Monday, April 09, 2012

Please Pray...

This is the beginning of a crazy week for me. After lunch yesterday, LuAnn and the kids took off to visit family for a few days while the kids are out of school. If it weren't for the upcoming Spring Thing event this weekend, I'd be with them, but as it is, I'll be pulling together the last few things before students show up on Friday.

So naturally, I started out the week with an all nighter in our empty house watching Lord of the Rings with a couple of my students. One of them hadn't seen it yet, so we had to fix that right away! They both fell asleep sometime around 1:00 AM, just before Helm's Deep was occupied - so we finished this morning when I got home from a 6:30 prayer meeting. (Just a side note: "Mercy" is falling asleep at the youth minister's house while he's still awake - and being able to leave the next day with your eyebrows still intact! You guys can thank me later.)

The point of this post is actually to ask you to be praying for my preparation time this week. I'm pulling together thoughts that God has been bouncing my way for about 10 years into 4 messages, so there's way more content to pare down than a weekend's worth of attention span can handle. Distillation may not be my strongest attribute - I'd rather take a seed and extrapolate the potential branches. Please be praying that what is left when I'm done hacking away at the myriad of impulses etched on my gray matter would be only whatever God wants to use to penetrate the hearts of His people who gather this weekend.

With no family at home, and my weekly routine completely out the window, also pray that I'd stay focused enough to line up all the ducks - and relaxed enough to shoot them when the time comes. I'm not above losing large chunks of time to distraction, so I'd appreciate that not happening this week.

On a somewhat related note, I've been contacted twice in the last couple days regarding a request for an insurance quote for my '92 Volvo; they have my name and number right, but I've got no Volvo to insure. I'm hoping this is just a case of sloppy data entry, but just in case it's more of an ID theft issue, if you see me this week ask me for the super secret handshake just to make sure it's really me!

Thanks for your prayers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Who's to Blame for the Tebow Trade?

Buckle up, this might be a little ugly - and it's about football, so some of you who usually read stuff here won't give a rip. Feel free to go read something else, skip this post, and know that you're not missing anything too earth shattering. Sorry, but I've gotta spit out some opinions out before I choke on them.

Keep in mind they're just the opinions of some guy with a keyboard and internet access. I'm not a football coach. I'm not a football player. I'm not a football talent scout. But I've been a fan of the Denver Broncos since I could sit still (sort of still) long enough to watch games in my grandma's living room. I get the Broncos making what could possibly be the biggest free agent acquisition ever. Peyton Manning is a great quarterback. I get it. Any other year since John Elway retired, I would have been ecstatic to see Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform.

But something changed last year for this team. This was only from the outside looking in, but it looked like the team had something they'd been missing since about 1998. It looked like they had heart. And it showed up the day Tim Tebow stepped into the game. They still had boneheaded breakdowns and suspect holes in certain areas - but the team was different. The Broncos were exciting to watch again. Most of the games had an excitement level to them that hadn't been around since Helicopter #7 flew over the Packers.

It is undeniable that Tim Tebow was a huge factor in bringing that excitement. I suppose, technically, some idiot could deny it, but hey... we were all watching and it was obvious. This smaller market team was the talk of the football nation again. Jerseys were selling, seats were full, and fans were screaming. But I think that's where the wheels fell off.

I think the Broncos have made a mistake trading away Tim Tebow. I know, for his sake, he's probably better off with a chance to compete for the starting job. I know, he would not have that opportunity with Peyton Manning in town. But I also think he's a strong enough person to override his own ego and wait. I think John Fox is a creative enough coach to get them both on the field. (Could you imagine a backfield with Manning and Tebow both a few yards behind center? No defense could game plan for that!) I think it could have worked.

But again, I'm just some guy with a keyboard, what do I know?

I know Denver gave up a great player for a 4th round draft pick. Can you name me a 4th round draft pick that's had a bigger impact in Denver in the last decade than Tim Tebow had last season? (Dumervil from 2006 is the only 1 I can come up with.) If that's all they were going to get, they should have just kept him. He's a big boy and would've handled not being the starter for a while, just like he did at Florida as a freshman. So... quick recap:

  • 1-4 record
  • Replace Orton with Tebow
  • 7-4 in the remaining 11 games
  • Win a playoff game for the first time in WAY too long
  • National media
  • Tickets selling
  • Jerseys selling
So why get rid of the guy who was the catalyst for so much of that?

There are a lot of people mad a John Elway, saying he just wanted to get rid of Tebow out of some kind of QB jealousy he just couldn't manage. That's just stupid. If that was the case, they would have just kept Orton or some other undeniably sub-Elway player. They would definitely not have gone out and pulled out $96 million to get one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever put on a helmet (which is exactly what Manning is)!

They didn't get rid of him for cost reasons either. Lots of teams will pay their backup QB's much more than what Tebow would have been paid.

I think it boils down to the crazy level of insanity brought on by a small core of incredibly stupid and vocal Tebow fans. Don't get me wrong, I am a Tebow fan. I hope he enjoys NY wherever he ends up and rolls over that part of the NFL. I love watching him play and will continue to follow his career. But there is a section of - lets not call them fans anymore, lets call them worshipers because that's what they really are (and also the last thing Tebow would ever want) - who have thrown out every scrap of logic and football sense who would make life miserable for any team that would leave Tebow on a bench for a while. He's an awesome man of great faith, who is inspiring to watch. I can only imagine that playing as a teammate would be even more inspiring. But that doesn't make him a better quarterback than Peyton Manning.

I wonder if the fans who are most outraged at the Broncos need to look a little closer to home... No front office or coaching staff with any sense of sanity wants to deal with the crazy level of mania brought around by those who think Tebow is football Jesus. You got him traded. Jerks. Judas-es. After a revolving door that started turning behind center the day Elway retired, we could have had one of the best quarterbacks of the last 15 years AND one of the best of the next 15 years. Sorry... I'm  a little cranky.

