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, God...is...bigger!

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. Because....you 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. 

Really?!?

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
Oh.

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?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Changes Are Coming

Abraham. Moses. They would be great examples. Joseph, Gideon, Daniel and even Job would be good examples.

Although I wouldn't want to compare what I'm going through to Job. Especially when it comes to wives. My wife has never encouraged me to curse God and die. She has threatened to cause me harm, but I'm fairly certain that was because I was acting like one of the kids.

I digress. The point is I can direct your attention to plenty of people from history who have heard a command from God and obeyed. What made their obedience impressive was they often had no idea where they were going and what exactly would happen when they got there.

Abraham, especially, has been a man of faith I have been thinking about a lot lately. The dude is just living his life, for a long time in one place, just doing his thing. Then he gets a call from God to move. He's given a promise and told to trust. And Abraham does.

Now I'm not attempting to put myself on the level of Abraham, but....

After almost 15 years at our church in Winona Lake, Jen and I have heard God calling us to step out in faith and look for the next stop. This has not been an easy process, especially for a couple of people who have planted themselves firmly and done our best to meet the needs of those around us.

And at least Abraham was told what land to go to and what was going to happen. We are not yet sure where God is taking our family. A family with 3 children, by the way, only know Winona Lake, IN as their home.

Is there still work to be done here? Absolutely. But we are trusting in God's still small voice that when He says it is time to go, then it is time to go. Even Jesus understood that there would still be work left undone when it was time to go somewhere else. (See for yourself in Mark 1:35-39.)

Though this may be the biggest move, and the biggest change, our family goes through, we would ask for your prayers. Our plan is to search for youth ministry positions far and wide while we finish the school year here in Winona Lake.

Oh, and if you hear of any place in need of a youth pastor and his crazy awesome family, would you let me know?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dear Indiana

Dear Indiana, 

I know I've lived here for most of my adult life, so this may seem a bit late in coming. I understand that living in Indiana means loving, or at least tolerating, basketball. Don't get me wrong. I've watched Hoosiers. It's good. 

I do love basketball. I enjoy playing it, watching it and even talking about it. I don't root for your teams, but I get the love for this sport. 

But there's a few things we need to clear up. You see, my middle school son started playing for one of your teams this year. Needless to say, the experience has only confirmed what I already suspected. 

The place in your heart that this sport holds, at least borders on idolatry. I should also mention that I am a youth pastor. So I have watched time and time again as basketball crowds out the space for anything else. I know what lessons can be learned when our sons and our daughters learn to sacrifice and work as part of a team. But I also know the lessons that are taught when sports are not properly seen as a part of the whole, instead of being the whole.  

Coaches, remember it's a game. I know that on the college and pro level, there is money and jobs on the line. But when we treat the lower levels like this, we do our children a disservice. Instead of teaching all the kids the thrill of success and the disappointment of failure, we teach the better athletes to be revered and the rest to enjoy the show from the bench. 

In a  society where only 1% ever play professionally, why wouldn't we give all our children an opportunity? Why would we discourage so many to the point that they find something else to do when they tire of being left out?

Parents, remember it's a game. Every game I have attended, from elementary on, has been a practice in patience. The good news is I now know how to take deep breaths before I say anything in a crowd. But when the thought of yelling out, "It's only a game" gives me the fear of being lynched, then something is very wrong.

If the size of the trophy is determined by the intensity with which parents criticize referees, then this is a trophy I really want to see. 

Parents, we need to be the ones who instill good values in our children. If we don't, we'll just continue this cycle. We also need to help our sons and daughters realize the need for balance in life. When we show more intensity in a game than we do anything else in our life, this lesson gets lost.

Lastly, to our sons and daughters, let me remind you of a few details. You are more than an athlete. Much more. I've never woken up my children by referring to them as a sports star. For that matter, I don't start their day calling them artists, students or anything else. I remind them they are my son or daughter and that I love them very much. I remind them that God has a plan for their life. 

