Sparks Fly!

Last night with our small group, we shared some of the ideas that are being birthed in our group regarding moving forward after last week’s experience at Catalyst West. These aren’t fully formed yet and some may take a while to become functional ideas, but here’s a quick list of what may be…

Writer’s Group – Many students believe the wrong story about who they are. This could be a way to help some of them understand the meaning of their story and more effectively share those stories. When I started talking about this as a thing for high school students, the group quickly pointed out it could be a great thing community wide for adults as well. So true!

Mission Trip to Arizona – Hi Tory! What could we do at Christmas?

Pastor’s Wives Group – What can we do to connect the wives of local pastors? Pastor’s wives are incredible (especially that WestWay youth minister’s wife!); what awesome things could God be doing in our area if this group could be drawn together for support and inspiration?! Hosting ladies for Lori Wilhite‘s web conference later this year can be a good starting point.

Housing – We’d like to help with the local Habitat for Humanity again, and also interested in the possibility of working with something like Casas por Cristo in Mexico.

Foster Care/Adoption – How many kids are in foster care in our community? What agencies handle foster care? How can we help them – not only housing kids, but offering respite for foster parents… “Does God want our family to adopt a child?” Don’t forget to ask that question.

Denver Rescue Mission – What could we be doing to help there (the largest city close to us)?

People of the Second Chance – What are we doing to offer grace, hope, and help to people needing to be restored to wholeness? Recovery Groups/Redemption Groups

Lots of us Blog and others are considering it – How can we leverage our blogs to best serve the kingdom and help people in our community see God at work around them, especially those who haven’t noticed Him before? Maybe a Scottsbluff area aggregate blog or something similar? Tie-in with a new church website?

Hospitality for visitors – Lots of little touches could be done in our facilities to help people feel more at ease/at home when they come to our building. i.e. shelves in restrooms, less empty wall space, signs within the building to help people find their way, signs in town to compensate for unfortunate building location (outside of most of the community’s flow) – but also remembering a sign or wall hanging will never take the place of the personal care we provide as individuals who collectively are the church.
Those are some of the ideas that were sparked by last week’s conference. We’re still kicking them around and obviously we can’t tackle them all at once. But God is at work in our hearts and stirring some incredible thought. If you’re a part of WestWay and have some thoughts about how these ideas can be fleshed out, give me a call or comment below and let’s see which of these sparks we can “fan into flame” together!

Let the Wind Bring You Home

I decided to ride my bike back to work this afternoon after lunch. As soon as I turned West, I realized why that was not a great call! I had to fight a really crazy wind, which was blowing in direct opposition to my intended course, the entire ride. I’m not all that into biking, so my biking muscles were very angry. Sort of like the kid on the playground who tried to get on the merry go round going the wrong way, only I get to keep all my teeth!

I decided to detour a couple blocks just to get a respite from the headwind, and my mind wandered to Abby Sunderland. She’s the girl I wrote about a few weeks ago sailing around the world by herself. When you’re in a sailboat in the middle of the ocean, and the wind is not blowing the direction you want to travel… what do you do? Abby used the term ‘northing’ to describe the process of going east by heading north. I’ve never sailed, but as I understand it, there’s some waiting involved, manipulating sails to go in a perpendicular direction (north in this case), then cutting back diagonally (southeast) to where you wanted to be in the first place – constantly adjusting to get where you were headed.

This made me think of last week driving around the Los Angeles area for Catalyst West. If I missed an exit or turn I needed to make, I had to adjust course quickly. Being familiar with the map and recognizing a few landmarks from the previous few days I’d been in the area was critical to being sure we got to where we wanted to go.

And all this thinking, and pedaling, and sweating, and wind (I can’t be in wind without thinking of the Holy Spirit), and course adjusting brought to mind a question: What if where I want to go in life, isn’t the way God wants me to go? I can adjust my course to get where I want to be anyway, essentially ignoring God. But choosing this course of action requires me to constantly fight against the wind of the Spirit, and that doesn’t sound like the kind of life I’d enjoy. I’d rather throw up my sail and let the Wind blow fast and furious, taking me where He wants. Len Sweet uses the term ‘pneumanaut’ to describe someone navigating through life by God’s Spirit. We may not always know where He’ll take us, but that’s part of the excitement. We’ll be blown through restful islands and busy cities… deserts and mountains and forests… shuttled through life and death, but always knowing that He’s there, moving us, lifting the waves and drawing the tides and currents to bring us home!

