A huge gift for parents

February 10, 2014 — 2 Comments

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It is really interesting how youth workers seem to have a love / hate, ok, maybe a hate / hate relationship with parents.

This last week I was at a national gathering with youth workers and in a break out session with 35 colleagues, I asked them to share their biggest frustration in ministry.  No, joke, in unison, the all said parents!It was interesting as it was sad.  For whatever reason, the tenor of student ministry professionals is that we are God’s agent for the spiritual development of students.  We are awesome.  We are experts at adolescent development and faith formation.  (At least, that is what we tell ourselves.)  We spend our entire existence dreaming up programs and meeting with students so that they will come to love Jesus.  But then our hearts get crushed as our students don’t show up to the parties we throw because we are getting such little support from parents.

I mean, COME ON!  Is soccer really more important!!

Then there are the family first peeps who think that professional student ministry is an anathema!

According to part of the bible, the nuclear family has the sole responsibility for the faith formation of their children.  All of the weight that we think we carry as youth workers, is carried exponentially by the family first crowd because their very own child’s walk with Jesus is dependent on their attempt at being whole, balanced, theologically sound, and the perfect representation of the their heavenly father.  All kidding aside, setting yourself up as the person who is ultimately responsible for your child’s faith development is an incredible burden to carry.

What if there was a third way? Continue Reading…

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One of the most important aspects to a balanced and thriving student ministry is having an intentional scope and sequence to your curriculum.  We must be intentional with what we teach and to use the limited amount of time we have with our students well.  And while many of you are thoughtful about your teaching and are biblically deep, contextually astute, and clever as all get out, there might be one significant area that gets left out.

I am sure that you would agree that our culture is getting more and more coarse.  Students are increasingly self absorbed and rude.  Maybe the truth is that you don’t even realize it anymore or have simply died to it.  Maybe you think that you will lose street cred if you push back against their entitlement mentality.  Or maybe you are satisfied that you can at last get them to say grace when you are all together for a meal.

As students become more and more isolated, they have fewer and fewer places in their lives where they actually have to consider others.  Their music choices, their movie choices, their food choices are all individualized.  Whatever they want whenever they want it is their instinct and highest value.  If at any time a student is done paying attention in a group, they simply need to plug in their ear buds, check facebook, and check out.

Why manners are important:

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I remember it like it was yesterday.  I had an outreach event where we used a raffle with a huge prize as an incentive to have kids come to youth group and to bring friends.  The prize was HUGE and so was the criticism I received form my intern and her recently received B.A. in youth ministry.  The bribe worked and a ton of students came to our student ministry, and this event turned the corner in momentum of for our ministry.  And unfortunately turned my interns heart away from me and student ministry.  Which leads me to this question:

Is there harm in bribing kids to come to youth group?

Now, before you get all judgmental or self righteousness in your theology, why are you really opposed to bribing kids to come to youth group?  I’ve heard the arguments:

  • That people live out the gospel that they are introduced to.  
  • That bribing kids doesn’t correctly portray the life of faith that we are called to live.  
  • Bribing highlights students selfishness and doesn’t help students live the kingdom life that they are designed to live.

But aren’t these arguments simply the pontificating of youth workers who have given up a little bit?

Remember back you your middle and high school experience.  Why did you come to faith? Was it a cute boy or girl?  You didn’t want to go to hell? Jesus would give you a better life?  We are all selfish and self absorbed at first.  Meeting some of these needs is just getting our foot in the door.  And Jesus does that with us, we do that in every other ministry, and for students, it is the same.

#bribing4jesus

What do you do to get kids to come to your program?  How is that not bribing?  What if you embraced that reality and capitalized on it?

Let’s be honest, our job is not that complicated.  Really, after a year you have learned everything you need to know in order to faithfully do student ministry.  For the quick studies, you have made it a past year and are good to go.  For those who didn’t make that first year, you probably aren’t reading this blog. :)

Of course there is always things to learn, and I am a huge fan of life long learning.  But for the most part, the basics aren’t that hard.  What is hard are the specific ministry encounters, our own soul care, and navigating the political waters at church.  No book or class will help you in these endeavors.  The only hope you have for success and longevity is to be connected to colleagues who love student ministry and love Jesus.