Remember your identity. Your real identity. Work hard. Play hard. Love others and build lots of relationships.  There is a great big world out there and it doesn't end when the whistle blows. 

So, Indiana, I guess if there's anything I want you to hear, it's this; I want you to know your place. The futures of our sons and daughters will be shaped by the lessons we teach them today. 




Monday, January 23, 2017

Surrender to His Grace

Over and over again, God’s love for us has been proven by action. We are called to reciprocate. We are called to commit. And most of us will nod our heads in agreement, believing we have committed.

We talk about commitment. I’ve been reading through the book of Isaiah recently and came across this little pearl.

In the year when King Sargon of Assyria sent his commander in chief to capture the Philistine city of Ashdod, the Lord told Isaiah son of Amoz, “Take off the burlap you have been wearing, and remove your sandals.” Isaiah did as he was told and walked around naked and barefoot.
~Isaiah 20:1-2
Oh, ok. Now it’s not enough to simply declare and teach the Word of the Lord. There’s a uniform. But wait, there’s more.

Then the Lord said, “My servant Isaiah has been walking around naked and barefoot for the last three years.
~Isaiah 20:3
Hold on. Three years?!? Isaiah walked around in nothing but what God gave him for 3 years!?! On the bright side, you’d save time doing laundry. But you are going to get a sunburn in some places where the sun don’t usually shine! I am in awe of the commitment that Isaiah displayed.

Let’s play a game. Anybody in the room want to talk about your commitment? Let’s form a line. After each one shares what they’ve done for God, I’ll just ask one question. Would you like to serve in that way….naked???

Consider all the things that happen in church that require volunteers. Now consider them being done...naked.

Stop it! That’s enough!

Listen, I know not every commitment can be compared to another. Simply because God has not called us to some of the more extreme measures that He called some of His prophets, does not diminish our commitments.

But if you’ve ever said there was something you weren’t willing to do, I want you to go back and read Isaiah 20 and ponder what that conversation between God and Isaiah was like.

God: Isaiah, I have a message for you to share with the king of Assyria.
Isaiah: You got it, God!
God: One more thing…you need to be naked.
Isaiah: Hmmm….ummm….couldn’t I just draw a picture in the sand? Perhaps some little naked stick figures?
I believe the conclusion of this matter is grace.

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?
Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?
Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
Does he need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?
No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket.
They are nothing more than dust on the scales.
He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.
All the wood in Lebanon’s forests and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough
to make a burnt offering worthy of our God.
~Isaiah 40:12-16
I don’t know how much wood was in Lebanon’s forests. I also don’t know how many animals were in Lebanon when Isaiah wrote this. The way he writes, my hunch is that there was more than plenty of both. Yet all of it together would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of God.

All of our commitments will equal to the same. Not enough.

We need to come to a point of surrender where we trust more in God’s love for us than we do in what we return to Him. We will do things for God. We should. But we do these things as a response for the flood of love and grace that God has poured on us.

Surrender to His grace. Allow it to free you to do what God has planned for only you to do.

We can't commit like the heroes of old. Maybe God doesn't intend for us to. We won't lead like Moses, love like David, sound wise like Solomon or… get naked like Isaiah. But we can aspire for great things to be done through us because God loves us and wants to do great things through us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

If I Had a Parenting Do Over

Image result for if i had a parenting do over

Opening a Jonathan McKee book is like starting a conversation with a friend. I know, I know...he has written several parenting books (many of which I own) and he has written lots of youth ministry books (most of which I own as well). It would be so easy for Jonathan to come across as the guru who knows all.

But the very title of the book, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, reveals his heart and authenticity. Jonathan is the friend who is in the trenches with the rest of us. He writes this book about 7 Vital Changes I'd Make.

The book reveals some parenting mistakes Jonathan has seen through his years of working with families with teenagers, as well as mistakes he made personally. Parts of this book were really convicting, as if there were cameras in my own home.

