James wk1

thinker-vs-doer1

James is such a fantastic book!  I hope by now you’ve gotten the chance to read through the first chapter.  If you haven’t, don’t worry you can do that now.

…seriously, I’ve got time.  I’ll wait.

Welcome back!  How refreshing was that?  I love reading James because of the perspective he gives us.  Here’s an apostle of Christ and an early church leader and he was also Jesus’ brother.  And you can almost hear him pleading with you to live the life that you claim.  And that’s really the gist of the whole book.  James urges readers to live out their faith.  That their actions would match their convictions.

The book of James is written to Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and were living in community with other believers.  But James was seeing all over the same thing that we see today:  people who wear the Christian badge and wave the flag, but don’t actually represent Christ.  It’s like every time I see Westboro Baptist and I can’t help but hang my head because nonbelievers see them claim the same faith that I do.  Yet the two of us are so different!  But it’s not just extreme cases like that.  It’s when I see someone that goes to our church treat a waitress poorly.  Or when one church speaks ill of another.  Or when we walk around seeing all sorts of needs, but do nothing about them.  This behavior is all over, I don’t have to convince you of that.  And that’s why the book of James is so compelling.  Because it speaks to us and convicts us so thoroughly.  And he doesn’t do it like the apostle Paul, with eloquence and theology (Romans is hard), but he just puts it out there.  He’s like that friend of yours that doesn’t care if people overhear what they say or how they take it.  And it’s this brutal honesty that I love and I hope you’re coming to love too.

But this week, I want to look closely at chapter 1, verses 22-25.  And it’s wrapped up in this whole section of hearing versus doing:  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.

He starts off saying to not just be hearers and so deceive yourselves.  Back in James’ day, reading and writing wasn’t a given like it is today.  Many people didn’t have the ability to read.  And even if they did, they probably didn’t have the money to own the written scriptures.  Paper was expensive and copying text even more so.  So generally, the only scripture many received was at meetings when the scroll was read.  And I’d like to think that in the last two thousand years, we’re a little better.  But truthfully, most of the people at our church only hear God’s word on Sundays when Pastor Brian is teaching; or our students on Wednesday nights.  So the message to the original audience is generally the same as to us today.  Don’t just hear it.  Don’t consider yourself a Christian just because you hear God’s word.  James says that if you do, you’re deceiving yourself!  You’re joking yourself!  You’re fooling yourself!  James says, you hear God’s Word?  Congratulations!  For not a single thing!

Think he’s being too dramatic, this James the jerk?  Consider these more politely written verses:

1st John 2:3-4 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

or

Matthew 7:21-22 (Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out many demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

James’ next sentence is almost a summary of the rest of the book…

DO WHAT IT SAYS.

He’s telling us that hearing the word or, if you’re in the minority of people who regularly read the Bible, reading the Word amounts to nothing if we don’t live it out.  That’s harsh!  I hope you’re feeling your toes getting stepped all over!

James goes on to compare it to a man that looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  And I like looking at this a couple different ways.  And I think each way pulls out a different truth tucked away in this analogy…

