Category Archives: Relationships

Maybe We All Need to Go Back To Kindergarten?

Robert Fulghum wrote a book years ago titled, “All I Really Need to Know I  Learned in Kindergarten. ” He identified 16 principles to live by. In this day and age of online outrage and everyone is an expert on everything, I wonder if we would all be better off if we acted more like how we were taught to behave in kindergarten. These are Fulghum’s keys to life. Some good advice because COVID-19 has brought out some of the best and some of the worst in our society, including The Church.

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Zoom Zoom… Back in Time

Mix Leadership Team Zoom Zoom

Sometimes you don’t know how amazing a group of people are until you are no longer together. I felt this way the other night while on a Zoom call with my former youth group leadership team. We were missing a few characters. But these people all in some way impacted my life and the lives of many amazing students.

Doing youth ministry is a calling, but it is also a blessing — especially when you get a chance to share unforgettable experiences with young people who you know are going to leave a legacy in the world.

So, I wanted to just brag a little bit on my old team.

PD (Daniel Susenbach) – He was the leader of the pack, the eternal optimist. Daniel has never met a stranger. He is the kind of guy who can make you bust a gut laughing and then believe you can do almost anything the next minute. He is one of my best friends, and if I had to be stranded on deserted island with a group of people, I certainly would want him there.

Tim Matthews (Timmmmmm!) – I think he could literally preach the cover off a Bible, and the young people would be like, “Oh man! Do that again.” Tim knew how to say something that you never forget. He also has an amazing life story, and is a ton of fun. With Tim, you know that following Jesus is never boring. {Tim is not in the picture, nor was on the Zoom call 😦  } Next time Tim, next time.

Joanna Fowler (Mrs. J) – She was always the cool mom and administrator. She made us all look good by being prepared for almost anything. Some people who had her job would be kind of by the book. But she always laughed and made everyone feel special. Mrs. J. was the adult in the room who knew how to keep everyone safe. At the same time, she was able to connect with students.

Jim and Melinda Patterson – Yes, these are two people not one. But they are such a great team. They are an amazing couple who I count as very good friends. I love so much about them, especially how different they are from each other. If I was going into spiritual warfare, I can’t think of a better servant and prayer warrior than Jim (P. Diddy). He knows how to get to the root of the matter, and he is willing to go deep and be there for youngsters. Jim is very wise and loves to pun. I even love that about him (just don’t tell him). Melinda is always the voice of reason in the room. She loves people enough to tell them the truth. And she never seems to let much get to her. Oh, and the Pattersons are hilarious when you see them interact together. I chuckling just thinking about some of my discussion with them in their kitchen.

Mama Karen – She was like a mother or older sister to so many of the Mix students. She has always been a youth worker rockstar.  Oh, and she is a great cook. Three words “Baby Angel Cake.” Inside joke, but trust me… so good. Karen is full of love and her name should be caring because she is like 90% heart. Karen knows how to be a safe person in a world full of unhealthy people.

Heidi – Speaking of funny. Literally, I don’t know if I have ever laughed around somebody so much as Heidi. She always knew how to put the truth in a joke. But don’t let her shenanigans fool you, she was wise and knew how to see through student’s crap. Plus, she has this way that her eye twitches when she is upset. It’s sort of like a super power that keeps her from going insane. Heidi connected well with students and is an amazing friend.

Mike Jefferson – Mike really loved the middle school students. In the dictionary under the word “Faithful” is a picture of Mike. Full of the Spirit and always willing to forgive, Mike is one of those guys who makes a bigger impact than anyone realizes. I learned a lot from his gentle demeanor and approach to ministry. He does have a mental disorder because he is a Washington Redskins fan. But nobody is perfect. 😉

Diane Burns – Always represented how parents might feel well in our discussions. She is an amazing prayer warrior who was willing to be there for students. She raised three world-class kids, who are now adults. She has been a super volunteer for years.

Bryan and Darla – Students loved Bryan, and he connected well with some of the outsider kids. Super witty and smart, Bryan is very competitive. He challenged me to be a better youth leader… just don’t tell him I said that. Darla is also competitive and smart. We once played a game of assassin with rubber bands, she killed me by pretending she wanted to have a spiritual discussion. {I never forgot that Darla.} Darla is very logical and dependable. She is just a super solid person who will do what she says she will do.

