The everyday life of a youth pastor involves conversations with students at varying places in their spiritual journey. Some students are loving Jesus and loving their friends, while others hardly acknowledge there is a God, at least not in public. The challenge is in meeting them where they are and encouraging them to move into a deeper relationship with God, thorough Jesus Christ.
It is not unusual for students to get defensive about where they find themselves spiritually. They will tell me that they have been really busy with sports and haven’t had time to come to church. I had one person tell me flat-out that they did not have time for God right now. Other people will describe in great detail the stresses of their day and how tired they are at the end of the day. Usually this ends with the “therefore, I am not able to read my Bible…but I want to.” I find this interesting because my approach is not one of confrontation, but as their advocate. I want to encourage them to see the excellence of Jesus Christ, not feel defeated when they ignore Him. Not knowing the Word does appear to be a problem in general; a problem I am not entirely sure I completely understand. The excuses just indicate that people do realize that they need to be in the Word, but they just don’t know how to make it happen. Is it an issue of priorities? Does it have to do with our media driven society?
On a recent retreat I was talking with some students about people of the Bible. I was shocked with how little they actually knew, and these are church kids! It was a wake up call for me to never assume that they actually know who Moses is, or that Genesis is in the Old Testament. For many people the only Bible they ever hear is when one of us pastors preach it.
Jesus ran into a similar issue among the Pharisees, the people who should have known the scriptures. They presented to Jesus a question regarding the resurrection in Matthew 22. After listening, Jesus said, ” You are in error because you to not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29 Their question was based on a misunderstanding because they didn’t know what the Bible said.
Ephesians 6 takes this into the daily battle for truth as a part of the armor of God, described here as the sword of the Spirit. This was demonstrated for us in Matthew 4 when the devil tempted Jesus in the desert. How did Jesus combat the devil’s misuse of Scripture? He did it by using Scripture and refuting the way the devil used the Word. Given the nature of the world, there is no excuse for our lack of time in the Word because there is no substitute for it.
This whole discussion is a crucial one because in order to be able to answer questions, we need to know what the Bible teaches, or at least how to find it in there. In fact, you could say that knowing and obeying God’s Word is crucial to the believer. Yet, like I said, there are constant excuses to it. This reminds me of Moses and that call God placed on him in Exodus 4. Moses had nothing but excuses for God as he was called to go and ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites free from slavery. He wanted to know if they would believe him, or why God chose him with his speech problem. God’s answer makes sense of this.
“The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:11
The same answer could go for any number of excuses, even the ones about reading the Bible. If God has given this to us to know Him and make sense of this world, then it stands to reason that He will also increase our desire for Him and His Word as we spend time in it. God will teach us, if we open ourselves up to Him. We could each make excuses for everything. I am too busy, fat, lazy, hungry, uneducated, small, young, old to do what God calls. Those things don’t matter to God. What matters is a person willing to come before him and submit themselves to His work. This is why I will continue to encourage students to read their Bibles. The Word matters! It matters right now in their lives, just like it matters in your life. Would you open it up without excuse?
Have you had a time when the Word of God has spoken into a situation? God’s Word is living and active; this is not just another book. Don’t believe me, give it a try. But, please save the excuses.
Over the weekend, my 7-year-old son was invited over to a friend’s house for part of the afternoon. This puts my 4-year-old in somewhat of an awkward place as he tries to figure out what to do with himself. At one point during the day, he wanted me to take him for a bike ride. A bike ride at the end of January? I think so.
Going on a bike ride with him is always an exciting time. It is a lesson in patience, trust and stress management. The first thing he did for me was show me all the rocks that he picked up for me. It was my gift. ”Look, dad, I got you some rocks.” Of course, he wanted me to take them. I told him to put them back on the driveway where he got them. He obliged.
We then took off down the road. When he rides bike he is the only person in the whole world. He immediately enters his zone and swerves, does spontaneous circles, looks at all the trees, plants, birds, cars and anything else that might be in his line of sight. I swear he is listening to his own background track, but I can’t prove it.
“Hey dad, you want to ride through the puddles.” I said no. It was cold enough and I didn’t think puddles were going to be a nice addition to the day.
We turn down a side road and there are still no cars. He proceeds to swerve back and forth across the road. He then shows me how tough his bike is and goes off the road onto the grass, over someone’s rock wall and back on the road. I don’t know how many times I need to remind him to stay on the road, but here is one more. My advice does not seem to matter to him when it comes to staying on the road and also regarding looking where he is going. You would think he would have learned his lesson by now.