  1. Mirrors back in James’ day were nothing like the glass mirrors we have now.  They were made from metal and flattened and polished as well as they could be.  But the image they reflected was far from perfect.  You can imagine looking at a piece of metal, with it’s blurriness and irregularities and not quite seeing a solid reflection.  But there were pockets that showed a solid reflection.  So in order to truly see yourself and get an idea of how you looked, you’d have to stare intently at it in all sorts of directions and piece together the image, based on lots and lots of observation.  And with all the effort of seeing yourself, to forget what you look like when you walk away is preposterous!  So it is with hearing or reading.  You peer intently into God’s Word, studying, meditating, but then you walk away from it without the teachings you so carefully poured over.  And all that effort is wasted.
  2. Me looking at a mirror and Megan looking at a mirror are two completely different occasions.  When I look at a mirror, I’m really just checking to make sure I’m still unattractive.  I’m still convinced that one day I’ll walk by and a tall dark Gosling-esque man will look back at me.  He’ll wink, flash a brilliant smile, turn his chiseled chin and wave his perfect hair before I realize that it’s me, at which point I’ll weep uncontrollably.  But that’s okay because I’ll even cry pretty.  Where was I?  Anyway, my looking in the mirror is really just a glance.  Megan, on the other hand, is there with a purpose.  She’s checking her hair, making sure there’s nothing in her teeth, playing with her eyelashes, and generally looking herself over to see how she can take her perfection to another level.  She’s looking intently.  She takes the time to determine what can be changed, what needs modified, how she can look better.  She’s looking with a purpose.  She’s looking with the desire to improve.  So when she walks away from the mirror, she’s walking away more put together.  When I glance by the mirror, I just walk away.  If someone asked how my hair looks, I don’t know.  Zits?  Blemishes?  No idea.  Because when I looked in the mirror, I really didn’t care what I found.  I was just glancing.
  3. Too often, I’ll hear a podcast or a sermon or just a solid word across the table and it will baffle me just how much it resonates with me.  I’ll be super convicted by it and feel so sharply in that moment the change that needs to happen.  And I don’t just feel that need to change, I start getting a picture of the me that could be.  Maybe it’s a wiser me or more patient me.  But I always realize that God is leading me to be a more complete version of myself or closer to the man that He has in mind.  And I can see myself so vividly with these new changes.  I see how it will strengthen my family and inspire my students and help change the community.  And I fall in love with this vision of me and I want so badly to see it realized!  But then I go to lunch or I have a meeting or Jax poops his diaper.  And my mind goes somewhere else.  And suddenly, I’m not just no longer seeing that image of me, I’ve forgotten about it altogether.  And I’ll forget all about it until the next time I see myself and I forget it yet again.  God so often moves in me to become more than I am.  But after seeing myself, I walk away and completely forget.  The vision is gone, as is the determination to become it.

He then goes on to contrast this forgetful fellow saying that a man who does not forget what he looks likes, but lives according to the Word is blessed in everything he does.

So basically there are two ways of hearing God’s Word.  As a passive listener or an active participant.

Wow, that’s a thought!  Are you a passive listener or an active participant?

Are you hearing just to learn some neat facts you can tell others?  Don’t waste your time, you’ll probably forget them anyway.  Are you reading it just because you hear that you should?  The effort is good, but the motive is wrong.  Try again.

Or are you hearing it and studying it with a genuine desire to encounter divine truth?  Humbly seeking ways to grow closer to Jesus?  When we do this, we not only see ourselves and the picture of what God wants for us, but it’s fueled with the conviction that it needs to be completed.

Think about that for a moment.  How does that dictate our behavior?  Allow me to make an analogy of my own.  Owen and I can walk by the same mess in the same house.  I have the desire for at least a fairly organized and clean home.  Owen could not possibly care less.  So when Owen approaches said mess, he identifies it and he acknowledges that it could be clean instead of dirty.  He even knows that it would be better clean.  But he is not fueled with the conviction that it should be.  He just doesn’t care.  Megan or I, on the other hand, could walk by the mess.  And we could walk by either leisurely or with some other purpose, but our response is different than Owen’s.  We are fueled with the conviction that it should be cleaned.  So regardless of what we’re doing or what we’re on our way to enjoying, we must stop and clean the mess before we move on.  That is essentially the difference between hearing and doing.  Between walking away & forgetting our image and acting on it.

And what’s more is that when the mess is cleaned, there is peace.  Especially for Megan.  She can’t relax unless the house is clean.  She will refuse to sit down and relax if there’s a mess nearby.  She’s completely incapable.  She’s a freak like that.  But when it’s done, there is peace.

In the same way, when we act on God’s Word, we also have peace.  We are living in the freedom of His Will.  There is no peace like knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for you.  None in the world.  It’s a feeling beyond peace and beyond joy.  It’s a feeling of wholeness.  Of completeness.  (I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop there.  I hope you’ve felt that at least a couple times in your life!)  But beyond that, we will be blessed.  The blessings of this obedient life will be realized.  Joshua 1:8 says “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, (why, you ask…) so that you may be careful to DO everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

God promises blessing and success.  But He does not just hand it out frivolously.  God is much too good of a steward and much too good of a father to do that.  He hands it out to those who are obedient.

…who hear His Word

…who write it on their heart

…and who do what it says.

Chances are that God’s Spirit has been speaking to you the whole time you’ve been reading this.  Maybe He’s reminding you of a reflection you saw in the past, but forgot and never acted on.  Maybe He’s reminding you of a place you’ve been wanting blessing and success in, but it seems to be avoiding you.  Maybe He’s showing you an image for the first time.  But regardless, He’s doing it for a purpose.  But He won’t act it out for you.  He wants you to choose.  How will you choose?  Will you look away and forget what you saw?  Or will you immediately, in the moment that proceeds this, begin making steps toward doing?

