Friday, December 29, 2017

2017, The Year I Never Expected

Like so many people, I end each year thinking about the year that was, and perhaps even resolving how I want the new year to go. But I guarantee you, no matter how much time I put into thinking last December, I never could have guessed how 2017 was going to go.

For starters, here's a couple of sentences I never thought I would speak.

  • I’m dropping the kids off at youth group. 
  • I’m ok being without a job for a few months. 

Both sentences go together, because as many of you know, I told the church I had youth pastored at for 15 years that God was telling me it was time to go.

Now I know that when someone invokes the voice of God into a decision, it can sound like they're passing the blame onto the Deity. After all, who's going to argue with the voice of the Lord? I imagine people largely fall into 2 categories on this matter.

Group #1 imagines the youth pastor just wants a change, but doesn't want people to dislike him for making the choice to leave.

Group #2 wonders when the youth pastor started hearing the voice of God.

For group #1, all I can offer is the invitation to walk where my family walked this year and then ask yourself if you'd make that choice...willingly. For group #2, I sometimes wondered the same thing. But the results can only be explained as being of God. For I never dreamed up the results.

To describe the results, let me offer you a few numbers.

3. Number of months I went without a job. When I did rejoin the workforce, it was in the highly lucrative position as a substitute teacher. I'm not complaining, since I was happy to be getting paid at all, but whatever we're paying teachers needs to be doubled immediately. Pro athletes should be told they can play games for a living, but the revenue goes to those investing in the next generation.

40. Over 40 actually. That's the number of churches I looked at, interviewed at, or had some level of interaction with, looking for a job. I really thought I was going to remain in youth ministry.

1. My family assumed we were moving. We really did. I applied far and wide. I told God I was willing to go wherever. When the job at Grace College came my way, I laughed because it was as if God was answering, 'I want you across the street.' That's right, my new job is 1 block away from the church we were at for 15 years.

My family learned a lot about trusting God this year. We used the word adventure a lot, because we knew, whatever happened, it would be God leading us. We learned about contentment, understanding that Clancy's Chips, a Doritos off-brand, do not taste quite the same, but get the job done.

We are keeping our hearts and minds open. We understand that it would be easy for us to assume that we can take our lives back over, because God did some huge things this year. But when one sees God work, in so many miraculous ways, as we have seen Him work in 2017, all we should do is live in thankful response and prepare for the next adventure.

Bring on 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

You Are The Beloved

Are there any other readers out there like me? Do you like to dog-ear pages and underline the quotes that move you? Or, if you're reading with tech, highlight and bookmark the pages that cause you to think?

There have been certain books I've read, where I have more page corners flipped over than not. Don't get me started on what I do with all those highlighted passages and underlined quotes. I'm working on a system, but it's kind of like taking sermon notes. I can always go back, plus I pay better attention when I'm intentionally listening for stuff to jot down.

If you read like me, and are a fan of Henri Nouwen, there is a book where you can leave all the pages pristine, because every page is like a highlighted quote. Gabrielle Earnshaw has compiled and edited quotes from all of Nouwen's classics, giving us You Are The Beloved; Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living.
In the introduction she notes, "Henri had a lifelong struggle with loneliness and anxiety." Ultimately, his personal struggles led to his singular writing focus, one in which the reader understood that God loved him before and without any personal effort.

So far I have read about a month of daily readings. I use them to begin my day with a proper focus, often sharing the quotes with my family, to share the wealth of love in Henri's writings.

I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books. They don't tell me I have to say nice things, but the good books they offer make that easy to do. If you'd like to read more information about this book, Henri, or grab a copy for yourself, use the links below.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

I Never Saw This Coming, Again?

Awhile ago I posted news about a new job my wife had attained, one which I never saw coming. My wife works at a church we had known about for years. She is loving it and, I'm told, they are loving her. I still struggle to find a word better than perfect to describe my wife in this Children's Ministry role.

Not long after, I admitted I still had questions. Now that I knew we would not be moving (a prayer, by the way, my children all admitted praying) and I realized I could look for something local and long-term, the question was simple. What would I find to do?

My search continued. My prayers continued to fill God's ears. That God was listening, I have no doubt.

I filled my time as a substitute teacher. I found myself in many different schools, meeting many different people. As much fun as it was, and it was (most of the time), I knew substitute teaching could not be a long-term answer for the needs of my family. Although it was nice to see checks coming with my name on them, I continued to look elsewhere.

A chance conversation with a friend, an update to the resume (again!) and I found myself interviewing for a marketing job at Grace College, a local Christian college here in Winona Lake.

When I was offered the job as Special Projects Coordinator, I think I might have actually visualized my head exploding, all while maintaining whatever appearance of cool I have ever managed. In case you're wondering what that title means, I believe it is an even mix of being the social media guy and doing whatever else they ask me to do.

~Can I start next week? Why yes, yes I can!

So, today, I begin this new adventure, actually working across the street from my previous employ. I have little idea where this adventure will take my family. But, given the year we have experienced, I am not afraid.

I am prepared to jump into this new challenge, embracing, by faith, everything God has for me. And, in case you're, I never saw this coming either. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Manna From Heaven

We often criticize the Israelites for being unfaithful while wandering in the desert, always with sinful attitudes, even while daily receiving miraculous food from Heaven. How could they be so blind? How could they be so stupid?

Didn’t they realize they were receiving daily blessings from God? Didn’t they understand that, every single day, God was proving to them that He thought of them, remembered them, and was providing for them?

Every. Single. Day.

Of course, we could never be so blind. That is, unless we put ourselves in their shoes. Then we might not be so quick to judge. We are told they needed to go out and get the amount of food they needed for that day. 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.” ~Exodus 16:4-5
If we imagine what was going in their heads, it might help us to realize what we have in common with them.

I wrote a while ago of how God provided a job for my wife. This was a job that was perfect for her, and continues to be a blessing, a job that came along at just the right time, in a way where it was clear to us that it was of God.

But I also acknowledged that it left me wondering what God has for me. While I wait (and waiting does involve searching) I have been substitute teaching. This isn’t a long term career, but the need in our schools is such that I am able to work every day.

The system is run through a computer program, where I need to go and check, every day, to find out where the need is. I have taught first grade, which left me whimpering in a corner. More often I have taught high school students, which sometimes leaves them whimpering in a corner.

All the while I have been asking God what He intends for me. I have been praying to God that He would provide work for me. All too often, I have overlooked the miraculous daily manna, of which I am holding in my hand.

How could the Israelites have been unfaithful in the midst of God working among them? How can I?

How can we? The realization that God is always in our midst, always at work around us, always taking care of us, is one that should move us to worship Him daily, and perhaps be a bit less judgmental about those who have gone before us.

If you read straight through the Bible, it can be very easy to forget about the manna from Heaven after you leave the middle of Exodus. But have you ever considered when the manna stopped?

While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan. ~Joshua 5:10-12
The manna fell for 40 years! God never forgets His promises to take care of His children. We may forget. We may get busy in our adventures. We may start to concern ourselves with other things. But God is always faithful.

I know substitute teaching will not be my 20 year career. But I hope to walk into each school I am assigned, assured of Who has led me to this point in my life, assured that God has provided this day's work for me, and willing to be a conduit of God’s blessing to others.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Last Arrow

Since leaving the youth ministry position I had held for 15 years, jumping into a still unknown future, I have been purposeful about some of the books I have picked up.

I realized that this season, where I would get to choose what to read and focus on, might not come again for some time. In the words of a pastor, it might be the sabbatical no church was going to give me.

So I chose a book on purpose. I chose a book on listening for God’s voice. And my latest read is about measuring success by making choices differently than the average person might.

