A Plea to Every UMC Leader: Elect the Next Generation

The statistics are in and they are as disappointing as they are predictable: the people most likely to be making decisions for the United Methodist Church are those who will spend the least amount of time living with the consequences.

According to data from the GCFA, the delegates to the last General conference were overwhelmingly older in age.  The largest single decade of delegates were those in their 50s who composed 36% of all the delegates present.  If you take all those who have more of their life (on average) behind them than ahead of them (those 40+), you reach an astonishing 85%.  When it comes to the youngest group (those under twenty) you get 4.  Not 4%, but 4 total delegates (or 0.6%).  This is a problem.

 Wikimedia: Richard Cooper

Wikimedia: Richard Cooper

Disclaimer:  Because of my status as a provisional elder, I am not electable as a delegate. This means that what I am about to say is in no way in service of my election.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the older generations in my life.  They provide me and all the younger generations with perspective and grounding.  They have modeled for me a brilliant work ethic and amazing loyalty.  I am in no way suggesting we need to flip the statistic to be as unrealistically weighted towards younger delegates, but I believe that if the Church is going to survive and thrive in the future, we MUST promote and empower the younger voices among us.

I have found an inverse relationship between my age and optimism about the future of the UMC.  The more I speak with leaders, I find the same to be true anecdotally among those in my social network.

When any organization loses an optimistic vision of the future, it loses the ability to harness present problems for future success.  Instead of seeing any of the myriad of current issues as containing the potential for the expansion of the Kingdom of God, we see them as one more reason that the church cannot survive as it is much longer.

The problem is that the younger a leader is, the less likely they are to have powerful connections and the less likely they are to know how to campaign successfully for office.  IN fact, many of the young leaders I know are turned off by the political side of the church and would feel disgusted with themselves for mixing politics and religion so thoroughly.  They need your help.

That is why I am asking, no begging, the UMC leadership in every annual conference to let go of half of their votes that would normally be spent on the standard guard of skilled church politicians and spend them on the future.  Rather than voting for all the top contenders from last General conference, vote for the young leaders who will spend the majority of their lives living with the decisions made at the next General Conference.

For those who have developed the skill of church politics and have been to General Conference before, I ask you to let go of your seat and use your considerable political capital to get a next generation leader elected who would have never been able to do it themselves.  What if you told everyone who asked if you were “running” that you would like them to vote for the young clergy in the smaller church down the street?

But how do you know which one to choose?  Without a track record and years of conversations in the hallway between annual conference sessions, how do you find a young leader worthy of your vote?  I’d like to suggest a couple qualifications, and none of them have anything to do with how they feel about your pet church issue (I know you will handle that yourself).

1. They Are in Love with the Theology and Practice of Ministry of John Wesley:  Seminary (or church history for those not ordained) can do one of the two things for people.  It can make them bored with their heritage, or fall deeply in love with it.  It is my opinion that the only way that we will make a difference in the future is if we recover the Wesleyan theological vision and reclaim the movement that John Wesley and Francis Asbury helmed.  We need people who long for a truly Wesleyan movement.

2. They Aren’t Begging for Bureaucratic Power:  We have plenty of church bureaucrats.  Most people I know either come into church leadership because they are passionate about Jesus or because they are passionate about power.  We need far less of the latter.  I know that we can find leaders who love Jesus and see the burden of bureaucracy.  When they are empowered, they are not in awe of the bureaucrats and are not afraid of making sure we have less of them.

3. They Are Optimistic About Our Future:  If we want to find new solutions to problems, we have to have people involved who believe those solutions exist.  When we find people optimistic about our future, they do not enter a discussion presuming only one of the existing options will work.  If we want to have a viable movement in the future, we have to give the reigns to leaders who are ready to chart new ground in old discussions because they know there is a solution that hasn’t been discovered.

That’s it.  Find those people.  Elect them, and pray that God would continue to use our church to spread scriptural holiness across the land.

From: United Methodist Reporter

Life’s Best Answer: I Don’t Know

I’m not sure where the turning point was, but at some point during my teens I started to feel bad about saying “I don’t know.”  

It may have been a mix of being a leader among my peers and having a deep, inescapable hunger for knowledge.  It may have been the fact that so much of my life was wrapped around learning and testing in school where your worth is directly tied to “knowing,” or it may have been some deep repressed trauma in another dimension… I’m not really sure.

What I do know is that along the way I discovered the difficult inner life of a person who always had an answer.  I remember arguing with people about small things so that I could develop my bigger argument at the same time.  I remember completely fabricating facts to support my ideas.

But there was something that really began to eat away at the part of me behind the “knowing” mask.  In order to have a defendable belief about something, I would say I believed things that I knew I did not believe.  In order to appear that I “knew” something, I would become an intellectual (and sometimes practicing) hypocrite.

Then I walked into a training seminar being led a man named Michael Yacconelli at a youth ministry conference.  It was there that I came face to face with the mess I had made.  Mike was the head of the biggest deal in youth ministry.  He was a published author.  He was a pastor.  He was a smart, successful, and influential person.

You can imagine my surprise when he started talking about his major questions about Christianity.  He talked about life-shaking doubt, not believing that his prayers had any effect, and how he struggled with feeling worthy.  The whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off him because it was as if he had been living inside my head for the past ten years.

Then, the bomb dropped.  During the question and answer time, someone got up and asked him a question I remember thinking I already knew the answer to.  After the questioner finished, Mike was silent.  He just sat there for a bit… THINKING!  I was just about ready to step up to the mic and answer it myself when he said a phrase that had been conspicuously absent from my vocabulary: I don’t know.

After he said that, he explained why he doubted all the popular stock answers (including mine) laying bare all their philosophical vulnerabilities.  After he was done, he taught one of the most powerful lessons I have ever learned.

Mike said “And another thing, you youth leaders need to get way more comfortable with that phrase, ‘I don’t know’ because, let’s face it… most of the time, you don’t.”  I didn’t.  He was right. “When you don’t know something and act like you do, your kids learn that it’s not okay to say ‘I don’t know’  they learn one of the most tragic Christian values: to pretend you are someone you are not.”  

I was undone.  I was raw.  Then, he landed hard.  “When you say, ‘I don’t know’  you let them know that it is normal and ok to question.  You let them know that it is ok to learn, and you let them know that the point of Christianity is not having all the right answers for the test.”

After that, I begin to work on letting go of my need to be the one with the perfect Theology.  I let go of pretending and tried my best to let others see my faults so that the bubble of the perfect Christian life was burst and we could deal with our brokenness.

When I did I experienced the joy of freedom.  The pressure for answers and perfection was gone and I could relish finding answers when I discovered another “I don’t know” area.  I could share in the joy with the people to whom I could offer the answers I did have.  

Somehow I thought all of the best answers were the ones that actually answered the questions, but I had discovered that life’s best answer is, “I Don’t Know.”

