Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why I'll be Showing a Blatantly Non-Christian Movie at Youth Group

Some time earlier this year (I think around October), my wife and I had some rare, kidless downtime and found ourselves in Tyler (the nearest town with several decent-sized movie theatres) with a few hours to kill and a few extra bucks in our pockets. Being that we were an hour's drive from home and had just showed up at the theatre hoping to catch something good, we realized we didn't want to wait 45 minutes to see the new Sandra Bullock film. So we opted to see "The Invention of Lying" which started in just a few minutes. We had heard no reviews about the movie, but with a cast that included Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, and appearances by Rob Lowe and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it looked promising to say the least. Two hours later, I found my heart and mind in a tug-of-war wrestling with a number of ideas that had been presented in a very different way. Because of the response it created in me, I immediately realized I had to show it to my youth group and allow them to be presented with the same questions that were presented to me during the film.

I did not include a link to a movie review of this movie because the opinions surrounding this movie are as varied as the number of people who've written them. I didn't want you to read a Christian's conservative review blasting the film as "blasphemous" nor did I want an extremely open-minded review praising its satire, which many people found just plain offensive. If you have not seen the film, I would urge you to resist temptation and see it without reading anything about it beforehand. I will say that the film was co-written, co-directed, and starred in by professed atheist and British comedian Ricky Gervais, famous for his role in original British version of the hit comedy series, The Office (the pre-cursor to the wildly popular American version). Without giving away too much information on the movie (you can google all the movie reviews you like), I can say that "The Invention of Lying", whether by intent or not, makes a case for atheism much the same way "Facing the Giants" or "Fireproof" makes a case for putting faith in God. In the course of the story, this movie takes numerous less-than-subtle stabs at Christianity, Jewish traditions, and the whole idea of faith in general. It is rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and one drug reference. So why will I be showing it to my youth group after it is released on DVD January 19th? Here is why.

1. I think we learn more about ourselves and what we believe from people who disagree with us, than simply by listening to people who are echoing our own thoughts. As I left the theatre after seeing this movie--while my blood was boiling because many parts of me felt like my faith, which I hold ver dear, was under attack--I began to process the argument that had been presented to me through this subversive, yet light-hearted medium. For me, it wasn't something that caused me to question my faith, but rather solidify it.

2. We must be challenged in order to grow. The metaphor of a muscle in the human body being broken down in order to be rebuilt in a bigger, stronger way has become cliche, but it holds true. If you have ever been through a physically strenuous workout, whether running, or lifting weights, or some other form of exercise, or if you've exerted yourself physically more than usual, the next day, you will find you will be quite sore--sometimes in places you didn't realize you had! That is because using our muscles excessively causes them to break down, then rebuild themselves in a stronger manner. Likewise, many houseplants (from the way I understand it) will not really start to grow, until their roots have found their way to the sides of the pot. So challenging my students will cause them to ask some really important questions and in the proper environment we will be able to answer their questions.

3. Creating a bubble for our Christian kids does not paint a clear picture of reality. I've known many people in youth ministry (and I have been there myself) who feel it is our job as youth leaders to shield our precious children from all the reprehensible stuff out there in the world. We encourage them to only listen to Christian music (especially on youth trips) and only watch "G" or "PG" rated films. And while this can work in the vacuum of youth group meetings or even a week-long camp, it's not realistic to assume that our students follow these same ideals when they are not at youth group functions. Now, does that mean I show the latest Quentin Tarantino movie at our next movie night? Absolutely not. However, our job as youth workers is not to shield them from the world, but rather to give them the means to adapt to the culture they are in and to do that from a faith-based standpoint.

We've all heard the stories about the student who goes off to college and find his faith challenged by some philosophy professor who thinks Christianity is all a bunch of garbage, or the other college student who is too busy partying to remain true to his Christian beliefs that may or may not have ever truly been his own (as opposed to his parents). I feel that if youth workers are to be effective, we have to get our heads out of the sand and be aware of the culture our kids live in and give them the tools to help solidify their faith.