If you’re married, have a conversation with your spouse tonight.  Talk about the reflection you saw.  Talk about what God’s putting on your heart to do.  If you don’t have a spouse, meet up with a good friend or accountability partner.  If you have neither, you’ve always got me!  You have my cell number and you know where my office is at.  But do something.

And maybe you’re feeling discouraged right now because you recognize that your conviction-to-do-something tank is low.  Please let me know and I’d love to pray with you.  Nothing combats uninspired faith like prayer to God and proximity to His people!

So guys, get after it!  Lets all continue to grow together!  I’m walking this out with you!  When you see me, call me out!  Ask me what I’m actively doing and keep me in check too!  I love you and can’t wait to see you!

And just in case you need a little more motivation…

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The one about the worst part of being a youth pastor…

kanye

I realized quite some time ago that adults are generally afraid of being around teens.  Whether I’m trying to recruit someone to volunteer in youth ministry or just having a conversation with someone about what I do, so often some form of the question comes up: What’s the worst thing about being a Youth Pastor?

It’s such a loaded question.

Sometimes they’re wanting their fears confirmed.  Sometimes they’re wanting to see what I’d gripe about.  Other times they’re just wanting a good story.

I think my honest response catches alot of people off guard.

They think maybe I’ll say something about kids being crazy.  About how hard they can be to manage.  How much energy they have versus my general lack of it.  How they can be out of control, especially when they’re excited about something, far from home, or a combination of the two.

They think maybe I’ll say something about the hours.  Getting called at 2am.  Stuck in group texts before school hours.  Keeping office hours, plus hosting events, plus church services, plus building relationships.  Going to sporting events or plays or concerts or dances or homecoming or competitions.  That my ministry is as nonstop as they are.

They think maybe I’ll say something about teenage drama.  How worlds fall apart after a breakup.  Two seemingly best friends fighting over someone’s attention.  Body image, social anxiety, gossiping, or selfishness.

They think maybe I’ll say something about the ugliness of their world.  Living life with kids brought up on drugs and alcohol.  Parents who are only parents in that they supplied the biological necessities.  The culture of casual sex and the consequences that come with it.

They think maybe I’ll say something about “kids these days”.  How they can be so selfish.  How they live with their faces in a screen.  How they seemingly have an honest respect for nothing.  They’re entitled, undeserving, or spoiled.

There’s some truth and some lies in all of these.  But none of them even come close to what I hate most.  Not one of these could even hope to capture the thing about being a youth pastor that I hate most.

This time of year, I scroll through Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.  All I see are girls dolled up and guys in tuxes.  Two weeks from now, they’ll trade in their prom attire for caps and gowns.  Then my feeds are once again nothing but selfies and carefully crafted shots, to show themselves to the world exactly how they want to be seen.  And I look at them and think, “This is what I hate most about youth ministry…”

What I hate most about youth ministry is graduation.  By far.  Nothing even comes close to it.  You see these kids, optimistic and hopeful.  Looking forward to what lies ahead.  And each time I see it, it breaks my heart.  I spend years falling in love with these kids.  And I love them so much!  But I don’t love them because of what they do for me.  And I don’t love them because they’re perfect or even easy to handle…

I love them because of the 2am phone calls, when they need a ride home from a party they never should have been at.  Because of their crazy energy and the memories that are made on trips.  Because I got to see how euphoric they were after the big win or downcast because of the loss.  Because they let me walk with them through the image issues and relationship drama.  Because I get to be a surrogate father to the ones without.  Because they ask me to meet them in the park at midnight after a breakup.  Because they show me the respect they have for people who enter their world.  Because they hand me the razor and promise not to cut anymore.  Because they come to my office, crying over their big regret.  Because they looked to me for guidance to heal that relationship.  Because they ask for help when they realize their new girlfriend’s dad is super racist.  Because they were hungry for more of God’s Spirit and didn’t know what to do.  Because they think they can keep it a secret after their last big prank on me.  Because I got to see them minister to the mentally disabled.  Because we went together to feed the hungry.  Because they’ve called me all sorts of inappropriate names.  Because they treat my boys like little brothers.  Because I get caught in silly, meaningless group texts.  Because they introduced me to that friend who thought he could shock me.  Because they showed up at my house when their father walked out.  Because they called me up when they thought their girlfriend was pregnant.  Because they wanted me to tell them how great they were in the play.  Because they couldn’t bear to talk about it with their parents alone.  Because they finally stepped up and lead.  Because they let me in, closer than even many of their closest friends.  Because we laughed together and battled together and argued together and goofed together and cried together and overcame together.

