Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Perception does not equal impact

(The following reflection is from my experience as a youth leader three years ago with a young man I will call "John".)

I couldn't figure out why John came to youth group. He was one of the "quirkiest" kids I'd ever met. He was constantly plugged into his music and he hardly ever took his headphones off. He had this thing about being touched - wouldn't shake hands or hold hands during prayer. He didn't participate in small groups or games much.....didn't say very much. Why did he keep coming? I couldn't figure it out.

Then one night he told me. I can't remember the circumstances but his statement haunts me.

"This is the only place that I feel anything."

There was so much pain in those words. To this day it makes me cry just thinking about it. (Yeah, even as I type this.) Those words hit me like a sledge hammer.

I never had a chance to really get to know John. To know where those words came from and why they carried such pain. John was a senior and he drifted away.....and I let him. Shame on me.

But God didn't leave John alone on the journey.

This past Sunday, John showed up at church. He came up to me and I recognized him and knew his name immediately...which is unusual for me. I greeted him by name - and his face started to beam! "I can't believe you remember my name!" he exclaimed. He shook my hand.....that in itself was a sign of transformation. We had a brief conversation. John shared that he was in college, doing well, meeting people. He had brought a friend with him that shared that John had been telling her what a great youth group we had here! He was looking me in the eye, sharing a little about himself, smiling........a completely different person than the one I met three years ago.

I still know very little of John's story. But I know this........

My perception of a student's experience can be WAY off - in good/bad directions.

The Holy Spirit is at work.........my job is to keep inviting, engaging, encouraging, praying.....

Knowing a student by name and remebering them is HUGE.

Providing a safe place to hear about God, know God, believe God, question God and feel God is important.

Dear Lord.....thank you for John. Thank you for remaining with him, pursuing him, engaging him. Thank you for the privilege of being part of his journey. May he continue to grow in his understanding of you..........and continue to feel and experience you in new ways. Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

God, mashed potatoes, jello, and dancing colors

We had a youth ministry team meeting last night. It was a great meeting. Lots of.... what if we try this; wouldn't it be cool if we could.....

I left the meeting with a cool milieu of creative ideas, God, praise, thankfulness, hope, Jesus, names of students and volunteers, and the Holy Spirit all resting on my heart and head.

Later that evening, as I was driving to pick my son up from a party, the song "Blessed Be Your Name" came on the radio. And I started singing along. Aand it felt great. And I started to sing with abandon. And thoughts like, "God is SO cool. Keep your hands on the wheel. God, you are so awesome. Keep your hands on the wheel." And then the next thought/picture that flickered through my brain was "God digs this....he is smiling and dancing as I am singing His praises!"

And then I thought - "Why doesn't worship feel like this when I'm gathered with my church family? What's different?"

And one of the first things that came to mind is mashed potatoes.

When I'm worshipping God - too often the picture I have in my head is like a pile of mashed potatoes. White, fluffy (if their made right with real butter and milk!), comforting, warm......and static. They just sit there. (Go ahead - try singing to a pile of mashed potatoes - I'll wait.) Mashed potatoes are safe, comforting.....and lifeless. So many times as I'm singing, praying, worshiping my focus is sadly on me - silly stuff really - like "Should I be clapping? Should I raise my hands on this verse? Should I stand up? What if I'm the only one standing? Does the guy in front of me think my singing is bad (actually I'm usually in the front row so as to avoid this situation!)?" Of course this picture isn't only around when I worship....but as I live each moment of the day (after all isn't worship really how we live?) *sigh*

And then my thoughts turned to Jell-O.

Yeah, I started to picture God as Jell-O as I worship. Vibrant colors, able to assume various shapes, sweet and tasty, easy to swallow, and jiggly. Still very safe but a little responsive - it will react to my singing with some amount of vibration. (Go ahead, get out some jello and start singing to it. If you get loud enough it will jiggle for you. I'll wait.) Sometimes God is like this in my mind. I've watered him down where he is easy to swallow. Safe, sweet, and tasty - yep, that's the God for me. That's a God that will fit very nicely with the safe life I find myself in - and it's sort of cool when He vibrates like that.....*sheesh*

And then my thoughts turned to dancing colors.