Do you agree with this approach? Would you show this movie to your kids? What similar things have you done in your ministry to challenge the way kids think?

Monday, December 28, 2009

You'll Catch More Flies with Honey than With Vinegar

I heard this phrase once while doing a youth lesson with some boys in my youth program. I probably heard it before that, but it's one of those sayings that has stuck since then and I find myself using it a lot--even with my daughter at home. You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out what it means but here's my loose translation--"You'll get more of what you want out of life by being nice, than by being mean, belligerent, annoying, etc." Well, since I work in the field of ministry, you would think that would go without saying for the people and companies I deal with on a regular basis.

There is a particular company that I've had dealings with over the majority of my ten-year stint as a youth minister. The first time I dealt with them, I got a phone call and they were up front that they were a Christian publishing house and had just created a new curriculum they would like for me to preview. I agreed to preview it and send it back if I didn't want to keep it and pay for it if I did. Well, I forget if I actually kept that study or not, but I'm pretty sure I sent it back. Well, about every three months or so, I would get another call from the same company wanting me to preview another study course. I eventually became good at finding new ways not to talk to their representatives or to politely, but firmly, hang up the phone when I did find myself with one of their fishhooks in my lip!

Fast forward about 4 years. After a two-year sabbatical from youth ministry and starting over at a new church, I got a phone call from the same company (not at the church office, but on my cell phone!) telling me about a new study they had. I told them that was great. A week later I got a packet from them in my office asking me to preview it. I didn't even realize I had agreed to anything! Two years after that, I'm still getting phone calls from the same people. This morning, I asked our church secretary to screen a call that I suspected might be fishy. Well, she got dooped and there I was picking up line 1 to talk to these sneaky envoys of Christian truth. Having tasted that lure before, I spit it out before the representative had time to set the hook!

So, here is the focus of today's blog post. Should Christian companies limit their marketing strategies to methods that are less invasive? While there is nothing sinful about asking someone to check something out then send it back if you don't want it, it's really annoying after about the fourth or fifth time you've done it. Also, there is a lot of deception that is used to try to get through to someone and then try to get them to do something without them realizing they are doing it or to push their comfort zone when they try to refuse something. I am to the point that I don't care if this company has the most effective, biblically-sound, life-changing study course known to humanity--I AM NOT INTERESTED! While they obviously put a lot of thought and time into their resources, why can't they market them through Group or Youth Specialties. So my question to those of you in youth ministry or other areas of church work, do you agree with me? At what point does a "Christian" company cross lines to try to get their product out there?

Does Technology in Ministry Have to be Cutting Edge?

Recently, a friend of mine, Russell Martin, blogged about the goals of websites in ministry. His question, based on a conversation we had about a website we had a mutual interest in, was that when we create a website for our ministry or our church, is our goal to get people to our website or to get people to our church? I have a similar question as well about the role of technology in ministry.

I recently took over our church's website. In the last 24 months, the approach to web development seems to have drastically changed as the shift has migrated from having static information about your program available on the web, to having constantly changing, updated information that comes to your "followers" through Twitter, Facebook, blog feeds, or email subscriptions. No longer are you trying to direct traffic to your site, but rather you're trying to direct your site to others. As for me, I am involved with an older congregation, most of whom probably have computers with internet connections. However, does that mean that every technology available is going to be right for our church? For example, out of 230 people who regularly attend services, we have 53 who follow us via our Facebook fan page. Conversely, of the numerous random people who are following us on Twitter, only one of those is a church member and she actually had never used Twitter before signing up to follow our church website!

So, should I continue to progress in our technological capabilities by allowing our church members new ways of keeping up with our church (i.e. podcasting as opposed to online audio), or continue to use the methods that our congregation is comfortable with? I think the answer lies in what your congregation is comfortable with. Here's why.

1. Technology is scary to some people. For many, the simpler the better. If you do not serve a bunch of IT personnell and web developers, don't be afraid to keep your communications simple.
Not only will people be more likely to use it because they are comfortable with it, but they won't feel compelled to change just so they can stay up-to-date with your group.