The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus is that and more. The subtitle, Save Nothing For The Next Life, gives you a peek into the direction McManus would take his reader.

Using the short story of Elisha and King Jehoash in 2 Kings 13. If you’re not familiar, Jehoash is king of Israel and he is in trouble. Going to Elisha for help, the unique prophet asks the king to strike the ground with a quiver if arrows. The kings does so, striking the ground 3 times. Elisha is angered, saying only partial victory will come because he did not continue striking the ground.

There can be much that we learn from this story, just as with all scripture, but McManus uses this as a catalyst of encouragement for us.

There are choices we each make, based on fear or habit or any other weakness, which leave us living lives we either didn’t want or didn’t expect.

Change how you make choices and you change the outcome of your life. From knowing our purpose to choosing who we surrender under ourselves with, McManus tells story after story of people who discovered the fullness of what God wanted to offer them by choosing to chase after all that God has to offer.

I received The Last Arrow from my good friends at Waterbrook Multnomah. They ask that I tell people what I think.

What I think is that if more people, myself included, would take encouragement like this to heart, we would achieve more than we could possibly imagine. Personally, I have never before been at such a crossroads. But instead of fear, I have only hope and optimism for what God is preparing me for.

You can find out more about the book here;

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Eye Roll and the Exasperated Exhale

I have a fool proof system which tells me when I am being annoying. It’s my teenage daughter. Level one annoyances might merit a smirk from her. Level two gets the eye roll. But when I am full on annoying I get the eye roll plus a loud “Oh my goo-ood-ness." The goodness is exaggerated and elongated to include more syllables than the word actually contains, so there is no confusion on my part. 

As her dad, I understand there is a balance of being a parent that cares what she thinks and being a parent that knows she'l thank me later. But there is also another continuum, where as an inquisitive mind, I stir the pot and see how much I can push her before I start to get eye rolls from her mom. I've had plenty of time to learn the non-verbal communication system from the wife.

"Oh my goodness" doesn’t just come out when I’m an annoyance. It comes out whenever the teenage daughter is annoyed by anything, which could be dumb drivers who chose to leave their house 5 minutes before we left our house. It could also be something as mundane as her siblings choosing to exhale too loudly. Silly mouth breathers!

This communication system of my teen daughter may even come out at times of real injustice. But much like the boy who cried wolf, I tend to not hear her cries of exasperation anymore. (Don't tell her. She still thinks I hang on every word.)

The truth is, this teen girl is pretty special to me. I do hear her heart. I even agree with many of the things she finds unjust. Where we disagree are my judgments. When she seems surprised, I remind her that I would hold some more of her opinions if her opinions were logical. Aaand there's the eye roll.

But she’s not the only one I can see rolling eyes and exhaling exasperation. I can see it in God as He scolds the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah. What follows is something I believe should be required reading for every Christian who has gotten too comfortable playing church, something I imagine God finds annoying.

10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
16 Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
17 Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
~Isaiah 1:10-17

Monday, October 23, 2017

Did You Hear That?

Oftentimes it’s the right thing at the right moment that sets us forward on the right path.

I’ve detailed for you the many emotions, struggles, and answered prayers as my wife and I stepped out in faith this past year.

I have watched God work in personal ways that defy logic, leaving me sharing stories that, admittedly, sound ridiculous.

When I ask God, on those long days, how I have come to find myself substitute teaching, it doesn’t take long to recall the moments where I have definitively seen God directing our footsteps.

Sometimes the right thing is a right book. Recently I read Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God, by Mark Batterson.

When I read books, I mark up the pages with quotes I want to be able to find again. Then I turn the corner of the page for easy access. I have turned the corner of so many pages in Whisper that I probably should have stopped.

Batterson gives us 7 love languages that God uses to speak to us; God's Word, Desires, Doors, Dreams, People, Promptings, Pain.

I can honestly say I have heard God’s Whisper in each of these languages in the past year. So what makes this book so helpful?

It is confirmation of a lot of what I have heard from God during this time of transition. It is also a reminder of how God may choose to communicate with me in the future.

There are so many great quotes I could share to encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Batterson introduces the entire book by reminding us that in order for a language to be communicated effectively, our hearing needs to be working. He admits that so many people do not hear from God, not because God isn’t talking to us, but because we aren’t listening. So this book is a how-to in hearing God’s voice. And Mark readily admits we may find ourselves doing crazy things when we start obeying God’s whispers. But as he says;

Those who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music. 

I was given a copy of this book by my good friends at Blogging for Books. They give me books and ask that I say something about them. You can click the following for more information.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Things I Have Learned Substitute Teaching

I've been substitute teaching for a few weeks. I have made myself available to sub for all ages, K-12. Here a few things I've learned;
  • Velcro should be mandatory for first graders.
  • Middle schoolers will change their perspective when you tell them gym is better than math. Good point, teacher!
  • High schoolers want a sub that is chill. I believe the working definition of chill is, someone who will let me text my friends instead of working on the assignment left by the teacher.
  • Seriously, Velcro.
  • Younger kids are ready to run, even before they know the rules.
  • 4th graders can't seem to have enough detail, no matter how simple the game. 
Me: Let's play tag.
Them: What if an alien comes down while I am tagging a person, and the alien abducts that person, are they still it?
  • A raised hand, in elementary school, doesn't mean they have a question. It probably means they want to answer the next question. Or it means they want to inform me how their regular teacher does things differently than I am currently doing them. "That's great, Patrice*. Nobody asked for your opinion."
Can I take this slightly sarcastic list on a bit of a serious note? I have come across several lesson plans which include a list of the kids I may expect to have trouble with. And sometimes you can smell the dysfunction on a kid before they ever open their mouth.

But I have not (yet) come across a student that I found unmanageable. Granted, I only have to deal with them for a day, possibly 2. However, I have found that if we treat students like humans, and less like cyborgs, they tend to respond.

No, I have not managed a classroom for 20 years, so write me off as an optimistic novice if you prefer, but I have dealt with people for 20 years in a church setting. Don't get the mistaken idea that people always show up with their 'Sunday Best' behavior. People are, as God puts it, sinful. They are messed up.

But if we treat people like humans, most problems can be solved without demeaning one another.

Many classrooms have a discipline system in place. Again, I understand a justice system is needed to maintain order. If students believe there are no consequences, then chaos will ensue. So, by all means, don't let me stop you from using your justice system.

But if you seem surprised when no tokens were taken away, no clips were moved down, no class punishments were given, it might possibly be that I understand my role to be greater than simply continuing your work.

While I will commit to getting as much of your lesson plan accomplished as I can, understand that I might be the break you and that kid need from each other. Rather than begin his day with two strikes, because his name was written down as a warning, or because Patrice*, the helpful student will inform me, perhaps I can offer a second chance for that student to engage. Even if only for a day.

Subbing may not be the ideal. For me, it may not be long term. (Probably because of Patrice*.) But I am committed to loving each person I come across with my actions and words.

*Names have been changed to protect the annoying.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Teen's Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices

Listen, there's no getting around this. There's no hoping this is just a phase. There's no going back.

This is the new normal.

Teens are being raised in a technologically advanced world, one where we may one day be subservient to the machines we are creating.

But, forgetting the scary dystopian future you may be imagining, the reality is that all of us are a part of a mobile world. One which loves their social media. The statistics tell us we are using our mobile devices a crazy 9 hours every single day. Every. Single. Day.

This is where Jonathan McKee comes in. Here is a man who spends his time doing the research, shining a light on the realities that are present for parents raising teenagers. Oh, but he does waaay more than that.

