Wanna Race?

– Pad roll cage
– Bolt two doors shut
– Paint number on car
– Tow car to track

Things I have left to do before racing Friday night!

My car is finally ready… almost. I’ll be back out to Hiway 92 Raceway this weekend ready to go again. I had a blast racing a couple years ago, but when my car refused to be resuscitated, I put my helmet on a shelf in the garage and closed the door. But my friend Greg, found an old Neon that we were able to put a good roll cage in and get ready to race over the past couple months.

We’ve taken out a less than adequate roll cage, replaced it with a really good one, installed a racing seat, stripped off former sponsorship decals, rerouted the airbox, replaced a rusted out fuel tank and refinished some wiring that had gone bad. There are still a few minor things, but for the most part it’s ready to race. This Friday we’ll put it to the test.

I have to admit, as much of a redneck as it may make me sound – I’ve missed racing. I’ve learned a lot from working on the cars, and that’s nice (especially on days like yesterday where I saved about $130 just by changing my own brake pads on our van)… I love having the chance to get to know people outside the church and hopefully redefine for them what it means to be a Christian (or at least open the door to the possibility that church people aren’t all boring)… But mostly, I’ve just missed having something where I just go have fun.

So Friday night – I’m going to fight life’s capacity to suck the fun out of me and force me into cubicles of bland repetition.

Wanna race?

Overhauling the American Family? Replace the American Dream.

In The Problem No One Wants to Talk About, Paul Williams (an editor at Christian Standard) connects some educational dots that need to be faced. The short version: the education of a child is ultimately up to the parents. You should read the full article, too, especially if you have school age children. We can blame bad schools and administrators and standards all we want, but the bottom line is that it is up to me and my wife to educate our own children. We’ve considered ourselves fortunate, even since Emily’s first day in Mrs. Riggins’ Kindergarten, to have our kids in public classrooms with good teachers who really cared AND were well equipped to teach their students. I know not everyone would share that sentiment, but we’re glad to have had most of the teachers we’ve had and even keep in touch with a number of them.

Williams talks about how one of his wife’s “greatest frustrations was parents who did not even bother to attend the school’s open house or parent-teacher conferences. Even those who valued education were so busy trying to stay alive they were happy to leave Johnny’s ABC’s up to the school.” In the end, he says, “It is not the American education system that needs an overhaul. It is the American family.”

Parents may be too busy to show their kids which way to turn.


Families are definitely being stretched dangerously thin today, but before we throw parents under the bus, notice something tucked away in that statement: Parents are “so busy trying to stay alive” they’ve abdicated their responsibility. Just to be clear, most American parents are not busy dodging bullets or hiding in foxholes. Most American parents don’t fill their waking hours clinging to literal last ditch efforts to keep breathing and pumping blood. So what are they busy doing that Williams refers to?

I’d argue that what we fill our time with is not so much “staying alive” as it is “getting ahead.” The elusive American Dream was perhaps a noble ideal in previous decades, but the modern version of it is nothing like the simple original. It’s not just the American family that needs overhauled, but the American value system that says “What I have is never enough. I must have more – even if that means burying my family under a truckload of Visa bills.”

I read an article this morning about elected officials who were having a tough time making ends meet… just barely scraping by… struggling to keep their children well clothed and properly fed… “living paycheck to paycheck”… on $174,000 a year!

But this isn’t about politics (I say as I choke on that last statement). It’s about you and I and contentment. Are we sacrificing our children for a newer car in the driveway? Are we leaving our children to fend for themselves so they can sleep in a bigger house?

I have to admit I struggle with this. I never go to bed hungry, but I struggle with wanting more – wishing I made more money and could afford better stuff. Wishing I could go visit more exciting places and eat better food. But my kids don’t need me to get a second job so they can ride in a truck with power steering as much as they need… me. They need me to coach their teams and be at their games. They need me to show them where the boundaries are in life and how to tell which ones are good boundaries and which ones were put there by some goober and need to be moved. They need me to help them know what it means to be a man, what it means to follow Jesus, and two of them need me to explain to them once and for all that men will never really understand them. (The other two need me to explain how to have fun trying!) I’d go full circle and say they need my help with homework, but… not so much. Not yet anyway.

How do you balance the desire to provide for your family with the demands that places on your time? Are you educating your children well, or have you left that up to “the professionals”? What could we do to help you “train up your child in the way he should go”?

Image via Agatha Villa at CreationSwap

What are you writing?

I came across a post on Tentblogger today about notebooks. He lists 10 of his favorite writing notebooks and that got me thinking about the pages I’ve used over the years. As a kid, I missed out on the typical black and white composition notebooks (which are number 10, by the way) because we were always well stocked with those really inexpensive spiral notebooks – the ones you see the cheap frugal moms lugging around at Target at back to school time for like 17¢ each or something (like my wife). I didn’t know what a Moleskine was until just a few years ago (and still wouldn’t mind a good debate about the proper pronunciation of that brand), but I have at least seen most of the options on the list.

