I have six months to reshape my life. I can do this.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Words of Joseph Smith and in the Spirit of Moses

You know, Jesus said before you pull the splinter out, remove the log. But it came to pass then that Jesus said once the log is removed, by all means remove the splinter.

How in God's name is leaving someone struggling and stuck with sinful issues or problems true compassion?

You don't love me enough to correct me, to help me? Remove the log. But it will then come to pass that you will be free from similar issues you want to help me with. Then remove the splinter. Remove hypocrisy. I will listen. I am the most humble guy on the planet and I can absolutely accept criticism.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Just Like Starting Over Part Dos

So today is my official 7th year anniversary as the youth dude at the church I serve at. It also means that I have officially been in full time work serving my Savior for over ten years. That is so crazy. And how did I mark the great seventh anny? How did I show the world that after ten plus years in ministry I am evolving into a great, wise and temperate youth minister?

I had to take down banners and posters and ticky tack off of the walls so the painters from Green Acres could come in and stare at the walls they need to paint. Who knew that ladder positioning and placement was something that had to be determined by committee? Not me. And apparently you can fuss and fidget with a drop cloth and still not get it close to the wall you are painting.

So, after seven years I have come to a couple of conclusions, some simple lessons I have learned as a youth minister:

1) Simplify, simplify, simplify. It is such a weird thing to say but less really is more almost all of the time in youth ministry. We bombard students with images, noises, events - it can truly be sensory overload. I used to cram all I could in a calendar. Now I realize that big events are nice but not how we live. Week to week must receive the lion's share of my focus. And I need to find simple but effective ways to help students walk with Christ.

2) Have a plan. Develop a simply strategy that walks people all the way from life without Christ to becoming active servants, involved in missions and ministry. Not vocational callings mind you. Lives that are obedient to Christ. Too many times in my ministry teenagers become devoted Christians almost by accident. We have no idea really how it happened. Develop your plan, the plan that suits your strengths, your organization, your ministry. It is not Willow Creek's plan. It is not Saddleback's Plan. It is not Life Church's plan. It is the one that works best with your people in your situation in your town. I will write more on this much later on, as I am JUST NOW starting to develop our plan. Seriously, how backwards is that? Seven years later we are scaling back and actually planning our strategy for our specific d-ship plan. At least we are starting now though, right?

3) Missions and relationships seem to make the most impact. Sure, there is the various big event high. But the most life change seems to come from simply developing friendships with people and from actually sticking people in places to minister and serve that is outside of their comfort zones. Camps or weekend retreats are nice. But actually seeing teenagers serve in a soup kitchen or a backyard Bible club or in a dental clinic in South America really pushes them and encourages more spiritual growth than another camp or hoopdedoo weekend.

4) Stop teaching Time Life's How to Fix Your Life in Six Easy Steps and start teaching the Bible. Most people do not have a working knowledge of scripture. While that is not necessarily our fault, we do share some of the blame; we have taken the need of having a Bible at church from their lives. From our big, cool screens to our handouts and message notes we have effectively taken the Bible OUT of the hands of the people we minister to. I only know of ONE GUY whose focus is to simply point people to Christ by unlocking the thread that flows through scripture. And even HE gets criticism for using another book on theology. Leading people deeper in scripture can be intimidating because it means that we have to dig some ourselves. But we are only going to lead people as far as we gone ourselves.

5) Hold firmly to your convictions but don't let them limit the scope of your ministry. What I mean is that I have some things that I believe. I believe them because I know God has taught me those things specifically. The question is can you believe something that is contrary to what I believe? Can I respect what you believe?

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that at 18 our convictions are hills we walk on. At 45 they are caves we hide in. Sometimes, as we get older, the lead-pipe lock we have on our convictions limits the mercy, love and compassion that we need as we look at people who live very different lives from our own. Can we still love, respect or at the very least understand what has informed and influenced their lives to bring them to that point? Or do our convictions simply lead us to discredit them and ultimately hate their lifestyle? Sometimes our rock-solid convictions become our refuge and justification for hate. How ridiculous is that?

6) It actually IS okay to ski once in a while. Who knew? Not every trip needs to be a mission trip. Sometimes the totally pointless trips can be healthy and serve as an open door to the church. You don't want a steady diet of fluff, but the occasional fun trip can actually prove that there is love, joy and liberating fun to be found in Christ. I would assume Jesus laughed a lot more than we do.

7) Ministry is like coaching. Everyone is convinced that they could do your job better than you can. Get used to it. Every mom or dad or grandpa or teenager is an armchair youth minister. And let them think that.

They are not the one who has to change planes mid-trip to come back from Arizona on their way to California to bury the boy who shot himself in the church parking lot. They are not the one who has to talk to the wild child who has just spent 40 days in juvie because he simply has no positive influence in his life, besides the big idiot youth minister. They don't have to sit through another endless staff meeting as the education minister reads you another committee meeting minutes recap that you could read yourself. Except you won't read it because it is mind-numbingly boring. And he knows that. So he reads it to you. They don't have to sit with another homeless person who needs a few bucks to eat (or drink, as is usually the case). They don't sweat and agonize over ANOTHER shirt logo, or ask the secretaries to re-print the handouts because they are not the way you wanted them. No, most people just know enough to minister to their student and maybe another one or two of their friends. And they are supposed to be that way. It's just life. Build a bridge and get over it. If it wasn't for people, ministry would be an easy job.

