So much to be thankful for…

I’m thankful that LuAnn and I were able to begin sponsoring children very early in our marriage. Before we had our own kids, before we had decent paying jobs, before we were even through our first year of college… For 15 years, we’ve been able to share a little of Christ’s love and hope with kids all over the world.

Kids matter to Jesus. They should matter to us. Do something.

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

Maybe you’re afraid you can’t commit to a monthly sponsorship right now. Try this for a start.

Quit whining and get back to work.

My kids sometimes do this thing when they don’t get what they want, where their voices raise in intensity and nasality… Tears may begin to form beneath the raised brow of protest… This is often followed by subjective objections like “but, he got to…” Yes, sometimes my kids whine. I hate it.

When my kids whine about something – they DO NOT get what they’re wanting. End of discussion. There have often been times when I may have changed my initial response if they had calmly requested it with good reason. But even if the reason is good and their logic is sound, whining will not result in a positive outcome.

Whining is a pathetic attempt at emotional manipulation. I hate it. My kids are learning quickly of its futility (mostly). They’re figuring out that whining will change an ‘I don’t think so’ into a flat out ‘no’ quicker than a well placed shoe turns a hapless spider into a smudge on the sidewalk.
I wish to live in a whine free world. It starts at my house.
I also long for a church that has excised every whiny knee-jerk reaction and replaced it with selfless desire to please God together. Church is not about what I want or what I like – it’s about the mission of God to reconnect humanity with Himself.
May we have love enough to quit whining.
May we have grace enough to keep loving whiners.
May we have courage enough to call people to stop whining and get back to work.

There’s more that’s changing than just the weather…

“…like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

This phrase really jumped out at me today as I was reading through Psalm 19. As David is describing how the skies shout out the awesomeness of the Creator, he likens the sun to a runner on race day – coming out of his tent ready and excited for the race, confident in victory. I remember waking up on gamedays ready to compete like that – practically jumping out of bed, excited for what lies ahead. I have to confess that I haven’t bounced out of bed for quite a while. Staggered, rolled, stumbled… these words are much better descriptors of my morning departures from slumberland lately.
But I sense a change happening in our student ministry, in our church, and in me that’s making it a little easier to drag my carcass out of bed… I’m learning again to see each day as an opportunity to display the awesomeness of the Creator. I’m excited about recent developments that will be unleashing ministry into our community. God is moving. We are seeing it – and lacing up our shoes to join Him in the work He’s doing.
Don’t miss your chance today to reveal God to the people around you.

Top 5 Things I Hate About the Holiday Season

5. Halloween.
aka Boot Camp for Greedy Young Consumers. Is it really a good idea to promote the idea that if you show up on someone’s doorstep and demand something, they’re obligated to give it to you? Do we really need to ingrain a deeper sense of entitlement into the collective psyche of our next generation? Maybe I’m just bitter because I was always the kid whose candy bag got confiscated at the X-ray machine because some jack-o-lantern hid a needle in my laffy taffy! No – that’s not it. Halloween is dumb – playing dress up and begging for candy is not a holiday.
4. How Thanksgiving gets sandwiched between “More Sugar!” and “More Stuff!”
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As a kid it was just because it was my birthday, but even now that birthdays have lost the sheen they once had, Thanksgiving is still my favorite. No one buying each other gifts they don’t really want to give, great food and family gatherings, remembering the greatness of our Creator… Thanksgiving has gotten the shaft by getting stuck between the crappy candy holiday and the consumer driving (not driven) marketing blitz that has most of us ignoring the real Reason for the Season.
3. Black Friday
Just the fact that we’ve given this phenomena a name reveals that so much is wrong with our society. I wonder, what will the future’s historians read into this bit of Americana long after we’re gone? Having said that, I must confess, I’m being coerced into a 4 AM line for a miter saw next week. (Which I’m mentally justifying with the thought that I’ve put off buying the saw for a long time because they’re so dang expensive, I really do have a lot of use for one, and by lodging this public complaint.)
2. Visitor giveaway trinkets that get marketed to churches.
Hate is probably too strong a word here, but I do not want to give my students little bookmarks with urban myths about candy canes and mistletoe. Their Christmas will not miss your baby-Jesus-scented-magnet or Bethlehem star pencil topper. Like I said, hate is too strong a word for this one, but these things are really annoying.
1. The annual “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” debates.
If you’re a Christian and somebody says “Happy Holidays” – did it really hurt your feelings? Was Jesus really left out of his own birthday party by that statement – or is he left out when we spend money we don’t have to buy crap we don’t need while he sleeps on the street and starves to death all over the world? Come on church, we can do better than this.