But that's the point. Teenagers everywhere have common struggles. So do their parents. This book comes along with some very practical advice on how to honor God in our parenting. Along the way, we should experience a closer relationship with our children.

After giving us the changes he'd make, Jonathan goes one step further and gives us easy applications to the theories we just read. This is something every how-to or advice book should do.

Parents, I would encourage you to put this easy-to-read book on your reading list for 2017. You can click on the cover image to grab a copy for yourself and see what others are saying about this incredible resource.

Monday, January 16, 2017

God's Victory Depends On Us?

There’s a pivotal scene in the superheroes movie The Avengers, which I think we can all agree is now a classic, along with other greats such as Gone With the Wind and Rocky. 

That's right, I just compared a superhero movie, to a classic sports movie, to simply a classic. That's the kind of ridiculous I am.

Without revealing all of my geeky knowledge of superhero movies, suffice it to say there is a bad guy, Loki, who is bringing an army to earth. And there are the good guys, the Avengers, who are trying to stop him. One of those good guys is Iron Man. And just before the big battle begins, Iron Man makes a speech to Loki, where he concludes,

It's all on you, whether your plan succeeds or fails.
How is our focus on God like this? Not in a combatant way, of course, but our whole trust should be in God. This is His plan, His mission, and it's all to His glory. So the plan, whether it succeeds or fails, is all on Him.

And of course, we can have confidence that it will succeed.

Here’s the thing about this truth. If we say we trust God to be victorious, then we have to be all in. We can’t waffle between the sides in this war. Choosing to not take a side is to choose to not put your trust in God.

Jesus modeled this when He was tempted in the desert. The devil tempts Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Jesus was hungry. If He had any doubts about whether God would let Him starve, He could have chosen to have some bread right then.

Then the devil tempts Jesus with ruling over the kingdoms of the world. If Jesus had any doubts about whether He would rule over all the nations of the Earth, this was His chance to grab them.

Lastly, the devil tempts Jesus to throw Himself off the highest point of the Temple. Both Jesus and the devil knew God would send angels to protect Jesus. This wasn’t about protecting His life, but about attracting public attention. If Jesus thought He needed to become the first century Evil Knievel, this would have been a grand opportunity to make a splash. If Jesus had any doubts about His ability to draw a crowd, He could have chosen to do this.

But Jesus didn’t succumb to any of these temptations, because, just as He taught us to trust in God the Father, He did so as well. He knew the outcome was all on God.

Understand that God’s love can be believed because it was proven by action. If we say we are going to love people, then it must be shown by our action.

Something we like to do in youth and children’s ministries around Thanksgiving and Christmas, is to ask youth to list the things they are thankful for. Oftentimes we’ll get blank looks returned to us, as they struggle to figure out what they have to be thankful for.

Fresh on their minds is a recent math test, a fight with their sibling, a list of things their friends have but which they don’t. I often find it helpful to return to a list of the basics, things that are universal for us all.

  • Even in industrialized nations, we don’t have to look far to recall all the beauty God has made. Look to nature to see the beauty of God. Look up to see the vastness of space. Even if buildings and streetlights impede our view, Google it and look up some of the incredible views around this globe.
  • Look to the manger to remember how God willingly humbled Himself to be surrounded by us.
  • Look to His life and miracles to discover how God will bend the laws of nature simply because He can.
  • Look to the cross to remind yourself that there is absolutely nothing God was not willing to do to bridge the divide that stood between us and Him, a gap that was present because of our choices.
  • Look to a resurrection that tells us death is not the end.
  • Look to the promises lived out in the book of Acts, as we read how Jesus will return, but that He won’t leave us hanging in the meantime. His Holy Spirit, complete with guidance and power, has been imparted on every believer.
God's love is proven by action. And the success of His mission is resting all on Him. Perhaps we should live this year as if we believe that. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Surrender to His Mission

Like many other pastors, and especially youth pastors, I like to pick a title that catchy, and perhaps bordering on irreverent. Here was the idea I had for my most recent sermon.