Though the usually smashed spiral inevitably made page turning a little tricky, I was at least privileged to write almost exclusively in college rule notebooks. This was necessary mostly because I write tiny (not small – tiny), which some handwriting expert will probably tell you indicates a lack of self confidence or an introverted and academic personality. I hated Big Chief, with his cocky wide lines and paper that was impossible to erase without burning a hole through 3 pages. I secretly looked down on teachers that accepted assignments on wide rule. How could they be at peace with such sloppy arrogance?! Ok, maybe that’s exaggerating a little bit…

I’ve never been a die hard journal keeper, but have filled more than a couple notebooks with what would pass as journal entries. Someday, someone is going to read them and say, “Wow, I always thought he was  more well adjusted than that.” That’s because my journals are often filled in mildly distraught moments of prayer – pouring out to God what I don’t think I should dump on others. A lot of people don’t notice the rougher edges of me because I’ve learned to tuck them away in writing that doesn’t usually see the light of day. I can imagine my grandkids finding an old box of my stuff and thinking, “Grandpa was really weird and moody. With all those years being unhappy, it’s no wonder he’s so grumpy now!” Part of what may make me seem well adjusted (whatever that means) is that I don’t go around spewing all my garbage because I’ve found a better dumping ground than in your lap.

The thing is, what I write in notebooks can be easily misunderstood, especially since it’s because a sort of salvage yard of my broken pieces. If parts of it are taken out of context and the rest of it ignored, those parts don’t really accurately represent who I am. Whether it’s a song (which are mostly written upside down from the back of the notebook for some reason that still escapes me), a prayer, some sermon or lesson notes, a rant, or just a catchy line I wanted to remember… you can’t know me fully from just that piece. If you only know me from this blog, you see me only through the limited lens this blog affords. My private writing gives an even less illumined view.

This leads me to how we treat the Bible. There’s no doubt in my mind that reading God’s Word can help a person get to know Him. (And yes, I realize the Bible is much more than God’s personal little journal.) But we will not get to know God fully by taking our favorite bits and pieces of Scripture and divorcing them from the context of the rest of Scripture. We won’t even get a very full picture by reading the whole text year after year. The Bible isn’t a compilation that’s meant to only be read and discussed – it’s meant to be done. It’s meant to be lived. It’s meant to be demonstrated by His kids.

It’s only when we act on the Word that we really understand the Author. Write that down in your hand-crafted Ciak or your bamboo Writersblok…  scribble it into your spiral bound cheap-o college rule… maybe even scrawl it in your Big Chief (use a crayon)… but don’t forget what James wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” God doesn’t just write in notebooks – He writes in you for all to see. What’s He writing?

The Book of Ax?

Our high school class on Sunday mornings has been studying the book of Acts for the past couple months. I love the look in their eyes as our students hear how the Holy Spirit was moving in the first century church and as they come to understand that the same Spirit lives in the church of this century as well. But I was caught off guard a little bit yesterday.

We’re just getting into the shift between Peter’s meeting with Cornelius’ family and Paul’s travels through Asia Minor and his hope to reach Rome. It’s amazing how a little splinter cell of Jews loyal to a carpenter became the multi-cultural church stretching throughout much of the known world so quickly (all without the help of blogs, mass-texts, or facebook). I wanted to recap the first several chapters that we’d covered up to this point, so I started at the beginning and asked them to “Tell me about the book of Acts.”

As they began talking about Jesus ascending into heaven and the Apostles waiting in and around Jerusalem, I asked about the name of the book. “Why is it called Acts?” The one student who piped up first offered only a shrug, a confused look, and a frustrated “I have no idea what any of this has to do with an ax.”

The Ax of the Apostles. The Ax of the Holy Spirit. Ax.

You need to know this is not a dumb kid. He’s been to church all of his life and reads his Bible more than most adults I know – by a lot. He’s not Biblically illiterate and often leads in our student ministry in many ways. He’s a great young man. But somehow, when he was a little kid his mind latched on to an “Ax” metaphor instead of more of an “Actions” picture – and it stuck until yesterday!

I’ve been reflecting on this in a couple ways:

1. A church that doesn’t Act with the Holy Spirit will soon see His Ax. That’s cheesy enough to fit on a church marquee (sorry), but we have to remember the stakes are high. When we stop following His lead we’re not really being the church.

2. Spelling Matters.

3. Don’t assume everybody knows what you know. Cover the basics and re-cover them frequently.

4. There may be more teaching going on than learning – and that’s not ok. If you teach or lead a group, be prepared when it comes time to deliver and fill in the gaps that even the best curriculum will leave. Don’t settle for the Saturday night, flip through the workbook then read it Sunday morning approach. The way you fill the role (whether it’s in the nursery or the nursing home or anywhere in between) is shaping the church. Shape it well.

Take Me to Your Leader

Since the 50’s, cartoon aliens have been making the demand, “Take me to your leader.” Get me to the one in charge because I’m too important to be dealing with a peon like you. You can’t possibly be able to answer my questions or be interesting enough for conversation, so take me to someone who is. Take me to your leader. The phrase has entered our culture so deeply that it’s been used by everyone from the Newsboys to Ninja Turtles.