What I hate most about being a youth pastor is when I no longer get to be that for them.  When they move on and away.  This time each year, I get that feeling all over again.  Why can’t things just stay the same?  Why can’t we all just stay as one?  But in the back of my mind, I know that with these students leaving, others will come up.  Younger kids who will one day call me in the middle of the night over their own drama.  New teens who will need someone to walk with them through the darkness.

And I’ll fall in love all over again.

This is the worst part.  This is what I hate.  That every year my heart will break all over.

But then every year my heart will grow.

It’s a double edged sword.  But I look at it all and I can only thank God.  I have the privilege of getting to know so many amazing teens.  And when it comes down to it, I am allowed to fall in love with more people than any one person could hope to.

So what I hate most is also what I love most.

Aint that something…

The one about the questions you ask to fall in love…

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The other night, Megan and I were at home watching the first episode of this season’s The Bachelor. I think of that show the same way I do American Idol. I have no interest in it.

…except the first couple shows.

Is it okay to admit that? The first few episodes are downright hilarious. There’s something inside of me that takes an unusual amount of joy from seeing a train wreck. And that’s exactly what this show is. So anyway, we’re watching this show and I’m cruising news sites on my phone and I come across this article that says any two people that talk through a list of 36 questions can fall in love. Well, Bachelor was on the tv, love was in the air, and my curiosity was piqued. So I looked into it a little bit.

The story goes like this:
In 1997, a psychologist named Arthur Aaron was able to make two complete strangers fall in love in his laboratory. He had a man and woman enter his lab from two separate doors, where they sat across from each other and answered a series of questions. The result: rainbows, unicorns, and l-o-v-e. Arthur went on to publish his studies, which flew under the radar. Only recently did the study find popularity, after an article in the New York Times. The article, written by a university professor named Mandy Len Catron, tells of her interest in the topic. She then persuades a pseudo-stranger she knows from the gym to try it out with her. In her article, she talks about the series of questions (they start simple and get more and more intimate) and the final instruction to stare into each others eyes silently for 4 minutes (scary, right???). Her results? Wedding bells.

You can read Mandy’s article here…

Now I’m not saying that any couple who does this will fall in love. Many of the couples in the lab didn’t. And I’m not trying to offer pointers to singles who desperately (Bachelor style) want to find love. But what I’m saying (specifically to the couples from my church who are really my only audience) is that taking the time to be with someone is always thrilling. But too often, couples spend far more time maintaining life than they do just enjoying each other. I could go on and on about the importance of dating your spouse, but you’ve read all the research and blogs and “Top 10 Reasons Why…” already. I find it incredibly sad though, that no one dates less than a married couple.

…except a married couple with children.

So my challenge to you is this: clear out your weekend schedule. This weekend. Next weekend if you’re too lame to make it happen now. But date your spouse. Make it fun. Get dressed up like you would if it were a first date. Girls, put them sassy heels on. Guys, take a shower. Maybe even wear cologne. Go to a nice restaurant and spend a couple hours falling in love again. Take your time. Order appetizers. Smile. Eat dinner. Laugh. Don’t skip dessert. Blush. Stick around for drinks afterward. Bask in each other. And make it fun by taking these 36 questions with you.

Think this all sounds stupid? So did I. Out of curiosity though, I talked Megan into going over them with me. Wanna know what happened? We fell in love to a degree that man has never seen. The heaven’s parted and we saw the face of God, who smiled, winked at us, and sang love songs over us, in his deep baritone voice, while we slow danced on a cloud.

Okay, that’s a lie.

But it was fun! Some of it, we could answer for each other. Some of it surprised us. But it was fun! And if you’re honest with yourself, you and your spouse don’t have enough fun. And that’s just not right. You married because life wasn’t the same without them. Now life is just the same every day. Break out! Do something fun!  Do something romantic!  Do something silly!   Just do something!

Here’s the thing. You married your spouse when they were one person. We age, we grow, we mature (some of us), and we change. The beauty in marriage is changing together. We don’t stay in love with the same person for years and years and years. Rather, we fall in love with that person over and over and over. But this is a very intentional act.

I’ve heard the story too many times. A couple goes through life maintaining and 30 years later, don’t even recognize each other. The husband has changed. The wife has changed. They didn’t do it together.