In fact, it was just this summer that he did something similar while on the bike path. My wife and two of the boys (before our daughter was born) went for a walk on the bike path. Keep in mind that a walk to my boys means bike ride. She walked, while my 4-year-old rode his bike. He was doing his usual swerve and look around style of riding. However, today it was going to catch up to him. At one point his tire caught the edge of the trail and off the road he went. It just so happened that it was also a hill. He went down the hill and hit a tree and fell off his bike. He survived, but got pretty beat up.
If that isn’t enough of a lesson for him, he still doesn’t look where he is going. ”Hey dad, let’s race.” The whole time he is looking back at me and not in front of him while increasing speed. ”Look where you are going.” He does for a moment and then looks back at me again. This he can get away with on the open road, but while walking it is trickier.
A few months back I took him to the gas station (a.k.a. milk store) to get milk. As we were leaving, he was walking behind me looking at the ground for treasures. All of a sudden I hear this loud metal thud. I look back and he is holding his head and crying. Of course, since I am compassionate, I laughed. He had walked right into a large, obviously placed, light pole. All I could do was try to look somewhat sympathetic while saying “look where you are going!”
This is how many people live their life. I mean how many people go through life, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there is a God who loves them? They might run into things, struggle to survive, attempt to make sense of life and fail, but still not acknowledge God. Why are you looking all around you and not paying any attention to where you are headed? That question all too often falls on deaf ears.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” - Psalm 1:1-2
Think about it. If you are one who has completely ignored the obvious, you have not just walked with sinners, but you have sat down and gotten rather comfortable there. When this happens you are headed for a similar fate as my son. The warnings are right in front of you, the path you are on is dangerous, but you have ignored the Word of God. Bibles need to be opened, read and the truth applied to lives. The Lord’s ways need to be sought after. It is essential to delight in the law of the Lord and to pay attention to the direction you are headed.
You might get away with swerving for a while, but eventually it will catch up with you and a crash is waiting.
I am doing a series on Sundays for the next few weeks highlighting some of my journey into youth ministry. The goal is to highlight God’s work in our life as a family. If you were not here for last week’s start to the series, I would encourage you to read that one first. (Part 1)
As I left off last week, we were in what was feeling like a never-ending cycle of waiting. In August of 2004, we had our first child and started to try to figure out, after many interviews, if God would continue to have me in a place I really never thought I would be. One thing I did realize was that I was learning contentment in various life circumstances.
Another year came and went without a solid lead on a youth ministry position. In a sense, I was all dressed up with nowhere to go. When I did finally get an interview with a church, I was not expecting it to go past the initial phone interview phase. The pastor came and met with me after work in person, which was an encouraging start. We were then invited up there for a weekend to do the candidate weekend thing. This was exciting, since I had never gotten that far in the process. After a few more meetings and conversations, I was hired.
This was amazing! We had a send off at work and packed up everything we owned in a trailer and a van to make the move. The first step was housing. We went and looked at a number of places to rent for a while until we got ready to purchase a home. After some searching, we ended up settling on renting a very large house next to the church that was for sale. The house had been empty for a long time and having us in there was going to be a help to the owners. We were excited about that since we were living in a one bedroom apartment at the time. We were literally loading up the van to leave and the phone rang telling us that the house had sold and we needed to find different housing. After some high-speed searching, we moved into an apartment building, a concession that we made in order to get started quickly. The apartment was small, but it was only the three of us at the time.
The church appeared to be a wonderful fit and we got used to life in a new small town. The town was unique in that it felt like it was stuck in the 1950s for whatever reason. Its antiquated status actually made the local stores much more charming, but also made an outsider look like an obvious outsider. The church appreciated us and things were starting to come together. Finally, I was in ministry like I was called to be.
A few months passed and we were able to purchase our first home. The whole process made us feel much more grown up than we thought we were. It was at this point, though, that things started to change at the church. I am not going to get into details of it all because that is not the point of this story. Let’s just say that there were a number of unresolved issues there that strained relationships. I suddenly felt like the people who had welcomed us, were turning on us. Now what?
This reminds me of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis and how he was sold by his brothers. This seems familiar as people who we thought were with us, showed that they were really not. God had a plan in it, but at the time I had no idea what. All I knew was that I was in the midst of turmoil without any understanding as to why.
This is a confusing place to be. I knew God had called me there without a doubt, but why? What could possibly be in this for us, or for His Kingdom? Why would God do this? This answers would not come until later and I will cover that in the next post. Let me just describe the way things changed for us.