But, what if you and I were really asked that question? Who are your leaders? Look back over your life objectively – what is it, or who is it that has led you to where you are today?

Shifting away from an individual focus for a minute, I want to ask the church something. Together, who are our leaders? Who are we following? I know the easy answer to throw out is ‘Jesus’, but if Marvin the Martian showed up Sunday morning with his ACME ray gun and demanded to know who’s in charge around here, would we all point to the stage? The elders & staff? Teachers and small group leaders?

As followers, how do we balance our loyalty to our flesh and blood leaders (and our own preferences) with being disciples of Jesus? As leaders, are we doing everything possible to lead people to follow Him, not just us?

A Quick Message for my WestWay Students

As I was thinking over what we talked about last night, I began reading in 1 Peter this morning and came across some stuff I wanted to share with you guys. I noticed some things there that I think you need to know as you get back into school.

You may not think you’re much, but together, God is making something amazing!

“And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple.” Guys, I think that verse is for us, not just the Christians in the first century. It’s for you. God is still building His people into a living, breathing, dynamic place where He makes Himself available. As you check out your new classes and new teachers and teams… make sure you’re letting Him live in you AND make Himself known through you.

“They stumble because they do not listen to God’s word or obey it… But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, His very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.” As you finish up Filter over the next couple weeks, finish strong. But don’t just read your Bible – live it. Obey it. Let His Word sink into your soul and reshape you from the inside. Then, you become more than just a youth group, more than just a bunch of kids who like to hang out together and stay out of trouble – you become His Church (His priests, His nation, His possession…) – an unstoppable force of light, showing others the goodness of God.

Whether this is your first year at a new school, or your last year as a Senior, make this year a time when you really step out to shine Christ’s light. Make Him known. Your schools are your mission field: show His goodness there.

img: Jono Hale @ creationswap.com

The Middle School Milestone

Earlier this summer, for the first time, one of my own kids was with me as a camper for Middle School camp. This morning, I took her to middle school orientation. I spend a lot of time around middle schoolers, so the mix of excitement and nervous fear in the building today wasn’t too surprising – but it’s been “interesting” making adjustments to actually having a middle schooler of my own (who thinks 11 is way more adult than her father does, by the way).

Emily’s looking forward to getting back to school and is excited about the schedule. We got to walk through the building this morning, finding classes and seeing friends who haven’t connected much over the summer, as well as meeting teachers. She seems to have a really good group of teachers, so as a parent and a youth pastor, that’s something for which I’m very grateful.

And just as my daughter’s entering a new phase, I think I am too. For 12 years, I’ve done ministry with other people’s kids, but now, the first of my own kids will begin a wave that will have them being more present than they have ever been. Here’s what I’m hoping:

I hope having my own daughter in my primary ministry group won’t cause me to hold back in challenging my students to fully chase after God. It’s one thing to encourage someone else’s little girl to listen when God’s telling her to go into dangerous situations on His mission, but what about my own daughter taking that risk? Will I still be willing to nudge my students toward the God-led risks they need to take? I think so, but I have a lot more skin in the game now – my own flesh and blood…

I hope I can be even more present for her peers without sacrificing the special relationship a daughter should have with her dad. As a youth pastor, I want to take advantage of every opportunity to help young people see Jesus, but I don’t want to manipulate my daughter’s relationships toward my own ends. She’s not my little spy into the world of youth culture. I have to admit, sometimes I feel a little awkward as a mid-thirties guy showing up at a Jr. High band concert/football game… If I didn’t know my own motives, it could be a little creepy.

I hope I can be the dad I need to be and the pastor I need to be. The tension between what my family needs and what my ministry needs is not an easy tension to manage. I hope I can leverage that tension well to propel both my kids and the other people’s kids that I’m privileged to serve into the life Christ dreams for them.

What’s a Healthy Youth Ministry Look Like?

I had a brief discussion a while back with another youth minister about where youth ministry is at today – where things are going well and where youth ministry in general could improve. I’m not one to say that youth ministry is a total failure and may not have even been a good idea in the first place, but I have seen some practices that I think are unhealthy habits at best that we need to stop doing or do better. For example… when someone requires a trip to the emergency room EVERY SINGLE TIME you play that game… There is certainly room for improvement.

But this has me thinking… I’ve been in youth ministry since before the Y2K bug failed to hatch. Before that, I read and studied just about everything youth ministry related I could get into my paws for 4 years of college. I live and breathe in the waters of youth ministry, and like a fish doesn’t know it’s wet, maybe my perspective is skewed.

I know some of you who read this blog regularly have a similar place in the world of youth ministry and some do not. Some of you are parents, some are students, some are curious relatives, and some are secret agents of enemy forces keeping tabs on me (ok, maybe not so much of that last one). Your vantage point on youth ministry may reveal something to you that I don’t notice, so I want to know…

What are you seeing in youth ministry?

What needs to be better?

What are the marks that help you recognize a healthy student ministry?

Check out the series of posts that starts with 5 Marks of Youth Ministry That Makes A Difference to see how I’ve previously answered, but feel free to add your own thoughts to the discussion as well!