8) Eat lunch or dinner with at least one kid each week. This will do wonders for you and your ministry.

9) Read. A lot. Everything from fuzzy Lucado to challenging Lewis to inspiring Manning. Read it all.

10) Everything they teach you in school about being in ministry is good information. You probably just won't use it. But don't worry. Just start working. Be faithful. Learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many (the good news is they expect a certain amount of moronic moments from their youth dude). And hold unswervingly to the straight way the Savior is leading you on, lighting your way with the Holy Scriptures and nudging you along by the breath of the Spirit, who lightens the load on those dark nights of the soul when life and ministry seem to be leaning a bit too heavily on you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ten Word Answers

One of my favorite TV shows from the past ten years is The West Wing. I didn't always agree with the politics but I really enjoyed the show. That said, I didn't always disagree with the politics either. But there is one episode in the fourth season where President Bartlett is running for re-election and he comes heavily against the ten word answers to the nation's problems. It is easy to diagnose the problems. But more difficult to come up with a solution, a way of solving those complex problems.

Today I have been discussing one of those really complex issues in the church: drinking. I don't think the solution is as simplistic as Adrian Rogers or Danny Akin or any other tee-totaler can recommend. They are in that "Your alcohol abuse begins with your first drink, not your last. Just don't start!" So simple. And in a way, so ridiculous.

And I don't know if I can even listen to someone like Wade Burleson, who is so hardcore that one time, at supper, he drank a glass of wine! Take that SBC! Of course, according to Rogers and Akin and the rest, Burleson now should enter a 12 step program, that rotten booze hound!

I like Manning and Lewis more in dealing with these issues of faith. And it is teaching me to be more thoughtful about my faith. I had lunch with another friend, Aaron, and I was amazed at how quickly he could process information. I would sit and struggle with it. Aaron could zip through it. I was explaining some stuff I had heard at a conference that I was still working through. As I would mention it, Aaron would think and then say something like, "Okay, I can see that. I agree with that. That's not bad." He might ask one or two questions to clarify but by and large he was processing this stuff so quickly. Now if Aaron would write about those issues, I would listen. He was objective and accessible. Those are two things I need more of as I wade through issues with people. Or I could hollar from my soap box. The second is easier. But it makes me look foolish. How sad is it that as I get older, I seem to be getting more stupid.

I wish there were easy answers. It is just those people. Goodness. Ministry would be so easy if I never had to deal with people. People ruin a good ministry with their problems, issues and sins. Dang them. I need a drink...

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I happen to be seeing the greatest woman I have ever met. I absolutely admire her. She is the best person I know. One of my favorite things about her is the way she misuses the English language. She has these malapropisms, these funny turns of phrasings. And I would absolutely be robbing the world of insight, humor and joy if I were to keep it all to myself; to hoard it like a greedy child on Christmas morning. So here are a few of my favorites:

"I could really use to see you." - This was said after a tough day. She meant to say something like, "I really need to see you now," or "A visit with you would really help me right now." There are probably a thousand ways to say this. But none have the charm or the strange honesty tied up. What I like about it: she really felt that way. She really wanted to see me. I really try to think things through, measure my words carefully like ingredients. So when I say something I really have thought about it, thought it through completely. I do it to impress people. I do it to get a favorable reaction. She said it because she meant it. She thought how she needed to see me. And her mouth couldn't get the words out fast enough. It humbles me that she stumbles over her words simply because she loves me that much, that seeing me would be a cool drink of water on a bad day. Is that not amazing?

"Relaxful." - This was said to convey comfort, like "that nap was relaxing" or "Goodness, that night's sleep was quite restful." I tried to explain that something cannot be "full of relax." It was really impossible. But she seems to be committed to it. And you have to respect that. And it gives me hope. If she can be so dedicated and loyal to such an odd word, she may just be able to be dedicated and loyal to an odd man, like myself. And relaxing is a word that can be used to describe how I feel around her. I really don't have to prove or protect myself. I hope all of you can find that in someone you love. A sense of comfort and strength that allows you to be transparent, genuine. There isn't much pretense between us. I don't have to guard myself. I am finally allowing myself the freedom to expose who I am. That is liberating and relaxing at the same time. You were thinking that I was going to use the word "relaxful" weren't you? Well, no, because it still isn't a word. And while she can misuse the English language like that, I refuse to.

So, for now, I will continue to pretend to be offended when she says things like that. I will exaggerate (her phrase is "being exaggeratory") at how often she abuses English. And each time it happens, more than likely, I will be absolutely crushed inside by how overwhelmingly wonderful she is. I don't deserve it at all. And for that, and for her, I will be forever grateful.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Second Verse Same as the First

In a brief follow up to yesterday. I am going to give you some advice and then make two statements and then qualify one of them somewhat. Here goes.