Have a nice day.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Preach Better Sermons

I'm watching a live conference put together by the people at Preaching Rocket. It's all about Preaching Better Sermons. As a youth minister, when I talk about preaching, sometimes people look at me strangely, not realizing I am not only called to be great a dodgeball and ordering pizza, but also at communicating the Word of God. If you lead a student ministry, you need to get better at communicating God's Word - even if you're already pretty good at it. If you are a preacher, you need to get better at communicating God's Word - even if you're already pretty good at it.

If you missed the webcast, here are some highlights (not complete notes or many quotes) from some of my favorite preachers (who are also still learning).

Perry Noble:
  • Plan Ahead.
  • "Communicating for A Change" - Andy Stanley (great book for communicators)
  • 40 messages per year. How do you decide what to say?
    • Read to hear from God, not to find sermons.
    • Preach out of the overflow of your heart.
    • Keep track of thought 'kernels' (evernote)
    • Find great visuals
  • Plan with a team of people with various points of view.
  • Don't put too much stock what fans and foes say - listen to friends.
  • Let the Bible drive the message.

Jud Wilhite:
  • Be personal - share your life through stories to remove barriers.
    • Don't just share someone else's amazing story - build common ground by sharing your story.
    • Where does your experience overlap your listeners' life experience?
    • Share honestly - don't just make stuff up.
    • Communicate to the broken.
      • Think about how different people will hear what you're saying
      • How will the hear what God wants them to hear?
    • Communicate the Word.
      • Preaching is not about me - not about the listener - it's about Jesus.
      • Be sure to use language that everyone will understand.
        • Don't water stuff down - but explain what you mean!
    • Communicate for Next Steps
      • Can people see the connection with real life?
      • Be crystal clear about what you want people to do as a result of your message.
  • Don't cop out & be lazy in preparation - this stuff is important!
  • Park in one passage, don't just jump all over the place and lose people.

Andy Stanley:
  • It's a story you're telling, not a bunch of points you're trying to make.
  • Me, We, God, You, We mile markers
    • Here's my issue/thought/idea.
    • Don't we all experience that?
    • What does God say about it?
    • What should you do about what God says about it?
    • What if we all did that together?
  • Stay in the text and let it speak.
  • Help people understand what they need to do AND what's really at stake.
  • Distill everything and give the message in a single phrase.
    • What's this all about?
    • What's the one thing I want them to take away?
  • Create tension in the first few minutes.
    • Instigates a desire to know more
    • Creates interest - "We need to solve the mystery."
  • Mature believers AND engage those who don't believe.
  • Watch yourself preach.
  • Listen to other teachers/preachers.
  • Learn from comedians & others who engage audiences.
  • Ask yourself, "Who is this really about?"
    • Evaluate yourself by what people do with what you said, not by how you did.

Jeff Foxworthy:
  • Humor keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.
  • Trim down to the bare essentials - stories don't need to include every detail.
  • Capture random thoughts (notecards, etc.) to flesh out & try out later.
  • Always be writing.
  • Be simple. Simple connects.
  • Don't be a sissy. But be vulnerable and admit you don't have it all figured out.

Vanable Moody:
  • Effective preaching starts with the end in mind.
    • Behavioral preaching
    • What do you want people to do?
  • Are you trying to make an impression or make an impact?
    • Impression doesn't last
    • Impact leaves lives changed
  • Identify the behavioral purpose of the Scripture.
    • Study to find out what God says He wants people to do.
    • Everything else flows with that behavioral point.
    • Preach with a sword, not a broom - one point.
    • Doesn't matter if we have a bunch of great information & research & message writing if we miss the assignment!
  • Let people see the message in your life.
  • Don't just make points for the head, but also paint pictures for the heart.
    • Behavior starts at the heart level.
  • Provide a vehicle for them to do what you're preaching about.

Dan Cathy: My stream broke during this session, so all I got is a craving for chikin'! (Also thanks to some timely text photos from some mean children currently eating Chick-fil-A)

Dr. Charles Stanley:
  • Be disciplined. You can't just 'sort of' preach.
    • Build the relationship with God from which the message will flow - Prayer.
    • Study - don't just give a sermon to fill the time.
  • You can't preach any better than you pray.
  • Unless you have a burden for a message, you're not ready to preach. 
    • Is there a message that you must preach?
    • Impact is made by the Holy Spirit
  • What is the need?
  • What Scripture addresses the need?
  • What does that text say?
  • What material will help me communicate that and what do I want people to take away?
  • No matter how well equipped & well prepared we may be, God can shut it down in a breath.
    • Great story answering why he never asks for money on air.
      • Short answer - God told him not to.
  • Obey God & leave the consequences to Him.

Louie Giglio:
  • Calling of God, Self-discovery, Affirmation by God's People
  • You may have no idea what God's about to do.
    • Start wherever there is an open door.
  • Preaching is about the Power and the Presence of the Word of God.
    • Don't just try to sound eloquent and persuasive.
  • Find out how God wants to impact His people.
  • Gather & craft the information that will help you be a part of that.
    • Preaching should be like putting your life through a funnel, not a megaphone.
  • Sometimes we need to reach for creative/artistic language to use in our message (not just a good illustration).

