Friday, November 13, 2015

Love Is Kind

This year I am helping preschoolers memorize some verses in the Bible that talk about love. They are found in 1 Corinthians 13. It had been a month since the previous chapel time I led, so I wasn't expecting much when I asked them if they recalled what we talked about before. But one kid quickly called out, 'Love is patient.' I told that young boy he won the day.

Then I told them I was going to talk about the next aspect of love, kindness, by telling them a story.

Once there were these 5 guys that were friends. But one of those friends was paralyzed. Do you know what that means? It means he couldn’t move his arms or legs.

Let’s pretend we can’t move our arms and legs. Just as an aside, I'm going to figure out how I can include this story in every chapel. Those kids all sat frozen while I told the story. 

One day those friends heard that Jesus was in town. So the four friends that could move decided to pick up their friend, carry him on his bed all the way to Jesus. When they saw a big crowd, they decided to dig a hole in the roof and lower their friend right down in front of Jesus.

Jesus saw their kindness and healed their paralyzed friend. Then he was able to get up and carry his bed home. It was at this point that I told them we could all move our arms and legs again. That was also about the time I lost many of them. 

That is kindness and love is supposed to be kind.

Proverbs 3:3 tells us to wear kindness around our neck. I asked them if any of them had a kindness necklace at home. To my surprise, and maybe yours, they all said they did, in fact, have such necklaces.

I don't normally call kids liars, but I did at this point and then explained what Solomon was talking about when he said we should wear kindness around our necks. That’s kind of a funny way to say it, but I think it means that God wants us to always be kind, to everyone we see.

Another verse says “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” ~Ephesians 4:32

In other words, because God was kind to us, we should be kind to others. I was going to ask them for examples, but most of them were still trying to convince me they had kindness necklaces. So I lovingly and kindly closed our time together in prayer.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Snowflake Just Like You

So, the next time you see a snowfall and your first instinct isn't to pause and stand in awe f the Creator, you may want to check yourself. Listen, I get it. I was born and raised in Florida. Snow was what my grandparents talked about. Snow was something we saw in movies.

But now I have lived over half of my life in these places where the white tundra is just expected for half the year. You call it North. I've asked God for forgiveness for what I call it.

Recently some guy I've never heard of (I'll give him credit below*) took amazingly close up shot of individual snowflakes. What I see is evidence of a Creator. But not just a Creator. A Creator that doesn't seem to care what you and I give Him credit for. Take a look at these and consider that, for thousands of years, these flakes have been falling on the ground, mostly unnoticed for their stunning beauty and individual style. 

snowflake10  snowflake9  snowflake8  

snowflake7  snowflake6  snowflake5

These unique flakes, all beautiful, fulfilled their purpose and virtually nobody noticed. They fell. They came together with thousands of other unique flakes. They formed something noticeable, for a time, on the ground. Then they simply melted away.

It kind of reminds me of....people. Yes, people. You. Me. That one guy who lived in that one place and did that one thing. All of us.

When I think of the totality of humanity, I see the evidence of a Creator. But not just a Creator. A Creator that doesn't seem to mind what He gets credit for. Take a look at people and consider that, for thousands of years, these people have been walking the planet, mostly unnoticed for their stunning beauty and individual style.

These people filled the Earth. Many of them have fulfilled their purpose. They came together with other people, perhaps forming something noticeable. Then these people simply melted away.

The snow hasn't begun to fall around here yet. When it does, it will be unlikely that I will take time, nor have the ability, to notice the beauty of each individual flake. But I will try to thank the Creator for what I know is there.

I may even try to do the same with the flakes around me that I know to be people, each made with loving care by a very creative Creator.

*These photos by Alexey Kljatov, using a homemade contraption, are extreme close-ups of an individual snowflakes.

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Search of Adolescence

You could call this a portion of a book review, or you could call this my attempt to bring something more scholarly to this space. Either way, it is likely best described as my acknowledgement that I am not the first, such as Sir Isaac Newton recognized when he said “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

See, though I know it was not original with me, I began my youth ministry career by repeating that what I do is not about a religion, but about a relationship. At times I imagined it seeped into my brain from some of my youth ministry mentors. But I have been reading In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea by Crystal Kirgiss. Now I see the idea goes back much further.

In this book, Crystal battles the idea that adolescence is a modern day construct. Showing how previous generations dealt with the people we know as teenagers, she proves her point well. At one point she quotes John Greene and Solomon Stoddard, a couple of preachers from the early 1700’s.

“God will have no respect at all to any service that you offer up to him, as long as you withhold your hearts from him…For this, as has been hinted, is the foundation of all religious practice…For while this is neglected, the doing of other things will be to no purpose.” Youth were encouraged not just to attend Sunday services but to live a life of obedience all week long because God is “not only their father’s God, but their God also.” If they learned to worship faithfully now, not because they had to but because they wanted to – because “God has given rational souls to you that you might understandingly praise the Lord” – then it was believed they would continue in the faith and fulfill their spiritual purpose: to glorify God.

(In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea, pgs 105-106)


I’m hoping that my teens not only recognize this idea, but are encouraged, as I am, by the idea that we are not the first generations enjoying a struggle of seeking out God in a relationship that matters.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doing Your Daily Duties

In a discussion with college students I led recently, we stumbled across the title of what will need to be a future book I write. For now it will simply have to be this blog post.

Doing Your Daily Duties: How to Avoid Becoming Spiritually Constipated. I know, I know, you would totally buy this book. Just let me write it first.

Our discussion, when it wasn't appealing to my third grade sense of humor, touched on the matters we say we want to accomplish each and every day. Things like prayer and Bible study to be sure. But also an unrelenting focus on the things that matter to God.

