Leading the Lady

There are so many pluses to not having cable. We’ve been a year and a half without cable and by and large, its wonderful. One of the biggest differences we notice is during the 2 Christmas seasons we’ve been without cable, our kids are at a loss as to what they want for Christmas, because there aren’t any commercials telling them what they want.

But on days like today, being snowed in and not too much else to do, being without cable means having only a few channels to choose from. Earlier today I found myself watching a ballroom dancing competition. Never seen one? Let me break it down for you. People who look like they have too much money get dolled up to go and watch other people dance. It makes about as much sense as watching someone fish, in my opinion.

Each pair of dancers has a number that they wear (worn by the man since he has more clothes covering him). They go through a series of dances such as the Fox Trot, the Two Step, the Samba, the Cha-Cha, the Jive, etc. And while they dance, a bunch of old people stand around with clipboards and score the dancers dancing. That’s pretty much it.

But no sporting event would be complete without commentators. And one comment made by a commentator struck me in a way that made me think about Jesus. Go figure.

I forget what particular dance the dancers were dancing, but I remember the commentator saying, “The man’s job is to really show off his lady.”

Jesus came to earth for so many reasons. But chief among them are reconciliation (of creation to Creator) through forgiveness of sins (accomplished on the cross), and for setting an example (through sinless living). And now that He is done His work on earth and sits at the right hand of God the Father, He is still at work by the power of His Spirit within us. And Jesus’ chief objective is now to “really show off His lady”.

The scriptures teach clearly that the Church is the “bride of Christ”. Christ Himself being the bridegroom is absolutely in love with His bride. And there will be in our future a great wedding feast where Jesus will present His bride to God the Father (Jude 1:24). And not merely to present her, but to present her “without fault and with great joy…” (In fact, the very same charge is given to husbands, in respect to their wives! Men, read Ephesians 5:27.)

But as I watched those partners spin around that dance floor today, I was reminded also of the partnership we share with Jesus. As His bride, we are to follow His lead, understanding that only when we follow His lead are we truly allowing Him to fully “show off His lady.” Imagine an uncooperative dance partner and the stumblings and fumblings both partners would have to endure if the one who is supposed to be led isn’t willing to be led!

Where in my life am I uncooperative to the leading of the bridegroom? Where am I out of His step? Where am I keeping Him from doing His best to “really show off His lady”?

No Tears On My Pillow

I spent this past weekend with about 100 others from our church who joined about 400 others at the VA District Winter Retreat. It was a great experience for all who came along. Not only did our teens have a blast skiing, snowboarding, waterparking, and tons of other cool stuff, but we also had a great spiritual experience together as well. It was such a blessing to hear from students about what God was speaking to them. I was encouraged to see many of our students engaged in worship of the King with a new level of abandon and awe. But as any retreat attendee will tell you, life at retreat and life at home are often 2 diametrically opposed realities. Or at least they USED to be.

In the early days of ministry, the challenge we used to face as we return from retreat is to somehow “harness” the experience; to somehow take the experience from there to here. But the longer I’ve been in ministry, the more I’ve committed to some “post-retreat” thoughts. Here are a few of them:

1. God meets us at our place of expectation, whether they be high or low.
2. Retreats, by definition, are not meant to last. Neither are the feelings they invoke.
3. To live life like you’re on retreat is to miss the point of the retreat.
4. Retreats are used for the ultimate outcome of a strong advance (this is the same principle used in battle situations). If there is no advance, then the retreat is actually a loss of ground.
5. You must keep retreat memories from becoming the standard by which we measure God. God would much rather us be “imagine if” and “what’s next” kind of people; not “remember when” kind of people.

Needless to say, we had a fantastic time at retreat, and we’re poised to take faith steps into what God is leading us into for our student ministry. Those who come along will be blessed. Those who don’t will be spectators to a blessing rather than participants.

After any retreat, you’re just plain wiped out physically. I slept like a log last night. That is, until 5:30 a.m. I was awakened by the sound of dripping water. Not from the showerhead. Not from the bathroom sink. Not from the raingutters outside. It was coming from the skylight directly above my bed. The rain was dripping right next to my head onto my pillow. You can bet I was definitely awake instantly! I hopped up with an imagination that had already decided that my roof was about to cave in. I ran to the closet to grab a towel to lay down on my pillow, because after all, if my roof is going to cave in, I certainly didn’t want any debris on my pillow. Ridiculous.

So, I laid the towel, still partially folded, onto the right half of my pillow where the drip was happening. Then I sat there and stared at it, because what’s more effective at stopping a drip than a stare? Ridiculous.

