Monday, August 29, 2016

As the Deer Strains to Get One Last Drop of Water Before it Dies

Image result for deer desperate for water

I used Psalm 42:1-2 as a call to worship yesterday, but as I said then, it wasn't the whole story. The first 2 verses might seem like a nice scripture to put on a pillow, or a painting with a deer in a forest, to simply indicate we love being with God.

But if you read the rest of Psalm 42, this is written by a guy who has felt abandoned by God and longs desperately to be in His presence.

Better than picturing a deer, peacefully roaming the forest, we might rather picture a critically wounded person reaching out for one last grasp towards life.

He recalls a time when he was happy, singing praises to God. He was with all of his people, singing, dancing and generally having a great time. Now, in verse 5, he asks his soul 'why are you so downcast?' One can almost hear the painful mock, as he knows why he is disturbed.

Unlike many who abandon any hope to be found in God, this guy reminds himself that hope is eternally to be placed in God. Though the times are tough, and God is seemingly silent, he recalls the moment when the real God felt as much, and he refuses any other solution to his problems.

I'm not accusing anyone of taking Psalm 42:1-2 out of context here. But the picture of a deer drinking at a stream does not match the tone of this song writer. An emaciated deer straining to get even a drop of water to bring some small relief to his parched mouth and throat would not look all that great hanging up in our living rooms and church lobbies. Then again, neither would accurate portrayals of the Genesis account of the flood.

Truth is begging to be told. The truth is there is no hope outside of God and we should all be desperate to meet with God every single chance we get.

'When can I go and meet with God?' If only that were a question more people were asking and eagerly seeking an answer to.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Born to Be Together

I couldn't believe it, even as it was happening. We bounced a rubber ball against a bell for an hour.

Before you scoff, I believe you've been there yourself. Maybe it was before Netflix was a thing, and there were no Olympics to watch. Perhaps you were bored beyond belief. But all of the sudden you found yourself doing something that should be simple over and over again. Add a twist, and you suddenly find yourself challenged to do something admittedly less than spectacular.

I doubt Whaley Ball will ever find its' way into the Olympics. (The game is named after the person at camp whose memorial bell we were using to play the game. Yes, we played on a memorial bell.) I also don't see myself training to get better. But on that last night at camp, teens and leaders worked together to bounce a small rubber ball against a bell.

How was this challenging? We couldn't let the ball drop to the ground. And we had to throw the ball again while the sound of the bell still rung.

Soon 15 people were unified to go completely around the circle. We spanned a few decades in age, but in that moment, age didn't matter. We were each invested and one of us wanted to be the person that kept us all from failure.

On that night, I chalked up the entertainment value to tired leaders and campers after a long week at camp. Only the craving of ice cream tore us away from this activity. Otherwise, we might still be playing.

Now that I've had time to consider it more, I think I know why we all were so invested. There was a challenge to be overcome (bounce the ball to everyone at least once without the ball being dropped). It was cooperative. It was team. It was engaging.

It was harder than it looked and our ultimate success depended on everyone doing their part.

Does that sound similar to anything you're involved in? A sports team? A business? A church? A ministry? A family? None of these are successful in isolation. For even those who compete in solo sporting events work with a trainer.

Every area of my life depends on someone else. And the success of any of it depends on Someone, who initially defined solitude as not good. (Genesis 2:18)

So look around. Who are you depending on? Who is depending on you? Perhaps it's time to lift your head up, Maybe someone around you needs encouragement. Forgiveness may need to be offered...and accepted.

Stop thinking just about yourself. We were born to be together.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Word of Encouragement to Parents of Teens

There's something that I have never fully come to grips with in youth ministry. It's how there don't seem to be enough opportunities to eat pizza.

Just kidding.

It's parents. Sort of.... Let me explain.

When I was a teenager, I was in church whenever the doors were open. Actually, my parents were such sticklers for time management, that I was often there even when the doors were not yet opened, because we would beat the pastor there.

Eventually, my parents received keys to the church. Now, instead of simply waiting for others, we could be useful and set up chairs or tables for whatever event was about to happen. Thanks mom and dad!

