37 Scattered Thoughts

I should maybe be writing something reflective for today. Having reached 37 years old, maybe I’m supposed to be all introspective and mid-life crisis minded. Maybe today, I should be thinking about the impact I’ve made, the lives that have been touched, or about what is to come. Maybe some of that will come out in the next several paragraphs, but maybe not. So, because it’s my birthday and I can, I offer you 37 Scattered Thoughts:

  1. I wrote a book when I was a kid about a tiger that didn’t eat meat. That tiger was really out of place. After 37 years… so am I, sometimes.
  2. I like meat. (To eat, not to wear.)
  3. I read Life of Pi last week and kept thinking about my vegetarian tiger. He would have been pretty safe to float around with in a life boat – but still a little out of place.
  4. If our first child had been a boy, there’s a good chance I would have lost the ‘discussion’ with LuAnn and his name would have been Tiger.
  5. I’m not sure how we went from what would have been a VERY uncommon name for a little white kid in the farmlands to the most common girl’s name of several decades, but that little girl (who’s now 13) is anything but common!
  6. I guess we’ve made up for it with a now 6 year old girl who answers to Lizzard!
  7. I may or may not have used the word ‘synapse’ when I taught children’s church a couple weeks ago, talking about having our minds transformed (Rom. 12).
  8. I most assuredly did make green fire in the chapel that day, though, which definitely perked up the juvenile neural activity!
  9. I should maybe not be allowed around small children too often.
  10. I like words. (Not to eat, though. Or wear.)
  11. I should lose about 10 lbs. The first 5 would disappear if I’d quit drinking so much freaking Mt. Dew! The second 5 will require a little more effort.
  12. I still think the Broncos should have kept Tebow – he’s a weapon that I think Peyton Manning could employ in ways that no one else ever will. (Can you imagine a defense trying to adjust before the snap as Manning moves Tebow around the backfield?)
  13. I love watching Manning figure out defenses and pick them apart for the Broncos.
  14. I like BOTH/AND kinds of solutions a lot more often than EITHER/OR ones.
  15. Big decisions require big commitment. I don’t want to do something halfway, so I’m slow to make the decision if I’m not sure I’ll make the commitment.
  16. My first marriage started when I was only 18, a couple weeks after graduating high school. It was a big decision, but an easy one to commit to!
  17. It’s still going. (That whole “’til death do us part” thing… we meant it.)
  18. The hardest decision I ever made was to move from our first place of ministry. Those people are our spiritual family who launched us into further ministry as much as they let us go. I know that whatever I do in ministry today and tomorrow is growing out of soil they helped prepare. Thanks ACC.
  19. I don’t feel at 37 like what I thought 37 would feel like. (This one’s really dumb, but for some reason, I felt obligated to say it.)
  20. At 37, I’ve pretty much given up on ever having great hair.
  21. Sometimes, I’m not sure I’m actually an adult at all. Maybe it’s just a hazard/benefit of youth ministry!
  22. I hate seeing the next generation belittled and degraded by older generations.
  23. I also hate seeing the next generation live down to the low expectations with which they’re caricatured. If the adults in your life are too lazy or self-obsessed to raise the bar of what’s expected of you, you’ve got to raise it for yourselves.
  24. 37 scattered thoughts can get really long and boring. I won’t be offended if you want to take a break and come back later – just be sure to come back! (Bonus points if you share some thoughts of your own that are sparked by my 37.)
  25. 37 is the highest prime number in the 30’s.
  26. In addition to words, I also like numbers. (Also, not for eating.)
  27. Sometimes, numbers do lie, though. You really have to watch out for that.
  28. I once made a list of ministry goals that included seeing 5 former students located in vocational ministry. Recently, #5 relocated his family halfway across the planet to work with a video ministry to closed people groups in North Africa. Several others are ‘on the tarmac’ just about ready to launch. I can’t wait to see how God will work through them to reconcile people to Himself!
  29. I probably need to update my list.
  30. Despite all its flaws and frailties, I love the church and I’m so glad I chose to make myself available to God for the benefit of His bride. I still feel there is so much more to the church that what most people see (even from within), and I look forward to continuing to work to help people be the church He imagines we can be.
  31. I am not a fan of Jesus. He deserves so much more than a fan would ever give. (If you don’t get this reference – go get the book.)
  32. I encourage people to never go to church again. Maybe the biggest problem the church has is capitulating to the low expectation that church is something you go to. It’s not. It’s a band of disciples united by the mission of Jesus and requires far more than what’s reflected on a perfect attendance plaque.
  33. You can’t  be the church, though, without being with the church.
  34. Benjamin Zander once said, “My job is to awaken possibilities in others.” He conducted the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. I think that’s my job, too – without the violas and crashing cymbals. I love seeing the potential go kinetic!
  35. If I can unlock the incredible possibilities I see in my own 4 kids and help them bend their will to our Father’s, the world will never be the same! (I owe a huge “Thank you” to all the parents who’ve let me ‘practice’ on their teens before mine have begun to reach that age! Haha!)
  36. I have still not published any books (Tigers notwithstanding). Maybe that’s a situation I should work more to change. (I did receive the quickest book proposal rejection in history though a few weeks ago – less than 24 hours.)
  37. I hope that my 37 years of being blessed in the life I live will continue to lead me to be a blessing to others… Maybe even to you!