Want to Play?

When I was in college, the soccer team had a number of road games each year to destinations that were “less than entertaining”. Some of the trips were close enough that we’d drive back after the game, but often we were left without much of anything to do but sit around some other school’s empty dorm rooms.

I remember on one of those trips, a bunch of us were sitting around playing cards, having fun – until someone got mad. An argument got going, and got a little heated – I think someone tried to cheat (which is funny/sad all by itself because I think we were playing for toothpicks or something like that). Finally, one guy stood up off the scrubby carpet we were sitting on and shouted something like “Fine! I’m taking my cards – I’m not playing anymore.” Just like the bratty kid on the sandlot that threatens to take his ball and go home.

Keep in mind, this is a bunch of Bible college kids sitting around killing time before the next day’s game. I can’t think of any of us who were sitting there playing who are not in ministry today. But something went ‘off’ and somebody got mad. I don’t remember exactly who said what as the intensity of the disagreement escalated, but I do remember being shocked at the end result – one guy (who is a great guy) taking his cards and ending the game in anger.

At least it ended it for him – the rest of us just hunted down a new deck of cards, divided up his ‘winnings’ (which was toothpicks or skittles or something) and kept playing. His cards weren’t the only cards to play with.

People in the church sometimes play this game. We can get bent out of shape about sermon topic choices, music selection/style/volume, class offerings, pie auctions, & fish fry’s (and SO many other stupid issues)… so we threaten to take our “ball” and go play somewhere else. And by “ball” we usually mean “tithe” – and by “tithe” we usually mean “whatever negligible amount I won’t miss too much”. The thing we need to realize is our ball is not the only one. The church belongs to Jesus and His mission is much too important for us to be jacking around with emotional head games, making threats to leave. He’s not going to put up with our tantrums. He’s going to cut us loose and continue pumping life into the branches that can bear the fruit He wants to produce.

It’s no wonder so many young people leave the church about as soon as they can: it’s not what they like and they’ve spent 16-20 years watching people leave when they don’t get what they like. We need to grow up – forget about ourselves and find out what Jesus wants for His church. Then remain in Him and let His life produce fruit in ours.

Check out what John had to say in Luke 3 to people who were feeling smugly self assured about having things their own way. Not only will Jesus be pruning branches, John warned of whole trees about to be cut down and burned up!

“It’s not me, it’s you…”

I don’t have a lot of good break up stories. When you marry as young as we did, you’re spared a lot of the crappiness of the adult dating world – so glad I didn’t have to deal with it. And thankful God put me with the right person and we both recognized it without having to screw up our lives first. Perry Noble’s doing a series on being single right now with some great stuff though. Check out this link to his blog post about reasons two people should break up – and check out Newspring’s site for the online message videos.
Here’s a line from one of the reasons:
“Dating was not created to be some sort of hobby/sport. So… when you KNOW that the relationship is NOT heading beyond its current condition… you KNOW that he or she is NOT the person God has for you… END IT! Don’t date someone just so you won’t be alone… this situation ALWAYS goes bad…”

Disconnected Church Kids

The Link Institute (which is a product of Huntington University‘s youth ministry program) and YouthWorker Journal teamed up for an essay contest (on the theme of The Church) for high school juniors and seniors. The winning entry was written by Ian Roseen, who shares a very insightful glimpse into what many students feel about the church.

You should go here to read his article. I wish I could thank Ian for sharing his brief sketch of a typical Sunday morning for many in a generation that is being spiritually displaced. Go read the article. And if you have any capacity to do so, make sure the Katys and Ians of your community can truly be connected in your congregation. In Ian’s words:
“Engage us. Involve us. Depend on us. Give us responsibilities. Set high expectations. Let us use our talents. Help us feel like we belong to the church at large.”

*If you’re a high school Jr. or Sr. (or know some) check out this page for details on how you can enter next year’s essay contest. It could be worth a $16,000 scholarship to Huntington!

The Button Pusher?