He breaks down the numbers and gives us hope that not all is lost. Because it isn't. Jonathan continues to provide resources which help us to pause, take a deep breath, and figure out how we want to utilize this technology in our own families. That's what he's done with his latest book, The Teen's Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices.

This book sets up parents and teenagers to have a conversation. Very early on, he writes, "I'm not going to tell you what to do. You're the one who has to make these choices." He then provides 21 tips for teenagers in making the best use of the tech in their pocket.

But here's the greatest part of what McKee has done for us. He's not giving us tips on how to text hands-free or how to take the best pictures. He's giving us solid, Biblical advice on how to approach the tech we are already using. And he does so in a way that is not preachy or judgmental.

What he's really pointing out to teens is how to live, because these tips are all very relatable. He touches on topics like thinking before you post, or text, or send a picture you'll regret. He warns of the dangers of talking online with people we don't know in real life. He hits the heart matters when he discusses how we deal with online criticism, or questions what we allow our ears to hear and our eyes to see.

He does all of this, while sprinkling in scripture to remind us of the values we should be living out in every area of our lives.

I have two teenagers of my own, and this is the stuff that can very quickly becomes things we argue about. Jonathan has provided a very conversational tool, even offering discussion questions with each chapter.

Do you deal with teenagers in any setting? Then this is a resource you should invest in. You can find it on his website or on Amazon. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Order & Continuity

These days I am a substitute teacher. Given that I am wanting to work as much as possible I have made myself available for every elementary, middle and high school in our area.

Some people, forgetting that I have loved being a youth pastor for half my life, cringe at the idea of subbing for middle and high school.  But I know teens to be awesome people.

I digress. Let me tell you what I enjoy about being a substitute teacher. Variety. In one week I taught middle school p.e., a first grade class and a fourth grade class. If a sub doesn’t like first graders, just hold on for a day. It’ll change tomorrow.

Variety means meeting lots of people and getting to touch the lives of many children. Maybe they struggle with their regular teacher and you can be a breath of grace filled air.

On the other hand, I have no idea what to expect each day as I get up. Will the class be full of basically good kids or a room filled with untamed mutants? Will I find myself dealing with little children who may cry because I did things differently than their regular teacher? Or will I find myself crying because of what I found the students were capable of doing.

Variety is not something we always enjoy. It used to be that I had a weekly schedule I could depend on. I knew, as much as life would allow it, what was on the docket for each day. Yes, even in the world of ministry.

I find myself wandering out of school for another day, asking questions like;

  • Where do I need to go?
  • What day is it?
  • Do I have a child of my own that needs a ride somewhere?
  • Where am I?
  • Who am I today?
It's almost like a Hitchcock movie where I awake from a coma and try to figure out what just happened. How did I find myself here?

Nevertheless, I find myself in these various situations, wondering how I have found myself at this point. As a guy who generally enjoys order, having a specific place on my desk for each item, this element of unknown is very different...and stretching.

If people generally enjoy having some control over their own lives, then I am much like the students in the schools I am working at each day. Someone tells me where to go (not a new experience for me). Someone informs me what I should be doing. And there are plenty of people looking over my shoulder.

Perhaps this is where God wants me right now.  When things are ordered, I don’t look to Him as much as I should. When things are as I believe they should be, I don’t have a need to trust.

So will today find me reading form picture books in classrooms splattered with lots of color and motivational posters? Or will I find myself in a classroom that looks forgotten, filled with students jaded far before their time? Perhaps I will hit the jackpot of substitute assignments and be able to dress as a gym teacher.

No matter, I will remember to look to God who orders my days and sets my path. Easily said. But only faithfully done. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

It's So Quiet I Can Hear Myself Think


It's been so quiet.

For someone who has been in youth ministry for almost 20 years, quiet is not something I am accustomed to. Not at work and not even at home. Because, oh yeah, my own children are exceptional at being loud. Even when I am alone with just one of them, I sometimes have to remind them that I'm not deaf yet....despite growing up on 80's rock.

Low-talkers my family is not.

So you'll forgive me if I tell you that peace and quiet is not something I have experienced a lot of. And now that it has been exceptionally quiet, I'll admit I'm not sure it's always peaceful.

See, I ask a lot of questions in conversations. This is a habit people down't always admire in me. Just ask my teenage daughter, who is simply trying to tell me a little story. But I want the details! Which friend made the comment? What did their face look like when they said that? Where were you standing?

It's also how I read the Bible. I read these stories and I want to know what happens in between the verses. You know, what are the little details in between the details they give us? Because sometimes those little details can actually be big details.

I remain in the middle of this journey with God, much like each one of you. My jobless summer adventure continues. It's not that I haven't seen God work. In some amazing ways even. Don't get me wrong. I am very thankful for how God has provided and I have seen Him getting stuff done.

And yet...

It's been so quiet I can hear myself think. That's not a complaint you hear from very many fathers. But I have had time and space to think. And ask questions.

Why now?
Why this adventure?
Why me?
Why reveal only part of the plan at a time?

I introspect, with one eye on what I can learn from this entire process, and one eye on the finish line. And I don't even mean the super spiritual finish line, as if I've finished the race. As if!

I want to spy the line that starts the next part of my life. I want to see this adventure end.

But perhaps that is part of my problem. If I see this particular adventure end, will I come to believe that I have learned that lesson and can move on? Will I set these lessons aside, like a book I've just finished, only to select the next reading material, forgetting what I've just read.

God knows me best and He knows the potential for all of that to happen. Perhaps God has me right where He wants me. Perhaps it's quiet so I can learn the lesson. Maybe even until I learn the lesson.

I'm listening God.

So the quiet continues.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Rick Built Something?

It's true, we can find ourselves doing the wrong thing.

As I have been in the midst of searching for what's next, I have looked at various opportunities for work and tried to imagine myself doing those things for 40+ hours a week, for the next several years. Because while every job might not be comparable to a day at an amusement park, it beats searching for a job.

I asked myself what a youth pastor does when he's no longer vocationally pastoring youth. How do the skills of a pastor translate to a world outside Sunday morning?

One such opportunity, a very temporary one, seemed to garner attention from those who know me. They seemed concerned, though not necessarily for me. One such friend was talking with my wife, heard the word construction and immediately asked why anyone would let me build something. To be fair, it's a good question, only bested by, why would anyone pay me to build something?

That's right, people heard I was doing construction and they were instantly afraid.

  • For me, how I would likely get hurt if I were allowed on any machinery. 
  • For others around me, how I would likely hurt them, again, if I were allowed on any machinery. 
  • For whatever I was building, because how could you trust the integrity of a building, knowing it was built, in part, by the same guy who came up with silly games (on a weekly basis) and enjoyed the conversational skills of middle schoolers?
Oh I get it, and fear not. I was doing more destruction, preparing the way for people with actual skill to construct. But as thankful as I was for the friend who gave me the job for a few weeks, I knew I needed something that wouldn't destroy my soul.

Obviously, I don't mean that in the spiritual sense, but we all know there are things we can see ourselves doing for 40+ hours a week and there are things which, over time, will move us to be someone other than who we are.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Looking Back, With Purpose

A lot can happen in a year. In the book of Numbers (yes, people do actually read Numbers), we find the Israelites celebrating the second Passover. That means they had been travelling in the wilderness for a year since leaving Exodus. And a lot had indeed happened;

  • They watched Pharaoh's army drown in the Red Sea.
  • They worshiped God at His holy mountain.
  • They received the 10 commandments, along with all the other details of God's Law. 
  • They built the Tabernacle, along with the Altar and all the other pieces of furniture God commanded.
  • They learned about proper sacrifices for any and every occasion.
  • They assigned the Tribe of Levi as priests and numbered every other tribe, to organize the men of fighting age.
Besides this, in Numbers 9, we learn they came and went at God's leading. The very presence of God came in a cloud that covered the Tabernacle. When it lifted and moved, so did the Israelites. When it stayed where it was, so did the people. 