I can't yet vouch for all the coaching that will happen through Preaching Rocket, but if it's anything like today's webcast, a lot of people will be hearing a lot better preaching in the near future.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Imminent Crash Update

Just a quick update to explain the trickle of new content here:

I've started another site called Imminent Crash. It's all about youth ministry and leadership in the church ~ if you care about the church or young people, I'd love it if you'd do me a favor; check it out and let me know what you think. Subscribe if you like it, leave some comments if you want to talk back. I've been doing a lot of work to the inner workings of the site, which is all brand new and totally unfamiliar territory for me, which has had some ripple effects:

- I haven't posted much here. I'm not going to be doubling the amount of time I spend posting my thoughts and experiences online, so I'm trying to find a good balance point between the two places. This may become more of a general blog, while the other site will be honed in on youth ministry.

- I haven't posted much there, either. Because it's new, I want to lay the groundwork well. Every time I start to write something, it ends up seeming to be 'not foundational enough' so I file it away for later. Additionally, right now is not the most opportune moment for me to be starting on a learning adventure like this. Lots of other irons are playing in my fire right now! I don't know squat about actually building and maintaining a blog, so it's been time consuming to learn about hosting and dig into cPanel & install wordpress there and installing the theme I chose to use (Standard Theme) and figuring out just what a theme even is... not to mention widgets and plugins and figuring out how to adjust the style aspects...

I'm excited to see where the new blog will go and what kind of community can be formed there. I hope that youth leaders, students, parents, and church leaders will all be able to come together there to learn how to make the most of what God's knitting together in His church... that we'll learn to help youth to recognize and unleash their potential for Kingdom service... that the unstoppable church Jesus heads up will gain momentum as we seek to tear down the gates of Hell that keep people separate from our Father.

I hope you'll be praying for the new venture and join us there as we move forward wherever He leads...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

groundSWELL Coming Tomorrow

I am really excited to take part in an online conference of a different stripe tomorrow! I love hearing from leading pastors, teachers, and thinkers at things like Catalyst and CIY Move. I love to sit at the feet of leaders and listen (or read) as they teach the art of serving people into places they never thought they'd make it, and sitting around with peers and kicking around ministry ideas. But tomorrow's event won't feature any seasoned "experts" or any of my peers from the youth ministry tribe. It's being presented by a bunch of leaders from a church I've never visited, but one that I'm helping to shape. It's right in line with what Imminent Crash is all about!

The presenters of groundSWELL are between the ages of 13 & 19. While I'd argue that many of them already ARE leading the church, I can't wait to hear where God is leading these students to take His people over the next decades. I don't like the phrase "church of tomorrow" because the next generation has the same inheritance that I do or any of the generations before me do when it comes to adoption into God's family - but it's awesome to see students taking the responsibility (to make disciples) that comes with that inheritance seriously and share with the rest of us what God's doing in them.

It's awesome to see the church recognizing God's work in young lives on this scale. Sign up today, and check out groundSWELL tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Looking for a Mission? Pick One.

I recently returned from a board meeting of 3:18 Ministries in nice & warm Globe, AZ. 3:18 is a ministry to the Apache people of the San Carlos Reservation, showing the love of Jesus in a place where it's all too rare. While I missed interacting with a couple members who couldn't make it to the meeting, I really enjoyed the time with the rest of us, not to mention the escape from the gray NE winter to a couple days of green (which was a little surprising for me - I forgot that color existed) and AZ sun. More than that, it was great to spend a couple days dreaming and discussing and clarifying what God is doing through 3:18. The hope and vision in the lives of 3:18's board are contagious! I have little claim to earn membership in such an awesome group of kingdom servants, but I'm humbled and thankful to get to spend some time and effort and prayer with them. Through God's power working on the reservation, parents are learning how to lead and love their children, families are gaining more suitable housing, and children who think they're not wanted are learning how precious they really are to their Maker. God's love is being made known in the actions of His people and even bigger developments are on the horizon for 3:18. I can't wait to see where God takes us all!

The trip got me thinking again about this post I'd started several months ago about some missions that matter to me and my family. We give to these ministries, in terms of finances, time, prayer, and effort. We see God at work in these ministries and want to be able to help in any way we can. Maybe you can help, too. In addition to 3:18, would you be praying for these Kingdom efforts? Take some time to look into what they do and see if God has some role for you to play in their work.

Sparrow's Nest - A few years ago, our small group piled into Forest (as we dubbed our green church van) and drove to the West Coast for Catalyst. (It's interesting to me that after all the miles I've driven those vans, it took a small group of adults to give one a name!) We were joined by my friend, Tory (of the previously mentioned 3:18), and a friend of one of our group's couples, Carissa. While our initial contact was tainted by the lingering effects of the "Mile High Tamale" incident, it was a joy to meet Carissa and see how she's responding to a dream planted in her by God. That dream has become The Sparrow's Nest in St. Charles, MO. The mission of The Sparrow's Nest is "to provide Christ centered shelter and to educate homeless, pregnant, and parenting young women." They want to empower young mothers to make positive life decisions for themselves and their babies. It's been amazing to see God work as Carissa has pulled together a team to build this much needed 'nest' in the St. Louis area. Visit their site to check out their story - maybe you'll find a place in it, too.

Nebraska Christian College - Getting married right after high school was a no brainer for LuAnn and I. We were going off to college hundreds of miles from anyone we'd ever known and there was tremendous encouragement in doing that together. From July of 1994, when we landed at the empty campus (the only ones I remember being around were two other couples a few years ahead of us, and Humphrey, who couldn't go home for the summer because home was Malawi and he needed to work to pay for the next semester) until May of 1998, when I graduated and a well placed dart landed in Loveland, CO - NCC was our first home. Some of our deepest relationships were forged there and some of our most formative growth was instigated there. We've supported NCC ever since as the college continues to train servant leaders who know Christ and are making Him known. Though the place where all that college magic happened for us has been left behind for another location, the college continues to be an exciting part of what God is doing and we continue to be excited by just what He is doing through NCC.