I was ok with working through some issues. Wherever there are people there will be conflict. But, this was no ordinary conflict. It went from being something about ministry and the church to being personal. I was starting to have a hard time separating the two different areas. One Sunday after church, a man came up to me upset about some false information. I couldn’t take it anymore. We left church in a flurry that day. I felt broken and filled with a healthy dose of despair and sadness.
I resigned the next day and we left for a few weeks to visit family and get out-of-town. I remember the confusion during that time and the anger I was feeling. I relate this to Joseph again because Joseph did not immediately see God in it, but when you get to the end of the story he attributes it all to the goodness of God. He knew God had not left him. Deep down I also knew that, it just took a little more time to get some perspective on it all.
During the summer, our son got really sick. I remember one night he was burning hot and I sat with him in the living room and prayed for him while he moaned in my arms. I just didn’t get it all. I remember that night vividly because I felt abandoned and yet I felt like God was right in the midst of it. I was starting to get the sense that God was preparing me for something else and this was part of the process. I knew that He was in control and that He loved me. It was only a matter of time before these things would start to show some purpose. God is truly good and this whole experience was not an exception to that.
This story is to be continued. As I said last week, if I have missed something or if you have a question, please ask.
These days it seems like there are more and more smart phones with no significant change in levels of smart people. I am not talking about simple intelligence. People are still seeming to do quite well in education and other areas of life. I am referring to other areas, especially relationships. There are a few ways that I have seen otherwise smart people do rather foolish things because of their smart phones.
Inside Jokes and Side Conversations -- I don’t know where things have changed. It used to be when someone was talking, that you were to be listening. These days listening means something much different. Listening now means being in the same room with someone, but browsing the internet on your phone and pointing things out to the people around you. Is that not rude? This does not seem real smart to me because there is no way you are actually gaining anything from the people you are with and you certainly aren’t contributing. This pushes people away and distracts everyone. Nope, not smart.
Posting Pictures of Strange Things Online — With a camera always at the ready, people are taking pictures of all kinds of things. Did you make an interesting dish for supper? Did you run into the wall because you were looking at your phone while walking? It is time to take a picture and post it online. I am not sure how smart it is to post pictures of yourself doing embarrassing things or your friends doing embarrassing things. It is even less smart to post things that are illegal online, but alas, people do that too. Not very smart.
Constantly checking in — I know it is fun to click the little “check-in” button and to tell everyone that you are at Target, but really why do you want people to know that? What if it is someplace more embarrassing than that? When people start checking in from restrooms at malls, then we know the line has been crossed. I just don’t think it is too smart to tell people where you are at every moment and it is also not smart for you to think that people care. I mean, we love you, just don’t tell us everything. I like a little mystery. Nope, not smart.
Using Apps for Things You Used to Do -- How hard is it to make a grocery list? Do you need an App to do that for you? I find it takes more effort to put things into an online calendar than to just write it down. Sure, some Apps are useful, but others are just pure laziness. The verdict is still out for me as to how I feel about the Bible App. I mean, sure you don’t have to carry a book around, but the phone is not the same. What happens when the battery runs out and you have forgotten how to write? Or, what about when you have made your list but you drop your phone on the way into the store and someone without a smart phone runs it over out of spite. Not so smart now, are you?
Airing Grievances About Someone on Facebook — In the heat of the moment, someone might grab their smart phone and post a snarky remark about someone online. It is the “shoot first, then aim” approach. Well, sometime soon the person realizes that they were a bit rash, but it is too late. The word is out and spreading like a grass fire in the desert. Sometimes people are so vague that no one knows what the person is upset about. They do know that they will harm the person who did this to their friend, until they realize that the person being referred to is actually them. Not looking too smart.
Relationship Killing - Lastly, something that I have talked about in a recent post with regards to cell phones in youth ministry, is the potential relationship killer that these little devices can be. There you are out with friends and all you are doing is looking at your phone. What a waste! There was an article I read about how this relates to dating and it is just classic. (Read here) People using their smart phones on dates claimed to have a worse time. Well, if you are on your phone the entire time, I can see why! Again, not smart.
I am not against technology. I just wish people would be more intentional about the relationships around them and with the information they spread around so freely. I know smart phones aren’t inherently evil and I know they aren’t going away. We need to just be aware of them and use them wisely.
This message was not sent with an I-Phone, all typos are my own.
There are times in life when you find yourself in a position you never thought you would be in. I have my comfort zones; those areas that I know something about and am comfortable being in. God has a way of stretching us and making us useful, even when there are no obvious ways.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to take a trip to Gabon, Africa. Specifically we were headed to Bongolo Hospital to help with a construction project there. I am not a contractor and don’t have any background in construction, but I thought I could maybe do some ministry there. As it turns out, I didn’t need to have experience. In fact, I learned that if I had ever touched a hammer before, I was considered an expert.