Now, don't get me wrong. I wasn't rebelling against anybody and not wanting to go to church. I had friends there and I liked my youth pastor and I wanted to be there, generally speaking. But I also knew that it didn't really matter what I wanted  to do. Unless I was sick, I would be in church.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I am now the youth pastor. And as cool as all my teens obviously find me, they still find reasons to miss church activities. On occasion, I've checked in with parents to find out what's going on.

Please understand, from this point forward, any resemblance between what I am writing and any conversations I may have had with you as a parent is purely coincidental. Any names have been changed to protect the guilty and all that....

When I have asked parents what I can do to attract their teens back to youth group (or sometimes Sunday morning services) I'm often met with one of the following;

  • I told them they should go.
  • They were sleeping when I left.
  • He knows we want him to be an active part.
  • Is that something you do every Sunday?
If you're still reading and not feeling judged, let me offer a couple pieces of advice wisdom encouragement.

1. They still need you to parent.

Imagine any response you would have for your teen not being in church. Now imagine using that reason when they were a baby. Or a 5-year old. It wouldn't happen. 

We don't leave decisions like this to little children because it's not their role. If it were, my wife and I, even in ministry, might not have had our kids with us ever in church. 

Every parenting book teaches that kids need boundaries. When our kids were young, we kept regular meal times, precise bedtimes, and had rituals for almost every part of every day. As they got older, we became a bit less rigid, but we are still filled with routines. 

2. Your role as parent comes with an expectation.

It's not an expectation from your teens. It's not the comparison game from other parents and it's not even the perceptions of any youth pastor. 

It's an expectation from God. 

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. ~Deuteronomy 11:18-21
If you believe in God and have a relationship with Him that means anything at all to you, then pass along the importance to your children.

Because it's important.
Because it's commanded.
Because it comes with a promise.

Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it. ~Proverbs 22:6

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Atonement of God

The Atonement of God; Building Your Theology on a Crucivision of God is the latest book I have read. Written by J.D. Myers, it is about a new way to view the crucifixion of Christ, which Myers argues is actually a very old way to view things.

Starting out by arguing why the Penal Substitution theory is incomplete, Myers presents to us the Nonviolent view of atonement. For the sake of space here, I will drastically over simplify things this way; the nonviolent view of atonement says that God did not will Jesus to the cross, but we humans did. God then used the sacrifice to defeat sin and death, but apparently this was not necessary for forgiveness, since God had already given us that.

The theory is needed, of course, to help us make sense of a God who is love but also demands justice. At least, this is what J.D. Myers argues.  The book is set up with alternative views of the atonement, with some discussions, some very important discussions, left out, ostensibly for other books to be written at later times.

Some of his arguments seem to be summed up as 'I like this theory over that interpretation, so it must be correct.'

In discussing the wrath of God, a problematic notion to the nonviolent view of the atonement, he theorizes Paul using a technique of writing that uses a second voice in the writing for Paul to argue against. While Paul does indeed use this technique in some very obvious ways; for instance, when he says things like, 'some could say' or 'it has been said', J.D. Myers seems to lump any difficult verse into the mouth of the fictional person Paul is arguing against.

It is a dangerous game, especially when discussing foundational truths in scripture, to argue that all the difficult verses for us to understand are simply straw men to be knocked down.

I would have preferred, in a book discussing scripture, to see more verses printed out and parsed, than to simply have verses listed as backing up the authors theories.

Much liberty is taken in coming up with what certain Biblical stories meant and what verses actually mean. When all of those liberties grate against traditional views of the Bible, as well as a plain reading of scripture, I start to grow very concerned about what I am reading. This, of course, is not a bad thing in itself, as we should always be thoughtful Christians, knowing what we believe and why we believe it.

This book does get one very big truth correct. What we believe will impact how we live.

I was given this book by my friends at SpeakEasy. They give me books and ask that I review. If you like to see more information about this book, check out the links below.