Super Honorable Mention: Charlie Coker, Emilie Hyatt (Coker) and so many others…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time

Time is something that we only have a limited amount of, and at the end of our lives wonder where it all went. Time is worth a lot more than dollars per hour; it is a measure of what we value and what kind of legacy we hope to leave.

How we spend our time shows our priorities and what we think is truly valuable. Tell me what you think is important all you want, show me your calendar, and then I will know what you prioritize.

When we die, time is something we will have an infinite amount of if you believe the Scriptures, and what we do in this current life echoes into the next one — especially our relationship with God and dedication to His mission.

Time is a lot like water. We waste a lot of it because, we are lazy and tend to follow the path of least resistance. But properly channeled and used, our time can achieve great things, such as creating a major canyon in the middle of a desert. Wisdom and character can help us know how to use time. But as a Christian, I believe the best guide is the Holy Spirit. He should direct our days. Sadly, I know I call the shots way too often.

What we post about on our Facebook page and Twitter account shows a lot about how we spend our time and what preoccupies our thoughts. I agree that 50 million babies killed in the name of convenience is more than just a tragedy. It is the shame of our generation and a stain on our “progressive” culture.

Ultimately, God is the only one who stands outside of time. That is why He alone has the best vantage point on how we should spend the limited time we have in this life.

What Does God Want from Me?

A lot of people talk about doing the will of God. But to do that, we must know what He truly wants. God could have made this easy on us by writing in the sky, sending angels to answer all of our questions or making the Bible more like a manual or Life for Dummies book. But He didn’t do any of those things. Why is this hearing from God thing so tough? Some people talk as if everything is clear. Others honestly admit that they listen for God and all they hear is the sound of crickets. 

If there are so many paths in front of us, why doesn’t God simply remove the distractions? The good Lord could remove all room for doubt. But then would we really ever have faith or free will?

When many people think about the will of God, they automatically gravitate toward what they are supposed to do for God. But honestly, if God is really God, He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. His plan does include human involvement. But that isn’t out of necessity. It must be for some other reason.

Talking with a high schooler today, I was inspired to write this post. Too often we think of God’s will as a place, action or destination. But what if it is something bigger and yet more basic? What if our thinking about this question is all wrong?

The Bible says we are to take up our cross daily, which seems to suggest that sacrifice is required to do God’s will. But the Old Testament also states that “obedience is better than sacrifice.” The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to become mature in their faith and the fruit of the Spirit. And yet, Jesus said that we could not even enter the Kingdom of God unless we have the faith of a little child. Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make more disciples, which suggests the focus of our mission should be about other people. But Jesus also said that we can do nothing apart from His power and life. So which mission is primary to know and love God or to share the Gospel, make disciples and extend His Kingdom on the earth?

The problem is that we tend to look at this as an either or situation. And in reality, outreach flows from our personal walk with God. As I have pondered this question, I believe the true mission for every Christian is the prayer that David prayed in Psalms 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

The primary mission of a Christian is to know and love God. It all starts with our personal relationship with Jesus. He is the living water as Scripture explains. Just as we need water to sustain life, we must have a relationship with God to live in the way as the Creator intended. This involves a wide variety of experiences and actions, such as reading and following sacred Scripture, prayer, obedience to the Word of God, thanksgiving, recognition of God’s power and presence in daily life, sacraments, spiritual gifts and miracles, confessions of faith, sharing the Gospel, etc.

And in order to have living water that remains alive and pure, it must have an outlet. Otherwise, we become like a stagnant pool where disease and bacteria can grow. That is why part of the Christian mission is to share the love and truth that God has deposited into our lives.

The Lord has given us a picture of this reality in the Dead Sea, which has no outlet. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet because it is located at such a low point. Everything flows downhill and mineral deposits collect killing aquatic life. If you simply receive from God and do not give it away, you will become full and not be able to receive any more. And what had previously been living water can become stagnant, less useful and a breading pool for disease. This picture demonstrates the dual nature of God’s ultimate purpose for humanity. It can be seen in the words of Jesus. He summed up the law and the prophet by saying, “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).

How you go about doing that is what makes you unique. The key is realizing that God’s will for your life is more about the journey you take with God and the person you become along the way than what you do for God or which path you choose to take.

Divide and Conquer

Satan’s playbook is fairly simple. He divides and conquers. This includes churches, cities, races, people groups, families, God and man, and the generations.

