- if you live in the greece area, you really should get your christmas tree from green acres. they should give me a deal next year for advertising for them (to all 3 of you readers out there lol). they are always so friendly, even when you pick the most frigid saturday of the year to pick out your tree. after pointing it out, it's not long and they've already got it tied to the top of the car. they even have a hotdog stand there to satisfy your pregnant craving wife, not that i would know or anything.
- really enjoying the "rediscovering christmas" bible reading plan from You Version. shanna and i decided to read it together this year (although we're a bit behind right now). if you're looking for a new reading plan as the new year rolls around, be sure to check out this site. their plans are different than the usual linear ones, and some are pretty unconventional. and they're starting to really tap into the social networking part of it all that can foster an even better experience.
- there's gotta be few teams in the NFL i detest more than the cowboys, and it was so great to see the 'birds beat em last night! VICKtory!
- speaking of the NFL, did you hear about this jet's coach caught on camera tripping a player as he ran down the sideline? to his credit he did apologize afterwards. i think this is an example of how good leadership sometimes is being humble enough to admit when you're wrong. not sure if the jets will keep this guy, but my guess is that he's the one coach on the squad LEAST likely to make that mistake in the future.
- had our 20 week ultrasound today for the baby. we are super grateful and thankful that the baby is growing and developing well, according to the tech has a "beautiful, beautiful spine", is 11 ounces, and the heart rate is right on target. the whole thing still feels so surreal and miraculous at the same time. oh...and it's a GURRRRLLLLLLLL!!!
- be worried, concerned, anxious, troubled, or uneasy; I worry about my job;
- be concerned with; I worry about my grades;
- disturb the peace of mind of; afflict with mental agitation or distress;
- be on the mind of; I worry about the second Germanic consonant;
- lacerate by biting; the dog worried his bone;
I've been thinking a lot about worry lately... since we've found out about our pregnancy I've been worrying like crazy. Not that I didn't have worries related to our adoption; I did. But, there are so many things with this baby that are within my "control" (haha!). Such as, what foods I eat or don't eat... if I exercise or not... choosing to deliver naturally vs. all those wonder drugs...
Then I realized this worrying could potentially NEVER END!!! In fact - extreme intensification is to be expected. I'm irreversibly, unconditionally in love with this little human being. And loving someone means worrying about that person, right?
BUT - the sticking point for me is this: it shouldn't be par for the course! Worry is sin. So, why do we laugh it off and pretend that it is okay? Why is worry an "acceptable" sin. We tout the evils of drinking - but where in the Bible does it ever say, DO NOT DRINK? (don't get drunk - yes! Don't drink - hardly.) And yet, it clearly says, DO NOT WORRY (Matthew 6:31, 34 and Luke 12:22, 21:13) or Do NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING (Philippians 4:6).
Then, I began to wonder what other "acceptable" sins do we have? How about self-image issues? For a woman to admit contentment or pleasure regarding her physical appearance seems irreverent and insensitive to all women around her. Every woman around her feels she's just boastful and arrogant. And gossip... don't even get me started about gossip!
Ugh. The worst part of all of these issues is that I have found them acceptable - even pious at times! And it has been that way for so long, that the roots of this junk is wound in and around everything inside of me. There is no yanking it out without pain and awkwardness and even derision.
And, I'm already worrying about it. Frustrated that I know I'm going to fail! (Because, I'm a perfectionist, don't ya know!) I won't even make it through the rest of today without worrying about something...
After our pastor spoke, we closed our service with a final song. And because the focus was not so much on the past 35 years… but on what God might want to do through our church in the next 35 years… the adult band & vocalists & choir that had led us in the first part of the service were replaced by teenagers at the instruments and microphones. But cooler than that… after the first verse of the song, all of the students were invited to come to the front of the room for the rest of the worship. For the next few minutes, the stage filled with teenagers.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'"
a few weeks ago a friend had suggested the book UNCHRISTIAN by David Kinnaman to read. it's been a great read, and while i'm only part way in so far, it's already identified with much of my own experiences and conversations with people in the 16-29 age range. if you're at all passionate about reaching this emerging generation for Christ, this book will be well worth the 10 bucks.