The Lord Was At Work

A couple phrases from Samson’s story have been sticking in my mind lately. It’s not that they’re tormenting me or causing me any great deal of mental anguish, but I just keep chewing on these phrases.

His father and mother didn’t realize the Lord was at work in this…


But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him.

I’ll leave the second for another post, but here’s what I’ve been thinking about the first:

The first phrase was used in explanation of God working toward the deliverance of His people from the oppression of the Philistines through some rough circumstances. Samson was making a huge, boneheaded push to marry a Philistine lady, which his parents knew was a mistake. Not just a mistake, but an affront to the God who’d delivered their people from Egyptian slavery. He had told them to drive OUT the locals and their pagan gods, not marry them!

But God used the stupidity of Samson to drive a wedge between him and the very Philistines he was tolerating. Samson’s marriage consisted of a 7 day party kicked off by a pride filled bet with the locals, a week of nagging from his new wife, and a rage inducing betrayal by her. Samson referred to his wife as his heifer (Any chance that was a term of endearment back then?), stormed off to a nearby town to kill 30 guys there to pay off what he lost in the bet, then went home to live on mom and dad’s basement couch and eat cheese puffs! To make things worse, when the cheese puffs ran out and he remembered “Hey I’ve got a wife!”, he found out she’d been given to marry his best man! Samson is not having a good “day”, here. (At least his “sorta/kinda father in law” offered him a consolation sister. Umm… what!?)

I get to this point in the story and I ask myself, “This is what God was working through? Seriously? He made something good out of this mess?” Then I remember… God doesn’t require a whole lot in the way of raw materials to make something good. (Please see “Creation” as Exhibit A.)

Samson lost his temper again. He caught a bunch of foxes and tied their tails together with torches. Then he set them loose to ruin the Philistine’s wheat harvest. Now the Philistines are having a pretty crappy “day”, too. (If they can’t make bread, where are they supposed to put their Nutella?) And this is where we begin to see what God is doing. The Philistines wanted revenge, so when they found out it was Samson, they burned his wife and her father to death. Samson then set his eyes on retaliation and started killing Philistines, who subsequently set up camp in Judah and went to war against Samson’s relatives for a while. The men of Judah convinced Samson to effectively turn himself in, but as the Philistines took him captive, God stepped in to enable Samson to make light work of a thousand of them.

God was working to deliver His people. It’s interesting that Samson’s parents didn’t realize what He was up to.

I wonder what situations God is working through uniquely in our lives today… Do we realize how “the Lord is at work in this”? Do we notice what He’s doing? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not go through life oblivious to what God’s working out. Let’s keep our eyes and hearts open and see what happens…

*If you’re interested in the cheese puff & Nutella free, actual version of this episode, you can find it in Judges 14-16. The consolation sister is real, though – she’s still in the story.)

Living In Reverse

Your Kingdom come, your will be done – on earth as it is in Heaven.