The advice: Never read through James on a mission trip. Just too much to handle for one poor, misguided missional fool.

Statement: Like all Christians, I hate sin.

Qualify it: Like all Christians, I hate YOUR sin. Mine is fine, thank you very much. But yours, ugh! I can't even think about it. You are so bad. Your sin is so awful. When you die and get into eternity, God will certainly smite you. Your sin is icky. In fact, every time you sin a puppy dies. That is how bad it is. When I sin, it isn't that big a deal. Only a cat dies.

Statement: Christians cannot separate sin from the sinner. We should. We would like to. We seem incapable of it. So, since we hate your sin, we pretty much hate you too.

But Jesus loves me. Thanks Jesus.

(Note: this post was written late at night in a highly sarcastic tone and manner)

How can I share the simple, life changing love of Jesus Christ when I hate the people I am called to share it with?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

So Close Yet So Far Away

I am back in Chicago, sort of my second or third home. While I have really enjoyed being here again, God has really spoken profoundly to me. The last two youth trips I have lead have been quite fruitful spiritually, at least for me. Camp was rich with insight into God's word, revealed to me through the Spirit.

And today a light just turned on for me about evangelism. People without Christ really are not that far from him. In fact, some of the people who we would assume are far from God are actually so close to discovering Jesus. It just takes someone to help be that conduit of God's mercy, love and grace.

Today I heard someone read from the first chapter of the Qur'an. And it absolutely opened my eyes. I also heard from a Pakistani pastor who has an intimate working knowledge of Islam and also from a man who has really and truly studied Islam and read through the Qur'an many times. In the first chapter, if you heard in it modern English, you might be surprised by what it says. In it is a phrase that is repeated by devout Muslims seventeen times as they pray five times each day towards Mecca. The phrase is a plea to Allah to help them find the "straight way." Seventeen times every day Muslims ask Allah to show them the straight way. Every day Muslims want to find the straight, narrow road to God.

And so many Christians refuse to enter any kind of dialogue with them about that straight way. In fact, most Christians are so nominal in their faith that they couldn't even point to John 14:6 and tell a Muslim, "You know, you pray seventeen times a day for Allah to show you the straight way. Would you like to know who is the straight way? It is Jesus Christ. According to John 14:6, Jesus says he is the way and the truth and life. Nobody gets to God except through Jesus."

They don't enter into that conversation for so many reasons. Some won't because they are so ignorant of scripture that they cannot even link John 3:16 with John 14:6 and let those words compel them by the power of the Holy Spirit to share with others. Many won't because they don't even know a Muslim, although they are all over this great land.

But most will never enter into that conversation because they simply hate Muslims. They hate them. They hate their word for God (Allah). They hate their holy book, the Qur'an, which Muslims hold sacred. They hate their religion, their mosques and their practices. They hate everything that is important to Muslims.

Muslims are moving to the USA for life. They are not here for two years. They are not here until they get a little older than they will retire and return to Kabul or Kathmandu. They will live and marry and die here. Right now there are an estimated 7 million Muslims in America. That means they are now more populous than those who practice Judaism.

Why should a Muslim listen to us Christians? We hate them. We want them to die. We discredit everything they hold dear. We don't respect it. How can you show love to someone you hate? How? Will you take any gift from someone who hates you? Me neither.

Christians MUST leave behind their hate and ignorance and bigotry. We must get out of our bully pulpit. Sinners were attracted to Jesus. The rest of the world hates Christians. Read those two sentences again. What in the world has happened? Stop listening to Jack Van Impe or Pat Robertson and start reading what Jesus said. You cannot show someone you love them when you talk about how much you hate them

Have you ever read the Qur'an? Even a little? Have you ever met a Muslim? Have you ever invited one into your home? How can you reach out and minister in love to someone you hate, who does something you hate?

And where in the holy book of God called the Bible does it say ANYWHERE "Jesus looked at them and hated them?" How will you reach the gambler when you think he is a degenerate? How will you reach the alcoholic or the drug addict who you think is a burnout loser? How can you reach the homosexual who you think is a disgusting abomination? How will you reach the adulterer who you think is a lustful heathen and cheater? How will you reach the Muslim who you think is a horrible terrorist?

You know what all of those people have in common? They are sinners. Satan uses that evil snare of sin to keep them separated from God. And what do you have in common with them? You are a sinner too. Without Jesus Christ to conquer death, we would all burn in hell together. You. The gay couple. The gambler. The Muslim. Pat Robertson and Jack Van Impe. And me too. Jesus died on the cross and conquered, vanquished, defeated, crushed the devil. Jesus secured for us victory. We are NOT ashamed of Jesus Christ and the cross he was crucified on. In fact, Jesus died to create for us the straight way that even today Muslims will ask Allah to show them. Seventeen times.

Learn how to love like Jesus. Learn how to live like Jesus. Stop being an American Christian. Start being a Kingdom Christian. Love others. Share. They are so close to Christ. Yet they are so far away. Bridge that gap. Be proud and confident and bold in the Jesus Christ you say you believe in.