We acknowledged that we want these things to matter to us, but often times Netflix and the desire for a nap crowd out the time we have. I think it goes almost without saying (though I'm typing it right now) that the matters of God carry more for us than anything else we find to do. And yet?

Had we a Savior tapping on our shoulder to remind us of what we say we value, it would be easy to let Earthly things dissipate. However, the soft whisper of His Spirit does not often equal the smack upside our head that we actually require.

I concluded that our need for community is still great. Let's be honest; it's no fun to watch someone suffer in their bowels, spiritually or otherwise. So accountability, when offered with grace, should not be withheld or rejected. 

Our daily duties are not something to be left undone.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Call to Worship, Or Called to Worship

When I became  youth pastor at my current church, I had a job description that probably looks very similar to many other youth ministry job descriptions. Maybe all job descriptions. There was a line towards the end of the list of my roles that said; other duties as assigned.

It's a bad thing to have that line in a youth ministry job description for two reasons. First, you shouldn't use the duty around youth pastors. After all, we hang around middle schoolers and this just begs us to chuckle at the use of words that can have double meanings. 

Secondly, and more importantly, those other duties (snicker) can begin to swallow your time whole.

I digress. 

I was leading in worship and shared some thoughts, but I thought I would use this space to expound.

Have you ever had one of those Sundays when you simply wanted to get into the worship time? Maybe most Sundays are a battle between how your reality looked the rest of the week and your desire to engage in worship. It's not that you don't love God. It's just that the rest of life really gets in the way. It can be really distracting.

However, let me offer two details.

We are always worshiping something. 

If not something greater than us (God), then something lesser than us (false gods). Or even worse, we will hold ourselves in the highest esteem. It's a simple equation. Look at your last week and find out where your greatest energies were directed. That's what you worship.

Don't get this confused with the things we do as an act of worship for God. After all, I believe God did create us to worship in our work. And if everything we are called to do, both work and play, is done with a heart full of joy and thanksgiving, then we are living a life of worship.

If that's true, then...

You should bring your worship (of God) with you.

If Sunday morning is where your worship of God begins and ends, then I would suggest that worship of God is not what you have been participating in. Perhaps what you worship is some habit of appeasing your parents or your spouse. Maybe your worship is only a shadow of what is actually true.

But if God has been what you have been worshiping, then that overflow will come in and unite that worship with everyone else who is bringing in their worship. Unity, who knew?

So, the next time you enter a church, be sure you're ready to worship. Perhaps you will be so ready you will want the worship leader to stop talking so you can get to it. But, seriously, let him speak. After all, he did prepare.

So, who has your worship?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Love is Patient

From time to time I will be posting a short teaching moment I had with the young children who attend our church preschool. This one involved a purposely mistaken drawing of my home. I say purpose;ly mistaken so you don't think I live in some weird world.

So, I started coloring again. I was going to wait to show anyone, but I just couldn’t wait. I’m going to show you a picture of me at my house on a sunny day.

Doesn’t this look good? What do you think? Am I a natural artist?

These kids, who I've noticed struggle with staying in the lines, were quick to notice my mistakes. Of course, that was the point.

It looks like I got a lot of things mixed up in my drawing. Sometimes we get things all mixed up in life. Do you ever fight with your brother or sister? Have you ever told your mom or dad no? Have you ever refused to share? Ever been grumpy?

Did you know that sometimes even moms and dads get things mixed up? Even adults get angry, sometimes we fight and say things we should not. We need to do better.

Fortunately, God loves us, even when we mess up. And one of the things we can learn about love is that love is patient. That means God is willing to wait for us to do better. And while He waits, He loves us and forgives us.

We need to show love this way as well. We need to be patient with our friends and wait our turn. We need to be patient with our brothers and sisters and share our toys. And we need to be patient with our parents, when we need them to help us.

Because love is patient!

I’ll have to fix this drawing, but it might take time for me to learn how to be a good artist. I’ll have to practice patience.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Called Out in Church

Have you ever been called out in church? I have and I’ll never forget it.

I was sitting in the back row of church, safely away from my parents and, I thought, anyone who could see me not listening to the sermon. That particular Sunday, an older leader in our church was filling in while the pastor was away.

A teenager at the time, I was doing what I’m sure none of the teens in our church do. I was passing notes and making jokes with my friends, who were very clearly being a negative influence on me. (Insert tongue in cheek here.) That’s when it happened.

The substitute-preacher called out, “You boys may think this is funny, but death is a serious thing!”

Fortunately he did not call us out by name, although that did not end up keeping me out of trouble from my parents after church was over. Since I could not actually tell them what the sermon was about, I had no defense.

The only solace is that I’m sure I won’t be the last person to have been called out in church. Nor was I the first. The letters we read in the New Testament were often read in a church service, then passed around to other churches. If we read the letters like sermons, then we often find shout-outs at the end. This was Paul’s pattern, greeting people he knew in each town.

In Colossians 4, one such shout-out ends up looking like a call out.

“Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” ~Colossians 4:17

‘Hey Archie! You’ve got a job to do; don’t forget it!’ Honestly, I see this verse and try to imagine what the previous conversations have been like between Paul and Archie. I imagine that while Paul was in Colosse, these two established a relationship and discussed what God might have for Archie to do. And now Paul was reminding him to get it done.

Today this sort of thing would likely be done by email or text message. We rarely see private conversations being held in public worship services and I’m not suggesting that I might try that from the stage.

However, I will point out that we have very likely had conversations. If we haven’t, then you and God have. I’ll also point out that much ministry is happening within the Church today. But we haven’t escaped the declaration by Jesus in Matthew 9 that ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’

Many exciting things are happening right now. Make sure you’re a part of completing the work ‘you have received in the Lord.’