We're not given any indication that the people complained about this process, but come on, it's the Israelites. Of course they complained. I can imagine people asking why they were stopped for so long. I can imagine others complaining when they had to pack up and move along. It's like a husband a wife agreeing on where to set the thermostat. Someone is going to be unhappy. 

I imagine the people getting comfortable, because that is what people do. We get accustomed to life as it is. We like knowing what to expect. It gives us a sense of control, even if it's a false sense. 

It was about a year ago that my wife and I began to hear from God that changes were coming. We had been serving at our church for quite a while. We had grown comfortable with the way things were. We had a sense of control, which, honestly, is ridiculous when you are doing God's work. 

Now we look forward, with my wife learning her new job and me still looking. But, perhaps because we live in the same town, it is also easy to look back. It occurs to me there are two kinds of looking back. The first kind is looking back and praising God for all He has done in and through your life. The second kind is looking back and asking God why He didn't just leave you where you were. 

The Israelites were on the precipice of change. In Deuteronomy 1, we read about their great failure to trust God. They saw the inhabitants of the Promised Land as an unconquerable foe. They looked back and asked God why He didn't just leave them in Egypt. They had been there over 400 years. Though it wasn't ideal, they were comfortable with the way things were. 

They should have looked back at the previous year and praised God for what He was doing in them and through them. Because they didn't, it cost them. 

15 years is a long time...change is hard. But I wouldn't change a thing. I choose to trust God for each step. I choose to look and move forward. When I do look back, it will be with purpose.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spoiler Alert

I have had some extra time to read books lately. While I allowed myself a short break into the world of fiction, I have also been reading Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer. Here's a quote:

For unlike the rest of humanity, Christians are not confined to grief responses that can never do anything but make us die a little more each day: trying so hard to act like we're not sinners, or to act like our sin is not really a big deal - at least not as bad as it seems when we're the most bummed out about it.
But, yes, it is.
It's bad. Majorly bad. 
(Emphasis mine)

If we stop to consider this, it makes sense. For those of us who live on this side of the greatest sacrifice in all of history, Jesus is like the greatest spoiler to a story where we can know the end. Yes, we're sinners. But we know Jesus came to die for our sins.

Because we know the solution from the start, we minimize the problem.

But imagine life before Jesus walked the Earth. They lived through years of offering sacrifices, attempting to live out the details of a Law they hoped would make them clean once again. But I imagine, in order to feel real hopelessness, we'd have to go back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve had a conversation with God.

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine the dread when they realized they had broken God's one rule? Picture the fear, when you realize you have disobeyed the One who made you, who gave you everything and gave you ultimate freedom, save for one rule. No wonder they hid when they heard God's voice.

But we don't live with that fear. Because on the very day we understand our sin, we are also told about the rescue. Unlike many parents, who tell their children to go wait while they think of a punishment, we are now offered both problem and solution in one moment.

If God had told me what was coming next right when He told me it was time to leave my job, I would have missed out on a lot of learning. There would have been no faith at all in that. Certainly, I had my assumptions, like another ministry position would be offered quickly. When the assumptions ended, the learning began. And thanks to God's patience with me, I'm still learning.

I had a teen in my youth ministry who, whenever I would quote from Revelation or teach about Heaven, would put his hands over his ears and cry out, 'Spoiler Alert! I haven't read the end of the book yet.' Yes, he was the senior pastor's kid, and he was joking...I think. But he knew what we all know.

Spoiler alerts can ruin the experience , which is why God takes His time revealing his solutions. So be patient and enjoy where the Author of your story takes you each day.

Monday, August 21, 2017

What Does This Mean For Me?

As I shared last week, the Nier household has been in full-on celebration mode. The Nier children have completed the first week at schools they didn't think they'd be attending. We are not moving from a house we thought for sure we'd be selling. And my wife is happily getting settled in at her new job.

Many congratulations were given (thanks, friends!) but several asked me the inevitable question.

So what does this mean for you?

Believe me, that is a question I have been asking myself since I first announced I was resigning. And since June, the question has loomed like a large cloud over every one of my days.

From certain people, I could hear the questions they were perhaps too afraid to ask out loud. Are you trained to do anything besides play with teens and work one day a week? I write that, tongue planted in cheek, but don't be fooled. I've asked it of myself. What does a guy, who has only ever wanted to be a youth pastor, do when he is no longer a youth pastor?

What does this mean for me? When I first resigned my position, people asked if I'd be looking for a senior pastor position somewhere. I scoffed and said I would never turn to the dark side (with apologies to all my senior pastor friends). I have been and remain of the mindset that youth ministry is a specialty ministry that is still very much needed. I believe we need mature (insert your own joke here) and experienced youth pastors (read: in their 40's and older) who still love teenagers enough to continue on.

I thought for sure, seeing hundreds of churches looking for youth pastors, that I would be employed in this area before the summer was over. But now we all know that didn't happen.

Now that my wife is employed (at a church), what does this mean for me? What does this mean for my own calling? Was I hearing God incorrectly? Did I misunderstand?

While I clearly have stopped looking for paid youth ministry positions around the country, I won't stop being involved in youth ministry. Every healthy youth ministry has volunteers, and as I encouraged my own volunteers through the years, what they do has incredible impact.

I said when I stepped out in faith to look for a new job, that I was practicing what I had preached. I will do the same in this area, and volunteer where I worship.

Make no mistake, I still need to find something to do during the week for someone who will trade me income for services rendered. The wife doesn't want a house-husband. I think that's mostly because I don't fold the towels properly, or something like that.

So I am still praying for what's next. I am encouraging anyone who will listen to do the same. And not just about me. There are things going on in your life.

Transitions. Questions. Direction change. A call to be involved and serve. A desire to renew connections. Perhaps even a pause to remember what makes you tick and renews your strength.

So what does this mean for you?

Monday, August 14, 2017

I Never Saw This Coming

Seven months ago, I never saw this coming. We had just told our kids that we were going on an adventure, one that began with informing the church we'd been a part of for 15 years that God was moving us elsewhere.

We told our kids that we didn't know yet where we were going, but that we would trust God to lead us where He wanted us. We acknowledged there would be difficult parts of this adventure. We knew saying goodbye to friends would be hard. My wife and I prayed about the transition and what impact it would have on our children.

There were parts of this adventure I'd have preferred not to have experienced. There were hard conversations, doubts, lots of prayer and more conversations. I've shared some of the experiences here, here and here. Actually, there's a few more, but you can find them for yourself. I wouldn't want to be accused of over-linking.

The entire time, whenever I prayed, I told God an answer would be a good thing, because He would receive the glory. Well, my friends, that day has arrived.

There were a lot of things I didn't foresee coming through this adventure.

  • I didn't know friends would bless us with gifts like they did to help us through.
  • I didn't know one friend in particular would even think to provide us some tickets to go mini putt-putt, because she knew we hadn't really done any fun excursions.
  • I didn't know I'd be blessed to spend so much time with my family. Although there were a few times Jen might have put blessed in parentheses. Apparently I can be the gift that gives too much sometimes.
  • We've played a lot of board games this summer, but we also found lots of extra time to help some friends with some projects.
  • I didn't know someone would think enough of our daughter to pay her way to a youth group trip. Where, by the way, she recommitted her life to Christ.
  • I didn't know someone would think of me and offer me money to do some demolition work.