Then I did something that to some might seem a little less (or a little more) ridiculous. I decided that I would pray. I’d go to God about this situation. My wife and I had already scheduled a guy to come next week to repair an exterior spot under our bedroom’s bay window where a small bit of wood rot had softened the siding. My imagination kicked back in and decided that not only would he also take a look at the skylight, but that he would discover that the entire roof would have to replaced. While I do have some money in the bank, if you think I have enough saved to buy a new roof….well….ridiculous.

So I prayed.

“God, You’re my Lord. You’re the One who is trustworthy. You’ve been rock-solid faithful to me when my faithfulness to You is often flimsy at best. You have been so good to me, God. I have never wanted for anything. You’ve never not met my needs. You’re just so good. God, my roof is leaking. I know that there are TONS of other more important things in the world than this right now. I know that if we made a list in order of importance, this need would probably rank near dead last. But God, You don’t operate that way. You’re not the God who says ‘Get in line and I’ll help you when I get a chance.’ God, your help, like your grace, is immediate. You care about the things that concern me because I care about the things that concern You. So God, I’d like to humbly ask that you give me wisdom in how to handle this leak situation. Would You please direct me as I take some faith steps with You? I don’t know what to do, but You do.”

Then I heard God speak to my heart.
He asked, “Jerry, do you trust Me?”
I answered, “Yes God. I trust You.”
He said, “Jerry, get back in bed.”

So, I did. I got back in bed and instead of fretting about what to do with my roof, I enjoyed 2 hours of the most peaceful sleep I’ve had, under the protective canopy of the hand of God.

Knick-Knack, Paddy-Whack, Give the Teen a Phone.

The cell phone is to the 11 year old now what the learners permit was to the 16 year old then.

Freedom. Liberty. Status. And just plain cool.

15 years ago, I thought that guy Tony in my church who had the small leatherette attache’ case with the shoulder strap and a coiled cord coming out the side attached to a phone handset was the coolest person I knew. When he swiveled that antenna skyward, you knew it was Go Time. And now, well…next time you’re anywhere stop and look around. Count how many people have a teeny-weeny device next to (or in) their ear.

This past holiday season, my daughter (she’ll be 13 in 2 months) told us that she really wanted a cell phone for Christmas. My wife and I have always employed the “give it to ’em straight” parenting method. We don’t sugar-coat anything. We’ve actually had this conversation in our home:

My wife: “There’s no Santa Claus.”
Kids: “Yes there is!”
My wife: “Okay, Daddy and I won’t put out any gifts. Let’s see what Santa brings you.”

See? It’s just that easy to crush a child’s dreams. Practice hard, and you can do it too.

But this whole business of elementary school kids and tweens with phones is pretty crazy. I know there are legitimate reasons for some kids to have their own phone. And far be it from me to launch into a “back in my day” soliloquy. It’s just that kids having phones has opened up just as many (if not more) pitfalls than conveniences.

There’s a kid in our neighborhood that plays in our yard regularly. He’s an awesome kid. He’s polite, kind, thoughtful, and just really cool. He’s the kind of kid you want your kids hanging around. (Does anyone say that about MY kids?) And his house is about 50 yards from ours. And when he needs to ask his mom if he can come in, or stay out, or do whatever, he pulls out the cell phone and calls her. He’s in 4th grade.

Meanwhile, we tell our kids, “If you can’t hear us calling you (as in yelling), you’re too far from the house.” We’re so old-fashioned.

I know of families where each person in the family has a phone, and texting from room to room has taken the place of conventional talking (who’d have thought you’d ever need to use “conventional” and “talking” in the same sentence?).

And once again yesterday, I was reminded of the snares of “sexting”, because the mass media got bored with Haiti for a second and had to fill some airtime. Young people are facing fines and imprisonment for sending sexually charged messages, pictures, and videos to each other through their cell phones and smart phones. By the way, if I rely on a “smart phone” to handle the details of my life, what does that make me?

And perhaps you’ve seen the commercial out of the UK that horrifically and graphically portrays the dangers of texting while driving. Geared at teens, but relatable to all; watch that brief PSA spot and you’ll think twice about punching that keypad next time you’re behind the wheel.

But parents far and wide are plunking down their dollars to give Junior and Juniorette their very own weapon of mass interruption. And I’ve been astounded to hear from parents about their seemingly endless frustrations about their son/daughter texting all hours of/through the night with their friends. You’ve heard of “Shaken Baby Syndrome”? How about some “Shaken Parent Syndrome” for parents who forget that THEY’RE the parents? When I talk with them about the struggles they’re facing since little Johnny got his cell phone, I pretty much ask one simple question, “And who pays that cell phone bill?” Did you know that you can choose NOT to have a texting plan? Did you know that you can choose NOT to have internet access on a phone? And get this–it’s cheaper! Its a mind-blowing revelation to some parents, I know.