2. There are so many portals available for people to receive information (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, blogging, Posterous, Email, StumleUpon, LinkedUp, iphone apps, Blackberry apps...etc.), that it's easy for information to get lost in the shuffle and you can spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to send information to all these media that may or may not ever be used by anyone in your organization.

3. Being "cutting edge" is a relative concept. So while a new smartphone app or social media site my be the next big thing to a very tech-savvy person, for many simply having a Facebook page is just as revolutionary. You don't have to be cutting edge with the world to be cutting edge with your followers!

What have been your experiences using technology in ministry?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Is Having Things in Common with Your Students a Pre-requisite for Ministry?

It seems I spend a lot of my time in ministry behind a desk learning how to make the most of the time I have with our kids and working on other projects I take care of here at our church. Also, our church has a pretty rigid policy which speaks against a lot of one-on-one ministry time that I've had with students in other churches where I've worked. So most ministry has to be done in a fairly formal setting. Well, this week, a couple of my students came up to help us pass out door-hangers in the neighborhood to advertise for our Christmas Eve Service. I got a chance to just hang out with a couple of my guys for a little while and I learned something in that time.

I've always been aware that I don't have many of the same intrests as the kids in my youth group. And the older I get, this issue doesn't get any better. While we all like music, we like completely different kinds. I love to follow sports and watch them on TV. I like the outdoors and enjoy hunting and fishing in my spare time. I also work with my dad doing ranch work, building fence, vaccinating cows, putting out feed. While these are the things I spend most of my leisure time doing, my students are not into any of these things really. In our group of nearly 20 kids who come on a regular basis, I have two who play basketball in a very small school district that really has few other offerings in terms of extra-curricular activities. My kids don't enjoy hunting or fishing and certainly wouldn't be found sticking a vaccinating needle in calf. While these are the things that I do and enjoy, most of them really enjoy video games, modern music, and the latest tech gadgets available. As I attempted to visit with these two guys in my group yesterday, I realized I had nothing to contribute to their discussion of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare", or "Split Second", the soon-to-be-released action racing game. I didn't know anything about how the controls worked, or what special weapons you could get. Aside from reading part of GameInformer magazine last month (a feeble attempt at exploring their world), I had almost nothing to say. This got me thinking.

How critical is it that I share the same interests with the students I'm called to reach? Obviously being a guy I will have less in common with the girls in my group, but really, how much of a factor is it that I don't know how to get the super photon blaster on level 5, or I don't listen to Paramore or All-American Rejects? As I think about this, I look back at the ministry of Jesus. He was a carpenter, but many of his disciples came from other vocations (fisherman, tax collectors, etc.). So what was the common bond they talked about? Logically, I think it was the things of God. But we know that Jesus used his knowledge of their interests to help them understand certain things (i.e. become a fisher of men). So I'm asking you. How critical is it for someone to have the same interests as someone in order to build a deeper relationship with them? You can also respond to this question at

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bringing Christmas Home

I blogged a few days ago that this year it just doesn't feel like Christmas...for a number of reasons. The fact is, though, that our second year of marriage has been a trying one for my wife and I. Not because our relationship is that bad, or anything like that. But on two occasions this year (and one last year) we went through the pain and loss of a miscarriage. Now, I know there are people who have lost loved ones and part of me feels bad even mentioning what we've been through. But for a young family with hopes and dreams of bringing a new life into the world, these losses have been difficult. We've also endured some unexpected health problems and have been searching for answers from people who know a lot more than we do.

Well, since our home hasn't really felt "Christmasy", I knew bringing Christmas to our house rested with me. Due to a number of factors, we aren't financially where we were a couple of years ago, so getting excited about Christmas wasn't easy. But reluctantly, I stopped by the storage building on my way home Monday night and picked up our tree, some lights, and some decorations. As I walked into the house, I was reminded of Clark Griswold in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. At one point when the family Christmas disaster has reached its climax and everyone is about to get in their cars (or RVs) and drive home, Clark goes on a tyrade and says that no one is going anywhere. Then he makes a very emotional statement saying that "We are going to have the happ-happ-happiest (*expletive*) Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny (*expletive*) Kaye! When the smoke cleared, everyone stuck around and they truly had a happy Christmas.