Compassion - Very early in our marriage, we wanted to establish that our lives, our jobs, & our income would never just be about us. Whatever God brought our way, we wanted to be willing to use it for His glory and someone else's benefit. Compassion was one of our first outlets for doing exactly that. Through Compassion's child sponsorship program we've been able to help kids in a couple Latin American countries, Haiti, and Kenya with names like Pilar, Imacuelease, & Wairegi find hope in the name of Jesus.  I've also enjoyed getting our youth ministry students involved with Compassion, raising money for hunger and AIDS relief, or pulling a few friends together to sponsor a child of their own. We once had a talent show to raise money for mosquito nets, where our duct-tape-wearing friend Theresa joined a couple sisters and friends for a hilarious Burger King skit - before she traded the paper crown in for one with more diamonds at the Miss America pageant of 2011. Compassion is changing the story for thousands of kids living in poverty throughout the world. They have a special day of emphasis coming up called Compassion Sunday in April - check it out and find out how you and your church can rewrite some stories, too.

Youth Ministry - This may go without saying, but youth ministry is incredibly important to me and my family. After 4 years of college and 12 years of being a youth pastor, I still love seeing students living life as disciples and learning to be the church God is calling them to be. I still love it when they start to understand how deeply Jesus loves them and to allow Him to shape their lives. I hope I will never join the masses in losing that enthusiasm for teens. I hope you'll join me in praying for the teens in and around your own life. They need you to care enough to invest your life in them. Get to know them and find out how you can reach into their lives. Do the work of a missionary, reaching across generations to understand and to build bridges. You probably won't see huge dividends immediately, but do it anyway - bring God's Kingdom to their tribe.

There are many other ministries that we care about and continue to pray for. I think of Marilyn and Connie and their family in South Africa (long time family friends back to my grandpa's generation), and Hudson (a former student) and his family preparing to reach into places to which most of us are too afraid or ill-prepared to reach. I think of other former students who are carrying Christ with them in youth ministries and IT departments and construction sites and nuclear plants, as well as friends and family planting churches in exotic places like New Zealand and North Dakota as well as Wyoming and South Dakota. There are many others being the church in big cities and small towns closer to home. I think of Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, where some of our WestWay family go a couple times each year to offer hope. When I stop to think about it, I'm humbled to be a part of such a diverse fellowship of people who've taken up Christ's mission to reconcile, to seek what has been lost and restore people to the relationship with God that we are created for.
What are some of the ministries in which you and your family are involved? How do you help them? What's God up to there?

Monday, February 27, 2012

3 Reasons to Keep Blogging (Even If You Think No One's Reading)

Starting a blog is simple. Choosing a template isn’t so bad. Publishing actual posts or articles on your blog is as easy as sending e-mail. These days it may seem like everyone’s blogging, and many blog readers are in fact blog authors, as well. But maintaining a blog is about as simple as herding dust bunnies in a blizzard. Keeping fresh content pouring through your keyboard can be time consuming and difficult to do well. Motivation wanes.
What's your motivation?
One of the most de-motivating aspects of blogging is this nagging feeling that no one’s reading what's written. You’ve collected your thoughts, hunted down a nice image that enhances the message, set it all out using the most vibrant colors of language you know (which are always grammatically palatable, of course!), and finally published the post for all the world to see.

 Only... the world doesn’t seem to be noticing. So, you dangle a few hooks in front of all your twitter followers and slam all your facebook friends with invitations to come check out the best thing you’ve ever written. But at the end of the day, your analytics tells you the only ones checking in are your mom, some spam-bot in Pennsylvania, and someone at an IP address that’s registered to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Incarceration!

No shares. No comments. No chatter or buzz. You know this stuff could be as viral as a cold - but no one’s catching it in the first place to get the sneezing started! Since my first post in April of 2005, I’ve published just over 700 posts on my blog (not a blog on fire, but consistent). While I read some blogs that are getting tens of thousands of visits every day, my highest pageview count for any one month was a little over 3,000. I’m guessing your blog’s not setting many traffic records either. So, why bother?

Why keep dripping content into a digital sea that seems designed to dissipate? Why continue to whisper into a wind that strangles my voice into the unheard whimper of yet another digital tumbleweed? Maybe you’ve wrestled with similar questions. Maybe you’ve felt so drowned out for so long, you’ve simply stepped away from your blog, leaving a grave marker where a spring of life once promised to bubble up... Why bother, right? Here’s why:

1. You have a message. Blogging can help you craft that message. If you can focus your posts on the core idea that initially inspired you to start blogging, every post can be a tool to sharpen the message you’ve been given to share. The more focused your message becomes, the greater its potential to work its way into the fabric of someone’s life and really make a difference - not just online, but in the real world.

2. Someone is reading. Don’t underestimate the deep impact your words may have, even if your audience never grows very wide. For every Michael Hyatt or John Saddington reaching into hundreds of thousands of lives with every word written, there are truckloads of Michael Andrews touching a handful. You don’t need to write for thousands in order to impact lives with your blog. You do need to keep writing. Because someone is reading.

3. You never know. Maybe that next post is the one that will break the dam, enabling your gift to spill over into rivers you’d never even imagined. What if you never publish it?

What motivates you to keep blogging?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dismissing Lent?

I don't really have time for this today, but I'm jumping in anyway. Growing up as part of a non-observing tradition, I hear a lot of misunderstanding and arrogantly false piety during certain times of the year that seems to be based on what we don't do. Like now. It seems that some of us think that somehow "we" are in some type of higher standing with God because we don't observe certain "man-made rituals" that other faith communities do practice. Like slapping the "man made" label on something automatically allows us to throw it away as insignificant. You won't see any ashes on "our" heads today - unless it was chimney cleaning day. I'm fine with that, but it really shouldn't be a source of pride.