Why Church Hopping Isn't Evil

Church hopping! Oh, for fear!  Oh for shame!  How can an individual ever recover from such a backslidden, deranged, un-holy practice as this?!  At least that’s what you’d think by reading some of my favorite Christian blogs over the last couple months.  I don’t agree.

 Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

Besides the fact that I think the church needs a LOT less guilt and a LOT more love, I think this act can be quite healthy even if it can make pastors pull their hair out from time to time.

It can be difficult to talk clearly about “church hopping” because it seems every blog entry assumes a vastly different definition as universal.  I am going to address each definition I’ve found in turn and explain just why I think you might need to do a little church hopping yourself.  We’ll go in order from the least to most depraved.

1. The Occasional Hopper:

Every once in a while a friend’s church is having a special service or program or a guest speaker on Sunday morning.  Responding to the universal plea of every pastor ever, they “invite a friend.”  Since so many Christians are friends with other Christians (can you imagine!) you are the friend who gets an invitation.  

After posting a mention of a possible illness on Facebook, you wear a wig as you get in their car when they come to pick you up, and you enjoy an unusual spiritual treat at another church.  

I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would have a problem with this, but they do.  (I also don’t understand how anyone could have a problem with real butter, but that’s another subject altogether).  

If you attend another church regularly, please, please, please visit other churches with your friends occasionally.  Enjoy the special treats, and bring a fresh perspective back to your own church!

2. The Dual Resident:

I have a friend who alternates church attendance between a more traditional congregation and a more Charismatic one.  I know this because she flaunts this heathen practice all over Facebook posting pictures from both places on consecutive Sundays.  Can. You. Believe. That.

Ok, It’s not that hard to believe.  As strange as it may sound to the Christian blogosphere, it is a very healthy thing for her. It works because of the weird way the church has developed over the past several centuries.  Instead of going into every Christian church and experiencing the beautiful diversity of the ways people worship God, you get one narrow expression.  

Maybe it’s 1950s style (often called traditional) or maybe it’s the 1990s version with fake ficus trees and “Light the Fire Again,” or maybe it is a more beautiful, more ancient ritual that connects you to the earliest roots of the faith. 

Whatever the case, to walk into almost any Christian worship service is to experience the ghettoization of Christian worship.  As it turns out, God moves in beautiful ways through ALL of those types of worship, and you may be the type of person who loves more than one.  

If that’s you, go for it!  Be a dual citizen.  Live in two congregations and don’t look back, you are much closer to seeing what would be an accurate view of Christian worship than someone who experiences one style every week for the rest of their life.

3. The Mad Hopper:

Can you believe they would change the carpet that your great grandmother donated in 1902!  The nerve!  I don’t know how you could ever set foot in such a disrespectful church again! 

Look, we all get mad.  We all have issues with worship, and personality conflicts with leaders.  Sometimes we get hurt.  Sometimes our relationships become so broken and painful we need to move on.  Is it the ideal?  No.  Would it be better to live in a world where there is no death, or mourning or crying or pain?  Yes.  

We don’t live in that world. If you need to leave a church because of broken relationships, it’s ok.  I would encourage you to do it with a lot of care and grace, and after seeking to make peace and reconcile with those who you hurt and have hurt you. But, if leaving means you can be free to worship, do it.

I can tell you as a pastor, that most of the people I have seen come because they were mad at another church end up spending time at our church resting and healing and then go back home after a while.

And, let’s be completely honest, people don’t leave church over changing carpet.  There is always something way deeper than great grandmother’s carpet.  If you are leaving, deal with the real issue, and if you are talking about someone who has left, don’t make them out to be so shallow.

4. The Free Spirit:

I was in high school the first time I met a truly “free spirit” in the church hopping sense.  A friend of mine had attended the youth group I had attended on Wednesday nights (that’s right you caught me… I was a dual resident in my teens) and just dropped out.  

A couple weeks later I saw him at a revival service at another church and asked him where he’d been.  “Man, I’m just following the move of the Spirit, and it is moving strong here like it was at your place a couple months ago.”  I wasn’t sure what to say, and I was relieved when the band took away the awkward silence.

This is the one I have most trouble with because it is so far from my personality.  I like to get to know people, I like to have roots, and I think for me (and for most people) this is the most healthy way to journey through faith.  But as soon as I say that a couple faces pop up in my mind of dear friends who are not like me.  They don’t stay in one place for long.  They don’t spend their whole lives in one career, and the only people bothered by it are others.  They like their nomadic life.

To those people I would say you still need community, you cannot practice Christianity in isolation, but that community can be in your home on Tuesday nights or over Skype a couple times a month.  You can make roots that are a bit more flexible than most everyone else’s, but you probably already know that.

Be free!

I say all of this to say, let go of any guilt or shame you have if you are a church hopper.  It doesn’t make you a second class Christian.  It doesn’t make you a horrible person.  The body of Christ extends beyond any denominational boundary and definitely beyond any church property line. 

When we hold membership in a single congregation or denomination up too high we start to miss the central call of Jesus on our lives.  Jesus didn’t say to follow Grace United Baptist Reformation Community Church, and as much as I love the man, Jesus didn’t say to follow John Wesley either.  His call was simple:  Follow Me.  So, do that.  Follow Jesus.

Behind the Scenes with Old Saint Nick

 Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas

The person known as Santa to us has developed over many years, coming through a merger/acquisition between Sinterklass and Father Christmas inc. in western Europe after Sinterklass’ fame surged as a result of a book highlighting his exploits in the 19th century.  

There was of course the dark period when Sinterklaas was outlawed in the 16th and 17th century mainly because Martin Luther didn’t like his Catholic heritage. Luther encouraged people to celebrate ChristKindle (the Christ Child) instead, but his new term ironically morphed over time into Chris Kringle.  

It all started with a holiday named Saint Nicholas Day (December 6) that celebrated a pretty cool guy named Saint Nicholas. Before Nicholas was “saint,” he was born to a wealthy family on the coast of what is modern day turkey.  He spent his early life in school and church waking up to celebrate communion before dawn with his family each Sunday.  

Unfortunately, his life was not to be all candy canes and wrapping paper.  When Nicholas was only eighteen years old his mother and father passed away.  Though the young Nicholas took it well, he wanted to spend some time contemplating the direction of his life.  He now had a huge inheritance and total independence.  After much prayer, he decided to spend his life and money in the same way: however God wanted.  

It was at that point that the young man Nicholas began to work in the church.  As he was preparing for the ministry, he became aware of a family in his town that was in a precarious position.  There was a father who had three daughters who was desperately poor and was not going to be able to provide a dowry for the daughters when they came of age.