In some ways, this year, I felt like I forced Christmas on my family (much like Clark Griswold). But now that we've decorated, it feels like Christmas in our house and our hearts are lighter. What's striking to me was that maybe we weren't really in the mood to have Christmas, but we chose celebrate the season for what it is. While Christmas is a holiday, I think a lot of things that are religious in nature need to be done deliberately, even when we are not in the mood. And what usually happens is that our hearts are blessed in the process. But if we only do what we are in the "mood" for, we can miss out on a tremendous blessing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just Doesn't Feel Like Christmas

Last year, my family and I had a very memorable Christmas. The weekend after Thanksgiving I was out hanging lights on the outside of the house (a first for me), and we put up our 7ft tall tree right in the living room. We did probably more than we should have in terms of Christmas shopping. And the wonderful day was met with great anticipation. This year things are just...well...different. It's nearly ten days before Christmas and I'm just now getting around to putting up a miniature version of last year's tree. There are no lights on the house, and we've barely done any Christmas shopping. Maybe we're just tired. Maybe because the recently-acquired recliner cuts into the amount of available space for a tree. Maybe it's because we now have a cat who we know will make a destructive hay day out of a full-sized tree. Maybe it's because we've felt the disappointment and loss of two miscarriages this year. Maybe... well...

This year, it just doesn't feel quite like Christmas--for me anyway. And maybe I'm not the only one who feels this way. But with Christmas comes the message of hope. It's the message that when Christ comes into the world, things are never the same. So for me, the message of Christmas is not something that happens once a year. It must be a daily reality. Sometimes life causes us to lose track of what's really going on in life. We all experience hardships, loss, and heartache. I hope that we can all remember, though that as Peter walked out on the water, it was his circumstances that caused him to sink and the hand of Jesus that kept him above the water.

No matter what you've experienced this year, and how you choose to reflect on it, that we can all remember that there is something greater than this world that is watching us. God bless.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Keeping Christ in Christmas? Really?

This time of year is always fun. When mid-January rolls around, I can't imagine another holiday season. All the decorating, the cooking, the buying, the visiting. And even then, it all seems so far away. But every year, the holidays come back around and sometime around Halloween we all kind of ease into that holiday mindset. Something that has become more popular in recent years is the emphasis on "keeping Christ in Christmas". I understand the reasoning behind this push. After all, when store personnel begin telling guests "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" I guess it sits differently with those of us who have put our faith in Christ. Recently I saw a very catchy ad for a popular clothing store with a rhythmic cadence where actors and dancers were chanting, "Go Christmas, Go Kwanzaa, Go Hanukkah, Go Solstice" emphasizing a more universalistic approach to the holidays to their customer base. I noticed this blatant push to appeal to more people. It made me think.

I also get emails encouraging me to correct and reprimand store personnel who wish me Happy Holidays and to write CEOs of certain stores and boycott others because they will be celebrating the "Holidays" and not necessarily "Christmas". My question is this. When we choose to fight these "battles", do we really accomplish our goals? How many store clerks have come to a saving knowledge of Christ because someone corrected their "Happy Holidays" with "Merry Christmas"? How many CEOs have felt the love of God when God's followers (that's you and me) threaten to take their business somewhere else because of the store advertises "Holiday Discounts" instead of Christmas sales.