Others in my tribe will hardly remember that today is Ash Wednesday until a classmate or co-worker walks into the room with the tell tale smudge. We'll barely take note of the day that marks the beginning of Lent in preparation for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. We celebrate being able to live in the truth of his resurrection all the time, so we don't pay a lot of attention to most 'church calendar' type of observances. I'm ok with that, too - but again, I wonder, why would someone look down their nose at another who does find meaning in the ritual?

Could it be, that maybe we're missing something?

Could it be, that maybe... just maybe, there is more to Lent than the caricature that we so easily lampoon and dismiss? More than giving up chocolate or Facebook or some other triviality for a few weeks? Could it maybe be about something more than fish on Fridays?

I think so.

While I think it's Biblically true that there is no spiritual obligation for a person to observe Ash Wednesday, or Lent, or any other similar event, there surely can be spiritual benefit from doing so. The Ash smudge is certainly not a stamp on anyone's passport to heaven, but it can definitely be more than an inconvenient mark of ritual. I hear friends degrade others' actions as simply going through the motions, but do we even know what it is of which we're being so dismissive? Do we ever take the time to find out what's at the heart of all of this?

Unfortunately, we often don't. Which is sad, because at the heart of Ash Wednesday is repentance and at the heart of Lent is sacrifice. These are more than religious sounding words to kick around when we want to sound spiritual. They are critical cogs in the workings of discipleship, just as celebrating new life and victory over death are. It's strange though... we don't seem to have this same arrogance toward our brothers when we're showing up for church on Christmas and Easter (two man made holidays that extol those more palatable virtues).

If you're a Christian who's observing Ash Wednesday today, examine your heart and observe with the intent to be restored. May your contrition be so evident and real that those who would dismiss your actions as cartoonish and irrelevant would be put ashamed and reminded of the grace we share. May your repentance lead you deeper into the heart of God than you've ever been.

If you're a disciple who's always ignored Lent & Ash Wednesday, take a second look. Sure, some who observe these days do so only out of some sense of ritual or obligation, but does that mean they have no value at all? We sure don't make that argument when it comes to baptism or communion. Like the Grinch at Christmas, notice that there's a whole lot more than what you may have thought. Ask our Creator to lay bare the inner chambers of your heart and see if there's something there from which you need to repent. May He draw us nearer, as well.
A little more reading if you'd like to dig a little deeper:
Why Practicing Lent IS Crazy from Relevant Magazine
Some Thoughts For Ash Wednesday from Fuller Youth Institute

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

12 in '12 Tuesday: Not So Simple Rules

Since it's Valentines Day and everything, I thought we'd hit the subject of dating a little bit. I always liked the concept of the show 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter. If you don't remember it, read the title of the show again; it's pretty self-explanatory. I especially liked these rules from the show:
- You make her cry, I make you cry. 
- Safe sex is a myth. Anything you try will be hazardous to your health. I promise.
- If you pull into my driveway and honk, you better be dropping off a package because you're definitely not picking anything up.
- If your pants are so baggy you can't keep them up, I'll help you out - with my staple gun.

As the father of two girls,  I'll be developing my own set of rules, so I asked Emily to help me out with a post and write out some rules of her own. Since she's only 12, we haven't had a lot of dating discussions - it's a pretty short conversation at this point that is basically summed up by "Not yet." I didn't give her a lot of prompting for her list, but she's got a pretty good start: (I'll put her answers in italics, then add a few bonus rules of my own!)

Dad's prompt: A boy wants to date you. What are your rules for him? (Before the first date - and during any date.)

Emily's Rules: Before the first date-
- he has to be a christian
- he has to be nice to me
- he can’t try to make me jealous
- he has to be someone I like
- he can’t have a girlfriend when he asks me out
- he can’t be a “bad boy”

During any date-
- he can’t burp
- he has to be nice to me
- follow all rules from “Before the first date"

First, I just have to say I'm pretty proud of my daughter. I love that she's already expecting a guy to love Jesus and she's not interested in putting up with the immature crap that some guys pull to manipulate girls. She's demanding loyalty already and expects a guy to not be full of himself. She's setting the bar pretty high, and I have a feeling that whatever guy finally wins her heart will have had to earn it.

Just to thin the field a little further, I've kicked around a few possibilities of my own:
  - If your GPA can be counted on less than 3 fingers, go do your homework first and try again after the next grade check.
  - If your parents gave you a car for your 16th birthday that's nicer than what I have, you're already suspect. If you've already wrecked it being stupid and they replaced it with another, I might let you go for a walk together.
  - If you can't say the word marriage without breaking out into hives, get some ointment, figure out what you're going to do with your life, then ask again.
  - If your mom has to drive you on your date, I'll probably laugh a little, but you can take my daughter out.
  - If you're rude to your mom, learn some respect for the woman who brought you into this world, then we'll talk.
  - If you're rude to my daughter's mother... just run, boy, run - I won't be able to hold her back for long!

Obviously, since Emily's 12, some of these rules will only be phased in over the next several years. And just so no grandma's are harmed during the reading of this post - this is all still very hypothetical. There's no point dating until you can get married and there's no possibility of that for at least another year and a half!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Passionately Procrastinating

I always tell my wife that I'm very helpful, just in the least helpful way possible. I usually say that when I'm getting the look that tells me I didn't get done what was supposed to be done. I usually only imagine that I'm getting that look due to my deep seated (or is it seeded?) insecurities, but my imagination is quite compelling, so I usually feel guilty about whatever it is I haven't done - while simultaneously exulting in some other triumph.