One of the areas that we were to try to help finish was the HIV/AIDS clinic there. One of the biggest issues was the electrical wiring. Over the course of months they had several groups come in and work on the wiring, but no one had ever finished. This meant the next group came in and didn’t know what the other group had done.
I went over there with another man from our team to try to make sense of all the electrical. Step one was trying to figure out what had taken place prior to our arrival. There was one man who had an understanding of this, at least more than anyone else.
He came in and started feverishly pointing and using a screw driver to open up ceiling tiles. We had no idea what he was talking about because he spoke French and we didn’t. Thankfully someone came and translated for us. Basically, we needed to finish putting in 220 volt and 110 volt wiring. That was fine, except I had no idea how to do it. The closest I had ever come to this was changing a few outlets in my house. We got started, but immediately ran into snags on this.
First, we had the huge wiring mess that ran from a box upstairs to a bundle of wires and then into the building. This became tricky to figure out because a wire that was red at the box might change colors two or even three times before its final destination. Apparently whoever was doing the wiring wasn’t worried about color coding the wires. We sometimes had red wires that had power, sometimes black and sometimes green. There was even the occasional blue wire in there. What a mess!
We played with it by turning on the power and testing it with some rudimentary tool that we had. At one point I heard my partner yell in pain as he received a jolt from the box as he poked around in there. I also made sparks a few times. Then after we turned the power off, I still got shocked a few more times. Figure that one out. I started to wrap my fingers in electrical tape, since I had seen someone do that before. It seemed like the right thing to do. It took us two days to sort out the wiring mess and we finally started to label them and make some progress. Having no electrical training actually turned out to be better than having any because any rule books on this were just thrown out the window.
Once we started to figure some things out, we also had to deal with the people who would hang around there. Right outside the door was the emergency room waiting area, so there were plenty of people milling around there. At one point, as I was wiring a switch for a fan, a man walked in and started to watch me. I acknowledged him and he said something to me. He quickly realized I had no idea what he is saying to me. That is alright, he was content to just watch. At one point I needed to step aside for a second and I had turned the power on for some testing. All I could do was try to tell him that touching those wires would be painful. I pointed at the wires and made electrical and explosion noises. He got the message.
We struggled to make sense of things and left multiple diagrams in order to help the next group finish it up. We found out months later that they had been able finish it up and start to use the building. The whole point was to minister to people in the name of Jesus. God has a way of taking us out of our comfort zone sometimes and using us in our weakness. I would not be allowed anywhere near the electrical wiring at any construction project here, but there it was what they needed. When these things come up for us in life, it is God who leads us in it.
One last piece of this for us was interacting with the children who were there. Yes, they came in and painted things because we left the paint out. But, they also just watched in amazement and tried to communicate with us. It was moving for me to experience such unbridled enthusiasm to see what we were doing.
The lesson in this : Sometimes God will take someone without electrical training and make the a master electrician in order to accomplish His purposes.
Children are like parables; they take deep matters of faith and give an everyday example of it. They have a far greater potential for learning than many people give them. I know that I learn a lot from them even though they might not realize it. They can be little messengers God uses to drive some point home to us.
Looking for that Lost Coin
For our weekly grocery store trip I took both my 4-year-old and 2-year-old son shopping. I guess I was looking for a little more of a challenge. The first thing that my 4-year-old does at any store is start to look around for things to collect. Sometimes he collects maps, but lately he has been looking for coins. He has what he calls a coin collection, which is really just a little vitamin bottle with some loose change in it. This little bottle he carries with him and shakes, making obnoxious noise. He is determined to find any coins in that store, though. In order to succeed he looks everywhere. But, even though he is not all that tall, he feels like he needs to get even lower to see. I have to stop and call his name often. A lot of the time he is lying on the floor, looking under shelves and in every little crevice. He is looking all over the place, except in front of him, meaning he runs into a lot of things. This does not deter him from his mission. This particular trip was a lucrative for him as he found not one but two quarters.
At first I just laughed this off, but then as I was leaving the store it suddenly hit me. This is a picture of how much God loves us. In fact, Jesus told a story that was very similar to this in Luke 15.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10
My 4-year-old had demonstrated this parable without ever realizing it. There are lost coins in there somewhere and he is going to do whatever it takes to find them, even looking rather foolish, getting dirty and slowing me down to do it. After he then found one he couldn’t wait to find another, telling everyone and looking even harder for more. This is a lot like the world we live in. All around us are hurting people. These people walk right by us everyday at local stores, at our jobs, schools, or even in our churches. These are people who maybe have never even thought about the way God loves them and so desperately need to know. Those of us that have a relationship with Jesus Christ have the responsibility to share that love with people. Sure, it might make us look foolish and we might have to go to some pretty unusual places, or get dirty in order to make that happen, but there is great rejoicing when one person trusts in Christ.