Amazing dancing colors. With depth, complexity, and rhythm. Colors that grab my attention. Colors that when I try to focus on just one it becomes fuzzy and difficult to pin down - but when I just let them flow over me are beautiful and engaging. Colors that respond and yet somehow also lead. As I sing - they dance in amazing ways. Colors that mysteriously become entwined in my very being and cause me to dance and sing in a new way, a unique way, in a way I was meant to. Colors that dance and lead in a way that I know is good....but not safe. Colors that help lead me to see those same colors in all that is around me. Colors that flow around me, in me, and through me. Colors that cover me and leave their mark on me....and in me.....and grow.

So, I've had a reality check...or maybe a truer glimpse of what is real. A change in perspective, perhaps.

I believe those colors that I started seeing last night lead me to read these words this morning...

"So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. (Col 3:1-2)

.........And sing, sing your hearts out to God!" (Col 3:16)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Just keep swimming

This time of year is always seems to involve worry and hand wringing for those involved in student ministries (all ministries?). Typically the stress revolves around:

* Volunteer staffing needs for core programs
* Ministry Fairs that introuce the programs to students/parents
* Getting students excited about coming to "programs" in the midst of school starting and
all that it entails
* Equipping leaders, curriculum, communicating with parents/students,

The list goes on and on.....

Of course, looking back over the past 5 years or so and my growing involvement with ministries at EPPC - God ALWAYS provides and/or guides. Why do I worry? My job is to keep showing up, keep walking forward, keep listening to the Holy Spirit and ACT when moved to......and God's blessings pour out in abundance.

I've had some amazing conversations this past week with individuals that have lead to cool possiblities for "youth stuff" this coming year.

God has got it under control........

"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. " (Matthew 25-34)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bamboo flute music is evil

Help me! My wife put on some "Bamboo flute" music last night just before some friends were coming over for dinner. We forgot to turn it off so it has been drifting through the house all night. I'm starting to like it. So mournful, peaceful, contemplative, and full of space.

From the dark side it is.

Where is my Count Basie jazz CD when I need it!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Billy Graham

I found this article from Newsweek to be an interesting read about Billy Graham.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I know what to do with that treadmill in my bedroom!

(ht to marko)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Going deep part 2

A few more reflections on how I kept seeing (hearing?) the word "deep" as I read through Philippians.....

(Part 1 is here)

"If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends." Phil 2:1-2

Deep-spirited friends. Love. Life. Community. Spirit. Heart. Care. Agree. Love. Deep-spirited friends. Do I nurture deep-spirited friendships?

"Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God." Phil 2:12

I love this verse as it speaks to living out your salvation here and now - energetically, reverently, and sensitively. Lots to ponder there but it is about living deeply in God.

"Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God." Phil 2:15

Start with just a glimpse. God is so deep, so inviting, so abundant, so full of grace that a life can be changed with just a glimpse. Will I walk across the room and engage in a conversation and provide just a glimpse of the living God?

"I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness." Phil 3:9

Keeping only rules in my heart......petty, inferior living. Trusting Christ with the depth of my life and relationships......robust, deep righteousness.

"Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!" Phil 4:4

Celebrate, revel in Him. Live deeply in Him each and every moment of each and every day. Revel in Him and allow him to be revealed more and more deeply.

"Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves." Phil 4:23

Allow God to enter in......through the amazing grace of His son Jesus........deep, deep within.

Go deep.

Going deep

I've been reading through Philippians the past couple of weeks. Man, what a great book to read if you are feeling a little low. It is one great cheerleading and encouraging letter. Over the next couple of days, thought I'd share some of the verses and phrases that have "shimmered" as I have been reading.

The word "deep" has been rising to the top of my thoughts as I've been reading.

(All of these quotes are from "The Message")

"Paul and Timothy, both of us committed servants of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all the followers of Jesus in Philippi, pastors and ministers included." Phil 1:1

I find it interesting that he singles out "pastors and ministers" - just one of those things that makes me go, "Hmmmm." The message is to pierce beyond the congregation - and land deep within ALL of them....leaders included.