But as a youth pastor, I also must hop the fence and speak of the good things about students having phones. And in case I didn’t say it before–I’m the top texter on our church staff. And I’m proud of that. It’d be a crying shame for somebody over in the business office to be out-texting a youth pastor. Yep, I love my BlackBerry.

As a youth pastor, there are a few good things about cell phones:
–I can text most of my students and sometimes even get a response.
–I can use cell phones creatively in our student ministry; polls, contests, and even in worship.
–Kids are generally more accessible when they have their own phone.
Other than those, I’m not sure what the good things are. And as I re-read that short list, I’m not sure any of them are non-debatable or couldn’t be achieved through some other medium.

In our student worship services, we ask students to turn their phones off for the duration of the service, to please refrain from texting, and to pull their earbuds out. You’d be shocked (maybe) if you saw some students use of their devices all through the worship service, if we let them.

And speaking of texting, the world of texting puts students into immediate contact and connection with virtually anyone (including people you don’t know or approve of). Their sense of connectedness to their friends, 9 times out of 10 will diminish (or even destroy) their sense of connectedness to their families. While this is certainly one of the teen’s selling points of a texting plan, it is ultimately detrimental to the young person. Resentment toward parents is a clear symptom of a student who is over-connected to social networks and under-connected to family.

And today, with tweens and teens racking up thousands upon thousands of text messages a month (and their parents usually footing the bill), its no wonder why we have a young generation who ooze entitlement, disrespect, and even (some say) outright laziness. The truth is, we’ve handed the world to them when we’ve handed them their phone; a world they’re anything but ready for.

4 Statements I Can’t Forget

Throughout all my years in ministry, I have received countless affirmations, compliments, encouragements, and blessings from the mouths of those I have served, loved, and led. To say these words are gratifying would be a huge understatement.

But what astounds me is that even to this day there are four negative statements that have been made to me (about me/my ministry) that not only stung, but stuck. Even today, I roll them over in my mind and for better or worse, I give them more weight than all the accolades and positive statements I have received. And I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable to not only share them, but how I really feel about them, and have felt about them for years.

Statement #1: “I don’t know how many people you’ve driven from the church today.”

Believe it or not, this statement was made to me within an hour of the close of my very first sermon as a fulltime pastor. It was a phone call at my home which was a driveway’s width away from the church building. One of the men in the church was calling to (in no uncertain terms) share with me his displeasure in the sermon I had just preached. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded, speechless, and had an immediate sense of standing on shaky ground when it comes to other people’s confidence in me as a pastor/minister/leader. And it wouldn’t be the last time, either.

Statement #2: “You’re not a good listener.”

This one killed me. I have always considered myself a VERY good listener. As a listener, I’ve got it all–rock solid eye contact, nods of the head to indicate I’m following you, and even a reassuring “Mmm” to make sure you’re aware that I’m with you in what you’re saying to me. Not only do I produce all the outward indicators that I am listening to the person speaking to me, but I do my best to internalize what I’m hearing, holding it up against my own intellect, emotions, and experiences so that I might (when you’re finished of course) have something meaningful and helpful to say. But only after I repeat to you what I’ve heard you say so that we’re both assured that I’ve understood everything correctly.

So, you can see how a point-blank “You’re not a good listener” would send shockwaves through my sense of certainty that I am indeed a good listener. To make my point: the next time you see me, stop me and talk to me about something–ANYTHING–and see if I don’t deliver the goods when it comes to laser-focused listening. As I’m typing this, there is a plastic life-sized ear that is clipped to the side of a file organizer on my desk. This is my visual daily reminder to be a good listener. When did I purchase a plastic life-sized ear? Moments after someone said to me, “You’re not a good listener.”

Statement #3: “You’re the worst self-promoter I’ve ever met.”

Now, to be fair, this person was not meaning to be malicious or discouraging. I think he was trying to tell me that there was so much good going on in the student ministry I was leading and no one seemed to be aware of all the good things happening. So, while the statement might seemed negative, I choose to believe that it had a good intention buried within it. So, why not write it off as a positive comment? Good question. Here’s why: All throughout my ministry, I have known those who seem to have a knack for making themselves attractive/productive/withit/etc. In short, I lack that ability. I do what I do and if no one sees it….brace yourself…..I really don’t care. But hold on, that’s not entirely true. I could have just deleted that last statement and put something that explains myself better or makes me look better, but therein lies the issue. Honestly: I’m someone who needs encouragement and affirmation. I’m not a high-maintenance diva by any means, but a pat on the back with me will go a really long way. I just need to know that someone–ANYONE notices something–ANYTHING that I’m doing in ministry. I’d like to be that guy who could give a rip what you think, but I’m not. That’s why that statement I heard so many years ago sticks with me still today.