Learning by Example
Another lesson came the end of last week from my oldest son. Before the last youth retreat, I went to the church to set up the youth room for the group that would meet there in my absence. As I set up, my 7-year-old son started to write on the chalk board wall. I didn’t pay too much attention to what he was doing at first, but then I suddenly realized that he was really working hard at what he was doing. Then it dawned on me; He was writing out a verse that we had been working on with him. On the wall he wrote John 3:16. As I have said before, I believe the Word of God is the most important thing that we can give our children. To that end, we have been helping him learn some Bible verses in order to equip him make sense of some of the garbage in the world. (even in 2nd grade, unfortunately) He is remembering the verse and taking the initiative to share it. I love how he jumps in, without pretense and with such simplicity. Kids can get it, learn it and apply it to their lives. They are willing to share it with whomever because they are not as concerned about being rejected for their faith yet. What a challenge for us! Am I modeling that for him? Maybe, but not as much as he is modeling it for me.
This leads me to the last little example I want to share. Sometime last week, I noticed that my 2-year-old son was up to something, so I naturally stopped and watched. You had better stop and watch when he is putting something together. He set a ‘my buddy’ doll in his chair at the table, grabbed a little bowl of cereal and a spoon and started feeding him. He was very serious about it, even strapping the baby in. I marveled at that because this is something that he has picked up by watching us. We didn’t sit him down and show him a slide show on how to do this. He saw us do it and he did it. That is a sobering reminder of how much children pick up from us. My children are such blessings to me and others. May I bless them by loving God with all my heart and steering them to what actually matters, leading by example.
There are lessons all around us from God. What has God shown you today?
Why is it that some people will have great influence on our lives and what we do, while others will not? Everyday I am with people because I am a relational person, most people have relationships with other people as well. The question that often comes up is how does someone choose who to hang out with and who to avoid? I have had teenagers tell me that friends they have, even though they do bad things, won’t have any influence on them. But, you guessed it, not more than a few months later they are doing the same things. This is that dreaded dynamic we call peer pressure. There are two different kinds of peer pressure, not just one like everyone believes.
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20
Positive Peer Pressure
Positive peer pressure is what I use to encourage conversations and reaching out to others at youth group. This is where we tell the student leaders to set the example for others and then encourage others to follow. The same holds true when there are side conversations, or assorted shenanigans during our lesson time. The student leaders can step in and say something as a peer and often change the direction of the offender. We also ask them to be on the look out for those on the fringe and pull them into the activity or invite them to join their group. This really works to get someone connected and helps others see the importance of that person.
The same happens when it comes to what friends like to do together. We have a group that will help at the senior center once a month as they serve a meal to lonely seniors. No one makes them come. This is an opportunity for them to come and to influence other people their age to come. At other times it could be influence on different behaviors. I have had students flat-out tell someone how stupid it is to do drugs or go to the drinking parties. When those things come from peers, it carries credibility that I can’t manufacture. It just works.
Adults have their own issues, but the concept is still the same. Why do people hang out in bars or go out partying? It isn’t because they like how it feels in the morning, but because of the people there. What would happen if adults said, “enough is enough, I am not going to just mindlessly go down this path?” Then the next day a friend calls and wants to go do something that will likely be costly in one way or another. Inserting positive peer pressure here would redirect that activity to something more meaningful. Let’s go out to dinner. Let’s go to an activity going on in the community, or at the church. One person is not likely to go by themselves, but two people will. A lot of meaningful world influence has come when a few people said, “what if we…” and then did it.
Negative Peer Pressure
This is the one that gets most of the attention. This is where you see groups of people flipping cars over and lighting fires for some unknown reason. Then when someone asks them what they are protesting they say, “I don’t know.”. There is a magnetic pull that groups of people can have. If everyone is doing it, will you? Well, not necessarily. But, it becomes very easy for the group to start to pressure you as the lone ranger and you might cave in. I have seen it enough in youth ministry to know it happens more often than not.
Adults have this problem especially when it comes to chasing material things. If someone gets a new I-Pad, then I need one. There becomes this cycle of buying things just because it is supposed to make you happy. But, it never does because there are more and more things to buy. Now you are broke and still not happy. People get together to talk about the things they bought and of course there is pressure in that to be able to join the conversation.
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12