Let’s see what happens…

When did I decide that safe was good?
It may have been around the first time I got hurt.

I’m prone to forget that today is part of my life. It sounds so insane, and even sad but its true. I don’t mean it to sound sad. I’m not sad. In fact if you know me, I’d hope I’m ranked among one of the happiest people you know. So don’t get the idea that I’m some Eeyore moping around. It’s just that I generally don’t look at “today” as part of the package of days that I’m living.

This morning after getting up, getting the kids ready for school, seeing them off, and kissing my wife goodbye I drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, walked in, picked out a new travel mug (I lost mine months ago), took a sip, smiled, drove to the gas station, put my budgeted $25 of gas in the tank for the week, got back in my car, drove to my office, unpacked my laptop, walked to the conference room, joined the rest of our pastors and staff for morning prayer, sent some emails, edited some video, did some work, shot a video, accomplished some tasks on my list, got in my car, drove home, got the kids off the bus, helped with homework, made whole wheat pancakes, had dinner with the family, set the timer on the coffee maker for tomorrow morning, and sat down here. It may have been just one of my days, but the thing is, it was one of MY days. Of MY life.
Like I said, I forget that today is part of the package deal. I think most people do.
I forget that today is one of those days I’m going to want to look back on and have something to say about it.

I think goals are great things to have.
Studies have shown in fact that in writing your goals down, you bring them into reality and make them tangible and therefore more reachable, and therefore you accomplish more of them.

Leave them in your head and that’s likely where they’ll live out your days.

So, in an effort to rid myself of theoretical living, I’d like to write down some goals I have. Mind you, I had no idea where this blog post was going when I sat down 10 minutes ago to write it (hence the title). It may not have taken you 10 minutes to read this far, but that’s because I was interrupted by an injured child who turned out not to be injured; at least not injured with an injury unhealable by handing him a cold whole wheat pancake.

Okay, back to my top-of-my-head list of goals for the remaining years of my life, however many or few they be:

1. To drive the same traffic circle Clark Griswold did, so that I too can say repeatedly, “Look kids, Big Ben!…Parliament!”
(Did I mention this list is in no particular order?)
2. To see the Grand Canyon. Preferably from the bottom of it.
3. To write a book someone besides me wants to publish.
4. To give my wife a much bigger diamond simply because I want to.
5. To speak to a stadium full of people about something I’m passionate about.
6. To see one US President in person.
7. To go kayaking this Friday with my wife. (Some goals should be more immediate.)
8. To be adored by my kids not because of what I do, but because of who I am.
9. To be a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune. I think I could clean up.
10. To have the laughter at my funeral outweigh the tears.
11. To know Jesus well.
12. To travel across the country in something other than a car or a plane.
13. To see my kids see their kids and finally see the love I have for my kids.
14. To do my part to make sure that when I die, less children are needlessly dying.
15. To ride in a helicopter.
16. To ride a motorcycle, even if my wife won’t let me leave the driveway with it.
17. To somehow help bring back the concept of respect for your elders. I think its fading.
18. To blog for the rest of my life, even if its just for my Mom and a few others.

Now, the trick is to keep these things in the forefront of my mind as I live each day. I may not end up in jolly ‘ol England tomorrow, but I will be living with a deeper passion for the opportunities of the moment. Imagine that.

And imagine something else: Imagine if online scammers spent their time being productive, creative, and useful members of our society instead of leeching off it. Imagine if “Angela Cutler”, the person who recently tried to scam me reads this, has a change of heart and becomes a better person; because in my view she/he/they can’t get much worse.

So back to my original question: When did I decide that safe was good? It’s probably around the same time I lost my list.

The Weight of Pain

I’d guess you probably read the title of this one and think, “Ugh. Do I really want to read this?” It’s like a drag before it even gets out of the gate. I understand. And thanks for reading anyway.

We began a new series today in our student ministry and its simply entitled “Life Stinks.” I’m not crazy about the title, but I’ve got to admit–it rings true for so many teens today. Under the fascade of a carefree teenage existence, many teens today are stuck in private pain. Pain that is medicated with a wide variety of elixirs–seeking for acceptance, grades, popularity, sports, delinquency, sexual promiscuity, criminal activity, drinking, drugs, and even suicide. All these things (and more) are the medications of choice to try and dull the pain they feel. The pain that to them, is all too real.

As an adult, the temptation is to be dismissive; call it a phase we all have to go through, give them the proverbial pat on the head, and the oft belittling, “It’ll be okay.”

But will it? Fortunately for most, it indeed will all work out. But getting past the pain isn’t nearly as valuable in the long run as getting through the pain.

When pain of any kind arises in our lives, a very common response is to look for something/someone to blame. To so many, since God is the biggest thing they can think of, He’s the easiest target to hit. A very often asked question is something to the tune of “If God is so loving and powerful, why is there such suffering in the world?” I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that I’ve thought the same question. But blaming God doesn’t make the most sense and it’s certainly not the most constructive route to take.

