heart disease. And even as I type that sentence, I fully acknowledge how much more difficult it was for him to live it, and write about it, than it was for me to report about it.

And I think that's my point today. I have a healthy and happy family. God has blessed me with a good job and a warm home and a nice community. Though I have seen my share of down days, I have not had to travel dark days like Mr. Hamel. Certainly nothing close to the ordeals of Job that we read about in the Bible.

So while it would be very easy for me to stand up and talk about premises and truth, I have to wonder. If my life became just a little bit harder, what would change about me? We have to understand that all circumstances change us. Otherwise, what bubble are we living in?

Please understand that this is not an argument for multiple truths. It is quite possible that I will disagree with many things Mike Hamel writes about God and life and himself. He said he will be landing shortly, but I haven't figured out just where he is landing yet.

I suppose what I am saying right now is that my current, self-assured and know-it-all self is a little less self-assured and admittedly less knowledgeable than younger versions of myself. I'm willing to hold out grace and withhold judgment as I try to walk in Mike's shoes. I think it might be worth the time.

I received this book for free from my good friends over at SpeakEasy. They send me books and simply ask that I say something about them.

Mike Hamel - Blog 
Mike Hamel - Facebook
Mike Hamel - Twitter 
We Will Be Landing Shortly - Amazon
We Will Be Landing Shortly - Goodreads


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

You Mean I Can't Do Both?

I shared this with my teens lately. Make no mistake about it. Teaching on the hard sayings of Jesus means grappling with those hard sayings myself. 

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”
The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
 ~Luke 9:57-62
It is interesting to me how we respond to the words of Jesus. I think Christians like to say Jesus was a wild man who said audacious things to people. But when asked to interpret what He said, we often look to soften it up.

So we have to look at these conversations and figure out what was being said.

First, look at the previous conversation. A guy comes up to Jesus and tells Him he is willing to follow Jesus where He goes. What is Jesus’ response? It appears like Jesus tries to talk the guy out of it. “Yeah, well….think it through…there’s no posh hotel stays where I’m headed. No pillows with mints on them.”

Now we have this second conversation where Jesus invites a guy to follow Him. The guy asks to first bury his father. This seems like a reasonable request. As one who has buried his dad, I have to tell you there was no other place I would have been at that moment. But maybe I should have?

There’s two ways to interpret what this guy said. Either his dad had just died and he was asking Jesus for a few days to bury his dad. Or he may have been saying he wanted to stay at home until his aging father passed away. Then he would be able to turn his focus from family to other things. So we have these two options, one which makes Jesus sound like less of a jerk. “Oh, your dad just died? Suck it up and come with me!”

I know we live in a culture that tries so hard to do everything and be everywhere. We see friends who try to be a part of every club, while playing 3 sports each season. I’ve had teens ask me to change youth trips to accommodate their sports schedule. Americans want to be able to eat anything while still being healthy, go to college from home, be able to say anything they want on FB while still having hundreds of friends. We like Spotify so we can listen to anything at anytime. We shop for high quality while desiring low prices. We eat at buffets so we can get a taste of everything without having to order just one entrĂ©e.

What if Jesus, despite our sensitive sensibilities is asking us just to make one difficult decision? What if, despite our best efforts to please everybody and experience everything, we’re being asked to make a choice?

You can choose to focus on this matter of your personal life. Or you can choose to follow Jesus.

Go ahead. Choose.

Monday, January 12, 2015


It was an interesting read this past December. My daily reading in the Bible had me in 2 Chronicles. In case you're unfamiliar, 2 Chronicles, much like 1 Chronicles, or 1 & 2 Kings, gives us glimpses into the lives of Israel's and Judah's kings.

Good, bad, short rule or long, we're given relatively brief stories when one considers these guys lived for 40 years or more.

What we have is their legacy. It's an elongated obituary.

Having read their stories, I didn't think much of it until I came across an article in USA Today, where they were recounting the many people we lost in 2014. The actors and actresses, the athletes, the politicians and others who had contributed something considered worthy to our society. The list was interesting enough. It included names I recognized and names I did not recognize.

What struck me was how short the whole article was. I imagine it was the standard length for a newspaper article, but considering the many names that were included, so much more could have been written. Each name represented a life. Each life was so much more than the obvious contributions that were mentioned. Obviously each name, each life, was given more due at the time of their passing, around friends and family members who knew each person on a deeper level.

But to think that each person's life could be summed up in a few sentences made me pause. Much like the legacy of kings listed in the Old Testament books, so much more could be written. While some kings only lived short lives, many ruled for 40 or more years. Surely they did more than the good or evil that was mentioned. Surely they accomplished more than building walls, fighting battles and tearing down (or building up) idols. Aren't we told we often have no idea what kind of impact we are making on others? Most of won't know until much later in life, if ever at all.

The same must have been true for those kings. And for those actors, actresses, athletes, politicians and others who died in 2014.

But wait, there's more.

The names listed in that USA Today article only represent a small percentage of the people who died last year. The kings chronicled in the pages of the Bible only represent a small number of the Jewish people of Israel and Judah who lived during these up and down times. What about them? What about their stories?

Maybe you lost someone last year as well. It is unlikely their story saw national headlines. I'm not saying anything about their worth here, just assuming the percentages. Were the stories of the untold masses less worthy of being told. Perhaps from a grand historical perspective, but the lives they lived, the choices they made, had an impact on the people around them. For better or worse, countless others knew the difference made by the people we have never heard of. Whether their stories would be age-turners or snooze fests is not for us to decide here.

The point is that, while steeped in insignificance, a legacy was left behind to be remembered by those who knew each of them. The same is true for each of you. No matter the level of grand impact you are making on this world, your story does matter. It might never be told in a way that makes the silver screen or an epic biography, but nevertheless, your story will be lived out. Your impact, large or small, will be made. People around you, in positive or negative ways, will be changed because of you.

Your story may not be highlighted where many will read, but if it helps, there's space below to comment and share. I'm told it's what friends do. I believe it will make a difference.