But you’re not that couple. That’s not your marriage. You’re meant for the long haul. So rediscover your spouse this weekend. Enjoy them. Let yourself get butterflies again. Find today’s new reason to love them. And just for kicks and giggles, ask these questions…

Set I
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Set III
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling …”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Grand Finale
Stare into each other’s eyes silently for four minutes.

Have fun, you crazy couples!!!!

The one about just being nice…

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Lets be honest.  We Christians love a good fight.  We claim to be people of peace, but lets take a look at our recent past.  Whether it’s fighting alongside Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A or just jumping on board with the most recent “persecution” story, we love it.  We spread it like wildfire.  We talk about it with everyone.  We want it to consume every conversation and we make sure it consumes everyone’s Facebook wall.  Now before we get too far, I want to make it known that I’m by no means against standing up for what you believe.  Matter of fact, I’m just the opposite.  When I read my Bible, God tells me to stand up and be strong.  To be “very strong and very courageous”.  That “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved”.  I read that we are gifted by God with “His incomparably great power for us who believe”.  Scripture tells us that we are to stand in God’s power, not wither under our own.

Apparently though, we Christians use this incomparably great power to stand tall by posting weak statements on social media and spitting hatred all over those we see as offenders.

If this is standing tall, I’ll pass.

Just this week, my small town Tennessee community got a glimpse of this.  A student at one of the two local high schools was in class.  Another student sneezed and this student said “bless you”.  Things happened that we can only speculate about.  But in the end, this student was made to sit out the rest of class.  Next thing you know, it’s all over social media.  Bloggers and newspapers picked up the story.  Then it’s on Memphis news.  Then it’s nationwide on the radio and tv.  Unfortunately, the way schools and privacy laws work, we’ll never get their side of the story.  All we can do is listen to the rumors directly from students at school (which we all learned growing up is pretty much the most accurate source of information ever).

And what are Christians doing?  Are they seeking to resolve conflict?  Are they aiming to mend relationships?  Are they supporting their schools?  Are they even boosting their acts of love toward students in the school?  No.  They’re too busy waving their flags and attacking their enemy.  And let me tell you a little something about their “enemy”.  As a youth pastor, I’ve gotten to be inside the schools in all sorts of ways.  I get to rub shoulders with teachers and administrators.  I’ve gotten more access and liberty there than any other school ever.  And the people there are amazing.  I love them.  Every single one.  I have yet to meet a person at the school I wouldn’t fight for.  I haven’t personally met the teacher in this story, but I’ve talked to her coworkers, students, and former students.  And those people all speak of her using words like authoritative, great teacher, and kind (sounds alot to me like the God I serve!).  And those people are now the recipients of all sorts of hate from Christians from all over the country.  People calling and speaking horribly to them.  Calling them names and accusing them of all manner of things.  One office worker I spoke to was very obviously on the verge of tears when I was speaking to her.  The school had a dramatically increased police presence for fear of violence (from Christians!!) and are prepared for, but hoping against, issues at tonight’s football game.  Even an office worker at the other high school in town had been berated all week by these lovely Christians calling the wrong school!

What are we doing?  Who have we become?  What good does it do to speak evil to people?  How are we giving God glory when we hurt others?  We don’t need haters.  We need Godly men and women.  We need to be overwhelming God’s throne with prayer, for the students, teachers, and school.  We need to be flooding the school office with support, volunteer work, words of encouragement, and acts of love.  We need to be providing them with funds and resources to aid the less fortunate.  We need to help clean the grounds.  We need to help keep crosswalks safe.  There are all sorts of ways we can help make the schools better, but yelling, name calling, and brow beating don’t aid a single one of them.

So do me this favor: do something meaningful.  The Spirit of God does not live inside us to  tell us what names to call people.  The Spirit of God does not dwell in us to tell us by which means to spread rumors and hate.  The Spirit of God is in us to follow Him in His efforts to redeem this world.  To show love, grace, and mercy.  To build and not tear down.  To match evil with love and overwhelm our real enemy.  God wants us to fight!  But our war is not against people.  Our war is against hell.  It’s all around us.  We need to learn to tell the difference.

My challenge to anyone reading this post is simple.  Do something meaningful for your local school.  I don’t care which one.  I don’t care what grades.  I don’t care if you’re in my community or one in Shanghai.  Do something for your local school.  Make a stand for God by standing for our young people and those working so hard to help bring them up.