-Jesus, to His Father

You don’t have to look very deep to see that this world is not the way its Creator intended, right? Because of our sin, we hurt, we suffer, we die… And all of creation groans with us. This is no paradise, no Eden we’re living in. Things break down – the corrosive effects of sin are everywhere.

inside a deteriorating car
Image from Ariel da Silva Parreira at rgbstock

One of the questions raised by the speaker at the youth event I was at this past weekend with my students (Jim Shade at Summit’s “Fall Fling”) was gleaned from this part of Jesus’ prayer. This phrase has been repeated for centuries since Jesus answered His disciples’ question about praying like he prayed. But how are we living it out? If Jesus was so concerned with the Kingdom coming “on earth as it is in Heaven” why would we disciples of Jesus live as if we’re just waiting to get to Heaven? Are we living backwards to God’s purposes – just trying to get to Heaven to be with God someday, while God wants to bring Heaven to Earth through us now?

This doesn’t have to lead us to an earth worshiping denial of the eternal, or to a do good, social gospel that fails to acknowledge the glory of God that can’t be contained by creation (not that an anti-social gospel does a whole lot of good, either). I think that’s what some people fear when we talk about the Kingdom being present here on earth. Most first century Jews made the mistake of holding out for an earth-bound Messiah. When Jesus didn’t show any interest in that kind of temporal kingdom, they wrote him off despite His fulfillment of their very own Scriptures. Even the Apostles at times seemed to want Jesus to get rid of the Romans and set up His throne in Jerusalem.

But when Jesus talked about a Kingdom that was coming, that’s not exactly what He had in mind, is it? From our vantage point standing on about 2000 years of history, we know Jesus wasn’t about setting up a government to rule humanity. But he was about establishing His Kingdom – not just some otherworldly utopia in the sky, but a way of living and reconciling humanity (and everything else, too) here and now.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

-Paul, to early disciples in Colossae

God started something in Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. He began an act of reconciliation of all things in Heaven and on Earth, and it’s an act into which we’ve been invited. First, to be reconciled, but then to live to be reconcilers – ambassadors, as Paul would say to the Christians in Corinth, pleading with humanity to come back with us to our Creator. There will come a day, when all this reconciliation will be completed by God, but until then, church, we are His means of planting His Kingdom. Don’t just sit around waiting to die so you can go be with God. Be with Him now and live as a part of the work He’s doing in the world today.

We’re not aiming to recreate Eden, but we should be living to reverse the curse of sin and beat down the gates of Hell that have been built up around people we should love back to Life.

How are you seeing His Kingdom in your life? How are your family & neighbors seeing His Kingdom in your life?

Get Out Of Their Way

There is a segment of people in the church who are primed for reaching the youth in our communities. They can strike up conversations with teens that most of us youth pastors will never see. They have the ability to demonstrate God’s love to young people in ways that are really effective for them, but would get us adults in youth work put on the neighborhood watch’s danger list. They’re afforded access to the haunts and hangouts that we just don’t fit into, and can even get around school campuses like a smart kid with a hall pass.

These people are the very students who come through the doors of our church building every week to take part in the programs we’ve implemented to disciple them. Often, the relationships these programs facilitate are working! Young believers are being discipled in our student ministries, and they’re ready to jump into the work of reconciling their own generation to God. One of the most important things I’ve learned in student ministry is to get out of my students’ way when they see God moving and want to join what He’s doing.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I think this can look like:

Define the church well. Show students how they can be the church and cultivate an environment of expectation to do more than just show up.

Dump your ego and stop doing their portion of the work of the Kingdom. Remember that whole “many parts, one body” thing that Paul used to talk about? Don’t rob the young parts of the joy of serving in just the way, time, and place that God’s intended by doing it for them. It’s definitely more work and less recognition to teach them to do the work, but it’s right.

Discover gifts and strengths together, then connect them with people who can help them maximize those gifts.

Experiment. Let them try things that you wouldn’t necessarily try.

Be an encouraging support without being a crutch. Fight the temptation to jump in and save the day all the time. Let your students struggle to work out the issues that come up in ministry, even ones brought about by their own mistakes. The bottom line is, the same Spirit that brought Christ out of the grave is alive and active in His young church. He can handle it – whatever it is. Remind your students of that often.

How else have you seen youth ministries thriving when the youth minister gets out of the way?