I am so thankful to be a part of a denomination that values connection so much.  I have had the pleasure and joy of spending this last week connecting with my fellow youth workers, sharing life, joys, failures, and best practices for some mutual edification.

Connection is one of my core values and I am fully committed to it.  Is it for you?

What do you do to connect with fellow youth workers?  How do you stay sharp and encouraged in ministry?  May you too find some colleagues that you can connect with and share life with so you can serve your students for the long haul.

Peace!

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There has been some discussion lately among some of my youth ministry friends about the future of our profession. There seems to be another round of shots fired across the bow at youth ministry and the professionals that lead these ministries. Sticky Faith, Family Based Ministries, and people with axes to grind continue to lay the decaying faith of adolescents and young adults squarely at the feet of us professionals and the failed models we are propping up.

Fellow professional youth workers have no fear, our jobs are here to stay!! We have an amazing calling and part of an amazing legacy, and I am convinced that for the foreseeable future, churches will continue to do everything in their power to make sure their staffs include a paid youth worker. Here’s why:

1) If a church is going to attract young families, they need to prove that they will care for the entire spiritual development of their kids.

For better or worse, a church that has a paid youth worker, signifies to the entire church family that they care about families. While children’s ministry is incredibly important, many parents will tolerate poor children’s ministry if they know that as their children grow into teens, there will be a place for them to continue to work it out at the church. Think of all the families that restart the church hopping process when their kids reach 4th and 5th grade. All of the sudden, that great church plant, or dynamic young preacher doesn’t seem to cut it when their own kids’ faith is on the line. A paid youth worker communicates care for this significant felt need.

2) It is a model that has positively impacted those who are now at the age to make decisions regarding staffing and budgets in churches.

It is an unavoidable truth that people invest and do the things that are meaningful to them. Think of how you choose what to do for your youth ministry program. Chances are most of what you do is based on the things that God used in significant ways in your own life when you were in student ministry. Youth ministry has now been around long enough that the power players at most churches remember the Hay Day of youth ministry and the significant role that ministry played in their faith development. They want their church to provide solid ministry for their own kids and their view of a thriving church includes a thriving student ministry. Most thriving student ministries are headed up by a paid point person.

3) Students continue to need a place for fellowship and learning that is separate from their parents and makes space for their unique developmental needs.

For all the talk about family ministry and integration, the fundamental task of adolescence is still individuation and separation from their family’s faith. Students need a place separate from their parents where they can ask the hard questions, push back, run away, and still be seen and loved by the church at large. Student ministry provides a unique haven in this adolescent development where students can work out their faith separate from their mom while still being connected to the church. It is really brilliant if you think about it.

4) The traditional model of youth minister, run by a professional, continues to be the most effective model at helping students develop personal faith and providing significant water marks in their lives.

I know it is so cool to be pissed at the church and youth ministry for all the kids who walk away from faith. But stop and think about all the kids who have ever come through your ministry and reflect on the ways that God has grabbed ahold of. We need to actually stop and celebrate the great things that God is doing in them and through them now. This isn’t something to gloss over. A vast majority of those in leadership now in the Church with a capital C are people who were leaders in their student ministries. Praise God for the gutter to glory stories of those people who find Jesus all by themselves later in life. But when you start to ask around, those people are the exception. Youth ministry is the tool that God has and is continuing to use to clarify people’s call into His family, and into ministry.

5) Name one church who has all the resources they need who would intentionally staff their church without a professional to run the student ministry.

For reals, name one. I know finances are hectic and churches have to be creative. But not hiring because of financial hard times is not the same as not doing youth ministry because of conviction. And the churches who are relying on faithful volunteers, whom I am honored to count as my colleagues, would pay those volunteers or someone else if they happened to win the Mega Millions Jackpot this last week.

A caveat:

While I do firmly believe that churches will continue to pay for people to work with students, they will no longer pay people who do shoddy work. Financial hardship is a reality in many of our contexts and every dollar matters. If our church leaders are going to be good stewards of their resources then they will only be paying people who will work hard and do a good job.