For example, maybe, I mean just hypothetically speaking for moment... Maybe the grass needed mowed, the flower box removed, and the old dryer taken to the dump. But instead of tackling any of those half hour jobs, I decide (again, this is hypothetical) to remove all the crushed rock from a 60' x 3' section of our front yard, so that we can plant a couple bushes, put down some weed block, and replace all the rock. Which I would hypothetically guess would take about 4 days, 2 shovels and a bucket, 7 blisters, and 4 grouchy and underpaid child laborers.

See - helpful.

Just not necessary. Not well-timed. Not integral to the continued smooth functioning of our household. But helpful.

So today, when I have several other things to do that suddenly became less than urgent, I decided to take it upon myself to build a website. I've messed around online enough to know how to manipulate a little bit of content on this free (and pre-designed) site, but I have zero experience actually starting from scratch. So naturally, instead of finishing a couple easy jobs that need done in my office, I registered a domain name, paid for a year of hosting, and set up cPanel access. Then I proceeded to install the self-hosted incarnation of Wordpress (twice, since I didn't quite get it right the first time) on my host's server, purchase Standard theme (which I'm told will raise the speed of awesome on my site from 0 to 60 in the blink of a pixel) and... well, then I hit a road block.

See, in my imagination, there's supposed to be this easy, 'click here to download Standard theme' button that you click after you pay for it, then another 'install Standard theme' button to finish the job. There were buttons to click alright, but somewhere in the process, what I needed to be one easily managed .zip file became a folder full of files that would've made Hulk smash tanks and unicorns and stuff. I ended up figuring out how to sort of 're-zip' all those files into one, then how to upload that through the file manager on my cPanel, and finally how to then unzip that within the file manager on the host's server. Not bad for a guy who didn't even have a cPanel to open a couple days ago! (They're nothing like the old 70's panels that used to be in my basement, by the way.)

So, despite nearly forgetting to take my daughter to pre-school, then being a couple minutes late to pick her up, and not finishing a couple other projects that are about 27 hours from regaining urgent status... I am proud to say I've successfully set up the skeleton for what I hope will be a blog that makes a difference. (I'm not telling you where it is, yet - it's still a little shy.) I'll still use this space here to collect my thoughts about our journey through life to God (as I have for several years), but I wanted to start something more focused on one thing: unleashing potential in the young church.

I'm tired of seeing churches just get old and tired and wear themselves out running around the same old circles. There's a better way... I'm about to launch into a long, impassioned diatribe, here, so I'll stop - that's what my new digs are for. I hope to see you there soon (that is, once I reveal where 'there' is)...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

3 Secrets to Seeing Maturity in Student Ministry

Last night, I got to hang out with some of our students here who've started a ministry night they call TNT. It's actually a mixture of a few of our WestWay kids and their friends from a few other churches and friends from no church at all. They get together every week and hang out for about a half hour, have some kind of devotional talk/thought, then break up into smaller groups to talk about issues with which they wrestle. As far as youth ministry goes, it's not really anything too out of the ordinary... except one thing:

From the beginning, TNT has been planned, promoted, and directed by students. They've been going for about a year now, and last night was the very first night I'd even been in the building for their time together. (There is an adult or two who are here just in case they're needed, but they were both tied up last night, so I got to be the substitute!)

Last night, after they hung out for a while, I have to admit that I was starting to wonder if they did anything else. I'm all for relationship building, but I was hoping to see them do something a little more meaningful with the relationships they were building. Just as I began to wonder if there was something else they needed to be doing to make the most of their time together, it was as if some silent signal went off. They put down the ping pong paddles and stepped away from the foos-ball table and everyone headed to the side room, where one of kids who's spearheaded much of TNT prayed, read a chapter from Blue Like Jazz, and started a pretty good conversation.

A year ago, if I'd asked him to get a bunch of his friends together and read to them and lead a discussion about what it means to follow Jesus, he would have thought I was nuts. (I may be, just for the record.) But last night, he did exactly that - and it was his idea. He's been reading and being impacted by what he's reading, and wants to share it. He's not the only one. These students are not afraid to step out and share how God is challenging them.

A lot of youth ministry is pouring yourself into young people and waiting. Rewards are delayed... gratification is anything but instant... It's so good when you get to catch a glimpse of the maturity that God is bringing about. I'm glad I was able to make it last night... If you want to see maturity developing in your student ministry, here are a few things to keep in mind.

If you're doing youth ministry...
Keep pouring. Keep chasing Jesus and allowing him to breathe His life into you, then keep sharing that life with your students.
Don't expect instant results, but treasure those rare moments where you actually get to see the difference Jesus has made through your efforts.
Don't do it all yourself. Let your students get out on that ledge where they can experience the joy of being a conduit of God's grace to their peers. (And find other adult leaders who can help them navigate life, as well.)

If you're not doing youth ministry...
Why not? You've got something to offer and the next generation desperately needs to connect with Christ in you. Chase Jesus and let him breathe His life into you, then find someone who needs you to share that life with them.
You probably don't like me that much, and I'm not sure why you're still reading my blog. But please come back often and keep reading - maybe you'll catch the bug!
Help us. Too many youth leaders are carrying too much of the youth ministry load. We need your help. We may not always be very good at asking for it (I know I'm not), but we simply cannot be everything that all of our students need us to be. Please help us fill the gaps.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Potential, Locked Up

I shouldn't have been able to see him in the middle of the morning like that. He should have been in some class at one high school or another. But he wasn't in class. Instead, as I was buzzed through a series of solid steel doors, he was finishing an English test for his GED courses. Courses he's taking because kids in jail don't go to regular school. But he wants to finish.