 

The one about the weirdness of growing up…

awkwardteenager

You ever traveled?  I’m not talking hit the beach or visit the lake.  I’m talking traveled.  Have you ever packed your bags, jumped on a plane, and gone somewhere completely foreign to you?

Take yourself somewhere.

Right now.

Lets try out Paris.  I’ve always wanted to go.  Well, kinda.  In my mind, France has always had this duality of wicked awesome and utterly pretentious.  Like I can sip coffee on the sidewalk of a two hundred year old cafe, but I’ll have to put up with the angry Parisian chain smoker next to me, blowing intentionally in my face and uttering french expletives because every fiber of my being screams “MURICA!”.

Anyway…

Picture it.  You step off the plane and are greeted by signs you can’t read.  You exchange your dollars for euros, which are entirely too colorful to be real, and step out in the street.  Everyone walks like they know where they’re going, except you.  You stop in the middle of the street to get your bearings and create a roadblock that leads to lots of bumps, sideways glances, and not so quiet mutters.  You realize for the first time just how out of place you are and note just how alone you feel.  You line up for a cab and finally one arrives.  You step up to get in and are elbowed by a dozen other people wanting the same seat.  Having no way to protest, you just step aside bewildered.  After an extended time of holding your heavy luggage, having your toes trampled, and a close call with a street sweeper, you get a ride.  You clamber in the backseat and try to tell the driver where you want to go.  After more dirty looks and breathy mutterings, you’re finally on the same page.  You’re watching dreamily out the window, passing shops, cafes, monuments and for a moment, you’re euphoric; a brave traveler in a whole new world – until you start getting further and further from town.  You thought you booked a hotel in the heart of the city, only to find you’ve got your own room at Le’ Craphole hotel, tucked behind an alley with flashing neon lights and loitering drunks.  You somehow manage to get your key, after more than a little struggle.  You make it to your room, go to charge your phone, and realize the plug doesn’t fit.  You mutter your own expletives, all in English, and decide you need a bite to eat.  The first thing you pass is a small bakery.  What’s more French than a croissant?  You go in, order your food, and sit at a small table in the center of the room.  You look to your left and your heart stops.  You’ve spotted the most attractive frenchy France has ever seen.  Your eyes meet before you can look away.  You want to chat, but you’re so dumbfounded and nervous, you just spend the rest of the wait staring at your lap.  You’re finally freed from your navel gazing by an angry little frenchwoman who brings you something totally not what you ordered.  Now you’re arguing with the shopkeeper, who keeps throwing sharp little french words over your shoulder to the ever growing crowd around you, explaining to them that the stupid American doesn’t know what he’s doing… at least you think.  Once again, you’re alone, confused, embarrassed, the focus of undesired attention, and agitating the masses.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

Now think back to middle school and tell me the difference.

Through childhood, we parent a child to function in the world we create for them.  We tell them our rules, we give them our best practices, we teach them our language, we begin their basic education, and we allow them to practice them all in the safety of our little circles and under our watchful eyes.  We try to build their skills and their confidence and tell them they’re doing a good job if they can navigate our world.

Then middle school hits.  They’re no longer in the world we created for them.  And they’re told that if they want to survive this new world, they’ll need new rules, new best practices, even a whole new language.

But they’re starting to look grown.  They can hold a conversation with us.  They’re becoming much more physically able.  And so we start treating them like adults, completely ignoring the fact they they’re essentially babies, learning to navigate all over again.

And God love them, they try.  They try to find where they fit and where they thrive.  They try to learn what they think and what they believe.  They even try to make an impact and a name for themselves.  Sadly, it usually goes something like this…

Is that not the epitome of life in middle school?

My point in all this babble is this: you did a great job helping your kid navigate your world.  But your preteen is no longer in your world.  You need to have the same patience, compassion, and composure leading them now as you did way back then.  And regardless what they say and how they act, they want your help.  You were so gentle and encouraging when your little baby was learning to walk – wobbling through your living room with shaky legs and wide eyes.  You were always there with a kind word and a kiss to heal the boo-boo’s.  Keep it up.  Because they’re not just another year older.  They’re not just one grade higher.  They’re learning to walk all over again.  And they still very much need you.  Don’t give up on you.  Don’t give up on them.  Your love, grace, discipline, and persistence brought them this far.  Keep it up and it will take them further than you can imagine.