So what's a believer to do? Do we just sit back and watch the "De-Christianization" of America? Do we watch the fruits of postmodernism unfold right before our eyes? Well, I'm not sure I have an answer, but being belligerent about semantics isn't accomplishing anything. How is fighting that particular battle doing anything to further the cause of Christ? I think sometimes it's more about feeling personally threatened when someone doesn't adhere to our beliefs than it is about whether or not God is being glorified. As far as God is concerned...I'm pretty sure he can handle it. People have been doing their own thing for centuries. And the irony of it all is this. While stores are trying to appeal to a larger base of people who don't necessarily call themselves "Christians", many of the real followers of Christ are trying hard to appeal to an even smaller group of people by threatening stores with phone calls, emails, and boycotts. I've also seen nifty songs and poems written about keeping "Christ" in Christmas. But more often than not, they are about how "Happy Holidays" is some demonic tactic to take emphasis off of Christ during the holiday season. And when people drive by a marquis at a church or store and read, "Keep Christ in Christmas" how does that sit with average people? We know it'll get a huge "Amen!" from the Christian crowd, but does the defensiveness of the church send a message to the rest of society? After all, we have been eternally saved by the Creator of the universe who sent his Son to die for us. So why should we be so defensive and threatened by a culture that is not a whole lot different from the cultures Paul wrote to in the first century? So how about this?

Why don't we who call ourselves Christians try to live our lives in a way that shines the light of Christ this Christmas season. After all, if God has put his light inside of us, no one can take that away by saying Happy Holidays (Matthew 5:13-17). Should we say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays? Absolutely. But more importantly than that, we should live our lives in ways that bring honor and glory to God. I think if God had to choose, he would rather have his people living like he called us to while wishing everyone Happy Holidays, than for us to live the way we want to and wish everyone Merry Christmas.

I'm sure this won't be my last post before Christmas, but I hope we can all live the way the Master called us this holiday season and beyond that. God bless you all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Family Ministry Model

In the 15 years I've been doing youth ministry there has always been an unwritten, unofficial urge to find the perfect balance between having kids spend time with parents in a ministry setting and to have kids spend time away from parents in a ministry setting. This was especially true of kids whose parents were volunteer helpers in the youth department. But one thing I had never done before was a family event--until this weekend.

It took a while to sell the kids in my youth group on the idea of a family campout. Immediately everyone automatically assumed this youth trip would be a drag and would lack the luster of other events. However, once we got there, families started to be families. The awkwardness seemed to melt away in the smoke of the campfire like a flaming marshmallow.

I don't know why we didn't do this sooner, but I definitely know we'll be doing this again. The last verse of Malachi says that the prophet Elijah will come and turn the hearts of fathers toward their children. Jesus says this "Elijah" is John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11-15. Family unity is one of the numerous side effects of faith in Christ. So why do we youth workers strive so hard sometimes to get kids away from their families so we can do ministry? Hopefully, we are entering a new paradigm in the way we do things around the youth department. To learn more about the campout, read the article on our church website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why does so much modern worship music sound like U2?

I'm not alone. One of my all-time favorite pop/rock bands is U2. I love their style and sound and the way the Edge is not really a lead player or a rhythm player, but both at the same time. I love the way the bass and drums fit together in each groove. They've made some records I haven't been crazy about, but on the whole, most of their stuff is just great, in my opinion.
I'm sure I am not the only Christian musician out there who loves U2's music. But my question is this. Why do so many modern Christian artists, particularly those who write worship music, sound like U2? If you listen to Matt Redman, Delirious, and Hillsong United, you will find undeniable traces of U2.

So to redirect my previous these artists intentionally sound like U2 because they love U2's sound? Or is U2's influence on modern music so heavy that it is difficult for them to separate from that style and sound? Another possibility is that maybe U2's style and sound is very suitable for worship music, therefore lots of bands try to mimic that sound.

Whether you are a musician who plays in a band at church or if you just like listening to worship music, I would be curious to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lessons from the Tractor: Cattle Egrets

This year, as has become an annual tradition, I've helped my dad bale hay. I run the tractor some to do the cutting and when it's time to bale, I either run the rake or the baler. When you're in a 50 acre field going back and forth, there's a lot to think about--whether the hay is packing into the baler right, wondering if the baler will have another error, avoiding holes, staying right on top of the row of hay you are get the idea. One thing that tends to happen when you bale hay is that cattle egrets will come eat the grasshoppers and other small bugs out of the recently cut hay field. As the machines pick up the cut grass, they will camp out at the all you can eat buffet. But this year I noticed something different. While the tractor and implements would easily kill one of these birds, they don't seem to be bothered by them. They get just close enough to the tractor to not get hurt. After all, right by the tractor is where the best eating is found. As I pondered this strange phenomenon, my thoughts began to turn to God.