Book site:
Reviews and Excerpts from The Atonement of God
The Atonement of God on Facebook
Jeremy Myers on Twitter
The Atonement of God on Amazon:


Monday, August 8, 2016

Is That a 3-Point Sermon My Kids Hear?

I turned 40 over a year ago. I'll give you a moment to process that. I know you're not supposed to ask a youth pastor how old he is, but I offered.

Why is that significant? Except for the increasing pain in my knees, it's not. Really. I think I handled turning 40 better than I did turning 30. Don't ask me why. The best I can venture is that by the time I reached 40, I understood I was viewed as older by the teens I work with and I simply stopped caring what other people thought.

I feel good. Honestly. The worst part is increasing the exercise to compensate for the amount of cookies I eat. One might wonder why I don't just eat less cookies, but I don't really have time for people who ask questions like that.

Here is what has changed. I now have 2 of my own children who are part of my youth ministry. So when other teens look at me and marvel that I'm old enough to be their dad, they're not wrong. In fact, I'm older than some of their parents.

One might assume that when you double as parent and youth pastor, your teenage kids must love you, help you invent new games and your sides all hurt from all the laughter that is had.

You might also assume that having family devotions are automatic and easy. But you would be assuming way too much.

Do you know those teachable moments that all the great parenting advice authors have told you to look for with your kids? I do. I've even encouraged other parents to take advantage of those moments, only to have those parents come back and tell me their kids saw it as a lecture. They have assumed my family would be different.

It's not. My kids don't refer to those teachable moments as lectures, however. They refer to them as sermons. Pastor's got to preach! I get the same eye rolls, the same long sighs and the same exasperated and held out 'Daaaaad!'

Sermons or lectures. I'm sure my kids find themselves humorous when referring to my shared wisdom as sermons when collectively whining with their friends. And that's fine.

But what is a parent to do?

1. Look for the teachable moments anyway.

That's right. Do it anyway. Bore them if you have to, but don't let the moments pass by when your child can learn something from you. You didn't let them run with knives (or in traffic) when they were younger, despite how much they tried to buck the system.

You kept regular bedtimes and forced them to go to school and (hopefully) church and made them eat their vegetables. They very likely whined about all of it at some point. So why did you do it? Because you're a parent. And God has tasked parents with passing on wisdom from one generation to the next.

So, don't stop now. I'm not saying you should prepare a 3-point sermon teachable moment every single day, but don't let the moments pass you by when you can share truth.

2. Don't assume the eye rolls mean they aren't listening.

The eye rolls, the sighs, the crossed's all part of their job, since, as teenagers, they clearly know better than you. Hopefully you understand sarcasm.

I'm not saying you should simply accept disrespectful attitudes, but don't let their mannerisms keep you from fulfilling your role. Assume they are listening and be pleasantly surprised when they reflect that is something they say, or in a correct action they live out.

Besides, as I tell my kids all the time; we do the right thing for the right reason. Parenting is our role. Pretending to be above it all is theirs.

I'd offer a third point, but I wouldn't want you to think of this as a sermon.

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Drivel

Hey Rick, remember when you used to post more than just book reviews to your blog?


So, what about that? Are you ever going to do that again?


Are you ever going to blog an original thought again, or are you simply going to review other people's thoughts for us?

When you put it like that, it sounds kind of harsh.

It's the voices in your head, so you should be used to that by now.

Good point.

So, stop avoiding the question. Are we ever going to see you blog regularly again?

This question leaves so much room for disappointment. In my head, there are 3 groups out there.

  1. Those who fear I'll say no and be faced with a blogosphere without my drivel.
  2. Those who are scared I'll say yes and be faced with reading more of my drivel. 
  3. Those who wonder if a 'yes' from me is only temporary.
So I am going to answer with a maybe. I intend to. I have some more thoughts to inflict on share with the world. But if you're looking for a daily thought, I'll tell you as I tell my kids all summer. I have this thing called a full time job

I usually say that when I've come home for lunch and am ready to go back when one of them, usually still with bed head, asks where I'm going. 

So be on the lookout for some new thoughts. But don't expect that I've become any more significant than the last time I was regularly blogging.