Statement #4: “If I were you, I’d really question my calling to ministry.”

This one takes the cake. Spoken to me by a parent of a couple of the students in the youth group I was leading, it cut my heart like few other statements made to me have. And I’d be being dishonest if I didn’t say that its a statement that I revisit probably far too often. Even now as I’m typing, I can feel my heartbeat quickening as my memory goes back to the phone conversation I had that contained those words. And I suppose I could just blow it off and chalk it up to just some disgruntled parent who didn’t understand ministry, or how things operate in the church realm, or even spiritual things. But years after it was spoken, just as I was getting over it, I received a magazine in the mail and guess who was on the cover? Yep. The very man that uttered those words to me. The only (but true) solace I have is that I have indeed taken his advice (more times that he possibly intended) and have come out the other side with a resolve and certainty in my heart that says, “I have….and thanks.”

When I’m Wrong

I need to apologize to a room full of teens.

I found myself enveloped in a passionate delivery of a powerful truth. It was just this past Sunday morning, and I was standing in front of a large room full of teenagers. I had the undeniable sense that God had put a message on my heart for them, and I was sharing it with them as strongly and clearly as I could. My heart warm with God’s Spirit and aching for them to understand the point I was sharing, I said:
“We treat God badly when we forget how powerful He is.
We repeat the same sin over and over when we forget how powerful He is.
We enter worship half-heartedly when we forget how powerful He is.
We live lives focused on unimportant things when we forget how powerful He is.”
I was wrapped up in a stark reminder of the power of God and how simply keeping the “Almightiness” of God in mind will often preclude us from making decisions that draw us away from God and His will for our lives.

I was explaining the concept of the “ex nihilo” creation of everything we see. “Ex nihilo” is the Latin term for “out of nothing”. God didn’t have a pile of playdoh to start with; no building materials.
He simply spoke and the Milky Way appeared.
He simply spoke and trillions upon trillions of stars hung in their place in the expanse of the universe.
He simply spoke and mountains rose up.
He simply spoke and mountain lions appeared on those mountains.
“Ex nihilo” is, to me, one of the most mind-boggling and yet awe-inspiring concepts about the creation account. But as I was rattling off the list of all that we see, standing in front of these students, I made a mistake. I added “man” or “humans” (don’t recall exactly which word I used) to the list of things created “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing.” It was moments later that I realized my mistake, but moved on into the next part of the message.

You might be thinking “what mistake?” and I guarantee most of the teens I were speaking to have no idea that a mistake was made. But I do. And I take the privilege of speaking God’s Word to His people with the utmost humility, respect, and severity. So, when I say something that is in any way inaccurate, I feel that in my heart–even if no one else does.

I often say to the students that I minister to just before I stand to speak in front of them on a Sunday morning, “I believe with all my heart that God has laid a message on my heart and as your pastor I’m charged to deliver it. If I did not sense God’s leading, I would not be here and I certainly wouldn’t stand and proport to speak for Him.” I’m dead serious about this thing of being a spiritual leader. I shutter to think that there are people entrusted to me by Almighty God, that I should help care for their spiritual well-being. Believe me, no one takes my ministry God has given me more seriously than I do.

And that is why I fully intend to take an opportunity to bring to light my own mistake and correct myself to the teens I serve. I want them to know that I’m listening to what God is saying, paying attention to each word that I am faithful to deliver it with His power and annointing. But the incredible thing is the partnership He allows; the Divine partnered with the human who is submitted to the Divine.

So, come if you like to “The Warehouse” to our “Mixx” student worship service on Sunday January 17, 2010 and sit in as I apologize to the students that I love, serve, and lead.

No more somedays.

Like I said, I’ve challenged myself to read through the Bible this year, and I’ve got my handy-dandy BlackBerry to keep me on track, and I just learned that its going to do a better job than I thought at doing just that–keeping me on track.

The Bible I loaded on my BlackBerry has a reading plan that gives me what to read each day. If you follow me on Twitter or if you’re a Facebook friend, you may have seen a post each day recently that says what I’ve read that day. At the end of each reading, there is a button that says “Tweet This Reading”. It’s a way for me to let you know (like you care) what I’ve read that day.

Well, yesterday being Sunday was a full day for me and my family, so I didn’t have time to do my reading. “No biggie.” I thought. “I’ll just read today’s reading tomorrow.” Turns out, BlackBerry is not that compassionate. I learned this morning that yesterday’s reading is gone and can’t be gone back to. So, when I began today’s reading (which by the way is the story of Abraham and Isaac), I did so with a resolve to be very vigilant not to miss a day. And hopefully I won’t. If you’d like to track my progress, just follow me on Twitter or request me as a friend on Facebook.