Isn't this how we all are with sin? We like to get just close enough to sin to where it won't hurt us or the ones we love? Just like those birds landed right by the tractor and quickly hopped away as it got too close, we like to get close to the things that will damage and harm us and our families because they are tempting. And when that big ol' tractor comes, we just hop out of the way. I like what James has to say about this idea in chapter 1.

"13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."

If God has given us all we need, why do we feel the need to get so close to the things that will harm us?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Relationship With Christ: A Means or an End?

To the extent that I am a follower of Christ, I am a theologian. I always preferred learning how to do the work of the church and practical ways of teaching God's truth to sparring with other believers about the minute details of a God who is so much bigger than we are. But this week, I realized something that challenged what I've thought for a long time. Growing up, I learned from a number of pastors and teachers that we are saved by having a "real relationship" with Christ. In other words, it wasn't enough to know about God, but we had to know him personally, and this was a requirement for our salvation.

After chewing on this concept with a friend of mine and bouncing it back and forth, it has occurred to me that to me, this may not be entirely correct. Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by grace through faith that is the gift of God--not by our works. Romans 10:9-10 says that if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. So where does the relationship come in?

I think in this case we often get the cart before the horse. I think a relationship with God is the byproduct of our Salvation, not the cause or source of it. Claiming that our salvation is based on our relationship with God puts us on a slippery slope. If we say our salvation is based on putting our faith in Christ, we can say that we've done that. But if it is based on a relationship with Christ, at one point is that relationship deep enough to give us salvation? At what point to we go from knowing "about God" to "knowing God" in such a way that justifies us before God? How good is that relationship supposed to be?

Not to split hairs, but I think that a relationship with God that is developed through prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other believers, and service to others should be a natural result of our putting faith in Christ. It also is evidence that we have put our faith in Christ. To say that our relationship with Christ is a pre-requisite for salvation leaves the believer constantly questioning the depth of his relationship (not in a positive way that leads us to a deeper relationship, but in a negative way that leads to fear and doubt of one's salvation). For example, if my salvation is based on a relationship with Christ, at what point have I prayed enough, read the Bible enough, served others enough, to know that my relationship with God is real? Also, emphasis on this relationship as the source of our salvation leads us to have an elitist attitude that implies that if your relationship with Christ is not like mine, then you must not have a true relationship or that a bunch of people who think they are saved are really not. So, to me, a relationship with Christ is the end result (even though it continues to grow) of our salvation, not the means of our salvation.
So, since I am human and do not have all the answers, I would welcome your comments. I do not intend to start a debate, but rather to share something that has challenged my thinking and caused me to re-evaluate an important truth. Your thoughts?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Working With Youth Bands: Adding Horns

I've been working with youth worship bands almost as long as I've been doing youth ministry. There's just something really amazing and fulfilling about seeing young students use their passion for music not only to glorify the Lord, but also to improve their skills and get better as a group and to learn to play for the Lord rather than for the approval of others. One problem always haunted me, though in working with teenagers: what to do with wind instruments. With so many students playing in jr. high and high school bands at school, it stands to reason that an average youth group would have at least a couple of horn players. But the typical worship band format calls for a drum set, bass guitar, and a guitar or keyboard. Horns are not usually figured in.

One reason for this is that horns are tuned to different keys, so when a guitar player is playing in G or C, a horn player will actually be playing in A or D respectively. Also, full orchestration parts are available for popular praise choruses but they don't work well without a "full orchestra". Another problem with the horns is that students who play in school band only know how to read music whereas many guitar players are self-taught and only know how to play by ear, chord charts, or TABS--not real music.