This year the Lord introduced me to a man named Zito, the leader of one of the other church plants that I can't pronounce or spell. Me and a couple other team members visited their service one Sunday after attending church at the Villa. He was such a good preacher and spoke with such clarity and conviction. Lots and lots of gifts inside him, and I could sense a real heart to lead the people in authentic ways.
But it wasn't till after the service that I connected the Zito I just met to the Zito I read about a few months back on a CRI newsletter. Less than a year ago, he lost his wife to the dreaded malaria, and is still grieving that loss. I can't even begin to imagine the pain and devastation of losing your spouse, especially during the sometimes lonely times that church leadership hands you. He's now raising his 3 small children, keeping up on the house, all while continuing to lead and feed his church.
We stopped at his home once during the trip to pray for him, his family, and the church. And I lost it. Throughout the entire lengthy prayer session I couldn't keep my eyes dry. I don't understand why God allows good people like Zito's wife - a person "breathing so much life" into so many women and children in the area - to just pass away so young...and why He allows so many Americans who don't give a rip about Him to live a long life till their 80's.
I know it goes both ways in reality, but it still feels unfair. And I'm sure there's some tidy theological answer...that's not what I'm looking for. It's just tough to meet him knowing the pain he's enduring and the loss the church is still trying to compensate for.
One of the speakers, Christine Cain, spoke of her great work rescuing girls trapped in the sex trafficking / slave trade. At the beginning I just wanted to walk out. My emotions were about at their breaking point. I think I had come to a point where I saw so much pain, poverty, sickness, and hunger in Mozambique that I didn't want to hear about more injustice and insurmountable pain around the world. It just seemed too overwhelming and hopeless. But I kept listening.
She said something profound that has freed my mind and heart to process all of this. She was talking about her own process when she first got started in her work, and she identified with the same thoughts I was thinking. She threw out the number 27 million... 27 million girls involved against their will in the sex trade, most of whom don't make it out alive. All for money and to please a bunch of horny men. She admitted that the number just seemed too great...what can I, one person possibly do to help 27 million?!?!? And that's exactly the question I've been asking too.
And then she challenged us to not look at the big number "27 million" anymore. Let it motivate you to get involved. But once you sign on to get your hands dirty, set the number aside. Because the reality is that there are 27 million "1's" within that number. Individuals. Each with a unique name and face and personality. She shared how when we look at the big number we depersonalize the need and remove ourselves from a place of hope. But when we look at the "1's" it gives us hope that we really can make a difference.
I don't know about you but that changes the game entirely! I immediately thought of all the "1's" in the project in Mozambique who are being fed, clothed, educated, and discipled. And it's given me a framework in which to process through. Over tne next few weeks I hope to record some thoughts about some of the "1's" we met in Mozambique. Lives are truly being saved and individuals are really being delivered from the generational clutches of poverty. But you can't look at the big numbers to see it.
About an hour into my visit and I was asked to pray for some of the kids who the teachers felt needed extra prayer. So in they came... One with some aggressive behavior issues, one with some learning difficulties, and then some more with behavior problems. I introduced myself...we conversed a little, and then I prayed for them.
Then they brought in a child and they told me to pray for him because he has HIV. With compassion in my eyes I tried to converse and let him know I loved him more than he could maybe imagine. That I wasn't afraid of him. Inside I was breaking apart. I wish I could've walked out and taken him home with me.
I struggled through the prayer, but I could barely finish without crying. Kids shouldn't get HIV.
It was a hard sight to see and I'm not sure I'll ever finish processing it. I'll never forget his name or the look in his eyes. This one may keep me up tonight.
well then i took mariska off her lead, and started walking towards the cat. haha. it didn't take long and the cat ran away. i so wanted to just let mariska go and have some fun.
this is why i don't like cats.