This may not seem like the end of the world to us, but in the world of Nicholas in the late 200s this meant a life of prostitution for the man’s daughters.  Nicholas would not allow that to happen.  So, on the eve of the eldest daughter’s coming of age, Nicholas went out in the middle of the night and tossed a bag filled with a portion of his inheritance through the window to save the life of the eldest daughter.  The next morning the family awoke to salvation in the form of a small purse filled with money.  

Nicholas repeated the act of kindness with the second daughter.  When it came time for the third daughter to receive this extravagant gift, the father decided he would wait up all night to see if he could catch a glimpse of this generous saint.  Like clockwork Saint Nicholas walked up to the house and tossed the purse through the window.  The father leapt to his feet and ran outside thanking Nicholas profusely.  Nicholas gave a simple response.  He asked that the man not tell anyone that the gifts came from him.

The rest of his life was a roller coaster that saw him ordained bishop around 35 years of age, imprisoned for being a church leader shortly thereafter, released by Constantine and being one of the bishops in attendance at the Council of Nicea.  In spite of his success and eventual fame, he followed the same pattern of generosity throughout his life.  

In that area, people would often leave their shoes outside at night.  When Saint Nicholas heard of a need in a community he was serving, he would go out under the cover of darkness, take a portion of his own funds, and leave it in the shoes of the family in need.  

No wonder within a short amount of time after his death Nicholas was one of the most popular names in the region. No wonder he was one of the most painted saints (second only to the Virgin Mary). No wonder his powerful memory has pushed through the centuries making it all the way to today.

It’s funny though that we have taken this model of selfless, anonymous giving and made him the justification for a particular sort of selfishness that surfaces this time of year.  I am hoping to be different this year.  I am going to try my best to honor the memory of Saint Nicholas and make this Christmas about reaching out to those in need and helping them without any credit.  Imagine the power of Christmas if we all followed Nicholas’ example.  Here’s hoping for a happier holiday!

If you are interested in more Saint Nicholas Background, you can get a full chapter of it in Investigating Christmas!


What if I'm not 100% Sure I Believe?

 No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition

No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Every once in a while, in a moment of complete honesty, someone sitting in my office whispers a confession: “But, I’m just not 100% sure.  I mean, I think I believe, but what if I’m wrong?  What does that mean?  What do I do with that?”

Often, the person sitting in my office is looking around to see if agents of Spanish inquisition are going to burst through the door and cart them off for their heretical confession.  For many this is the first time they have ever mentioned this to anyone. They have lived alone with this doubt for far too long.

The reality is that most of the world lives well below the 100% mark, even ministers and priests and monks, even major players in the Bible.

That’s right, even the “big names” of faith in the Bible question.  In fact, I find that every time I think I have come up with a new way to question my faith, I find someone in the Bible having the exact same struggles, and these aren’t the minor characters either.

Ever had the whole, “It would be a whole lot easier to believe in God if you could see God” question?  Moses was right there.  After following pillars of cloud and fire right through a parted red sea and receiving the ten commandments, Moses pressed God for visible confirmation in Exodus 33:18.  

Have you ever felt like God had completely forgotten about you?  Felt that God wasn’t keeping up God’s end of the bargain?  David knows exactly what you are going through.  The Psalms are FULL of verses like Psalm 13:1 that say things like “How long will you forget me?”

Don’t even get me started on the number of people in the Bible who asked for (ok, a bunch of them were skating pretty close to demanding) proof from God.  Even one of Jesus’ disciples, who had spent three years watching Him raise the dead, heal sick people and talk to strangers like he’d been reading their mail, wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead until he put his hand in the holes in Jesus’ body (I know, gross).

That’s just the people in the Bible!  If you thumb through the writings of almost any major church leader or saint, you will find lives lived in pursuit God in the face of doubt and question.  They all doubted.  They all questioned.  None of them had 100% belief 100% of the time.

I say all of that to say that if you aren’t 100% sure you believe, you’re in good company!  As it turns out, 100% belief is far from a pre-requisite for a life of faith.  As far as this pastor is concerned, having doubts and questions is a sign of spiritual health.  It means that you are seriously engaging with faith in a God that is not bound by human ability and cannot be completely understood by even our best minds.

Let yourself off the hook of being 100% sure. Grab a friend; hang out with the pastor in your life and question together! 

This article first appeared on AL.com

>>Read More: The Church Could Use a Few More Skeptics

The Real Problem with Our Kids and Social Media

Many of the problems online stem from the same root cause and if we don’t find a work around, we will endanger the long-term welfare of our children.  I know that statement sounds extreme, but I believe that the root problem at the center of all the social media woes people like to blog about (cyber-bullying and the like) is one that is inhibiting our kids'  basic psychosocial development in the years from 10-18.  

At these stages, children/teens are developing many fundamental skills that allow them to understand and relate with their world.  They are learning how to interpret social cues, how to offer accurate snapshot impressions of themselves, how to deal with interpersonal conflict/pain, and through all of this they are developing an understanding of who they are in the world.

Those tasks are not completed by reading a book or even by spending time in a therapist’s office.  They are learned by interacting with people in the real world.  

Kids go to school and make an offhand comment about a friend’s clothes. When they see their friend’s face fall, they realize that people can be hurt by offhand remarks about their appearance.

At another time while meeting someone new, they begin sharing about something too personal for a new acquaintance only to see the person squirm and walk away.  They realize that it is important to begin getting to know people with less intense subjects.

Later, they are sitting with a group of friends and make a sexual comment only to see how uncomfortable most people are at that age with the subject, and they learn that sexuality is something more private and intimate.

These all happen best when they happen through non-mediated communication.  Let me explain what I mean by that term.  Every way that we engage with others that is not full-on face-to-face interaction is a mediated form of communication.  If we are talking on skype, there is a screen and a lack of personal presence, if we are talking on the phone, we loose the visual cues.  If we text, we loose the intonation cues.  On and on. 

With each successive level of mediation, we loose a lot of information.  After all, who hasn’t had a friend read a text the wrong way and get offended?

In the world of social media, we generally loose another level of interaction: immediacy.  This means that a person can log on to a social media platform, make a post, and hours later have a friend read it, get hurt by it, and go to sleep upset. By the time the friend got hurt, our original poster was watching an episode of their favorite show on Netflix.  

The original poster has no idea that they hurt their friend, they did not get the immediate feedback so they could learn how those words affect people. In fact, by the time they receive any of that, they may have lost all memory of what was going on in their head when they made the post. 

That is a problem because the more mediated the communication is during this crucial season of development, the less our kids are able to grow and learn how to live and be in this world.

So, we all throw our computers and iPhones away and ban our kids from engaging in social media, right?  Nope, that could be as dangerous to our kids’ future as the opposite.  Our world is moving more and more into making online a primary mode of communication, and in order to succeed in the future our kids need to be fluent in this language.  

I think they're are a couple of first steps.  I am sure there will be many more.  