Over the last year, I have become increasingly convinced that a key to revival in this country is connecting the generations to appreciate, pour into and learn from each other. Churches divide people into age and interest groups in a move to appeal to consumerist tendencies. Give people what they want, and then they will come back. But what if what we want is not the thing we really need?

Now, I am all for youth groups, seniors groups, MOPS, the choir and so on. But there need to be more, intentional efforts to connect these various groups. I know what you are thinking. Yeah, we do that every Sunday. It is called a church service. But realistically, it is hard to connect on a personal level with others at church service.

I believe churches that are intentional about connecting the generations will see greater moves of the Spirit.

Craig Groeschel, lead pastor of LifeChurch.tv, spoke at last year’s Catalyst Conference on this topic. Groeschel, said, “Generational division is bad although generational tension can be a good thing.”

He admonished the audience, “Don’t resent, fear or judge the next generation. But pour into the next generation. Let the young folks lead. They are different and supposed to be that way. Don’t get hung up on style.”

In reality, many older folks in our churches eel insecure around teenagers and young adults. Groeschel suggested, “Recognize this tension and manage it by letting go of it… You can be uncool all day long. The key is to be real.”

I believe that there will be an exchange of grace that will annoy the “hell” out of our enemy if we realize what the older can give to the younger and visa versa.

Groeschel encouraged younger folks to honor those older than us publicly because honor publicly leads to influence and respect privately. He explained, “When we truly honor those authorities that God has placed in our lives, we honor God.”

From the Greatest Generation to the Boomers and the Xers to the Millennials, we all can learn from each other. But this doesn’t happen by accident. We have to start somewhere. I think the best place to start is to give those different from you a chance. Don’t just think they are an old geezer or a young punk. Consider this advice offered by Groeschel, “Honor believes the best. Dishonor thinks the worst.”

Things I Wish I Had Said

When a young person or anybody tragically dies, it can be hard on special occasions, such as birthdays. It was recently the 21st birthday of a young man who died last year. I had known this person since he was just a kid. I remember throwing football with him in his front yard. I remember him pulling pranks on me during camping trips when he was in middle school. Occasionally, I would work with him on advancements in Royal Rangers.

Through the years, we kind of lost touch. We would see each other maybe a few times each year. I remember going to some high school football games. Every once and a while I caught up with him for lunch or just gave him a call to let him know that I cared.

I remember playing pool with him a few years ago when he had just come back to Christ and turned some things around in his life. It was a blessing to hear how God was moving in his life despite some significant challenges. That is why it was so hard when he died.

I remember the week that he died. The Holy Spirit placed him on my heart several times. And in the busyness of life, I never called. I forgot. I got sidetracked. Good intentions, but no real action. Then, the next day I planned to call, but he was already dead. His life snuffed out too early.

This is not a confession or some kind of apology. He had many loving people in communication with him the week that he died. But I do wish that I had called. This reminds me that the next time the Holy Spirit brings somebody to remembrance, I should stop to take action. I should never be so busy that I cannot stop to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit or take time to connect with someone in the moment. There are things that I wish that I had said that week. Maybe they wouldn’t have made a difference in the end. But at least he would have known that I said them.

Chris, buddy. I miss you man. Know that I always believed in you and still do hope for the best. Happy 21st!

The Perfect Lie

Disillusioned is how many people would describe their present reality. From crooked politics to the down economy and high unemployment to church scandals to a high divorce rate in our families, it’s easy to see why so many feel as if the real thing is not as good as the product advertised on the commercial.

We buy “it” for the packaging and expect the contents to match our expectations. Frequently, we envision an idealized future that will never be realized. We think that the new job will be nirvana, and it isn’t. Sometimes it is just work. We think we found the perfect spouse only to discover that they have flaws too. We  expect our new home to be something out of a dream, and then the pipes break flooding the lower floor. We have three kids, and they mimic our bad behavior and make us want to pull out what hair we have left. We trust in God only to discover that churches are filled with imperfect, broken people.

You get my drift. We (especially me) tend to get idealized pictures that make it difficult for anything to live up to our dreams. A co-worker used to have the following saying pinned on the wall in her office, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I believe there is a lot of truth in this statement. While we can’t really eliminate expectations nor should we, we can resign ourselves to reject disillusionment for godly contentment.