Gone are the days where youth workers are simply paid to goof off with students, play video games, eat pizza, and have a few informal bible studies at their house. If someone is being paid to run a youth ministry, then they will be expected to run a youth ministry. This includes program, administration, duties assigned by pastor, and then video game extravaganzas, all within a tight budget.

The good news is that our profession is here to stay! The bad news is that we will continue to be expected to work harder and be more effective than our predecessors. Friends, it is gut check time!

Are you still called to do ministry in this environment and with these expectations? Do you still love students, but may be losing steam on the professional aspect of it? Is it time to maybe need to call it quits? Or do you simply think I am full of crap and protecting my own paycheck? :)

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#pearlsbeforeswine

Context: Driving a couple of high school boys to youth group talking about movies and the ones we want to see and the ones we are bummed we missed while they were in theaters.

Student: I really wanted to see Don Jon.

Me: That movie has an interesting premise. All that porn that you look at ultimately messed up your relationship with the woman you want to love. If you aren’t careful you will get used to porn and prefer it to actual sex and then you and your relationship / marriage will be in trouble.

Student: I just think Scarlett Johansson is hot.

#bestjobever

(Here is some further reading on how porn is changing sexual appetites from the NY Magazine.  The Porn Myth.)

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For the last few months, and if I am honest, maybe the last few years, I have realized that my heart towards student ministry and really towards students has changed.  What has happened is that over the years and years of student ministry, years and years of fickleness, heartbreak, death and destruction, my heart has gone into protection mode.  I think I just couldn’t take the heartache of walking through the chaotic lives of students anymore.  And unintentionally, I moved into self preservation mode.

I still provided an excellent program, excellent contact work, excellent trips, excellent talks, excellent discipleship, basically excellent student ministry. (or by best attempt at excellence)  But I did all of this with my heart somewhat removed.  Being too intimately involved with students is really the hardest part of student ministry, and I think I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Thankfully, Jesus isn’t done with me yet, and He gently revealed to me that my heart has grown cold and distant towards my students.  So beginning in December I prayed a simple prayer, “Jesus, please grow my heart towards my students.”

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$250,000.  This is how much money I think that I am worth.  The problem I am having is finding someone who agrees.  Although this may be my worth, my value as a youth worker is significantly lower.  And here is where the rub occurs.  You see, we all have a strong sense of worth, but it is determining our value that is the true challenge.

The difference between worth and value can be clarified by a simple craig’s list transaction.  A couple of years ago I wanted to get an iphone.  I mean I couldn’t see straight, I wanted an iphone so bad.  The deal was I had to pay cash for the phone and for whatever cost it would be to switch services.  Easy enough.  I grabbed my digital camera and started posting on craig’s list.

I quickly realized that items that were worth a certain amount to me, had a significantly lower street value.  And at every sale, I had to decide what the items true value was.  Sometimes I did ok, and sometimes I got taken pretty hard, but after a couple of weeks, my garage was clean and I was making calls on my new iphone.

What does this have to do with you or with me?  It has to do with wrestling with our value as youth workers.  How much money are we worth as youth workers?  We feel called to student ministry and we feel called to work at a particular church.   Then we are offered a salary package and with out even realizing it, we are confronted with the difference between our worth and our value.

No one tells us youth workers who simply want to serve God and love students that there is an actual science to salary negotiations.  So after some painful negotiations of my own and a couple awful ones for some of my friends, here are a couple of pointers that may be helpful for you next time you are sitting around the salary negotiations table:

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Ever since my first day in student ministry, my number one goal has been to cancel Sunday School.  I mean, come on, everyone knows that Sunday school is the dumbest ministry model on the planet.  It is awful on just about every level.  9:00 on a Sunday morning is the absolute worst time in the entire world for any sort of ministry, especially to adolescents.  We try and try and try to make this hour of spiritual formation relevant and matter to a group of kids who could actually care less.  But it seems as much as we try to put a nail in the coffin of this antiquated mode of ministry, I could never muster the political capitol to pull it off.  That is, until the perfect storm of events allowed me to do just that.

This last spring we had to move our entire church off our main campus to a hotel ball room while we underwent some construction and renovations.  We went from two services with spiritual formation and student Sunday school during the first gathering, to a situation where we were only going to have one service.  The best part is that I didn’t even have a choice.  There were logistically not enough rooms to do church, children’s ministry and Sunday School for students.