- last Monday we had our final home study meeting for the adoption. Our social worker came over to the house to make sure everything was safe. I don't think our home ever looked so nice, in large part due to Shanna's nerves approaching this meeting, but I'm continuing to learn that while the home is just a small building to me, it tends to be way more to the wife. We are so grateful to both of our families for taking long drives and overnights to fix sump issues, paint cabinets, landscaping and yard work, and so many other little things that left big impressions. One of the coolest things about the meeting was when we went through the adoption survey again. We had done this same survey last fall at our first meeting, but it was cool to do it again because it shows us how much we've grown/changed in our feelings of openness in adoption and thoughts towards the birth family. I never thought we'd end up here, and I'm so excited for how this new outlook will change everything. For more info on the adoption you can check out our other blog on the right sidebar.
- right now I'm typing this on our new iPad. What an amazing piece of technology and what an amazing blessing to ministry (and it's just plain fun). My brother decided to give it to us out of the blue as an early Christmas present. I love his generosity and giving spirit. We are so blessed and have so much to be thankful for.
- it's just over two weeks until we hop on the plane for Mozambique with 6 others from the Student Ministry. I love this group of teens and we've grown so close together over the last 9 months. We had our last training meeting this afternoon, and then celebrated together by doing dinner at The Plum Garden - an amazing hibachi restaurant. So fun. The support from the church has been truly astounding, and it really feels like this is a Lakeshore trip...which is so good on so many levels.
- just came off of our annual all-nighter event... We link up with a few other area youth groups to put on an amazing night of fun, and with our new facilities this year's was really cool. But as an adult leader...I can't stand em. It takes so long to recover from them and I always feel like I'm dragging afterwards. Maybe this was the "thorn In the flesh" that Paul was talking about (back in his youth ministry days).
- just started reading Love Is An Orientation - a book by Andrew Marin that I've been eyeing for a long time. It's a great read for anyone wanting to embrace the LGBT community with love, grace, and compassion. Actually, it's a must read for any Christian because it forces us to stop making excuses and proof texting our arguments, and truly begin to love people the way Jesus loved.
Thousands of pictures have already been taken. Most photographically & artistically bad. But, my improvement was obvious and incredibly affirming. I also loved to hand her off to one of our teens or some other adult and let them shoot for awhile. First, because I love seeing their POV through the lens and second, my little Nikon D60 can make even the most inexperienced photographer feel really good. :) She was an amazing piece of equipment that just knew how to do her thing with very little direction.
I took her to Rowe Photo today to have them take a look. The guy took her all apart and fiddled with buttons, etc (pretty much exactly what I did here at home though a little more confidently) and then pronounced her issues beyond his scope of expertise. The next step is sending her back to Nikon. Getting her fixed will cost almost as much as what it cost to buy her. Actually, I could probably find a body for only slightly more than what they want to fix the thing.
Well, I'm off to eat some more chocolate and try to accomplish something today other a successful pity party.
"You're the only one." the darkness whispers, "No one else has dealt with this burden. They wouldn't understand anyways. This thing - its so disgusting and all-consuming - you're so disgusting and high-maintenance. You're all alone. There's no way out..."All around me is pain. People in pain. People hurting because of other people. People drowning in their sins. People are drowning because of someone else's sin. The pervading darkness leaves me gagging.
But - in the middle of this weakness, I realize I am NOT alone. That YOU are not alone. What you are feeling and experiencing - someone else has also experienced.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lost heart." ~Hebrews 12:2-3
we hope you and your family had a great easter weekend... here are a couple highlights from ours:
my parents and brother were able to come up and spend the evening with us last night... we went to dinner together, had some birthday cake, and definitely lots of good times. for my birthday, my brother got me a flip video - i had been eying these powerful little things for quite some time. it's SOOOO easy and fun to use. the video below was recorded using it! i am SO excited!
today we kicked off a brand new series in ISM called "Fake ID".... shanna made the graphics for the series.
the series is all about how we so often take on fake identifications in our life, keeping us from living from our true and real identity in Jesus Christ. we talked today about how many labels get placed on us, and the video below definitely helped to drive that point home.
this weekend we had an amazing group of students participate in this year's 30 hour famine, an event to raise awareness and resources to fight the global war on hunger. it's one of our stronger events...and though i feel like i've been run over by a 20-ton gorilla by the event's end, it's one that i honestly say every year was worth it all!