People Jesus liked hanging out with more than he liked hanging out with people at church.
Maybe that's too wordy a sermon title. But read through the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and you’ll discover a list of people that Jesus liked spending time with; sinners, kids, smelly fishermen, prostitutes, drunks at weddings, women with shady pasts, tax collectors, ....

I speak slightly with tongue in cheek because the truth is that we are those sinners and people with shady pasts, no matter how much we try to play dress up.

The truth is we worry about a lot of stuff. If the stuff we tend to worry about had as much impact on the kingdom of God, compared with the commandments and commission of Jesus, then maybe we’d have a reason to stress ourselves out.

But it doesn't. Sorry. It just doesn't.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that your problems aren't real. I'm not saying that your problems don't have to be dealt with. I AM saying that Jesus told us to find our peace in Him

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
~Matthew 11:28-30
I AM saying that Jesus told us to give Him our burdens and to seek His kingdom first

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
~Matthew 6:25-27
I would love to hear a sarcastic tone in the words of Jesus here. I could imagine Him asking, ‘Aren’t you far more valuable than birds? Duh!’ But Jesus is much, much better than I. So I believe these words came from His lips gently, almost as if He’s unsure how we have not heard this message before.

‘Don’t you know how much more valuable to me you are than any silly bird?’

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
~Matthew 6:28-33

Surrender to His mission. If we did this… If we practiced joy, kindness, and thankfulness more than we worried about any do not commands, maybe we would notice just how much God is working around us and how much more He would work through us. Until then, we may have to settle for God working in spite of us.

Our grand mission, called the Great Commission, has been given to us. Our great command, love God, love people, has been handed down from a Supreme Court where we don't have to worry about who will be appointed next, because God will not fall off His throne.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Surrender To God's Love

Matthew 3:13-1713 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus is doing a pretty cool thing here, being baptized. This marked the beginning of His ministry and connects Jesus to the people He came to save.

I work with teens and, of course, have a couple of them in my own home. There is this fascinating dance between parents and their teenagers. Parents have to somehow impart wisdom to teenagers without it sounding like a lecture. Their best bet is to somehow trick the teenager into thinking that they, the teenager, came up with the good idea all on their own.

Teenager: Mom, Dad, I think I should show more respect to adults.
Parents: Wow, that’s a great idea! What a novel concept that you thought up all by yourself.

Teenagers, on the other hand, attempt to make right and good decisions without it being noticed by their parents. They don’t want the fanfare, because then they might have to admit they learned something from their parents. Pshaw, I’ve always known how to make every right decision in every area of my life. Please don’t make a big deal out of this.

Now Jesus is 30 years old when He gets baptized, so perhaps He’s past all the moves and countermoves of adolescence. But if there was any part of Him that didn’t want His baptism to cause a scene, that hope flew out the window as God the Father decides to part open the skies and send the Holy Spirit flying around like a dove. A spotlight shines on Jesus and a big voice from Heaven booms, ‘That’s my boy!’

God the Father may have as well been wearing plaid pants, a striped shirt, had a gaudy camera slung around His neck while waving real big, ‘Jesus! Hey buddy! Over here! Looking good, Jesus!’

I drive my teenagers to school in the mornings. It’s been getting cold recently, and my daughter has been taking a blanket with her to keep warm in the truck on the way to school. She’ll tell you it’s because her father won’t warm the vehicle up. I think she’s trying to extend the feeling of still being in bed. Regardless, she leaves the blanket in the truck when she gets out. A couple of weeks ago, just as she opened the door, with lots of students pouring into the school, I yelled out, ‘Baby, don’t forget your security blankie!’

She rolled her eyes, responded, ‘Nice’, then closed the door and escaped any further embarrassment as quickly as possible.

As you can tell, I’m taking my role as a dad pretty seriously.

I’m fairly certain that God the Father was not trying to embarrass Jesus. I’m also quite certain Jesus did not roll His eyes and try to avoid the attention. He surrendered to the love of His Father.

When it comes to God our Father, we should do the same.