Through all of these blessings, I searched for a youth ministry position. I worked the process and I moved at the pace of multiple churches, who seemed to be taking their sweet time, only to inform me they had chosen someone else.

And that's when it happened. Just a couple of weeks ago, an email invitation was given to apply for a job locally. Job descriptions and resumes were shared, interviews were completed, prayers were prayed and a call was received.

My wife is the new Children's Ministry Director at Mission Point Community Church (for you local readers). She starts this week.

Yeah, I never saw this coming.

Monday, July 31, 2017

That's How You Train a Toddler

Trust Me.

That was the message God gave us. Trust Me.

Anything else, God? 


I mean, God I am trusting you. I took this first step in faith. It wasn't easy. Perhaps you would like to expound further upon what you want me to do, to learn, to experience?

Nope. Just. Trust. Me.

I'm learning that asking to have more faith or trust in God is akin to asking for more patience. There's only one way to get it, and it's going to take time.

So while I am waiting, I have been reading about Moses and the Israelites in the book of Exodus. I knew this would give me both good and bad examples of how to learn to trust in God.

The Bad Example: The Israelites

In Exodus 19, we learn that their trek from Egypt to Mount Sinai had taken 'exactly two months.' Have you ever considered some of the timeline of the Israelites and their transition from Egypt to the Promised Land? Yeah, we're familiar with the fact that it ended up taking 40 years, due to their rebellion, but consider some of their actions in response to what they saw from God.

Exactly two months ago, they experienced the ten plagues. We walk around talking about this being a hot summer or a cold winter and some of us remember things like that from year to year. Had we experienced even one of the plagues, I would think that might be something that would be fresh on our minds for two months, at least.

In that same two month period, the Israelites also experienced the crossing of the Red Sea, the crushing of Pharaoh's army (in that same sea), quail being hand delivered, manna appearing on a daily basis, and (oh yeah) God leading them in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

They complained the entire time and continually questioned whether God was trying to kill them. Don't even get me started on what will happen when Moses leaves them alone for a few moments so he can meet with God. Speaking of Moses...

The Good Example: Moses

I know Moses isn't perfect, but if God was looking for someone who would be patient (most of the time), He found a winner in Moses.

Later in Exodus 19, God calls Moses up the mountain. Anyone who hikes or climbs mountains will tell you Moses doesn't get enough credit for this. We read Moses climbed the mountain as if it was just as quick and simple as pushing for a floor on an elevator. Mount Sinai was over 7,400 feet. This took some time and effort.

When Moses gets to the top, God meets Him and tells him to go back down to remind the Israelites to stay back from the mountain. Because God couldn't have given Moses that message at the base of the mountain?

Moses questions, but ultimately obeys and climbs back down the mountain. A few chapters later, God once again invites Moses to come up the mountain. We read in Exodus 24:15-18 that God covers the mountain in a cloud, which I imagine is the God-equivalent of closing an office door so you can have a private meeting.

But it says God didn't call out to Moses until he had been there seven days! Moses climbs the mountain (again!) and waits an entire week before God starts the meeting. Had this been a phone call, I might have hung up and told myself that they will call back if it's important.

Moses was content to wait on the voice of God.

Training a Toddler

If you parent a toddler, you no doubt find yourself repeating the same things over and over. Because that's what it takes to train a toddler.

Before we started this adventure, I prayed that God would make His will clear, because I wanted to be sure where He was leading us and what He was teaching us. So now when I continue to hear the one message, Trust Me, I guess I can't complain.

Because that's how you train a child.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Open My Eyes

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. ~Exodus 3:1
I have already acknowledged that it is I who must seek out God, no matter His purpose or His timing. Moses is a great example of this. He may not have intended to seek out God, but he found himself at the mountain of God. And that's when God started to move. God appears in the form of a bush that burned but didn't burn up. This intrigued Moses, and why not? But check out what happens next;
When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” ~Exodus 3:4
Do you see what's happening here? First, one had to go 'far into the wilderness' to get to the mountain of God. Too often we miss this and assume God can be accessed right around the corner. And while God is everywhere, I believe He wants us to make more effort to be where He is. But it's not just that. In verse 4, it appears that God waited to see if Moses would take the bait before calling out to him.

God had a clear mission for Moses. But before Moses would be given any direction, God waited to see if Moses was intrigued. Would Moses be watching? Would he be aware?

I am trying, during this transition between jobs, to learn whatever God wants me to learn, to grow however He wants me to grow. I want to walk clearly into the next season of life, knowing I have met with God. I want to know that the choice I make is the plan God lays out for me. I don't want to questions God's will for my life.

Did you know that while God was leading the Israelites through the desert, in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, the people still questioned His leading? In the midst of God displaying His great miraculous power, the people still questioned.

I have been praying, during my whole search for a next destination, for God to be clear in what and where He wants me next. I should have been praying that my eyes would be open to the God who is already showing Himself to me.

People have often said that if God would just make Himself obvious, they would obey Him. They would trust Him. They would put their hope in Him.

But God has seen evidence in men that that is simply not 100% true. If it wasn't true with people who plainly saw the evidence of a God, what kind of arrogance do I possess to think I would be any different?

So I will continue to journey, 'far into the wilderness', in order to meet with God. I will trust that He is in control of the details. And I will have one heck of a testimony to share on the other side.

Monday, July 17, 2017

On the Job Training

I would like some on-the-job training. This, of course, requires a job, which I don't currently have. It wouldn't even have to be that difficult. Hire me as your youth pastor. Show me the youth room. Introduce me to a few teens. I'll take it from there. 

And if God has some more lessons to teach me, He could certainly feel free to do so. Train me up while I am on the job. This makes sense to me, because then I would be providing for my family once again, our future would be more certain (certainly more than it is right now) and I could be passing along those lessons to any who would listen (or read, like you fine people!).

Why couldn't God do that? Maybe because He isn't as concerned with how my family will be taken care of as I am. Sounds scandalous, right? Did this guy just try to say he cares more than God?, that's not what I am saying. 

What I am saying is that I am more concerned. To be concerned means to worry. It means to have anxiety. So when I say I have more concern, it's not actually bragging. It's admitting weakness.

God has no need for concern because He knows He loves us and will certainly take care of us, as He has for all our days. It's not a concern for God because He doesn't rely on silly things like money to make things happen. I, however, have a limited scope of things and believe jobs must be had in order to have needs taken care of. How silly of me.

Jen and I have considered that we are learning some lessons while we wait out this transition. But I have often wondered if God knows about on the job training. Lots of companies do that, you know.

Then I remember that God does not see me as I see me. I see me as a youth pastor. He sees me as a child. It would be very easy for me to allow my age to cause me to think I am having some sort of midlife crisis. Obviously, I am too young to be mid-life. (I don't even believe that anymore, so I don't expect you to either.)

But it's not a crisis. Certainly not of the mid-life variety. I know what I would like to do. I know who I am, and to Whom I belong.

I'm not the first to go through this kind of transition. I've been reading through Exodus most recently, because Moses is another example of a guy who seemed to know what he was doing, until, of course, he didn't.

As you may know, Moses goes from Prince of Egypt to Top-10 Most Wanted. He finds himself living in another land, perhaps the best educated shepherd in all of history. Here's what we read in Exodus 3:1;
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God.
It struck me that Moses had to go 'far into the wilderness' in order to come to the mountain of God. God didn't meet Moses in Egypt, where life was comfortable. God didn't meet Moses at his new place in Midian, where Moses had at least gotten comfortable. God met Moses 'far into the wilderness.' 