I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The Apostle Paul knew the secret was not to let our situation or reality decide our attitude or emotional state. He took a long-term view of things to see past the disappointment in the moment. His trust was in a faithful God who can turn any situation around, even death and despair.

The perfect lie is to trust in the perfection of anything other than God. While there are many good things, there is only one perfect One.

Surrounded By A Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12:1
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  (ESV Translation)

It was a night that testified to the potential of the individual and yet the power of a Biblical community. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed as I participated in another blessing ceremony for a family at my church. This one was for Adam Watkins – the youngest of the Watkins boys. I have participated in three of these ceremonies with this family. And they have all been special. And as great as it is to see how these young men are turning out, I can’t help but think this didn’t happen by accident. These guys are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. They know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They know the legacy they come from and the potential that lies ahead of them. They are loved and accepted not because of what they do but who they are.  

Thinking specifically about Adam, here’s a kid with a God-loving heart, a creative mind, a truckload of potential, a friendly face and a big supporting cast. Adam is a goofy genius of sorts. All you need to do is check out the Cheese Grows on Cows clips(http://www.youtube.com/user/cheesegrowsoncows) on YouTube to see what I mean. He has a lot of musical talent and is picking up new stuff each day. From his service as a worship leader for the youth group to the way he dispenses hugs and smiles to everyone he meets, here’s a young man who is moving in the right direction. Yeah… he’s had some very difficult times, especially the death of his father at a young age. But he has found a way to write hopeful melodies despite his losses and struggles. While he’s far from perfect, I get the sense that he knows that he doesn’t have to be because Jesus is the author and finisher of his faith.

While at the ceremony, I was struck by the power of story in our lives. When we know the story of those who came before us, we can be free and encouraged to live our story the best way we know how.

The ceremony is fairly basic and yet quite profound. A group of people come together in a surprise party to speak works of affirmation over a young person who is reaching a milestone. In this case, Adam was turning 16. Some people come with an object lesson. Others come with a prayer of blessing. Some bring a gift or make something to show how much the person means to them. Frequently, adults will tell stories about when the person was younger. Some of these can be kind of embarrassing. Others are just good times remembered. Adam’s mom had put together a slide show of pictures showcasing some major moments of this young man’s first 16 years. We ended the entire thing focusing on Jesus by taking communion together. This helped to make sure that Adam knew his story is first about Christ not himself.

Every time, I attend one of these ceremonies I am reminded of the power it can have to help a young person know that they are not alone. It may seem simple. But it provides a marker that they likely won’t forget. If you have a teenager in your house, consider celebrating a major life marker with a moment of affirmation, blessing and celebration. These moments come and go. You will never get them back.

The older generation needs to speak words of affirmation. I’m not talking about flattery or undeserved praise. We need to let young people know the truth. We need to let them know that their actions have consequences. We don’t need to sugar coat life for them. Yet, we also need to remind them that their choices matter and that they are not alone. Life is a story, and we all have an opportunity to live better stories.

Generational Disconnect

There’s a big hole in the middle of most churches and nobody seems to want to talk about it. Oh, there are a few who get it. But there are so many that refuse to face the future and the past. And if we don’t do something about it, we’ll all miss out on what could be something beautiful.

I am talking about the disconnect between generations. It seems like youth culture changes every year. Technology is driving a wedge between many parents and children. From the greatest generation to the baby boomers to gen-x to the millenials, each new demographic seems to be further from the other.  But the truth is that we need each other more and more.

Teenagers need godly adults who will demonstrate a dynamic faith, committed relationships and strong morals. Authorities need to live in such a way that those underneath them willingly submit to their leadership. At the same time, younger generations needs to realize that not everything worth knowing came about in the last few years. We  need to appreciate the legacy and lessons of those who have gone before us, and we need to learn that not everything is handed to us. Sometimes hard work and failure is the necessary path to success and accomplishment.

We could learn a lot from each other if we would only stop and consider what other generations have to offer. I have been thinking about this generational disconnect after reading an article in Harvard Business Review. The February issue featured a case study on generation-y in the workplace. I thought the article really nailed the core issues.

Older generations feel that younger workers don’t respect authority and are impatient. They see the younger generation as pampered needing quick praise and fast opportunities for advancement. Younger people feel like they are closer to culture and know what works today in terms of marketing and technology. They feel like the older leaders won’t listen to them. They are bored at work and feel like they have sold out their dreams for a paycheck and an opportunity sometime in the very distant future.