As we talked, he asked about a Psalm he'd been reading and what it all meant and I babbled on about Old Testament history and fitting things into the right place in that history to understand better, and how David, the guy that wrote the particular Psalm he was asking about, had messed up really bad, but still was dubbed "a man after God's own heart"... And that was what he was looking for. He needed to know that there is grace enough that he could be forgiven.

I kept thinking about all the potential that is locked up in what we call a Juvenile Detention Center. What will become of these kids? Many of the kids I saw today will spend a lot of their lives in facilities like this. For some it already seems to be a pattern. As I was leaving, a boy who was probably about 13 or 14 seemed to be getting processed in. When I was 13, this would have been pretty traumatic for me - 4 or 5 corrections officers standing by, watching as the restraints were removed and pockets searched as I was ushered in to change into a prison uniform... I would have been wetting my pants! This kid, however young he was, already knew the routine. This was normal for him.

But back to the young man I'd met with... He wants a new normal. He doesn't want this to be the pattern for his life. And he's learning to lean on grace to make that possible. He's hoping to enter a treatment facility soon. 3 weeks clean has been a good start, but he knows he's only just starting a journey that won't be easy. (Please be praying...) Grace can unlock his potential to live a better story.

Which makes me wonder...

What potential have I locked up within myself because I haven't dared to let grace work there? What about you? What fear or bitterness or shame do we harbor, keeping us from becoming what God dreams we could be?

Monday, January 30, 2012

WestWay Staff's 2011 Study/Learning Highlights

(That could quite possibly be the most horrible post title ever, but there's really nothing else to call a post like this, so... you're stuck with it.)

At the end of last year, I asked the rest of the staff here at WestWay for some lists of what had impacted them over the past 12 months or so. I intended to make it sort of an end of the year summary, but that went the way of most of my family Christmas letters and was unfinished until now. Instead of just giving you a list of stuff we read, maybe this can open a discussion in your own life. What's God been showing you lately? What's He using to do that?

I asked each of the guys, "What authors/books stood out to you from this year's reading? How did God use them to shape your heart and your ministry? What speakers is God using in your life right now?" I want to share with you below some of what God has been showing us. Some of these resources would be a great place for you to continue your own growth as well. Get a few friends together and dig in.

Joe replied that he'd enjoyed an online audio series on the book of Revelation. The series was led by Shane Wood and can be found here in the free audio resources section. I also know that Joe enjoyed Mark Moore's Acts series that can be found at that same site a while back. If you're looking for some great teaching about the early church, and what it means to us 2000 years later, this is a great place to start. Joe also spent some time this year listening to messages from Francis Chan and Mark Driscoll, and he commented that "Their love and passion for taking Christ to the lost is contagious."

In his reading this year, Joe mentioned Soul Cravings from Erwin McManus, Elijah from Charles Swindoll, and Max on Life from Max Lucado. He noted that what stood out in these books was how God is in control and we can be willing even when we don't understand all the details of what He's doing.

Willie noted Max DePree's Leading Without Power, Jim Putman's Church is a Team Sport, Mike Cope's One Holy Hunger, and Juan Carlos Ortiz's Disciple. He said he was also encouraged or challenged by messages from Shane Philip of The Crossing in Las Vegas, Andy Stanley of North Point, Steven Furtick from Elevation Church, Erwin McManus of Mosaic, Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill, and Tom Gerdts of Rockingham Christian Church.

Shane said that 4 books came to mind:
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning was a great reminder that God's love and grace are so much bigger than our self-doubt and hate and shame. He desires the best for us.
Radical from David Platt and Sun Stand Still from Steven Furtick were both used to teach that God is strong and mighty and desires us to join Him in His holy plan. We need to follow and obey to the best of our abilities and depend on Him for the impossible.
Activate from Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas was a very practical book in planning for small groups ministry.

Marshall said, "I only read the red letters." Just kidding - he didn't say that at all. He did mention Celebration of Discipline from Foster, which he called the "best spiritual growth book I have studied," and Terry Bowland's Make Disciples (which offered some help understanding some steps to grow in our own discipline & help others at the same time).

For my own part, I'd put Platt's Radical at the top of the list. I haven't commented much about this book here because I'm still chewing on the implications, but this was definitely the highest impact book I read this year. It's very challenging to someone like me whose grown up in the church and just accepted as normal some things that Jesus would probably rather do without in His church. The American Dream has blurred the vision of the North American church in ways that we have to correct. Now. What kingdom are we working to build? This is a great book that you should read.

I also liked 10 Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing from Geoff Surratt. If you're serving the church in any kind of leadership capacity, it's a good look at some things to avoid. I posted more about it in a series of posts

I didn't ask about it, but if I had added film category, Love Costs Everything would be at the top of my list. It's an eye opening look at what it's like to follow Jesus in parts of the world where doing so is not the norm, but rather is a dangerous & persecuted act. We'll be showing the film here at WestWay on March 11th.

"Love Costs Every Thing" Trailer from CIY Move on Vimeo.

If I had to pick a theme from all of this from our staff, it would be digging in to the question of what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus. Pray with me that in 2012 we'll continue digging and finding what God wants to show us.

So, what's God teaching you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Don't Just Stand There

It was a huge mess. After watching their oppressors being hounded by bloody water, frogs, flies, gnats, hail, dying animals, locusts up the wazoo, darkness, festering sores all over their bodies, and the deaths of their firstborn sons... now they were free. Well, they were on the edge of the wilderness loaded down with loot, with no homes to which to return, but at least they weren’t slaves anymore, right? Then it all started to look really bad...

Camped along the shore of the Red Sea, happy to be out of Egypt, the Hebrews looked out in the distance and saw the Egyptian army marching toward them. In terror at the realization that they were stuck between an army bent on their destruction and a Sea that left nowhere to run, they cried out to God and turned on Moses. “Why did you lead us here? We could have died just as well in Egypt! Why couldn’t you have just left us alone?”