this year, in addition to collecting a boatload (literally) of canned goods from the homes surrounding the church to be donated to mission share (greece) and the hilton food shelter, our students and their contacts in and outside of the church raised a whopping $6,300+! these funds all go to world vision to help aid their relief efforts around the world! according to world vision, this will give 17 children the chance to see 1 more birthday!
in addition, and i'm even more excited about this one... we started something new this year at the famine. as an entire youth group, our students and leaders committed to taking on 5 children at the Ray of Light project in Mozambique as a part of CRI's Child Sponsorship Program! there are dozens of organizations pushing child sponsorship, including world vision, but the cool thing about this is that these are children in Dondo, Mozambique...individuals that we walked past last summer, and 5 special kids we will be able to see and meet this summer when we go back! AND...the 5 teens we'll be bringing on the team will G0d-willing be able to meet these kids, hug them, and shake hands with them! it's gonna mess me up so bad!
some say that all teens do is cause trouble.
today i say that teens actually are changing the world.
i love this image and it cracks me up every time is see it. it was created by bridge element, and even from just watching their opening promo video on their site, i'm intrigued to discover more about them...
Last year Ray and I went with a bunch of fellow youth leaders to a conference in Pittsburgh and we saw a preacher named Francis Chen, he really had an impact on me. Recently I have been watching some of his sermons instead of just watching Ray sleep here in the hospital. He just blows me away. The sermon I just watched was called Holy Anguish. And it really got me to thinking about my heart and whether I anguish over the lost.
Francis spoke on Romans 9:1-3 and Paul
1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.
He anguished so for his fellow man to know Christ to the point that he would rather go to hell himself than live with the thought that his brothers might end up in hell. Personally I know I don't want to go to hell for anyone. So I am left with do I anguish enough for those who don't know Christ? Do I weep for my family and friends who don't know Christ? Do I pray for them? And mostly do I tell them about Christ, because I can't live with the idea that might end up in hell. Or am I to embarrassed or afraid that they won't like me or reject me. Do I worry more about what people will think of me now? Or do I worry about what they will think of me if they end up in hell knowing that I knew the truth and never told them? Can I live with the idea that people I love and care about could end up in hell? Or do I anguish over them and pray for them, do I weep for them? Do I beg God for the opportunity and privilege of telling them about Christ?
And then he read Luke 16:19-24
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
The rich mans agony in hell can I ignore that so blindly. Such agony that he is begging for just a drop of water to cool his tongue. Can I walk through life knowing that is what is in store for so many and not be compelled to preach God's word to everyone I know? I know the pain and sorrows of this world. And I know that hell is worse than all of that. Will I allow my pride to stand in my way because I want to be liked so badly that I would keep silent so as to not offend anyone? Or will I anguish in my heart and soul for the lost? Can I walk by a stranger on the street and not want to tell him of a God who loves them so much that He died on the cross to save them. Can I walk through life and not see the souls of the people around me? Am I merely an ostrich with its head in the sand ignoring who is around me and what is going on around me, out of fear? Will I die with the knowledge that I have done what Christ called me to do? Or will the faces of the lost haunt me because they beg for me to dip the tip of my finger in water to cool their tongue?
Overall, we had a great day with a few more minor bumps. This Sunday we started a new series called "God wants Fruit not Nuts" where we're covering the Fruit of the Spirit. And had our Impact Festival. All the different ministries in the church set up tables and provide "first serve" opportunities for anyone wanting to get involved. There was some really fantastic displays - plus a few that really made us laugh. :) Our Young Adults group had stand-up cardboard cut-outs of one of the guys. Hysterical! And kinda freaky when I walked into Cory's office after church and there were two people standing there! (or just the cut-outs but whew!) lol.
We also had another Mozambique meeting at lunch today. I've really enjoyed getting closer as a group. We spent a lot of time laughing and just having fun. We were missing one of the girls due to a nasty migraine, so the group felt a little incomplete - but overall, it was good. Our new favorite game is Crud. If you haven't played it - you should! It doesn't take lots of coordination and it'll keep you jumping and laughing.