When I was approached with this dilemma, I hung my head in grief and said that I would, reluctantly, take one for the team and cancel Sunday School.  On the inside, I was freaking out!  It just happened.  My dream for almost 20 years became a reality and it actually gained me political points instead of costing every point I have ever earned.

And I have to tell you, those first few months of not having Sunday School was a dream come true.  There was no more Sunday morning anxiety or dread for having to face a room full of apathetic and judgmental kids.  No more dealing with the zero feedback on the incredible curriculum I have put together for the morning.  Yes, my only responsibility was to simply glad-hand students and their parents as they walked past to their seats, and again as they left.  I WAS FREE!!

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR:

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I love the new year!  Out with the old and in with the new.  As I chuck the past and lean into the future, there is one area that I have been increasingly sloppy in and therefore becoming less and less effective.  This area is my calendar.  This is the document that helps me maximize my time, keeps my social media time to a minimum and keeps me focused on my vision, values, and tasks for ministry.

Too often the tyranny of the urgent overwhelms our calendar and then we end up never getting the the important things we long to do in ministry, or even worse, we end up doing most of our ministry half assed.  For me, I have let misc. appointments crowd out the appointments I must make and keep to keep my ministry moving forward.  I have found myself wasting many hours wandering our office and campus visiting people, and just wandering.

I have found when I limit my office hours, then I crank out what I need to crank out, and then am free to meet with who I need to meet with.  As I have erased my calendar, started from scratch, I have come up with a plan that will help me get after all that God has put on my heart to do in 2014!

In general, here is the breakdown:

  • 10 hours program: This includes, church, youth group, sunday school, set up and tear down for those programs.
  • 20 hours office: These are the hours where I am in the office, at my desk, planning, writing, emailing, phone calling, meeting with staff, support staff, etc.  It is when my car is parked in my spot at the church.
  • 10 hours contact: These are the hours I meet with students and leaders individually, and in groups.  Some for intentional formation, and some for fun.
  • 5 hours misc: There seem to always be emails, evening appointments and basketball games to get to.  So instead of being surprised or busy or fighting with the wife for working too hard, I have limited some of my other hours to plan for the unplanned parts of ministry.  
  • 5 hours spiritual formation: These hours are both personal and professional, but must be in your calendar.  Your personal bible reading, study, prayer, solitude, whatever it is that recharges your walk with Jesus. 

A hard thing to remember when mapping out your calendar and hours is that your work hours are your work hours.  We should honor our church and those people whose tithes are paying for our salaries and work hard for the hours we are assigned.  This means that when we run, surf, hike, pray, get our teeth cleaned, go to the doctor’s office or the store, these are our personal hours.  Everyone else in the world does these tasks after work and on weekends.  Many of us professional youth workers have gotten in the bad habit of combing work and personal hours and then play, “Oh, poor me, I work 60 hours a week.”  I am pretty sure you don’t.  :)

This new year, let us have balance and intention in our hours and in our lives so we can fully get after all that God has put on our hearts for life and ministry.

Below is  a calendar that I use to help keep all this straitened out and holds me and my staff accountable for our time and tasks.  I would love to know what you do!  Blessings!

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As we gear up for a new year and new semester of ministry, it is easy to get caught up in urgent tasks and miss the mark on what we are actually called to do as youth workers.  Now, don’t get me wrong, tasks like the details that go into a successful and engaging youth group, planning events, buying supplies and setting up fun games, the study and preparation for your talks, receipts, and contact work, are all important, but these tasks are only the action steps that must be informed by the four key tasks of student ministry.  If you do these four tasks well then you will be a rock star for the kingdom of God and for your church!

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I don’t know if it is like this for you, but for me, winter camp is often a programatic event that is surrounded by anxiety and angst.  Anxiety around driving in the bad weather, losing over $1000 dollars because I scholarship too many kids, and all the potential drama and chaos that happens when tons of kids get together with minimal supervision :)

The angst often occurs because of my own issues and pride.  It is difficult to enjoy camp because I have so many ways that the camp can improve their program.  I can’t believe the camp didn’t choose me to be the speaker and instead they hired some chump who is only half the speaker I am.  I love to sit in judgement of the program and of my kids.  I usually cloak my pride in some intentional, smart sounding spiritual nonsense, but it is pride just the same!