I meet a lot of people who are recognizing their brokenness. Life just isn’t what they’d hoped for. I wonder, how often, that’s the result of choosing to constantly fight the Wind. Even when they get what they wanted, they find it empty and not worth the fight, so they move on to the next thing. Maintaining the illusion of control, many people bounce from one unfulfilling moment to the next.

May we in the church help them see how to tune their sails to His Wind in order to find their way home.

Still Distilling

I still haven’t had time to decompress after returning from Catalyst West, and may not for some time, so I wanted to jot out a couple things here, though they’re not fully processed. I read somewhere that a distillation is the process of separating components of a mixture from each other by tapping into their varying levels of volatility in a boiling liquid. As we distill the post-Catalyst brew… try not to blow anything up (unless it needs blown up)!


Inexplicable Love + Message of the Power of the Resurrection = An Unimaginable Tomorrow!  We are stewards of the same resurrection message that caused the church to EXPLODE in the first century and alter the course of history.  When we wield that power in love beyond measure, ANYTHING is possible for tomorrow!  What tomorrow are you working to create?

Grace is not just a one time gift that allows us to “get saved” – it is the power we need to live every day. If we limit our view of grace to only our salvation, we’ll doom ourselves to an anemic spirituality because we DO NOT have the power to do what God calls us to do until He unleashes His power in us.  The ministry He calls you to will force you to beg Him for help.  What obstacles are you facing that God is wanting to help you with today?

People become the character in the story that they believe.  If you believe you are a broken down old hag with nothing to live for… you’ll live a pretty bitter life.  If you believe no one loves you… you’ll live as if no one does, even rejecting the love that is given to you.  But if you believe you are a child of God, with a role to play in His narrative… That changes everything.  Who you are will be shaped by what story you believe is real.  What story are you believing?

The Church is His and it is UNSTOPPABLE!  The very same tools that were available to the first believers are in our toolbox: the teaching of Jesus, the Resurrection Message, and the Power of the Holy Spirit.  The early church rocked the planet with these three tools.  What will we do with them?

There is so much more to share, but I just can’t right now. I have two worship services to plan and a message to write for my students. Throw in Kota’s first baseball practice, a soccer practice, and a weekend full with an area youth event in Central and I just… well, I sound like I’m whining now, so I’ll stop. I still have to sift through the tremendous amount of thoughts that were shared and captured at Catalyst.  The ideas need to continue to percolate and become a brew that will strengthen the youth ministry and the body here at WestWay.  But don’t just drink my Kool-aid – Join the conversation: Comment here and check out some other thoughts from our group at these links:

(more to come)

How’s My Driving?

This morning started with a drive down from Orange to Irvine for Catalyst West Coast Labs. The drive went alright, but we were close enough to the local morning drive time that there was a lot of traffic crawling. I don’t know if I should really call it traffic, though because that image insinuates that something is actually moving. In the church van, every motion is exaggerated, so start/stop – one bumper to the next isn’t all that great. No incidences, but I did make an observation: I’ve never met someone with a cleaner driving record who takes more crap about how he drives than I do. File that under ‘Perils of Being the Youth Minister’.

Anyway, upon safe arrival at Mariners, we all checked in and started the labs. First up for me was Susan Isaacs’ lab regarding the value of writing your spiritual autobiography. I’ll be bringing her book home. One of the most meaningful writing assignments I’ve ever had was a few years ago, when I had to do a brief spiritual autobiography for a spiritual formation class. One question from the lab that really sparked my synapses was: 

What is the story that I can no longer NOT tell?

It reminded me of the fire in Jeremiah’s bones that he could not keep in anymore. We have to deliver the message God gives us to deliver.

Dan Kimball’s lab was also good, talking about exchanging religion for the mission of God. I always appreciate the gentle heart from which Kimball speaks. He had some great stuff that the church needs to be teaching. (It sounded like more of it will be explained in whatever his next book will be.)

Scott Belsky’s lab about Making Ideas Happen was pretty thought provoking, too. I am full of ideas, but I’ve become disordered to the point where most of them gain no traction and fizzle out. The class stirred some thoughts about how that’s happened and what I need to do about it. I’m an easy going person by design and I don’t see that changing, but somehow that laid-back approach to life has combined with a deficiency of hope and the resulting apathy  to at least make me appear unorganized. That needs to change.