First, our kids need community of people monitoring their online interactions and helping them understand what is happening on the other side of the screen.  They need parents and teachers and ministers who are engaging with them online AND in person to help them develop while engaging in this medium. 

Second, we need to make sure we discuss social media implications when we are processing big ideas.  At church we might say “How do you love your neighbor when you are on snapchat?”  It needs to be part of how we process all our life so that we help plant those initial concepts in the minds of our kids.

Last, we need more personal interaction.  That means when we see kids studying over Skype with a friend, we offer to get the friend and bring them over.  It also means encouraging our kids to put their phones down when they are with friends, or if they have to have it out, to share the experience with the person sitting next to them.

It is a problem, but it is not an impossible problem.  If we take time to think about what is going on and take some simple steps we might be able to succeed at only damaging our kids as much as our parent’s generation damaged us!

Am I a Hypocrite?

Hypocrisy points to one of the deepest truths in the universe that seems to be written into the core of our existence.  We know at the deepest level that it is wrong for us to say/believe one thing and do the opposite. This principle is the everyday expression of a profound truth: knowledge has claims on action.

Whenever we come to know that something is true it cannot merely become a bit of information stored in our brain.  We must live in accordance with this newfound truth.  When a child discovers that touching a hot car in the parking lot causes pain, they must stop touching hot cars.  When we discover that betraying a friend hurts us and them we must stop betraying people.  When we learn that 5+5=10, we must give at least ten dollars when we buy two five dollar items.

I know that seems elementary, but this reality has serious implications when it comes to how we live in the world as Christians and do ministry as the church.  If we, for example, believe that Jesus offers us an example of how to live AND that Jesus loves us exactly as we are and calls us to be more, that has very practical claims on how we live our lives.

We simply cannot live a life of constant condemnation and rejection.  We cannot separate ourselves from the “sinners” in our world.  We have to accept them.  We have to love all the best parts of who they are just as they are.  

At the same time, we cannot be passive people.  With anyone who will allow us, we have to be about helping people grow, and we have to be about striving to be who God wants us to be.  

It is the same for the church.  There is no place for judgmental exclusivism.  There is no place for passive acceptance.  If we are to live out our beliefs our churches have to be a place where people are loved, accepted, and challenged to grow.

That is just two beliefs!  Just imagine if we sought to express all of our beliefs about God in our lives and ministry!  It's time to discover if we are hypocrites. It's time to take a moment to look at your beliefs about God and ask a simple question:  How does this belief tell me to live?

As for the church, I think it’s time for us to take a break from whatever the latest ministry fad we are following and figure out how beliefs tell us we should be doing ministry.  In fact, that is the main premise of my book Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry, If you want a field guide for working this out, you can get it from Seedbed or Amazon.  Let me know how it helps!

>>> Read More: The Church is Full of Hypocrites

The Secret Behind Questions about Faith

“What if I’m not 100% sure if I believe?”  There are ton of questions like these.  You know the ones.  They are the questions we never say because we think (for a reason totally unclear to this pastor) that we should know the answer already.  How many times have you wondered, “How do I know the sound of God’s voice?” or “Is there truth in other religions?”  I bet more than people think.

I’m going to let you in on a secret, everyone (even pastors… even me) have these sorts of fundamental questions about the faith.  Having those questions doesn’t mean you are less spiritual than you should be, and it doesn’t mean you are in some sort of state of spiritual babyhood that should embarrass you. 

In fact, having those sorts of questions indicates a level of spiritual health.  It is not that a lack of knowledge indicates spiritual health; rather, the what is showing spiritual health is the ability to know what you don’t know and have questions.   Assuming you have all the answers you need generally means you have stalled in your spiritual growth and its time to give yourself a little push.

What’s the solution?  There’s two.  For those of you who have questions, ask them.  In your Sunday school class, with your christian friends, ask the question!  You will not only discover that others have wondered these things as well, but will have given yourself fellow investigators to help discover the answer you need.  

For those of us who haven’t really given time to thinking about these sorts of root-level questions, it’s time to take a look.  That’s the second solution.  It may have been a long time since you spent time considering how it is that someone knows something is a sin, or whether or not church attendance is central to faith, but it’s time to step back and look for where your questions are located.  It’s time to give yourself an opportunity to sure up the weak areas of your faith understanding.

This sort of probing and questioning is nothing to be afraid of and definitely nothing to be embarrassed about.  That is why we are going to be exploring all of those and several other questions this fall.  We’d love to see you at five at our church (they'll also be on my podcast), but if not, ask those questions anyway!  Check out this lineup of great questions:

9/7 What if I’m not 100% sure I believe?
9/14 Why does the church ignore greed and gluttony?
9/21 Who is right about the Bible?
9/28 How do I know the sound of God’s voice?
10/5 How can you tell if it’s a sin? 
10/12 Is there truth in other religions?
10/19 Do I really have to go to church?
10/26 Should I feel guilty about enjoying earthly pleasures?

A New Community for Wesleyan Youth Ministry

I believe that the love-driven, grace-filled theology of John Wesley is uniquely suited to help the next generation grow closer to Jesus.  

I have watched as they have shut down while listening to another guilt-driven evangelist’s plea. I have seen them become disenchanted with a faith that didn’t help them make earth look more like heaven, and I have counseled them as they dealt with questions that had been silenced by well-meaning Christians.

I did this knowing all along the way wishing that there was a stronger voice for the Wesleyan theology I used to heal the wounds and awaken their souls.

The problem is, it can be difficult to find published youth ministry resources that come from that beautifully Wesleyan perspective that highlights how the fullness of God’s grace and blessing is offered to everyone everywhere.  It is hard to find youth resources with that grace-filled theology that maintains a steadfast hold on personal and social holiness.

That is why I was beyond excited when I began a conversation with a thoroughly Wesleyan publisher who wanted to offer this very specific voice to the youth ministry world.  It is why I am so happy to be announcing today the launch of the Youth Ministry Collective... a new voice in the Wesleyan youth ministry world.

We have gathered many of the most successful and innovative youth ministers from all over the United States with a single goal: offering distinctly Wesleyan youth minister resources for the church.

All that talk about theology can worry some people because youth ministry is not merely about theological abstractions.  Our commitment is to be intensely practical and theologically Wesleyan.  

That means that there will be games offered every week as well as monthly theological reflection.  There will be couching and tips and lessons rolling out throughout each month all for free because we want to see another great awakening.

From there, we will keep on building this Wesleyan voice through books, curriculum and whatever the Holy Spirit decides to grow within this group of youth ministry rock stars.  I hope you come by and meet this incredible team: youthministrycollective.com  Keep coming, there’s new stuff coming several times each week!

 

 

You Know More about God Than You Think

Let's start with a simple truth most people know intuitively: God loves everyone.  Not only that, he offers the fullness of his grace to them at all times even before they choose to follow Jesus. (1)  Wesleyans call this the “wooing grace” grace of God.  It is part of what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon when he explains that God “… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45).  In other words, God blesses everyone whether or not they believe in him.