"There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears." Phil 1:6

God started His work IN me......He is working deep.....from the inside-out.

"So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well." Phil 1:9

Ah, but to love well. What does that look like? Loving well....not just much. To me that also speaks of depth - to allow my love not to just meander along the surface of relationships but to look for cracks and crevices to pour Christ's love, through me, deeply into my relationship with God, self, others, and the world....as He has started a great work in me.

"Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul,...making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God." Phil 1:10-11

A life of depth thru Jesus Christ......bountiful in fruits from the soul. I love that phrase. fruits from the soul....as Jesus works deep in me, my very soul will become bountiful and reveal more and more of the attractiveness of Christ.

"Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done." Phil 1:19

Faithful prayers and generous Spirit - not only do I need to go deep in my prayers with God but I need to let myself marinate deeply in the prayers of others. To humbly ask for and graciously receive prayer - so that I am deeply immersed - and that everything he wants to do in/through me will be done as I respond to the Spirit.

"So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues." Phil 1:25

Depth in relationships through perseverance in love. Depth by committing time. Depth in walking along side and encouraging depth in another person's journey with Jesus. This is a theme that has resonated with me greatly in looking at how we minister to youth - and how we need to better walk with them rather than challenge and abandon them.

Go deep.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Happy Birthday....

to me!

That's right. I turned the magical 44 this past week. Here is a smattering of quotes from the various cards I received from friends and family:

"Yay! Happy Shiny Head Dave."

"Thanks for teaching me sooooo much."

"Thanks for being like my second dad to me."

"You're a great farter....oops....I mean father!"

"I love you, dad. Thanks for everything you do for me!"

"Another birthday for a wonderful son."

"You are the one that makes me smile, that knows everything I'm thinking, and who I crave to spend time with!"

Wow - am I a blessed husband, father, and son. Is it cool being a child of God or what? No birthday blues here......now where is that cake!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Doing the right thing....

is more important than doing things right.

This phrase was listed as one of the "core values" that give direction to youth ministry at a conference I attended last fall. It is one of those phrases that sounds cool and generally makes people nod their heads in agreement.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

But I was having a hard time trying to come up with a concrete example of what this might look like in real life and in youth ministry specifically. And then I watched my son's soccer team completely destroy an opponent. They played the game right - they watched their spacing, they marked their men, they had good first touches, they used their support, they shot at the far post, they talked, they played aggressive, they scored goal after goal after goal after goal after goal. I honestly don't remember the score at halftime. It was at least 6 to 0.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

I have a lot of respect for my son's coach. I believe him to be the best coach my son has had since playing "travel" soccer. He has developed a great team concept. He has demonstrated great balance and patience with the boys involvement in other activities that conflict with soccer. He has been up front with the parents that yelling at the refs is plain wrong and he doesn't ever want to hear it. I thought the team would come out and lay off some after the half. I was wrong. They continued to score at will. The score ballooned to something greater than 12 - 0. I literally lost track. I felt embarrassed.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

To be fair the coach on the other team was not helping. He apparently had a point to make about something. He took kids out of the game and made his team play shorthanded by 2 players. His team has not won any games this year and has scored only two goals. It would have been great to see the kids out playing the last game of the year and have fun - but he tried to turn it into some kind of personal message or control thing. I felt sad for the players on his team.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

From my perspective the right thing would have been to lay back. Require all goals in the second half to be from headers. Or any shots taken have to be with your weak leg. Or set it up so that the team has to make 6 passes before shooting. Or all shots have to be taken outside goalie box. It just seems pounding the ball in wasn't the right thing....even though they were playing the game right. There are things that are bigger than the game. The balance between competition and compassion, destruction vs. dignity, goals vs. grace.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

Maybe I'm completely off base here. Maybe I don't understand the level of competition in "travel soccer". Maybe I don't know what the coach was trying to accomplish. Maybe I don't understand all the subtleties of the game. What I do know is how the players on the other team looked walking off the field. How the parents looked at their children - as though their child had been beat up by a bully in front of them and they were helpless to intervene. In the end, I apologized to the parents of the other team. They were very gracious and said things like "It's not your fault" or "It's travel soccer, what would we expect", etc.