As I was driving to lunch today, I missed the exit & consequently the entry into the parking lot we needed to get into. It wasn’t a big deal; we easily took the next exit, got back on the freeway, re-exited and hit the lot from the other direction. It was similar to the airport yesterday, when I navigated a different route because I misjudged the intended exit. I realized: I will probably miss some turns in life, but I’m good at improvising a new plan and still getting where I needed to go. There are lots of ways to get from one point to another – as long as we remember where we’re headed to begin with.
I’m operating on about 6 hours of sleep since Monday morning, so these threads are not yet fully woven together. So… feel free to pick a little, but please don’t pull them too hard or my whole sweater may unravel, which would be very unfortunate because this is not the typical OC sunshine week – I need that sweater.  Good night.

Lovin’ the Consistency

I hope this isn’t hitting the peak too early, but my adrenaline is going crazy today. Several last minute things to do before leaving with an awesome group to go to Catalyst has me running around a little bit! I’m feeling like I’m just about to step onto the pitch for a big game or something… One of the things to do (that I really didn’t need to do yet) was to go pick up new registration tags for my 4runner.

So I drove ALL the way across the river to Gering – which as anyone local knows is an arduous task in itself. (Seriously, it took almost 10 minutes to drive all the way over there.) I got to the line at the DMV/county clerk to find big, bold announcements that they no longer have insurance information on file, so I would need the insurance card for the truck. I’d driven the van (meaning I didn’t have the 4runner card with me, I had the caravan card).

Before she even asked, I explained to the nice lady behind the desk that the information is the same (same policy, same coverage, etc.) but she apologetically informed me that I needed the one for the vehicle that was being renewed. (I think she even teared up a little.) Not a big deal, I’m just killing time until leaving tonight for L.A. so I drove WAY back over to Scottsbluff to pick up the truck’s insurance card, then turned around and drove ALL the way back across the river and railroad tracks.

I waited in line with the proper piece of paper proudly clutched in my right hand (even checked to make sure I didn’t grab the outdated one that I should have thrown away 6 months ago!). I made it up to the desk where another very nice lady offered to assist me – I dutifully showed her the registration renewal card, handed her the check, she gave me the new registration and stickers… never even mentioned the insurance!

Gotta love consistency!

I wonder… what if I’d kept my mouth shut the first time!?

…And there is Grace

I don’t want to leave this recent discussion about adolescents having sex without touching another concept: grace. Sometimes we act like having sex before marriage is unforgivable – like once a kid’s had sex, they’re just utterly hopeless and doomed to a life of decadence and brokenness. This mentality can quickly become a powerful vortex, sucking away the will to work toward anything better. “They all think I’m a slut now anyway, so I might as well…”

But the truth is that many people have had sex before marriage and gone on to live productive, healthy lives (not scar free, however). They often paid a heavy price and would undo what they did if they could, but they’ve survived because of grace. Both the grace offered to them by God, and that of friends and family who came together to support them as they sought to do better.

It’s definitely better for teens to not have sex, but sometimes I’m afraid we do little to help the situation with our scarlet letters and pointing fingers. If you’re a teen who’s had sex and realized it was a mistake, even though you can’t undo it; you don’t have to wallow in it and keep making the same mistake. You can move on and live differently. If you know a teen who’s having sex, find out why. What is it that they’re seeking to find in sex? Then show them a better way. Help them find the real fulfillment they’re looking for. (Yes, I’m making an assumption there – that they are in it for more than cheap thrills.) Help them find hope for the authentic fullness in life that they won’t find in sex.
Like I said in the last post, this is all coming from my limited point of view. I did have sex as a teen for about a year and a half, but only after I married at 18. The pressures we faced may be very different from the ones students face today. I may be way off base and value your input. How can we help students pick up the pieces?

Why are teens having sex?

Here are some quick thoughts that come to mind about teens having sex:

> It feels good. Let’s be honest – good sex feels really good. God designed us in a way that makes sex possible, and he created the hormones and nerve receptors that make sex pleasurable. Teens have hit the stage in life when this reality becomes obvious to them, and sometimes their curiosity overcomes their caution.