God not only blesses everyone, he communicates to everyone.  Romans 1:19 clearly states that God calls out to the world through what has been made.  Every time someone has seen a sunset or held a newborn, they have been hearing the voice of God calling out to them. 

All of that without a single loving word from a believer or a single page of the Bible to read.  Why?  Why does God do all this?  Because he loves every single person he created, and he wants to have a relationship with them all.

This wooing grace changes everything! It has a massive impact on everything spiritual.  We no longer see ourselves as “bringing Jesus” to some lost soul.  Rather, we recognize that Jesus has been at work in the life of every person from the moment they were born.  

Our conversations about faith with non-believers are no longer based on fear and judgement, but on helping name the God they already know in part.  We say things like, “I bet you know more about God that people think.” We begin talking about Jesus by recognizing that “I bet you have experienced God more than most people know.”  We say these things not as some trick or clever technique, but because they’re true!

This beautiful Wesleyan perspective is uniquely fitting for life in a pluralistic world where proselytizing is taboo and demeaning other religions is unacceptable.  Into that world we are able to come with grace and love helping people see that God has been at work in their lives from the beginning.  God has never stopped loving them, and never will.  And, if they are willing he will bless them with an even more full life lived in relationship with Him.

All of this is to say, take heart.  You are not some pioneer out in the wilderness of a sinful world trying to convince people to buy something they’ve never seen and walk down a path they’ve never known existed.  God has gone before you preparing the way.  All you have to do is be available to the Holy Spirit and help convey the wooing love of a God who wants to set your friends, neighbors, and colleagues free!

>>> Read More:  Wesley for the Broken Hearted Lover

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1. This idea of God offering the fullness of his grace to everyone (even those who have not yet chosen to follow god) is a key component of Wesleyan theology which is the stream from which I come. 

The Church is Full of Hypocrites (Kind of)

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"Why would I want to go to church and sit next to John Bibby while he acts all holy when I know for a fact that he is cheating on his wife?"  I knew what was coming next.  I knew the criticism my friend was about to level against the church just down the street from his house.  "The church is full of hypocrites!"

It's true.  John Bibby was cheating on his wife and if you walk into any church this Sunday, you are probably going to sit in the pew right next to someone who is a habitual liar, abusive to their family, drinking more than they should, or, dare I say it, eating more than they should.  

You will likely see people whom you have heard utter a choice word about their boss, cheated on their taxes or lied to their spouse. The church is full of people like that.  But the fact that they aren't perfect isn't what makes them hypocrites.

Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another, right?  What makes this all hypocritical is not one's imperfect life, but the fact that the definition of Christianity is tied to some level of holy perfection.  To be a Christian is to be someone who is close to sinless. 

Not really.  At the most fundamental level, to be a Christian means to recognize the exact opposite of that definition.  

The Bible is clear:  Every person sins. Not only that, but we neither have the power to rid ourselves of sin nor the power to repair the brokenness it creates in our lives and in our relationship with God.  The teachings of all Christian denominations say that Jesus is the answer to that problem.  He is the only way that a sinner can deal with his or her sin.  Following him is the only path that leads away from the fractured life created by sin gone unchecked.

What does that mean about Christianity? Being a Christian means recognizing that you are sinful and cannot deal with it on your own.  You cannot fix it, and you need the unconditional grace of a forgiving God to heal the wounds.  

From there, we try to grow in holiness.  When that desire for change gets filtered through our brokenness, it can be expressed sometimes as judgmentalism and at other times as permissive acceptance -- which shouldn't be a surprise knowing that our first step is recognizing that we are hopelessly messed up.  

All of that begs the question: Why do Christians allow the holier-than-thou definition of our faith to persist and make us look like hypocrites?  To be completely honest, I'm not really sure.  Maybe it makes people feel better than the person across the street, or maybe it helps them hide the things they do that make them ashamed.  

All of that is to say that if you know you are broken and are looking for a place to experience healing, forgiveness and restoration, if you are well aware of your own sin and could use a community of sinners to support your quest to change, give that church full of hypocrites down the street a try.  There is grace, forgiveness and healing available to all who ask.

From: Al.com

>>>Read More: 5 Simple Ways to Keep Skeptics Out of the Church

Why Purity Rings Don't Work (and How to Fix It)

Take your pick of teen sex curriculum for churches and you will find a common outcome for the majority of them: a purity pledge often accompanied by a purity ring.  Since this focus has been so widespread and been going on for so long, we have more than what we need for a scientific study on its effectiveness.

You probably know what’s coming.  After doing a large, scientific study around the effect of purity rings and pledges, Janet E. Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that “Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,”(1)

No effect at all.  Teens who made these commitments started having sex at the same age, with the same number of partners, as if they had done nothing at all.

Which begs the question:  Why?

For that, we need to dive into another field of science:  Economics.  It may surprise you that Economics studies much more than money.  In fact, the field is all about trying to study how complex problems work and how different incentives affect those complex interactions (kind of like how purity rings might affect the overwhelmingly complex world of sexuality in teens).

In economic terms, the purity ring or pledge is something called a commitment device.  That is a device used to make your future self do something that the current self is having a hard time doing.  The problem is that these sorts of methods are notoriously bad at producing the intended result.

Steven Levitt, a renown economist and best-selling author explains that as clever as your current self is at devising these commitment devices, “the future self desperately wants whatever is being denied and finds ways around it.” (2)

That’s not to say that commitment devices don’t ever work, but they are often not nearly powerful enough to work.  That is what is going on with the purity rings.  They simply aren’t powerful enough.  Violating the pledge or ring carries no tangible consequences.  In fact, the only consequences it carries are guilt after it is broken, and guilt is a poor motivator.  Generally all guilt succeeds at is making sure people hide things.

But that’s not the most concerning part.  The thing that this commitment device does succeed at is very dangerous.  Though I have my own opinions as to why, the the Johns Hopkins Study found that people who sign purity pledges and wear purity rings are far more likely to NOT use any sort of protection their first time having sex.

When well-meaning people do a great job at getting teens to pledge to not have sex until they are married, they are doing nothing to prevent pre-marital sex while at the same time causing the teens to be more likely to not use a form birth control like a condom.

What do we do?

This definitely doesn’t mean the church should stop talking about sex.  It also doesn’t mean that we should stop encouraging abstinence.  It means that our job is just not as easy as we had hoped.  The solution to helping teens stay sexually pure isn’t as simple as getting them to sign a card or wear a ring.  

Which means that we can drop all the time and energy spent on pushing those things and use that time in a more productive way.  What is that way?  I thought you’d never ask!

We need to be equipping teens with the knowledge and tools they need to make better decisions and get better at self control.  Rather than drawing an arbitrary line in the sand about “how far is too far”  we need to help them understand why certain physical expressions of love are appropriate in some relationships and not others.  