Do you know what the most repeated question in the Bible is? It’s “How long, O Lord?” It’s question that cries out to God from anguish and pain, asking the Almighty how long He is going to inflict whatever dire circumstance we are in. It’s a question that aches when asked. It’s a question that puts God on the receiving end of a pointed finger of blame.

Now, I’m going to slip into what I consider personally to be a “gray area” of God; that is, one of those things about God that I just don’t get. I don’t understand it. But I’ll be quick to point out that “getting” God isn’t possible anyway. In fact, not “getting” God is at the core of genuine, heart-felt worship of God, if you really consider it.

And the part (or one of them) about God that I don’t understand is found in the book of Job. Job was a man who loved God dearly and did what was right. The Bible calls Job “righteous”. And it seems to me that God not only noticed Job’s righteousness, but even had an occasion to show him off during a conversation with the devil. Read the whole conversation in Job chapter 1. It’s fascinating, troubling, confounding, and utterly intriguing.

The short version of it is that the devil came before God along with some other angels. God asked “where have you been?” The devil said, “Roaming back and forth through the earth.” God said, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Now, hold on a minute there God! Why are you throwing Job under the bus like that? What gives?!? God goes on to tout Job’s character when He calls Job “upright and blameless” (1:8). Apparently Satan was looking for someone to test and mess with, and it seems that God sold Job right up the river. But don’t be fooled. God has a plan here. It’s subtle and slight at this point in the story, but if you read it through you’ll see some key truths.

In the interest of brevity, here are some tidbits of application from the story of Job:
1. God remains in ultimate control, even when things seem out of control. (1:12)
2. Terrible, unspeakable things DO happen to Godly, wonderful, “upright” people. (1:13-19) (Re-read #1)
3. The choice of response to terrible things happening remains ours. While #1 will always be true, and #2 will be true until the return of Christ, #3 will likewise always be true. (1:20-21)

If you go on to read the following chapters of this incredible story, you’ll follow Job through the pains and triumphs of his wrestle with the good and bad of his own life. He had those who encouraged and supported him, and then there was his wife who’s advice was to “curse God and die.” What a sweetie.

And if you want to get a glimpse into Job’s pain, read chapter 3. And then 4. And then 5. And 6. And 7. In fact, read all the way through chapter 37 and you will begin to understand the tormenting pain Job was in. Here he begins, continues, and ends spilling out his anguished heart to God.

But in chapter 38, it’s God’s turn to speak. And I challenge you that if you ever have a life pain that you don’t know what to do with or don’t know how to address, go read Job chapters 38-41. God gives Job a blasting reminder of his place before a holy God.

We’re surrounded by pain in our world today. Most of it is glossed over with a thin smile and a hurried pace. But make no mistake about it; as humans we are a people in pain.

But the fact remains that from God comes both that which we welcome eagerly and that which if given the choice, we would pass on. The choice remains: Do we shake our fist at God because He’s the easiest to blame, or do we praise God in the pain, allowing us to praise Him through it?

"Are you ready for some football!?!"

I’ve been living exciting days. My oldest just entered the teens (and rocked a “100” score on her big Amelia Earhart presentation last week), my #2 starts football this weekend, my #3 is hysterically funny, hard-headed and tender-hearted, and my youngest is coming along. If you know him, you know what I mean.

Yep, besides that episode of Cops that played out in the middle of night last night in my neighborhood, I’d say that life is pretty flippin’ sweet.

Let me backtrack. My #2 is starting football this weekend. He’s never played on a team before. He’s never played a sport before. Any sport. He has zero experience in football. And I’m not too ashamed to say that even as a grown man, when other guys are talking about games, players, trades, stats, and other sporty guy stuff, I’m probably silently thinking about how I don’t know what they’re talking about and how I think the wall color would really look nice in MY living room.

And about football: I know that the team is supposed to get the ball into the endzone. I know that the quarterback throws, the receivers receive, and the kickers kick. I know that a team gets 4 downs to get a first down. I know that the “center” goes in the center. I think. I don’t know what a “free safety” is or what he does or if I just made up that name by mistake.

And believe it or not, I shared much the same sentiments when I recently spoke on the phone to the director of the league my son will be playing in. The funny thing is, he called back a few days later and asked me to consider being an Assistant Coach. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but the words “underqualified”, “ignorant” and “joke” were peppered throughout my response. But I wrapped it up with a nice bow and said, “It’s not a matter of desire–its a matter of know-how.” Quite honestly, being the Assistant Coach means that if the Coach gets assassinated, guess who takes the reins? And for someone who doesn’t know a hash line from a punch line, the thought of coaching a football team just made me throw up a little bit.