> Sense of maturity. Sex is an adult activity. It’s possible that teens get the feeling that having sex somehow means they’re more adult, more grown up. With so few clear ‘rites of passage’ from childhood to adulthood, maybe teens have co-opted sex as a mile marker…

> For guys, this may be giving in to the pressure to ‘be a man’. Locker room logic may be telling them “You’re not really a man until you’ve had sex.” I know a number of boys who’ve traveled through adolescence with a sense that being a virgin somehow made them less of a man. I wonder if our society has lost the sense of what it really means to be a man, so teens try sex, thinking that’s a part of it.

> Girls may feel a similar pressure, but I’ve seen it often directed at keeping a boyfriend. There’s an underlying assumption that all boys want to have sex NOW and if a girl won’t give him what he wants, he’ll just move on to another relationship. But the assumption is wrong. Even if the boy does want to have sex, doing so is not some kind of relational glue that will keep him around. In fact, many girls find themselves more shattered than ever when he moves on anyway, despite their giving in to his persuading.

> I wonder though, if it’s an unmet need for real relationships that lies behind the current of teen sex. People hope that sex will produce the sense of intimacy they are really longing for. With so few authentic relationships (ones where they don’t have to wear a mask) teens may use sex as a substitute.

> I’m not sure the problem of teen sex is really a teen problem. Students have been given poor examples to live up to and have sunk to level of low expectations placed on them. When teens, trying to find the way to a meaningful adult life, open up to any media channel and find Big Ben and Tiger and Lindsay and Gaga doing whatever they want with whomever they want… When teens bounce from house to house in shattered families that may now have a revolving door for mom or dad’s latest fling… How are they supposed to make better choices? We (the adults) have to give adolescents a better example to follow.
Again, these are simply my thoughts and conjecture – not thoroughly processed or neatly packaged. Feel free to share yours below, whether you agree or disagree. But more than that, think about the teens you have contact with. If you’re an adult, when was the last time you had a real conversation with a teen? When was the last time a teen really felt like they were important to you? Today’s young generation is already changing the world we live in and will continue to do so for some time. What are you doing to help them shape the future in a positive way?

What are they looking for?

Our local paper has been running a special series “dealing with issues facing teenagers in this area” over the past several days. The articles could be pretty eye opening for adults who are not very well connected with the teens in their lives. It’s unfortunate that the articles have really only dealt with one issue (sex) that teens face – but I do hope the series will spark some healthy discussion about that issue.

Today’s article was called “It Happened to Me” and outlined the stories of a couple girls who found out they are pregnant while still in high school. Neither thought “it” would happen to them. But it did. As it has to others. But that frames the issue the wrong way, I think. Pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It’s the normal, natural result of a specific behavior (having sex). Since the beginning of recorded history, humanity has understood that sex produces offspring.

So why do teens who do not want to get pregnant engage in behavior that thousands of years of recorded history tells us will eventually result in them getting pregnant? Here’s one explanation from the article: “There is a lot of sex going on in the school, and parents are so lenient on their children. Kids are doing it because they are bored. There is nothing else to do.” (italics added)

But we have more entertainment options at our fingertips (even in our little town) than at any other time in history. Ipods full of our favorite music; movies on demand and in the theaters; the internet full of information at our fingertips; Wii’s and Xbox’s; sports, choirs, and bands to be in; pools, parks, baseball and softball and soccer complexes… I don’t think adding more activity to stave off boredom would do any of us any good.

What are students really looking for that they think sex will provide? I have some thoughts I’ll add in another post, but how would you answer that question?

Looking Forward

Random thoughts looking forward to traveling to the Los Angeles area next week for Catalyst West Coast:

Scottsbluff to Irvine is a really long drive, especially in a church van!
     I wonder if a van full of our small group will smell as funky as the van full of the youth group…
     What’s the over-under on LuAnn throwing up before we hit Utah?
     Breakfast at the Bellagio… are you serious?  Will their drive through even fit a 15 passenger van?

The time trapped in a rolling box will no doubt provide many moments to remember, but what I’m really looking forward to is seeing the fruit God produces in the coming years from the seeds planted at Catalyst. We have a very well rooted and high capacity group going that will be learning and growing together in a way that is unlike anything I’ve been a part of before. I can’t wait to see what God does with us!