Instead of practicing some form of “just say no,” we need to teach them decision methods that can help them process big issues and help them see right from wrong when they are alone in their boyfriend/girlfriend's house.

All of this needs to be seen in light of God’s presence in the world.  All of this needs to be placed within the context of scripture and discerned in partnership with other members of the Body of Christ.

All of this is what was behind my approach to Sex education in the new UMC Resource Sex: A Christian Perspective on our Bodies, Decisions, and Relationships.  It doesn’t have a purity pledge, nor does it tell students to draw a line somewhere between holding hands and having intercourse.  

Rather, it seeks to equip young students (6th-8th grade) with what they need to live out holy lives in relation to their sexuality.  I hope you’ll check it out.  It’s available for download (coming) or on a USB thumb drive (now). 

>>>READ MORE: 5 Simple Ways to Recruit and Keep Volunteers

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1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801588.html?hpid=topnewshttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801588.html?hpid=topnews

2. http://freakonomics.com/2012/02/02/save-me-from-myself-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

Going to the Movies with Jesus

Which Jesus is the real one?  Every time I go see another Jesus movie, I am faced with a new version of the Son of God, and I have to ask myself, which is the best?  Which is closest to the real thing, and more importantly, why are they all so different?

All of these films show us Jesus through the eyes of a certain time and place.  Though they have the same subject and similar plot every decision, every casting, every word in the screenplay is made by people who have a particular understanding of Jesus.  From the pacifist Jesus in the 1961 King of Kings to the Hippie Jesus in Godspell, we see much more than Jesus, we see how Jesus looks to the creative hearts of the writers, directors, and actors.  
 
The first talking american film that focused on Jesus as the primary character and story was produced in 1961.  Directed by Samuel Bronson, King of Kings tells the story by expanding the roles of four of the supporting characters in the Gospel.  Through the Roman soldier who saw Jesus die on the cross (here names Lucius), Barrabbas (the Jewish prisoner released by Pilate), Judas (the disciple who betrays Jesus), and Mary (mother of Jesus), we see a messiah of peace and love who lives much closer to the side of pacifism than the oppressive political environment portrayed by the setting in a Roman-ruled province.  

It is a fascinating and incredibly entertaining depiction of this powerful story that everyone should have the pleasure of seeing and it is the first film in the line up for the Imago Dei Film Festival we are hosting at our church.  

Whether or not you live in Mobile and can come watch movies with us, looking at these films is important.  It's important because through these films we not only get to explore the story of Jesus but see how far too often we re-make Jesus in our own image so that he fits comfortably in our life.  We discover parts of Jesus' story we have forgotten along the way in the service of our own re-make.  

Maybe after looking at Jesus through so many different lenses, we might be able to get a good idea of who the real Jesus is and how he is challenging us to live in our world.

Question for the Comments:  What Jesus Movie is Your Favorite?  

>>> Read More: I Don't Like Christian Art (usually)

The Best Sermon You'll Ever Hear

Over 2,000 years ago Jesus delivered the Sermon on the mount to a crowd full of religious people and heathens, men and women, fishermen and tax collectors, powerful and weak.  This sermon did more than just tell them what they wanted to hear.  It challenged them to be more than who they were.  It challenged them to reach beyond their biases and traditions to take hold  of their role in the Kingdom of God.  I delivered that sermon as a sermon in the Newsong Service at Christ UMC.  I want to share that with you here.  

Question for the Comments: What words of Jesus most bothered you?

>>> Read More:  Which Magic Words Get Me Into Heaven?

We Just Don't Do That (The Youth Minister Code)

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There is a rule we live by as youth pastors (a code if you will) that joins us all together as fellow laborers in the body of Christ.  There are things that we agree to refrain from for the good of the kingdom of God and the health of our flock. From time to time it is good to remind ourselves what it is and why it is so important to stay connected to each other.

We don’t bash each other.  No matter if you found out that the youth pastor across the street is giving out $100 bills at his weekly gathering for new people (actually happened), we do not talk bad about them.  We praise them for whatever we can find (even if it is just a nice fashion sense), and we say something good.  We don’t critique their style of ministry, we don’t comment on their lack of focus on “depth.”  We don’t even point out how many churches they’ve been at in the past year.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Recruit Kids from Other Churches.  Numbers are not so great this time of year, and as you are meeting the BFF of one of your core students you think they might be interested in coming to camp.  Then, you find out she goes to another church.  Though you may know it would take just a nudge to get her to start coming to your church, you resist the temptation.  Instead you praise her youth minister for her nice fashion sense and talk about how much their church rocks.  We don’t bash her youth pastor (see #1), we don’t talk about how our church has something that is better than her church.  We don’t even ask her to try it out with her friend.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Stay in Our Office.  As much as it might make the church secretary happy to have you at your desk whenever a call comes through, we don’t do that.  The church does not exist within the walls of the building we call “a church.”  The church is the people in the world, and you are called to minister to them.  You go to where they are, help with their Christian club, chaplain the polo team, or volunteer in the front office.  We don’t avoid our bad memories of the lunchroom by staying in our office, we don’t schedule every second so we can’t get out.  We don’t even use a hostile culture as an excuse to stay away.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Confuse Ministry with Friendship.  There is a need for us all to be accepted and that need was never more pronounced and filled with hurt and worry than when you were a teen.  But even if the cool kids ask you to hang out, we don’t start thinking of teens as friends. The youth you are ministering to are not your peers, they do not need another friend, they need a minister.  They need someone to care for, nurture, and protect their soul.  We don’t invite kids to our party and we don’t take sides in relationship drama.  We don’t even post pictures of teens online calling them “my friends.” We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Meddle When its Over.  At some point you will get a new job and move on.  When that happens the new girl is going to do things differently and may even change your favorite thing.  People are going to call you and ask what you think they should do, and students are going to try and avoid connecting with the new person out of loyalty to you.  When that happens, we don’t keep taking every call from the old place; we don’t ever respond to a request for what we think about the new person or how they do things (see #1).  We don’t even have a Bible study with the old group.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Undermine Parents.  You have your own parenting style (or idea of what your style will be).  At some point a student is going to come up to you and tell you the story of how their parents did something to them that you think is not the best way to handle that as a parent.  You are going to want to side with the student and tell them how wrong their parent is, but we don’t.   We will build up their parent and praise them as if they were a fellow youth pastor.  We don’t talk bad about their parents, and we don’t act like we are their parents.  We don’t even make jokes about how lame their parents act.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Turn Denominations into Gangs. I know that you believe strongly in once-saved-always-saved or that God’s grace is offered freely to all people or that free will is an absolute, irrefutable reality of existence, and that’s fine.  It’s fine that you appreciate your doctrinal heritage but we can sometimes start sounding like our fellow Christians who believe differently than us are the enemy who must be defeated at all cost.  Though we may want to produce teens who believe identical to us, we don’t make out other denominations to be foolish or unintelligent, and we don’t act like our group has everything right.  We don’t even ignore other churches and never team up for city-wide events.  We just don’t do that.