But I couldn’t help but catch a teeny-weeny compliment squeezed into our exchange on the phone, me and this man I’ve yet to meet. I think I heard him say, “I really like your heart.” This particular league is focused on all kids having fun, learning the game, sportsmanship, and everyone getting a chance to be a star. So to him, my blatant ignorance of the game of football takes a back seat to my desire for my own son and all kids to have a good time playing a game.

–Here comes the part when I flip it and connect it to a spiritual application. If you’ve had fun so far, but aren’t interested in the next part…well, thanks for stopping by. Don’t let that “X” in the corner of the screen hit you on the way out.—

As a man who knows, loves, and follows Jesus, and as a man who loves those who do the same, and as a man who loves those who don’t; I think we (Jesus’ followers) would be very wise to take a lesson from the heartbeat of this football league my son and I are about to totally wreck. If ministry were more about filling the field with players than the stands with spectators, and if discipleship were less about one quarterback and more about ___ receivers, and if loving God were less about doing it right and more about doing it at all….I’m fairly certain we’d have and we’d be the kind of people that the world needs instead of the kind of people the world looks sideways at; thinking we’re all about numbers, or money, or being right, or pointing out sin, or any other number of things associated with the religion of Christianity.

Suppose that as Jesus’ followers we could recognize in each other “I really like your heart” and let other lesser things play “c-string”, if at all. What if we focused on the powerful positive poised to pounce out of my life and into yours and out of your life into mine and out of our lives into His. What if instead of a safe “button-hook” play, we just decided to “go long”. Okay, enough football catch phrases.

I can guarantee that this weekend, while I’m cheering on my son in his very first practice followed immediately by his very first game (*gulp*), I’m going to be thinking in the back of my mind about how I might also cheer others on as they play hard on the field of faith.

You bring the ice.

I’m not an idiot. But when it comes to student ministry, I started out as one.

When I entered my very first fulltime student ministry position, I was dripping with naivete’ and the proverbial cape on my back and a huge “S” on the chest of my blue unitard. As it turned out, the “S” stood for “Stupid Young Youth Pastor So Gonna Burn Out If He Doesn’t Learn Stuff Quick!”

I started in fulltime ministry at a church in Winchester, VA. While I left that particular ministry nearly 13 years ago, they’re probably still recovering. I arrived in town a week after graduating from college and that new college grad smell was still fresh.

And my first flash of idiotness was summed up in these four simple words: “You bring the ice.”

My very first volunteer youth leader was an incredible man named Jerry Mounts. I’ll never forget Jerry as long as I live. Without a word, he taught me so much about effectively loving and leading students. Unfortunately most of what I learned from him wouldn’t be absorbed until years later. Don’t forget, I was the one with the answers to the questions. And when you’re fresh from college, you’re less than teachable. After all, you had just been taught everything and now it was time to execute, right?!? Or so I thought.

Jerry Mounts owned a refrigeration business. So you can guess that he owned his own ice machine. Not the kind in your fridge, but the industrial size ice maker you see in places where a lot of ice is needed.

Once I knew that Jerry had an ice machine, this became his standing assignment for all youth events: “Jerry, you bring the ice. Thanks.”

I never asked Jerry his age at that time. But if I had to guess, I’d say early to mid 40’s. He had a son in college and a daughter in high school. And here I was swooping in at the ripe old age of 21, essentially saying, “Step aside, Jerry. I’m here.”

And something else I never asked Jerry: to do anything but “bring the ice.” I completely dismissed and discounted every other aspect of Jerry’s enormous, infectious, and totally beloved personality and completely failed to leverage that for an even more fruitful ministry to teens.

Why? Because I didn’t need Jerry to do anything but bring the ice for the drinks.

There’s an insane part of Jesus’ earthly ministry that just blows me away everytime I read it. It’s found in Luke 10. Jesus is well into his 3 years of public ministry. He has spent the majority of His time developing His disciples. In essence, He was cloning Himself in those around Him. There were 70 sent out–35 pairs of little Jesuses going out and doing what Jesus did: healing, touching, teaching, raising, casting out demons, and all the things that Jesus Himself was doing. Jesus didn’t tell the 70, “Just get out there and kill time til I get there to help these people.” He didn’t say, “You can’t do what I know how to do. So just entertain the crowd until I show up.” And He definitely didn’t tell anybody, “You bring the ice.”

As a ministry leader and influencer, one of my greatest successes is realized when I see the ministry I lead happen without me. And I’ve long since given up the egotistical notion that nobody can do it like I can. The funny thing is, that’s true. Nobody can do it like me. The egotistical part comes in when I actually think that’s a bad thing.

So, my ministry these days is primarily wrapped up in my interaction with adult leaders and student leaders. It’s not that I don’t care about every student. It’s that I care about every student so much, I’m willing to admit (not hard anymore) that I can’t possibly effectively minister to that many students.