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

Of course, I can't be free from my own rant. Other than wish for it to stop and apologize for our teams unrelenting play, I did nothing. I didn't walk over to the coach and ask him to have his team pull back. I just watched - as one group of children destroyed another group. I didn't do the right thing..........I did what the culture says is doing things right.....stay quiet, don't rock the boat, don't cause a scene, don't embarrass your child......

I wish I hadn't needed an example of what "Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right" may mean in real life. It came at the expense of a group of children. And I am ashamed. Lord, help me not sit idly by the next time, know that I have seen that ......

Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Kickball dangers I never thought of!

We played kickball this past Sunday at our 2nd annual "bike to Lake Riley from church" event (you can read details about it here). It was a great day - 20 minute bike to the lake, swimming, BBQ hotdogs for lunch, and then the mandatory kickball game.

Sometime during the third inning or so of kickball, I fielded a hot grounder. The ball had skidded across the grass and took a hop that caught me on the side of the face after which I fielded the ball for the last out of the inning.

As both teams were passing one another to change offense/defense, one of the kids in the group looked at me and said, "Hey, Dave! What's that yellowish brown stuff on your face?" I stopped and noticed a strange odor about me which lead me to say, "I think it's dog poop!" That pretty much put a stop to the game - as kids were laughing, looking, pointing, running, giggling - and I made a quick exit to the lake to wash off! Ahh.....the joys of youth ministry!

At least part of the answer is.....

play and conversation in community.

I've been pondering the value of summer youth group gatherings here and also some ideas about doing things differently here.

This past Sunday, we had our 2nd annual youth group bike ride to Lake Riley. It was hot - the temps would eventually reach about 98 degrees. There was much concern expressed about the trip from the parents. But we pressed on - here is a short summary of "the event" and some ponderings on what I saw/learned about the value of these events.

The low down on the trip - the kids bring their bikes to church. After worship (and after collecting permission slips, calming parent's fears for their children's safety and coordinating some of the adult volunteers) we leave for Riley Lake park. It's only about a 20 minute ride and we had a water break half way there. At the park we swim, have a cookout, play kickball, and then swim/hangout some more. This year we had 13 students and 10 volunteers....along with two 7 y.o.'s!

Ponderings and reflections on what I saw/learned:

These trips pump me up! Okay, I admit that I absolutely hate the planning. But on the day of the event and throughout the event itself - I am super psyched. I look forward so much to hanging out with our students as well as the adult volunteers. I love being able to just watch how kids interact (or don't).

God has blessed us with a very cool community of adults. You may have noticed that we had almost a 1:1 ratio of students to adults. Sometimes this could be stifling to a youth gathering. But our adult volunteers have such hearts for the kids - looking for chances to interact but also just letting the kids hang out and play. A truly intergenerational event.

Community forming - This day I saw our incoming 7th graders being folded into our tribe of kids at EPPC. They were welcomed and included....by other students as well as adults. It is so cool to see "the church" - from 7 y.o.'s to those of us over forty - having moments of "union with God and communion with each other" to borrow a phrase from Scot McKnight.

Play is an important part of a passionate ministry - biking, swimming, kick ball, water fights. I bet that Adam and Eve played hide and seek in the garden, even before they ate the apple. How can one not want to just play when immersed in God's creation and living in community with each other?

My biggest take-away of the day is that we as "the church", not just as a youth group, need to have opportunities for play and conversation - in community - allowing us to be real with one another and develop "deep spiritual friends" (Phil 2:2 Msg)

As I look at my ponderings over the past week - I have a new appreciation for creating events over the summer that nurture play/conversation. But I also believe it to be a prime opportunity to have volunteers and kids build relationships as well. Really is a both/and rather than an either/or. I'll keep pondering.....and keep listening......and keep watching.....as God is present and beckoning.....