Question for the comments: I know I have missed one or two.  What about you?  What parts of the code did I miss?

From YouthWorker Movement

>>>Read More: 5 Simple Tips to Recruit and Keep Volunteers

 

Make Sense of the Bible with These Questions

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It is hard for me to read the Bible sometimes much less understand it.  Part of the problem is that the words were written thousands of years ago and aren’t immediately accessible for a reader in the 2000s. Most of the time I find that the problem is that I am reading too quickly and not spending time seriously processing and thinking about what I’m reading.  

Over the years, I have developed several questions to help me concentrate on the text, understand it, and apply it to my life.  Here are three of those go-to questions:

1. What is the big meaning? 

This may seem obvious, but as we all know, when someone says something like “How do I look in this dress” there can be many meanings, and the literal meaning is not always the most true meaning.  

When reading the Bible, if the literal meaning is it, hone it down to a fine point.  If it says “Love one another”  then ask how?  Look for clues in the surrounding verses.  What was being talked about before?  What was being talked about after?

How do you know if the truth of a passage is something beyond the simple, literal meaning?  Check out this article on understanding when to take the Bible literally.

2. What would this look like today?

Sometimes it takes some imagination to really understand a passage.  Take a moment to imagine it happening at your dinner table or by the coffee pot at work. What would be modern-day equivalents to what is said and done?  How would you react?  How would the people around you react?

3. What is the turning point?  

Often times, passages pivot at a specific moment, and noticing where that occurred can give you tremendous insight into what was going on or being argued.  Take a moment to look for that turning point, and once you’ve identified it ask how its role as the turning point informs the rest of the passage.

These are just a few, but the most important lesson here is: SLOW DOWN.  Think about what you are reading. Turn it over in your mind and allow it to speak to your life and form your soul.

For the Comments:  What questions do you use to help you get more out of your Bible reading?

>>>Read More: 3 Questions to Un-Boring the Bible

 

Curing Religious Hypocrisy

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I know it is rare to find religious hypocrisy today, but that was far from the case in the first century. Hypocrisy was rampant, and Jesus spent much of his time teaching people the cure.

In the first century, the church was divided. As odd as it may sound, though they worshipped the same God, they allowed theological distinctives to divide them. Some believed in an afterlife, some didn’t, and others said it really wasn’t an important discussion.

But the crazy thing is that these groups acted as if they were not worshipping the same God. They met in different places, had different leaders, and some refused to talk to the others!

Each group even had its own ceremonial bath outside the temple and would charge a fee to use it. When you did, it not only fulfilled your ritual requirement, but meant you were signing up for their sub-group. Which did Jesus choose? Was he pro-afterlife, pro-mortality, or pro-this-doesn’t-matter?

How about none of the above? Instead of giving into the isolating sub-groupings, Jesus went out to a river. He opted out of the whole system altogether.

If only theological division were the end of it. The hypocrisy went on to compromise one of the most important pieces of their faith: personal holiness. Holiness was important because God’s people were supposed to live as an example to the world. It was a blessing to seek to try to live more and more like God. But they completely missed the point.

God’s people were using their personal holiness to inflict pain on the rest of their world. Some were so consumed with self-righteousness that they actually thought they had stopped sinning!

What was Jesus’ cure? How did he respond? In a confrontation with some of these self-righteous religious leaders, Jesus pointed out that he had only come for the “sick” people.

Jesus didn’t yell or get into a theology debate. He let their self-righteousness do what it does so well: paralyze their growth and alienate them from those who need help.

Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus took it upon himself to rescue the victims of self-righteous attacks. Jesus stepped in between the hate-fueled rocks and the shamed soul about to be stoned because of her sin. Jesus reminded those wielding holiness as a weapon that if sin required death, then everyone should be executed.

The pinnacle of the first-century hypocrisy was hung on the wall of their church building. God’s people were supposed to be the means by which God blessed all the nations. Yet, on the wall of their church was a sign that read “the foreigner who passes this wall will bear the responsibility for their resulting death.”

How did Jesus react? What was his remedy for the height of religious hypocrisy? He turned over the tables that were in front of this wall. He used their own scriptures to remind them that this place was to be a place of prayer for all the nations. He reminded them that God had destroyed their church walls before and would do it again.

I know it’s hard to imagine 2,000 years later a world where church people separate themselves from non-churchgoers, where people of faith become self-righteous, and where those who are worshipping the same God fight amongst themselves over theological nuance.

If we ever did find ourselves in a place filled with this sort of religious hypocrisy, we could take heart to know that Jesus showed us the cure.

Jesus showed us the way to focus on our God rather than the unimportant theological minutiae.

He showed us that holiness is a gift, not a weapon.

Most of all, Jesus showed us that no religious idea or structure can separate us from his love and grace. It is available to everyone everywhere. All we have to do is ask.

via AL.com

>>>Read More: The Little Sin that Went Mainstream

Make Your Life Twitteriffic

You don’t have to tweet every thought on Twitter to know how pervasive this platform has become in our world.  The service has grown from zero nine years ago to over 500 million users, and has changed how the world communicates and interacts.  They have been the vehicle for everything from political revolution to the taste of your morning coffee.

So, how can we harness their success for our own life? What lessons can we learn? I thought you’d never ask:

1. Make a Life Pivot - Twitter did not start as a way to post little bits of text for the world to see.  In fact, they began as a company called Odeo that was a tool to help people make and use podcasts (internet radio/T.V. shows).  However, with one keynote, Steve Jobs made Odeo obsolete and the company had to figure out whether to close their doors or do something different.  After dreaming for a while, they came up with the idea for twitter and then used the resources (staff, funding, etc) within Odeo to build and launch it.  They made a complete pivot and began moving in a totally different direction over the course of several months.

We need this kind of strategy in our life.  There are moments when we look around and realize our life is not what we want it to be. We do not have to be stuck in a life we hate.  Rather, we can use the resources tied up in the life we have now to create the life we want in the future.  It begins by dreaming of what could be.  Once we are captured by a dream of our future we begin to make small steps into that future using what we have on hand.  

2. Make Your Dreams Invitation Only - When Twitter began, the service was not ready for prime time.  It needed a good bit of work, but at some point no amount of tinkering behind the scenes would make the service any better.  They needed some users.  Rather than throw open the gates to the whole world, Twitter decided to make the service invitation only and control who could be part of it until it was ready to receive the full onslaught of the world wide web.