I would like for this time of transition to be over. I would like to know where God is leading my family. But perhaps I have not gone far enough into the wilderness. And if God isn't concerned, then I don't have cause for concern either. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

During the Transition

In the book of Genesis, we find Jacob leaving the land God promised his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. Seems kind of an odd thing to do until you realize that Jacob is kind of the sleazeball of this family. Cheating his brother out of blessing and birthright has left Jacob with a sudden need to change zip codes. 

On his way out of town, he builds an altar to God, worships Him there and prays about his return to the Promised Land. Little did he know it would be 20 years before he ever saw this place again. 

Sleazeball though he was, Jacob understood God had a calling on his life. But what if, during the transition, Jacob had sat around and done nothing? What if he decided to simply wait until God handed him the next step? 

By reading several chapters, we can see that he would have missed out on having several kids, several kids which would become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, which is what God changed Jacob's name to when he returned to the Promised Land.  

I remain in what you may refer to as a transitional period. I am between jobs. I have no doubt God is working during this time, but I have been silent here for a few weeks, I think, because I was waiting for some grand finale which I could share. 

But I am coming to realize that most of life is transitioning from one point to another and that if I choose to wait, I might skip over many aspects which could be beneficial for others to hear and see. 

The truth is we should never find ourselves waiting for some future event in order to serve God. We should never wait to figure out what we should be doing. 

I thought I wanted to wait until some grand conclusion was reached. But that was expecting a type of fairy tale ending that only happens in the...well....fairy tales. Here in reality, God has given us all gifts and He expects us to use them. Not use them someday. Not use them when some mythical idea of ideal comes our way. 

We were made to serve. That's why one of my family's daily prayers has been for our eyes to be open to whomever and whatever need we might be able to fill that day. 

A friend said we should make ourselves a family of do-gooders and let God take care of us. Well, I'm still going to look for a job, but I think we can do both. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

15 Years

15 years. In most areas of life, that might not seem like a long time. But in the world of youth ministry, that can seem like a couple of lifetimes. I saw 7th graders become high school graduates and then repeated that cycle.

15 years. That's 780 Sundays, not accounting for vacations and other days missed for any number of reasons. Granted, in a church where many people have lived their whole lives in this community, I was still on the young side, but still, I became a mainstay.

It began in July of 2002 and ended just this year, in June of 2017. Now that I'm on the other side of it all, it seems that it was both all too brief while also, at times, felt much longer than it actually was.

There is so much that can be said, that I feel should be said, that it seemed appropriate to share in this space. Even if no one were to read this, I find that my thoughts find a way of easily being leaked through my fingers as I write.

15 years. What lessons would I pass along that I have learned?

Be thankful. 

I worked at a church that, at times, seemed to have more than its fair share of drama. But so many good things happened as well. It's so much more than viewing a glass as half empty or half full. The glass has always been full; of ups and downs, highs and lows, things to praise a God about and those to ask Him about.

I'm thankful for the people who supported me. For those who appreciated me. For those who built into me. For those who trusted me to accomplish something much larger than myself. For those who joined in with me, even when the ideas were crazy and had only a small chance of success.

Be resilient. 

You don't stay at a church, or perhaps any job, for 15 years without having a few opportunities to leave. For my wife and I, the first time would have been when our new home of just a few weeks didn't feel like our home.

The next hundred opportunities to leave came after as many moments of restlessness. But establishing a foundation of who you are and what core values you want instilled in your work only come after a willingness to see those values planted deep. And then watered and nurtured over and over again.

The opportunities to leave may, at times, seem like welcome release from whatever the current challenge has grown into, but staying through difficult times means you'll have opportunities to model things like reconciliation and forgiveness. And longevity means there will come a time when you go from asking questions about how things work to being asked about how you would like them to work.

Be willing.

I suppose this last lesson was also the latest lesson for me to learn. When we are comfortable, it can become difficult to learn. Oftentimes a push is needed. I had come to be known as the youth pastor who stuck around for so long that the idea of leaving almost seemed ludicrous.

Step out? Step away? God, don't you realize what I am trying to accomplish here? Don't you understand what I will lose if I leave?

Then God nudges me and asks me if I realize what I could gain by stepping out obediently in faith. And that, my friends, is when the peace beyond understanding takes over and you place your future in His hands.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This Is How Jesus Makes Plans

27 On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”
~Mark 14:27-28

Even as Jesus told the disciples they would all betray Him, He was planning redemption by telling them where to meet up. This is how I would paraphrase this conversation.

Jesus: You’re all gonna betray me.
Disciples: No way bro!
Jesus: Yep, and I’m gonna die.
Disciples: What???
Jesus: Here’s where we should meet next week.

Is it any wonder the disciples had trouble keeping up with Jesus? But here’s the thing. We hate on these guys because they didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them. We criticize because they didn’t know what was going to happen.

But how often have we had to study and ask to figure out what Jesus was talking about? How often have we known what Jesus was doing in our lives before He did it?

I think we should try trusting Jesus more. He may lead us through some tough times, but He has a plan past the troubles. Just like He told the disciples where to meet up after He rose from the dead, before He was even dead, I believe Jesus is calling us to meet with Him.

The truth is I am in the midst of some fairly big decisions at the moment. I have no idea where I might find myself and my family living within the next 2 months. Yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

But when I pray, I remind God that this is His journey I am on, His plan I'm a part of and it is most definitely His glory at stake. I stand in a sea of question marks right now, but when I find myself on the other side, and my presents becomes my past, foresight becomes hindsight, what is now foggy becomes clear, then I will shout praise to God, who has remained faithful.

This is how Jesus makes plans.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not Having a Job IS My Testimony Right Now

This isn't what I expected when I made the announcement. To be fair, I'm not sure exactly what I expected. I knew I was taking a step out in faith. Whereas Lebron James was able to famously say he was taking his talents to South Beach, all I could say was that I was taking my talents...

To where? Who knows!

So yes, I have sent out resumes and cover letters. Yes, I have followed up on those contacts. I have done my due diligence.

Nothing yet.

I have been to an interview that looked promising. I have heard back from churches where I didn't make the next step of interviews. Meanwhile, I'm left with my unwritten expectations of what searching for a job would look like.

As it turns out, not getting a job right away to move towards might be the best thing that's ever happened to my family. And it might be the best thing for your family too.

Let me explain.

When I first started having this conversation with people, I got lots of strange looks.

So you're leaving after all these years.~Yep.
And where are you headed?~No idea.
(insert strange look here)
You mean you stepped out of this job with no idea where you're going? Implicit in this question was the idea of paying mortgage, buying food, etc.

That's right. I am currently in the middle of a risk. In about a month, I have no idea where the income will come from before it needs to go where all the expenses go when they leave my hands. To many, it appears like the dumbest thing a guy, with a wife and kids to support, could make. Shouldn't I have been looking before I gave my current source of income an end date?

Actually, no.

Here's why. My wife and I heard some clear messages from God. Change is coming. Trust Me. Ok, God, we can do that. I've taught enough lessons on faith to know that I'm a hypocrite if I can't live this lesson out.

Abraham didn't know where he was heading when God called on him to father a nation. Moses had no clue what he was getting into. Daniel didn't know the lions mouths would stay shut when he obeyed God rather than the king. Read Hebrews 11 and you'll see how many followers of Jesus followed by faith first and were rewarded later, some after their lives ended very badly.

I'm in the middle of my story. I know God will take care of me. I don't know HOW God will take care of me. But I have reminded God many times that I have answered His call, so how this works out is on Him. I'm obediently following God's call, so that when everything works out, I can give Him all the credit, and all the praise.