5 ways to enjoy your family this weekend…

famfun

The weekend is upon us!  PTL!  It’s difficult to find ways to engage your family and keep them all smiling together.  The following are 5 ideas for you to have a blast with the people God has given you.  I daresay, these may even be social media worthy… you know, the stuff you and your kids like so much you show it off online.  So keep the mower in the shed and look past all the dust bunnies on your floor.  Your family is much more important than little tasks.  I also encourage you to be open minded with what you do with your family.  Especially when our kids get older, we think we always have to be cool and avoid anything that looks hokey.  But you know what, hokey can be great.  We get the idea that we always have to be super entertaining, especially when it comes to sharing our faith.  But that’s just not the case.  Your kids will appreciate hearing from you, regardless of how spectacular your stories are.  You’re intentionally taking time to be with and share with them.  That’s far more important than keeping things hip.  And if it’s the first time you’ve talked with them about faith, it can feel a little awkward.  But embrace it.  I always tell my youth group: awkward is awesome.  It means you’re doing something new and different that stretches you.  Besides, the more you do it, the more natural it will become.  And sharing our faith with our kids should be natural.

So I’ll get off my soapbox and let you continue reading.  Pick something fun and get after it!

1. Volunteer – Get your family out serving!  This weekend will be easier than others.  No need to set up anything in advance.  With all the storms and wind we’ve had, there’s limbs and junk all over the place.  Pack up some rakes, saws, and other tools, cruise town looking for people to bless, knock on a door, get permission, and do work!  BONUS: after seeing how many houses you can hit in an afternoon, grab some Dairy Queen and talk about how Jesus modeled having a servant’s heart.  Point out scripture with Jesus, the savior of the world, washing the feet of His disciples.  Discuss how we’re called to lead like Jesus, by being a servant and meeting the needs God makes us aware of.

2. Food Fight – Not literally, but if you do, you’re probably the coolest parents in the world!  Have a dessert making contest!  Before dinner, split the family into two or more teams.  Give them a spending limit, invade the grocery store, and get to cooking.  After dinner, serve up both desserts.  Winner has bragging rights, loser has dish duty.  The only thing better than delish desserts with the fam is the fun of working together!  BONUS: over dessert, share your journey of faith with your kids.  Talk about how God used all sorts of ingredients to make your life great.  Focus on all the characters God brought you and how they helped you or all the situations he used and redeemed to lead you to where you are.

3. Take in a Game – It doesn’t need to be big leagues to be enjoyable.  Find a school that’s competing or hit up the local fields to see if anyone is playing a game, be it 3 year-olds playing soccer or travel baseball.  Bring a cooler full of popsicles or a whole mess of walking tacos to give out to everyone else watching the game.  Make lots of friends, cheer for good plays, and have lots of laughs!  BONUS: if you’re watching young kids play, have your family break apart after the game and tell each of the kids playing how great they were and offer them compliments.  Something along the lines of “You played great out there!  High five for those wicked awesome [cleats, fingernails, hair bow, eye black]!!!”  BONUS: on the ride home, talk about the smiles you saw on the kids faces and the joy it brought them.  Mention scripture where we’re told that our tongues can be used for good or bad.  How it’s our choice to be people who speak joy, life, and encouragement.

4. Read Aloud – Who doesn’t enjoy being read to?  Have everyone pick out a short story or fable that can be read in 20 minutes or less.  Have a fire outside, or turn off the lights and light candles inside.  Get absurdly comfy with an overwhelming amount of pillows & blankets and take turns reading stories to each other.  A living room fort would work wonders too, just skip the candles!  There’s something magical about storytelling, when a person takes on characters and leads the listeners through a grand tale!  The one rule for the night, no pictures.  Even if the book has pictures, encourage everyone to use their own imagination to visualize the story.  That way, after the story, you could talk about how differently you pictured the people and events.  BONUS: once the stories are read, point out how scripture tells us to pass on our own stories.  How the Israelites use to set up altars at different places so when they walked by them, they’d remember what happened and how God cared for them.  Talk about your family’s stories: times where God took care of you, the story of the kids’ births (they love that story), funny things the kids did when they were little, how God has led your family to where you are now.  Celebrate God and His story of your family!

5. Photo Contest – Split the family into teams of two or more.  Choose a location: the backyard, a nearby park, your church.  Arm teams with cameras (phones work great).  Snap away!  Encourage teams to take pics of their favorite things, play with angles, new perspectives, close-ups, etc.  Have a stop time and meet up together.  Load the pictures onto a computer and have the family gather around close.  Pick a favorite from each team and celebrate all your favorites.  You can also buy frames and put them up in the house to remind you of the fun and encourage you to do it again and swap the photos out.  BONUS: When you’re done with the contest, flip through your wedding book or the kids baby books.  Look back and celebrate each other.  Share stories of the people or events in the pictures.  Praise God for His goodness and all the joy He’s brought your family.