Our dreams are the same way.  Before we share them with the world, there is a bit of tinkering we need to do.  What is the first step?  How long will this take? What is the plan if it fails?  What resources (time, energy, financial, physical) can be dual-purposed to get this off the ground?  Once you have a good idea of where you might head, whatever you do, DON’T POST IT ON TWITTER!  Until your dreams are ready to bear the brunt of criticism and dismissal, have coffee with a couple friends, take your significant other on a date and make it invitation only as those you love help you refine your idea.

3. Crowd-Source Your Life - In the early days it was all Twitter could to to keep the service up and running. There were no resources available to add features. That meant it was up for the users to crowd-source solutions to their problems.  In order to reference a person they began putting an “@“ before that person’s username in their post.  In order to tag a post as being part of an event or a category of similar ideas people began to put a “#” before a keyword.  By the time twitter got around to adding features, the work had been done by the users and they just incorporated them into the group.

I think that at least 10% of my life could benefit from this.  There are many problems that I look at and get stumped knowing that there has to be someone I know that has the solution.  If only I had a way to ask for help from all the random contacts I have throughout life.  Wait… Facebooked!  

Several years ago we were stumped as to how share the Bible with very young children.  We had a couple of ideas but wanted more.  We made one post on Facebook asking for how people did that with this children and unleashed ten or fifteen incredible ideas from the trial and error of our high school friends and former coworkers.  Don’t forget.  These social networks can be useful beyond locating the next funny cat video.  

So, whether you tweet or not, take these lessons of success and maybe your life can be a bit more twitterrific.  If you are a church leader, I wrote an article about how these lessons can help our churches, you should check that one out too!

>>>Read More: Steve Jobs Your Life

10 Things I Want My Boys to Know

  1. God loves you. I am going to do my best to model this for you.  With every fiber of my being I am going to try and act loving no matter what, but even when I don’t I want you to know that God loves you.  You see, God and I are on the same team when it comes to loving you.  No matter what you do or who you are, we love you.  We love you so much that we want to have a relationship with you that helps you grow into a better person, but even if you reject us, we will still love you.  
  2. Dream Big Dreams and Work Hard.  You can do great things.  However, doing great things starts with dreaming big dreams.  So dream big, make big plans, aspire to greatness.  You can do it.  You can be great because there is a simple secret: you can do big things if you are willing to work hard.  Greatness comes by the grace of God and the sweat of your brow, so set your eyes on the sky and work day and night until you are in the clouds!
  3. Sports are Fun Games.  I hope you enjoy sports and being part of a team.  If you want to play, I hope you play with all your might, but even more I want you to know that they are not more important than friends, family, school, work, and God.  In the grand scheme of things they are relatively unimportant, and are not worth sacrificing what IS important.  Which leads me to the next thing.
  4. You Should Fight Big Fights.  While your peers are busy spending their emotions on video games, football, and television, I want you to discover the fights worth fighting.  I want you to get angry about slavery.  I want you to rise up for the poor.  I want you to shout for the victims of injustice.  I am going to do my best to help you find and fight the fights that are really worth your heart and passion.
  5. We are Called to Defend the Poor and Oppressed.  God loves everyone, and has a special place in his heart for those who are poor and oppressed.  I don't want you to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist.  I don’t want you to turn a blind eye to the big issues like homelessness or bullying.  Some people do not have a voice or power, and God wants us to give them our power and voice.
  6. Take Time to Enjoy the Beautiful. I want so much for you to enjoy beautiful things: people, printings and music.  Oh yes, music.  I want you to like it all from Mumford and Sons, Nirvana and Guns and Roses to James Taylor, The Doors and the Beatles. From Norah Jones, Harry Connick Jr., and Frank to George Gershwin, Thomas Luis DeVictoria, and Mozart.   I want you to lose yourself in the work of Michelangelo, Raphael and Monet and have your imagination captured by  Surrat, Picasso and Klee.
  7. Women are Worthy of Respect and Honor.  One of the most beautiful things in creation is a woman.  I want you to see that their beauty comes not from their skin or their clothes but from the image of God within them.  They are incredible comrades and brilliant partners.  Because of all that and because they are human like you, they are worthy of respect and honor.  I want women to feel they are better for having been around you and desire to one day meet someone like you to marry.
  8. Friends Alter your Direction. Don’t fool yourself.  Your friends will help determine where you go and how you act.  They will influence what you think is good and what you treat as funny.  I do not want your friends to choose you.  I do not want you to just hang out with the first person who is nice to you.  I want you to surround yourself with people who are headed where you want to go.
  9. Honesty works.  Your world is filled with lies and people who use half-truths to manipulate others.  But what they don’t know is that everyone, deep down, desires the truth.  Proverbs says that “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips."  When you offer anyone a loving truth, they are better for it and will almost always thank you in the end.  
  10. Be You.  There will be no end of people who try to define you, place you on their path and confine your soul in their box of what they thing you “should” be.  There will be a constant stream of people wanting you to march to the beat of their drum, but you don’t have to.  God created you as a unique, precious gift to this world and being anyone else is depriving us all of the wonder that is you.  So, let go of people pleasing, let go of the need to be like everyone else and be you.  Whoever that is, however that changes, be you.

Question for the Comments:  What is your list?  What would you add?

>>>Read More: Navigating the Career Family Tightrope

The Seven List: Articles You Must Read

These are seven articles that sparked my imagination, made me laugh or helped me act like a human being this week.  Enjoy!

  1. Learn To Dream Again (Four Helpful Steps) - Dayna Bickham goes beyond challenging us to dream to giving four steps that will help spark your dreams.
  2. In Pursuit of Treasure - Christine Mendoza sparked my imagination this week when she pictured studying the Bible as a treasure hunt.
  3. Are You a Fret Fanatic? - Mary DeMuth is giving up fretting for Lent this year.  I am not sure if I can do the same, but her article challenges us to live into the scripture's call to let go of fretting.
  4. How to Fight Feelings of Futility - Donald Miller offers a hand up out of the occasional funk we all get in... I feel like these should be written on a post-it note somewhere for me.
  5. Four Benefits of Planning Well -  Brad Bridges helps you remember why that planning meeting is worth it.  For the non-planners in the crowd, this will let you know what you'r missing.
  6. Sabbath – You’re Probably Doing it Wrong - Erin Jackson offers easy instruction and solid encouragement on what Sabbath is (and isn't), and how you should practice this gift from God.
  7. The Weekend Roundup Roundup - Like lists like this?  Jamie Wright offers a list of lists!  

My Stuff:

  1. Looking for All the Wrong things in the Bible - It turns out that the story of Noah has nothing to do with whether or not there are enough water molecules to cover the surface of the earth.
  2. Tips for getting people to open (and read) your email - What should it say? How should it read? What are the tricks to get people to open it in the deluge of emails that come every day?
  3. Bill Nye and the cancer that is killing the church -  The recent debate between Bill Nye and Dr. Haim put on display that which is eating the church alive from the inside.