I have told people here in Winona Lake to live by faith. Now I'm showing them how I walk by faith.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Because Jesus

Because science. That's why. It's the answers parents can give their kids when they don't know the real answer. It's the answer that movies who delve into science fiction can use when they don't know how to get their hero out of the trouble he's found his way into.

Because science. But it's not the only way to shut down a debate.

I remember coming across a quote from someone who was clearly angry with Christians. He listed all the many things Christians have done wrong throughout history. The crusades, holy killings, and the attempted extinction of people groups in the name of religion. He went on to decry the hypocrites that do whatever they want for six days of the week and then find themselves in church one day of the week. He ended his rant with, ‘but it’s all ok, because Jesus.’

He was very angry. But quite frankly, he summarized the Gospel perfectly. We shouldn’t seek to abuse God’s grace, but all of the wrong things we do can be forgiven and washed away, because Jesus. We can be redeemed and find purpose in our lives, because Jesus.

It is quite possible that this next statement will cause you to relate to me or consider me the worst pastor ever. Possibly both. But here it is anyway...

There are times when I get to reading the Old Testament that I forget (for brief moments I assure you) just how amazing Jesus is. A return to reading one of the Gospels, of course, rectifies this issue.

But the same thing happens at times in churches. We get to discussing other matters. It can cause us to forget (even for brief moments) how amazing Jesus is. Until we are reminded.

I have mentioned here and here about my upcoming transition from my current church. It only seems fitting that I will spend this time reminding my teens of the only One who should truly amaze them.

Why? Because Jesus.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Just How Big is God?

God is so much higher than we are, we can't even comprehend the difference. This very thought should lead us to worship a God who is incomprehensibly greater than us. Rather, it too often leads us to scoff. We attempt to make God in our own image, instead of the other way around.

This is why Jesus was without honor in Mark 6.

Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. 2 The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” 3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.
~Mark 6:1-3

Verse 2 says they were amazed, and then in verse 2b the people attempt to bring Jesus back down to Earth. Do you see this? This isn't a little bit later in the story. It's in the same verse! 

We're amazed...wait a second! I don't think we should be amazed. I take back my amazement.

God’s ways are higher. God’s thoughts are higher. A couple of months ago, during our midweek children's ministries meeting, our teacher was sharing and there was a kid who asked how God could know the future if He wrote the Bible in the past. 

Remember when you used to ask questions like that? I don’t recall exactly how she answered, but it was something along the idea that God knows the future, and for most of us, that answer would suffice. We would just nod our heads and acknowledge this truth. (That is, if we were even still paying attention.) But this kid’s head just about exploded. Now he had multiple questions.

It struck me that we should all be blown away by God. But as adults we like to pretend that we get it. That we get God. But we don't get God. And thinking that we can somehow get God is what gets us into trouble.

Do we even comprehend how arrogant this is? We get God? We understand God? We can explain God?

It's a problem that we think we get God.

But then along comes a pastor who tells us, or rather shows us, that God is so much bigger, even more than we considered. But understand this, no matter how big he paints God to be, he does so with a limited mind himself. 

So no matter how largely he tries to describe God,!

Monday, April 24, 2017

But I Wanted It

As I've said before, I'm looking for a new place to do youth ministry. Job searching in itself can be a full time task. Unfortunately, no one is paying me to look for a job.

And when you haven't had to find a job in 15 years, the whole experience can feel brand new. And nerve-wracking. And quiet. So very, very quiet.

I may spend a few hours here and there sending out my resumes and writing cover letters. But the churches I'm sending my information to have their own timeline. And sometimes that timeline does not involve acknowledging my presence. Which is fine, especially if one of the churches I've applied to is reading this right now.

I understand those looking for youth pastors will have their own agenda and their own timeline. But it leaves me sitting here with a deafening quiet around me.

I am choosing to walk by faith through these days, picturing God working behind the scenes (always behind the scenes) and holding His voice very still, until He is ready to reveal to me His master plan.

Ultimately, I choose to see Him as a good Father in this situation. The truth is that I have heard from a few churches that they are going in a different direction. Since all I had invested was a few emails, it was easy to keep looking elsewhere.

But there was one place where I visited and thought it might end up being the next place for my family. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it to be the place. But it's not the place.

But I wanted it. 

From my perspective, it would have been a good fit. The staff, the people, the location, the set-up. All of it would have worked, at least in my opinion. But it's not the place...even if I wanted it to be.

Life is like this sometimes. We have our opinions about what would be good for us, but like any parent knows, God has a wider perspective. The child may want ice cream late at night, but a wise parent knows that won't be good for the child.

Perhaps, in this situation, we can even say that this might be a time where God has something better for me. It can be hard for us, as mortals, to see life this way, especially when our sight is so limited. But this is where we lift our eyes towards Heaven, and trust in the One who can see all.

So what are you after right now? Have you been waiting a long time? Are you wondering why God's voice has been fairly quiet?

You're not alone. And I don't mean me. I mean God. He hasn't left you alone.

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. ~Deuteronomy 31:6

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Sunday and the Smell that Wasn't Gas

Warnings were given. Then warnings were ignored. I was even among those who shared the warning. Then I promptly ignored my own warning. 

Yes, I know how that sounds.

I was in my office, while children from our church's childcare, played happily downstairs. Then a teacher suggested that the weird smell coming from parts of the building might be a gas leak. 

A phone call to the gas company and an escorting of the children out of the building, I went back to my office. After all, it was Friday and Sunday was on the way. As I attempted to jump back into my task list, I had the operator's words running through my head. 

Wait outside the building for one of our technicians. 

I imagined the technician showing up and scolding me for waiting inside the building. 

Him: Why are you inside the building?
Me: Well, I have this to-do list.
Him: You smelled gas?
Me: Yes, but it's Easter Sunday this weekend and I'm not ready yet.

At that point I imagined him making exploding noises with his mouth. So I took a few things outside and worked there until he showed up. know... I couldn't finish my task list if the building exploded with me in it. 

And I did need to finish that task list. 

It got me pondering how much I live out what I say I believe. After all, I believed there was at least a possibility of a gas leak. Otherwise, I wouldn't have called. And shouldn't my beliefs determine my actions?

As a pastor, on the weekend of Easter, shouldn't I be modeling a belief-turns-into-action kind of lifestyle? If I don't practice at least a small amount of common sense over a minor inconvenience, how can anyone possibly expect me to shape my entire life around a belief that the God of the universe came to Earth, lived, died and rose again? 

The reality is that many people don't actually expect Christians to live their life based on these beliefs in the miraculous. And why? Because Christians don't tend to live their lives based on said beliefs. 

So maybe it was a small step of growth for me. I did leave the building. The smell wasn't gas, but feel free to guess what it might have been. I returned to the building and finished my task list. I was ready for Easter Sunday. More importantly, I am ready for my actions to reflect what I believe. 

Are you?

Monday, March 20, 2017

What We Accept As Normal Is Just Crazy

Imagine we know this guy. But he's got some problems. Everyone is aware of this guy and his problems. And like most guys who have problems, this guy's problems become other people's problems. 

Maybe we didn't care to do anything about this guy when his problems were just his problems, but now that his problems are everyone's problems, we agree something has to be done. 

So we do something. 

We problem solve. We attempt solutions. But let's assume none of our solutions work. As crazy as it sounds, we might stop attempting solutions. 


In the Gospel of Mark, we read about Jesus and His guys coming across just such a scenario.

So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
~Mark 5:1-6

The man possessed could not be controlled but still bowed down to Jesus without Jesus even commanding it. The presence of Jesus demands our respect. It is also interesting that this demon begged in the name of God.