Maybe it’s because I moved a lot growing up…. (probably)

Maybe it’s because I get bored easily… (could be)
Maybe it’s because I’m pretty laid back and easy going… (ja, es stimmt)
Maybe it’s because I like to eat pancakes… (pancakes?!)
Maybe it’s because I’m a spineless chameleon that alters whatever is necessary to blend… (Ouch! hope that’s not it)
I really don’t have a good explanation, but change (in and of itself) hasn’t really ever been a big deal to me. I don’t mind when things change. I’ve come to expect it. There’s no use fighting most of it. Often, I even like it. Sometimes I like it a LOT. In all honesty, when I listen closely to God, I frequently hear Him telling me to instigate it.
Which is where my trouble comes in… I like change. I love God. But I also care about people (and too often, about their opinion of me). And many of them don’t like change at all. I’m especially averse to ticking people off – I don’t like doing it. Except in extreme occasions where a carbon based being has reached a precipice of asininity – then it’s fun. (Growing up that was my usually my brother – it was always entertaining to make him mad… but I digress. Sorry Dan – uh, and mom, dad, and any innocent bystanders…) I’ve found that anger is a common reaction to change, so the role of catalyst is not always (ever) the most comfortable.
This is when I hear God asking “Hey kid, when did I ever tell you you’d be comfortable?”
“Well there was that one verse… If I stretch the context a little bit… oh never mind.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. You think Jeremiah was comfortable stuck in the bottom of a well because He kept telling people to change their ways like I told him to tell them? You think John was comfortable in camel hair in the desert, telling people to change because my kingdom was right around the corner? Have you felt camel hair? I wasn’t very comfortable in 1st century Palestinian diapers either, by the way. Do you know what kind of rash… never mind. Just push the buttons I tell you to push ok?”
I don’t want to change things just for the sake of changing things. But I serve the greatest Transformative Person ever – He changes things. EVERY thing. If change is a given (it is), then wouldn’t it make sense to shape that change in conformity with Him, instead of just letting it happen? Change is going to happen. Let’s make the right change happen.

To Change…

I’m the kind of guy who likes to change things up a little bit once in a while. Just got my hair cut drastically shorter for the simple reason that I felt like it. One of the recurring witticisms of my childhood was “You should always try new things.” So here, I offer to you, several reasons you should embrace change.

5 Reasons to Embrace Change
1. It’s working great in the church down the street. Hey, if it’s good for the Baptists, it’s got to work here, too! Right?
2. It’s working in the mega-churches. They’re big and successful because they changed, so it follows that if we make the same changes, we’ll be big and successful too.
3. It will make us more relevant to the culture. The world is changing, so we have to change, too.
4. Any change is a good change. The Bible says to “sing a new song”. What that means is that anything new is automatically better than anything old. Shiny new stuff replaces old worn out stuff. It’s the natural order God intended.
5. We don’t want people to get bored. We need to randomly alter important things every once in a while, just to keep things interesting.
6. It will get rid of the dead weight. If we change the right things often enough, it will tick off the people who aren’t really committed to Jesus. They’ll take their hymnals and go play somewhere else, then we can really get things going here.
7. God is the ultimate transformer. He’s “making all things new,” so we should be changing everything too, you know… to help God out.
Here’s to shaking things up a bit…

Or not to Change…

I’ve noticed lately that we humans can be very resistant to any kind of change. Recent changes to facebook have definitely brought out the best in us! Altering the tempo of a favorite song has been known to induce spasmodic hiccups. A little tweaking of vocabulary is enough to cause great consternation. So I thought I’d offer a bit of a defense for those of us who like to see things stay the same. Coming soon to an anti-change bumper sticker near you:

7 Reasons to Resist Change

1. It hurts – and everyone knows, God’s highest value is your personal comfort. If it’s difficult, it must not be what God wants.
2. Someone might be offended. Even if it seems like a good idea, change is sure to ruffle somebody’s feathers. It’s just not worth ticking people off.
3. Jesus already has the attention of everyone in your area that He wants. Those thousands of people in your community who drift through every day without knowing WHY… they need to learn to adapt and do things our way.
4. Young people don’t really matter in the Kingdom. Our generation is the one doing all the work and paying the church bills anyway. They’ll come around when they grow up.
5. All that new-fangled technology just gets in the way of the pure message of God, which he hand delivered to us with ink and leather-bound paper, not pixels and screens.
6. Everyone looks so favorably on you already. If you changed anything now, they might think you had some flaws or something. And if you have any chinks in that shiny armor, who will they look up to to lead them in the next round of “Just As I Am”?
7. It won’t work here anyway. Things like that may fly in California, but around here people just aren’t like that. Why go through the hassle of trying when we already know it won’t work out?
Here’s to keeping things the same…