Well that was before my 2014 New Year’s resolution:

For 2014 I am going to be unguarded.  Over the years I have developed a calloused heart as the grind of student ministry has taken its toll.  Too many years of apathy, fickleness, business, and broken promises and relationships.  In order to protect my heart I have withdrawn emotionally and spiritually.  But no more!

Camp has proven to be the best place to try it out!

We just got back from camp and it really was the best!  It was truly a life changing event, and most of that is because I simply took off my angsty armor, and decided to stand unguarded with Jesus and with my students.  I decided to not allow cynicism or pride get anywhere near me.  And the result was actually getting to encounter the Holy Spirit, and to walk through some incredible spiritual conversations with my students.

I know for many of you, this is how you approach every camp.  But no matter if you are naturally an optimistic person full of hope for all that God has for your students, or have an extra dose of pride that blinds your heart, may we all gear up and embrace winter camp!  Thankfully God is bigger than where we happen to find ourselves spiritually and is faithful to use even the feeblest of efforts to draw our kids closer to Jesus.  But when our heart is tuned, we get to be part of the process and have our hearts encouraged as well.

Because of my camp high, I am ready to dive into 2014:

With winter camp behind me, and taking full advantage of the mountaintop experience, I am expectant and hopeful for Jesus to do a fresh work in our students, in our ministry, and in me.

Are you ready for this new year?  How do you combat cynicism?  How do you stay unguarded after years of ministry?  How are you leaning into the fresh start that God has for all of us in 2014?

Happy New Year and may God truly bless you and your ministry in this upcoming year.

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As I look back over my Amazon purchase, Kindle Books, And Web History over this year, it turns out I have had a really diverse reading list.  I have spent this year wrestling with theology, practical ministry, politics, and an overall appreciation for culture.  Of all the hours I have logged in gaining more input, here are the top 10 highlights that have actually made its way from data points to actually shaping the way I think.  Even though I don’t agree with all of these people and in some cases agree with very little, what they have had to say and how they have said it have caused me to think deeply in response to it.  So here is my list, in no particular order.

Andy Stanley: Deep and Wide

Tom Wright: After You Believe

Cornel West: Race Matters

David Mcullough: 1776

Rachael Held Evans: rachelheldevans.com

Mark Driscoll: A Call To Resurgence.

Real Clear Politics: A blog that captures the entire spectrum of political discourse.

Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath 

Torn: Justin Lee

Brock Morgan: Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

What did you read?  What shaped your worldview? What shaped your heart?  What shaped your ministry?  I would love to know so I can populate my 2014 reading list.

Happy New Year Homies!

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I trust that you had a great 2013 and enjoying the long and gentle onramp towards Christmas.  As I reflect on our last year and all the highlights that communicate how our family is the best and brightest, a recent event in our family’s life pretty much sums up our year.

Remember that horrific cold snap a week or so ago?  In our neck of the woods the temps dropped down to the high 40’s.  CRAZY!!  Well, being that our entire family is only outfitted with hoodies, we were all cranky and cold.  And to make matters worse, it was beginning to rain.

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More than any other holiday, Christmas is surrounded with family warm fuzzies. On the surface it is a month of preparing your house and making it as warm and hospitable as possible. And we brave the strip malls to buy presents as a way of showing love towards our friends and family. Christmas highlights one of the most critical needs humans have, to be known and to be loved.

Yes the birth of Jesus tells us so much about God and his love and plan for humanity, yes the manner in which he was born shatters all of our preconceptions regarding status and power, and yes we have God exegeted in the incarnation of his Son. But all of these great truths are not found in isolation. They are proved a reality by way of invitation, invitation into the family of God.

While we were sinners, broken, outcasts, it is at this time that Jesus left his rightful place in Heaven and became Emmanuel to reconcile us back to God and change our identity and purpose forever. Once we were not a people, but through Jesus Christ, we are the people of God.