So Jesus does His thing and casts out the demons. (That's right, this guy was dealing with multiple demons. Yikes!

I might not even be all that surprised by anything in this story just yet. After all, the people did try to solve this issue. And when things start getting messed up in the spiritual realm, I understand it's going to take Jesus to bring a solution. But towards the end of this story, we get another glimpse into how people respond to Jesus. 

A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid.
~Mark 5:15

They were afraid of a man fully clothed and sane? The demon possession had become their normal. People always prefer what they know, even when it is less than what God intended.

I think this shows that we tend to tolerate what we deem normal, even if it isn’t ideal. If our first response to trouble isn’t to turn to Jesus, then our first response is not our best response. We shouldn’t turn to God after we’ve tried everything else. When a problem arises, why wouldn’t we try the best solution first?

Could you imagine this type of lunacy in any other area of our lives? 
  • If our doctor suggested he wanted to remove our appendix by going through our leg, we'd find a new doctor. 
  • If we knew the fire department in our town was going to form a long line from the location of the fire to the nearest lake, and that they would share a bucket in order to fight the fire, we'd probably find the number of the fire department in the next town over. 
Go ahead and think of any problem you desire. Literally any problem. If your friend comes up with a great solution but then suggests he'd like to attempt other lesser solutions, it might be time to get new friends. 

Yet this is what we do with our lives time after time. We acknowledge that our current situation might not be ideal. Have we done anything to change it? Have we even considered asking God what He might want to change? More than likely we have just come to accept that not everything is going to be awesome in our lives. 

That acceptance might be okay, but if we suddenly find ourselves skeptical about things that we should find normal, then we might want to stop and question what we have become accustomed to. 

Because this story ends with the 'normal' people pleading with Jesus to go away. So, to summarize, a demon possessed man roaming the neighborhood is something we tolerate. But Jesus healing the demon possession isn't. 

So what are you dealing with and what solutions have you looked for?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Praying for My Kids Leads to Me Praying for Your Kids

I prayed for my kids today. I prayed that they would avoid or rise above the tools, the jerks, the mean kids that populate our schools. As I prayed I wondered where those kids come from. What is their home life? What makes them tick?

Then I prayed that my own kids would not be the type of kids I was praying for their protection from. 
You see, if we accept the fact that we're all sinners, then we have to accept that our own little angels might not always be angels. There is no one righteous. We all needed the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. That mean that each of us need strength to not be the reason another person has to endure.

For awhile, way back when I first had a child of my own, I assumed these monsters grew under rocks and were the spawn of some wild dingoes that were allowed to integrate into regular society. 

But then Jennifer and I had a second child. And we encouraged them to play together. That is, until we didn't. There were moments when we suddenly felt more like pro wrestling referees than the parents of two (mostly) normal children.

Then we had a third child.... wooo boy!

So that is why I prayed for my kids and your kids. But when we're done praying, how can parents help their children to fulfill these prayers?

Remind them how they feel...

That's right, the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I know, pointing this out means admitting our kids aren't perfect. It might mean receiving eye rolls from them as they smell another lecture coming their way. But since much of how teenagers behave is based on their emotions, it might be a good idea to keep them focused on how they feel when they are mistreated. 

If you remember the pain you felt when you run full steam into an electric fence (it was an accident, I swear) then you won't likely do that again. Unless, of course, you're attempting to drive traffic to your YouTube channel. Likewise, if your teens remember the pain of being mistreated, it might help them to treat others better. 

I believe most Christian teenagers don't start out looking to hurt others. It happens because they forget. Or they simply don't have a plan for dealing with real life situations. So... 

Discuss situations with them that often come up. Let them brainstorm.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. And since teenagers, like most of us, want to be a part of solving their own problems, we should tap into their own creative solutions. 

Jerks have existed since all of us were in school, even if our teenagers believe we used tablets made of stone for our schoolwork. Tap into some of your own repressed memories of bullies. Use some stories to discuss resolutions. At this point, your good stories help and your horror stories are funny. Oh, and they can relate what not to do. 

If the remember how they feel and they go in with a plan, many of our prayers will be answered. But don't let that stop you from committing to #3.

Continue to pray.
As my teenagers like to remind me whenever we are discussing the pitfalls of watching anything PG-13, 'Dad, we're hearing a lot worse than that in our schools.'

It's not exactly comforting, but it does remind me that they are not sheltered in a church service, or even a setting where everyone is expected to act like an adult. They are in public school, a place where I intentionally send them, knowing public education doesn't just come from teachers.

Now go and pray.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pastors Should Stick to Preaching the Bible

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for coaxing, relaxing, sharing and making people feel good about themselves. 
You don't remember Paul writing that to Timothy? Me neither. But by the way people act in church, one might assume this is what we believe about scripture.

We all like using a scripture verse to prove something we already believe. But when one is used against us and our personally held, but not well thought out, convictions, then we begin to squirm.

Actually, we do more than squirm.

We cry out. We blame. We point fingers. We shoot the messenger. There must be something wrong with the other, because otherwise I might have to look inward.

How dare that pastor try to teach me something new? Doesn't he realize that might cause me to change?

And when those same scriptures are used to rebuke me? Get off your high horse pastor! We can be friends, but not if you're going to meddle in my personal affairs.

If I wanted to be corrected, I'd go see a math teacher. I thought we came to church to feel better. After all, it's a scary world out there. I say this without a thought that my corrected behavior might make the world, even slightly, better.

I didn't come to church to face difficulty. I didn't assume there would be this work. It's almost as if you think you were sent here to prepare me for something more.

Nooooo, pastor. The fact of the matter is that I am not equipped for all the scariness of the big world out there. So I must conclude that you are doing something wrong.

Perhaps if the pastor would use the scriptures correctly...
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16

Monday, February 27, 2017

Christians Should Make a Difference

Here you and I are, just starting our day with a bowl of Cap'n Crunch, and people are out there making changes in the way we are governed. And there are other people out there studying the impact it makes on people. 

So what changes and what impact are we talking about today? The impact made on high school students when states change the policies about same-sex marriages. You can read the article here for yourself, but here is a summary of their findings;
This difference-in-differences analysis of representative data from 47 states found that same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year. The effect was concentrated among adolescents who were sexual minorities.
Translation: They asked adolescents who would identify as something other than heterosexual if they had attempted suicide before and after the legalization of same-sex marriages. 

Please note, that while I regularly look to use snark in my writing, this isn't one of those times. Suicide is the second leading cause of adolescent death. Is the research limited? Yes, but isn't all research? Do they acknowledge that there are many reasons adolescents attempt suicide? Yes. 

The research isn't what bothers me, nor are the findings. I'm not surprised to hear that adolescents who believe they can attain what they see as a normal life, including the possibility of marriage, would be less likely to want to end their lives. 

Check out part of their analysis on the findings;
Legalization of same-sex marriage is also often accompanied by media attention and increased visibility of sexual minorities, which is associated with increased social support for the rights of sexual minorities. This increased social support could translate into improved familial and peer acceptance of sexual minorities, which has been shown to be associated with improved mental health.
What does it say about the church and our society that teens who identify as homosexual need the government to step in and tell them they are acceptable as a part of society.

We can argue all day about what is right and what is wrong, but I believe the church, that is, the people that make up the church, should be the difference makers in statistics such as these. We should be the ones that people point to and say, 'They really made a difference in my life. They showed me that life was worth living.'

I fear that we, as Christians, would instead be labeled as those who made others feel judged and insignificant. If we, who know the Creator, can't pass along to others a sense of purpose and belonging, then what exactly are we spending our time on?