Obviously, the above is a gross generalization. But it happens to be true in many organizations, churches and businesses. The fact is that change is moving at such a pace now that young blood is needed to stay current. At the same time, younger people are not learning valuable skills at home that they can pickup from older people if the proper relationships can be fostered. This is hard for many business environments where competition can become a major concern. But it should be a non-issue in churches. Sadly, churches may be just as competitive as Wall Street.

Here’s my challenge to those who read this. Over the next month, connect with someone knew who is from a different generation than you. Be intentional about it. See what you can give, learn and experience. You’ll probably be glad you did.

Harvard Business Review article on generation-y.  http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/02/gen-y-in-the-workforce/ar/1

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle made some great points about the future church leaders. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJXpo0xfUnA

Transition Is Like Jello

Transition is an inevitable, necessary and sometimes unbearable part of life. It seems that ever since puberty my life has been filled with transition. Sometimes it feels like I’m living out of a suitcase for long periods of time. I have found that changes that hit us by surprise are harder to deal with than life stage shifts that we see coming.

I have been thinking a lot about transition lately. It all started when a very good friend moved to Nashville in August. Transition intensified with the weddings of two good friends in November. I was the best man in each one. Then I had the revelation last semester that I wasn’t cut out for a PhD program unless I dropped everything else to focus on it. Thus a dream of sorts died.

In December I learned that one of my best friends was transferring to California due to sudden change at his company. He had to either move or face the prospects of unemployment.

Two more friends have left my church leaving me with less connectivity there than I have had in years.

Over the last two years, a number of the students that I have worked with very closely have gone off to college or entered new stages of their lives. Our relationships have changed, which is a blessing because this shows they are doing well on their own. But at the same time, it gets tough realizing that you have worked yourself out of a job.

A good friend died suddenly in late December. Attending her funeral was one of the toughest things I have done over the last several years.

Alex, the missionary who has been staying at my house over the last year or so, is just about ready to go back to the mission field. While I am very glad for him and want to see him go fulfill his call, I will miss the lad.

And last week I learned that the youth pastor at my church, a friend and fellow youth worker, is leaving to take on a  fantastic ministry opportunity in Florida.  I will miss Dave, but I wish him the best and believe that his new church is getting one heck of a communicator.

Hopefully this litany of experiences shows you that I certainly understand what it means to be in flux. To top it all off, I am not sure what direction I want to go in at this point. I feel like a bowl of jello just waiting to be pushed in one direction or the other.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite movie quotes. The narrator said in Stand By Me, “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.”  I have sure found this to be true and am okay with that reality. I occassionalyy talk with only a handful of people that I knew in college or high school. It is amazing how time can create distance between people who used to be very close.

I have learned a few guiding principles that make transition easier. If you are like me and know what it feels like to be surrounded by boxes of unpacked stuff, then maybe these thoughts will help.

  • Transition and change is inevitable. You can either embrace it or fight a losing battle.
  • Transition isn’t personal. It just happens. Don’t be surprised when people come and go. That is the natural cycle of life. Don’t feel like you are being abandoned because they probably aren’t leaving because of you.
  • The above statement is true for people in professional ministry. The average pastor doesn’t stay put for long. Don’t be surprised if they move or even change professions. It is very hard to be a pastor.
  • I have learned to hold my friends and relationships loosely. This means that I value them enough to see them go forward in whatever God has for them. I celebrate God’s work in their lives even if it means that I may feel distant from them.
  • Embrace moments with those you love because you don’t know when you will get the chance to have those moments again. This means when it snows… go make a snowman or get in a snowball fight.
  • Keep in contact with distant friends but don’t be a menace. Everybody needs their personal space. Yet it is always nice to know that others are praying for you and thinking about you.
  • Help your friends as they transition. This includes helping them pack, clean up, paint the house, etc. It conveys how much you care, and I have found it helps you feel better about the transition.
  • I pray blessings on my friends even those who I haven’t talked with in a long time.
  • Finally, I may blog or write about a friendship. Mostly this information is private. I use it to help me remember all of those who have impacted my life and what I have learned from them.

Hopefully, these thoughts will help you jiggle in the right direction when you feel like a bowl of jello.