Moses kept a calmer head and offered what seemed to him to be good advice, “Don’t be afraid of them, just stand firm and watch what God will do. He’ll fight for you, just be quiet and watch.” Doesn't that sound comforting? "God's led us here & it's His fight - just watch." I’ve got to admire Moses’ trust in God at this point. He knew that God had led them there, and he knew that God would deliver them. But his fight or flight response must have been broken by the burning bush experience or something. When the army’s coming after you and you’ve got nothing with which to defend yourself, you run! Hide! Hey, maybe you pick up some rocks and prepare to do your best to buy some time for your wife and kids to get to safety, but you don’t just stand there!

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” Those are the words (NASB) Moses said to the people in the face of certain death. Does that not sound crazy to anyone else? I bet it did to a lot of them! Now, several thousand years later, we know he was right. We know what they could scarcely hope for as they stood near the sea, waiting to die. God did rescue them. But He saw the whole episode a little differently than Moses did. He said to Moses, “Why are you crying to me? Tell the people to get moving!” Essentially, He said “Don’t just stand there dummy. Go!”

Sometimes, we’re tempted to think there’s nothing we can do to make a situation better. We’re stuck, and we think the only thing we can do is sit there and cry (to God?). Or maybe we think we need to just wait out the storm and perhaps, somehow the impending army won’t crush us and we’ll survive. So, we whimper on the shore when God’s ready to break open the waters and let us escape to life with Him - if we'd only get moving... 

I don’t mean to make light of asking God for help - we do need to be desperate for Him to rescue us. Some of us need to be a whole lot less self-reliant. But we also need to get moving. When God tells us to move forward, into that brick wall, or perilous sea, or whatever obstacle is in the way... we need to get moving!

I wonder if Jesus had something like that in mind when He told Peter that He was going to build a church that even the gates of hell couldn’t stop? When He told His disciples to “Go into all the world...” did He hear His Father’s words to Moses echoing through time, beckoning this tiny band of misfits to turn the world upside down? 

Church, are we stuck between the army and the sea, just waiting for God to do something? Are we desperate for God to act on our behalf? Maybe it’s time that, in our desperation, we move AND see Him act... Maybe it’s time to take that first step toward the water. It sure beats dying on the shoreline. May we charge the gates He’s brought us to, following Him as He’s led the charge on His mission to rescue and reconcile.

12 in '12 Tuesday

12 in '12 is a series of posts talking about life in youth ministry with a 12 year old in the family this year.
This weekend, Emily got to go to her first Winter White Wash. It's a ski retreat we take our Middle School and High School students to each year. This year, we skied at Snowy Range just outside Laramie, and had the main sessions at the new building of White Water Christian Church. (It's awesome to see this new church continue to develop.) Emily wasn't a huge fan of the whole skiing thing, but had fun the rest of the time. I'm tearing her away from the Republican debate to answer a few questions for you. Just for clarity's sake, my comments/questions are italicized and Emily's answers are in bold. (Like you wouldn't have figured that out!)

What was the best part of the weekend?
   Pretty much the entire weekend was fun. NOT skiing though. I got ran over by a guy on a snowboard. It hurt. Very bad. [At least the kid felt guilty about it - I think he may have been crying as bad as you were.]

What was it like being the only 6th Grader in our group? Terrible I bet, no one to talk to at all, right?
    Actually, it wasn't that bad. Most of the time I hung out with the high school girls. And some 6TH GRADE friends from Bayard. [...and Laramie, and some tiny place with no name, and some kid from Rapid, and... I told you not to worry about it.]

How was the van ride? I heard your driver was pretty awesome.
     The van ride was fun. Except when we got caught in a blizzard (Not the DQ kind) and couldn't see anything. Except white. It was scary. And by the way, the driver wasn't that awesome. (It was you, Dad!) [I know! And I thought it was pretty good driving for not being able to see ANYTHING.]

How was it being the daughter of the youth pastor? Any specific challenges to being my kid? Or benefits?
      It's OK being the daughter of the youth pastor. Not really any challenges. There are benefits though. Like you paid for my lunch even though I had my own money. And I know all the songs on your iTunes list and I can bug you until you play Lecrae. [It doesn't really take a whole lot of bugging to get me to play Lecrae. He's awesome. I'm sure there will be some challenges sooner or later - but I'm sure you'll be up for them, too. Oh, and you owe me a lunch!]

Any advice for other youth ministers who are taking their kids on trips with their youth groups?
       The only advice I have is: Don't embarrass them or they'll just embarrass you right back. And trust me, you don't want to be embarrassed by a Jr. High or High School kid. [Is that a threat? Alright, go to bed young lady, right now.]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter White Wash 2012 Day 2

 What is our focus? What are the things for which we hunger and thirst?
Today was Emily's first skiing experience. Conditions weren't great for first time skiing, but she gave it a go anyway. After lunch I talked her into one last run on the bigger slopes, but on the way down, there were a few places that were a little more steep than she thought she bargained for. (I may or may not have given full disclosure before I got her on the chair lift...) To keep her from taking off her skis and walking the rest of the way down, I skied backwards right in front of her and tried to keep her looking at me instead of the "gently rolling slope" behind me.
It reminds me of life with Jesus. When I chase after anything but Him, it's easy to notice a lot of stuff around me that I know I can't handle. It's easy to get all wrapped up in my own "stuff". (By the way, if you don't notice anything that you can't handle in life, you probably need to let your Dad coax you off the bunny slope for a change of pace...)

It is the living water of Jesus' transforming power that we should be chasing. It's only His provision that will really satisfy. We need to be "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NASB) Let's be done playing the game. theoquest