As I reflect upon this reality, I am convinced more and more that this invitation into the family of God, to given the purpose of the family business is the thin place our world has to experience the good news of Jesus Christ. People feel more alienated then ever, our students are more isolated then the even know. Even with all their access to social media, they are alone.

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I know it is nothing new that Christmas has become secularized. From the Happy Holiday wars to the removal of the nativity scenes, the reason we celebrate Christmas has finally left the building. I had an epiphany the other night as I was driving around with my kids doing some Christmas shopping listening to my favorite Christmas album, John Denver and the Muppets’ Christmas. (It is actually a rough album, but has a high sentimental value for me.)

As we listened to the story of Alphie I was reminded again the wide variety of meaning people have put on Christmas. Well, way back in 1979 we get some strange theology from John Denver and his enormous love for the outdoors combined with a cultural understanding of Christmas.

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Christmas and divorce

December 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

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This last week I had a meeting with one of my favorite moms.  Her love for her daughter, for me, and for Jesus is palpable.  And for a verity of reasons, due to long histories, and for things that I really have no idea about, this mom is in the middle of a divorce.  While the ethics of divorce are complex and worthy of lengthy discussions full of truth and grace, this blog post is not about the ethics of divorce.

As the youth worker, no one is coming to me for marital advice, or trying to navigate a difficult situation, asking for prayers, or discernment for whether or not it is time to pull the plug on a marriage.  No, I am the youth worker, my job, my calling, is to be the child’s advocate, care for them, make space for them, and help them navigate this new landscape.  I actually believe it is not the job of the youth worker to even take sides and spiritualize the landscape.  Our students are only our students for a few more years, but they will always be the daughters and sons of their parents, whether or not they are divorced.  To use our position of power and influence and pick sides will be disastrous for the long term health and reconciliation between all parties, and for all parties and the church.

With that being said, this conversation did help me realize that because all parents don’t expect to be divorced, don’t expect to have divided holidays, and now don’t know how to navigate the holidays, specifically Christmas in-light of their new divorced situation.  Here are a couple of helpful tips to navigate this new family rhythm:

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For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus.  Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

In the time of Jesus’ birth, God was in the process of doing the most amazing thing in all of human history.  At the same time, Bethlehem was jam packed with families for the census.  While there were many people in the proximity of this historic work of god, everyone seemed to miss it.

Imagine a gigantic family reunion.  Everyone was busy preparing their homes for guests, buying presents for loved ones, etc.  And while everyone was doing their own thing, God shows up.  This kind of feels like the mall at Christmas time.

This Christmas season, What are the things that are consuming your mind, are distracting you from seeing that god is actually alive and moving in our midst?

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Beer with Jesus

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

As I think about my devotional life and about how I approach Jesus, I have found surprising comfort and encouragement from this country song.  Wether or not you are a country fan, or think this is sacrilegious, listen to the lyrics and see if you can at least identify the songwriters stance towards Jesus, his questions, concerns, hopes and dreams.  What do you think?

Some things to consider:  Do we over-spiritualize our faith in Jesus?  Is there some validity in having a common faith, a simple faith? Is there some benefit to embrace this sort of humility in our prayer life with Jesus?  

I want to walk with Jesus in a way where Jesus is near to me, but where I don’t take him or his grace for granted.  Even more so, I want to help my students to embrace a real faith that is both common and simple.  A faith where Jesus meets them in their real and normal life, has wisdom and grace to offer, and where humility is key.  I am pretty sure there will be way less disillusionment in the church and among students when they see Jesus and their devotional time with him less as meeting with a genie, a therapist, a grandpa, or a superhero.

Maybe we can all be a little more humble and in awe of the time we get to spend with Jesus and spend that time asking questions and listening for answers.

I think tonight, I will have a beer with Jesus. :)

What are you thankful for?

November 25, 2013 — 1 Comment

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It is Thanksgiving week and I am taking this week off of writing and of work.  I am looking forward to being present with my family and with my friends.  As you enjoy your Thanksgiving and wade into the joys and dysfucntion of family gatherings, may we all be extra aware of the blessings that we have been given.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17.

In the comments would you be willing to share what you are thankful for this Thanksgiving week?

Blessings!