When we finally got home - Cory sucked up most of the water with the sump pump and shop vac and then I mopped everything up. Since then Cor's decided he needs a jack hammer to dig a hole in our concrete floor. He's already priced them out and wants to pick one up tomorrow. Thankfully, Cory's dad spoke some words of wisdom and caution... we might hold off on extreme and permanent house-altering decisions a while longer. Though I suppose a jack-hammer might have been some fun.
Cory's phone has officially gone off in anticipation of our day off tomorrow! :) So, in the words of Jack Bauer "I'm going dark!"
But, Spring! - Spring is soft dewy color and sweet whispering breeze, strawberry shortcake and skies the color of Cory's eyes. Mud puddles and baby robin eggs, dark purple tulips and bright yellow daffodils, morning bird songs and evening tree-frog lullabies. Spring brings freshness, life, and new beginnings. We persevere through long winter months, because Spring is ahead. We hope for Spring; a sure-thing in this chaotic world. And so, endure for now - these last lingering days - because Spring is coming!
MY primary ministry...is not students
this came up several times in the affinity group discussions throughout the weekend. something i've been toying with in my mind for the past few years, but it never really "felt" right until hearing it from others this weekend. i would often feel shame if i spent more time in admin stuff or adult leader support than actually spending time with students. as a youth pastor, you set out in this calling because you love hanging out with students and pacing with them. but as the ministry grows, so does the lead pastor's role...and in order to sustain that growth, there needs to be someone still steering the entire ship, and equipping others to do the ministry.
my primary ministry is our adult leaders/volunteers... caring for them, loving on them, and equipping them to be better team leaders, small group leaders, and catalysts for growth in the students' lives. i'm coming away from this weekend with a renewed drive to invest more of our resources and more of my time in the 15+ adults we have, so that they in turn can invest themselves in 3-5 students. i'll be investing even more in a select few adult leaders who will then invest their leadership in the rest of the adult team as it grows.
this does NOT mean that i'm unavailable and unapproachable to the teens... in fact i don't think the teens will actually notice any difference because i've tried to already put a lot of this in place. i will still lead a small group, and still deeply invest in a few students that i naturally connect with. it'll come out more in my own thinking and planning than anything... so often parents will come to me with their kid's issue, and the easy and natural temptation is for me to right then and there setup time later in the week to connect with that student. the answer is different now. it's sending those students directly to the adult volunteer on our team who would best be able to meet that need...or run that event...or lead that meeting...or...etc.
delegate responsibility...not tasks
there are so many reasons why this is so difficult, but there's even more reasons why it's even more important. our leaders need to be empowered and equipped to run entire pieces of the ministry...entire programs, and that's a major weakness of our ministry right now. many of our leaders are busy taking on various tasks that i individually hand off...but few have the responsibility given to them by me to run and develop and grow a certain area of our ministry. it's plugging up the process, overworking me, and inhibiting the overall quality.
i work too much
this is something i've been gently told for a while now by a few close friends, and have been trying to improve on. it was incredibly encouraging to hear from so many others struggling with the same thing, but also to hear from them practical strategies they're using. i used to think that a good youth pastor was "always on" and always available, but more and more i'm learning that that's not a good youth pastor...that's an unhealthy youth pastor. so for the sake of my wife and future family, here's what i'm trying to implement:
- quit youth ministry every sunday night, and start back up again every tuesday morning. i've been taking a day off, but now i'm going to really take it off. my phone will be off and locked away in the nightstand for 24 hours.
- no more than 2 nights out/away each week. we have a great ministry process that helps with this, and i don't have to be at board meetings and stuff like that. thursday nights i'm out every week, and most tuesday nights for small groups. while there are certainly some exceptions to this, to maintain healthy balance, this is crucial.
- home by 5:30/6:00 every night (earlier on Tuesday & Thursday nights). being in the office till 7 or later is just stupid and controlling, and it cheats the ones that matter most. this might be the toughest one for me, but i'm committed to sticking to it.