Hope you’re at least inspired!  Now go!  God has given you an unbelievable family.  Enjoy them and make memories!

 

The one about trusting God’s plan over your own…

deer

So yesterday was my day off.  And like an idiot, I decided I’d start it off by waking up at 4am to go hunting with one of my students.  I enjoy the outdoors very much and I enjoy Cameron just the same, but what I don’t enjoy is mornings.  Not even a little.

It took a little convincing, but I found myself at 4:30am in the woods.  We were going squirrel hunting, a first for me.  And we were gonna take those squirrels and make some stew, again a first for me.  I was outfitted in borrowed camo and was looking like a seasoned vet, if I do say so myself.  But two hours into it, we hadn’t gotten a single squirrel.  It was muggy as could be and my neck was hurting from looking into trees for two straight hours.  The both of us were getting a little antsy and then something glorious happened.  Rain.  Man it felt so good!  But we were under tree cover and not getting too much on us, so we decided to walk toward a clearing, just a little ways off.  So we walk over and what would happen?  The rain stops, the sun comes beaming in, and the millions of mosquitos around were alive with refreshed vigor.  It wasn’t exactly going how we had planned.

So we just stood there for a moment and chatted.  I really like Cameron, so up to this point, it was my favorite part of the day.  And just then, amid our loud talking and laughing, out comes a trio of little deer.  Not babies, but not more than a couple years old.  They had no idea we were there.  They hopped out and just kinda hung around.  And we just stood there, talking about them.  It was like nothing we could do would alert them to our presence.  Finally, when they were about 25 yards away, I took out my phone and started taking pictures and videoing.  Only then did they finally take notice and head out, after the whistling of the mother who was hiding in the woods.

It was such a cool experience!  It was so sudden and unexpected.  For a moment, it was almost like Eden.  We just stood in this beautiful clearing, surrounded by green, and hung out with these little deer who had no reason to run.  It was like all the world was at peace.

We hunted for a few more hours after that, even had a little success.  I had a blast that day!  Turns out I enjoy squirrel hunting.  But what stood out most to me that whole day was that 45 seconds with the deer.  This little gift God gave us, completely out of nowhere.

And it occurred to me later, that’s just kinda how God is.  We make all these plans and in our busyness never stop to consider anything but our own will.  And sometimes things don’t go our way and we get a little frustrated.  But out of the blue, God gives.  Have you ever had that experience?  Like we had these small plans to make something happen.  And only after these small plans don’t work out does God reveal He had something better planned all along.

It’s almost like He knows what we need better than we do…

I read the other day that something like 90% of the information we process and take in is based off what we see with our eyes.  And I think about all the things in the world I can’t see with my eyes.  The billions of people I’ll never know, the places I’ll never visit, the lessons I haven’t learned, the ideas that I’ve never been introduced to… and suddenly my view seems really small.  Like I’ve only taken in the tiniest percent of what this world has to offer.  Suddenly, I feel like I know so little and my capacity is so limited.  And yet, I make plans that must be strictly adhered to.  And if anything goes wrong, not only is everything ruined, but God didn’t come through for me.

For the last 32 years, God has used opportunity after opportunity to teach me to trust Him.  To learn that His way really is better.  Because His plan for us doesn’t include limited information.  His plan has nothing to do with what I can observe and what I can plan.  God’s understanding is beyond measure.  His capacity is completely unlimited.  He knows our thoughts, our desires, and our wishes.  And He also knows our weaknesses, our pitfalls.  He knows what’s going to happen all over the world tomorrow.  He knows how each and every movement in this world will shape and effect each and every person.  He’s never taken off guard, never surprised, never at a loss for what to do next.  Suddenly His plan doesn’t seem so bad.  Suddenly the decision to trust Him more than myself seems not only logical, but a no-brainer.

So when things don’t go my way, how do I respond?  Do I get irritated, like I’ve been put off or harmed?  Or do I rest in the knowledge that God’s got this; that His infinite wisdom has created an infinitely greater plan?  I have learned over & over and will continue to learn that God is worthy of my trust.  That if I wait on Him, I may not get my way, but I’ll get something much better: His way.  In every moment, in every situation: God is God and God is good.