So this year, I had a young trumpet player approach me about playing in the youth band. Since I considered myself to have an average knowledge of music and very little experience writing out music, I explained to him the situation I was in, but assured him that if we committed to learn how to do it together, we could make it work. Well, here is what I found that works and may work for you and your youth band.

For about $50, you can purchase a program called Finale: Songwriter Edition at With this program and a little basic knowledge of single-note melody lines, you can chart out a basic melody, counter-melody, or harmony part for your horn player. Just tell the program what key your band is playing in and what type of horn part you are writing, and it will automatically transpose to the horn key. Once you start writing out the notes, the program will play it back so you know exactly what you are writing (my sight-reading skills are pretty bad). You can also hook a keyboard or other midi device up to your computer and play the part on the keyboard and it will write it out as you play. If you are not sure if your horn player can play in that key, you can easily transpose to the keys that are close to it in range (up a step or half step, or down a step or half step) to come up with a key that will work for both your horn player and your guitar/bass/keybaord players. You can also do multiple parts for multiple horns. If you're really not sure what to write, try writing a simple melody, or just try having the horn play the root note of each chord. So if the band is playing a song in G that plays four counts each on the chords G, C, Em, and D, then your Bb trumpet player will be playing in A and you can write whole notes on A, D, F#, and E. You can also simplify the charts by just having the horn play on certain parts of the song like the chorus or the bridge. This will automatically add depth and texture to your song because certain parts of the song will be quieter and have fewer instruments.

While not all horns are condusive to worship music (i.e. trumpets, saxes, flutes, probably fit better than tubas, French horns, and euphoniums), you may have to be selective as to how you implement certain horns into the group. Also, while it may take some time to work up a few horn parts for your popular songs, you don't want your horn player getting bored at rehearsal. See if she can play some percussion stuff (shaker, tambourine, or even COWBELL) on the songs where she's not playing her horn. Getting kids involved in your band will be a plus for the player and for the band.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Youth Bands: Taking Summer Off

I've always had a fear of cancelling certain activities and events for extended periods of time out of fear that when it came time to start them up again that we would be building from the ground up. This came especially true when it came to working with youth bands. Since building a worship band required more time and energy than other youth activities, I felt that it was a more delicate program and if cancelled would run the risk of never starting back.

But this summer, we did some things differently in our youth program. Since many kids go out of town during the summer, we scaled down our Bible study times to more of a hanging out/small group format. We didn't use Power Point or very many video clips, and we met in one of the smaller rooms of the youth building rather than the big room where we normally met. And, reluctantly, we cancelled youth band at the end of last school year, and didn't pick it up until the schools had started back up at the end of August. Last weekend we had our first practice in over two months. I found that students who had fallen away from the band came back and some who had interest before now were excited about joining. I also found that our players had been practicing over the summer because they were not having regular practicing was a sort of boredom buster for them. This also created less stress on families because they didn't have to worry about working band rehearsals into their summer schedule. My friend Russell Martin reminded me that everything has a season and I think that is certainly true with youth-led worship bands.

The Grass is Always Greener...

I don't exactly remember when, but I do know it was a long time ago, I first heard an expression that says "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." Now, I don't know if the person who coined this phrase was a farmer, or just really wanted to be a cow, or what. I don't know why grass was used here for the metaphor. But the gist of the statement is that things are always better somewhere else, than where you are. This can apply to a relationship, a job, a church, a home, or really just about anything.
But the truth of the matter is that wherever you go, things will always be better somewhere else. Sometimes we are presented with opportunities that just seem like they are so much better than what we already have. But, when we examine those things closely and then look closely at what we have, what we often find is that we are much better where we are. Our current situations seem to look bleek because they are comfortable and normal--sometimes too much so. But when things come up that offer a change of scenery, we can examine what we have for what it truly is...and many times, that's not bad at all. In I Timothy 6 Paul writes to Timothy concerning a group of false teachers who were teaching that godly actions were a way to bring about financial gain. Paul writes that "godliness with contentment is great gain." When we have contentment, we quit worrying about what's on the other side of the fence, and can see what we have for what it truly is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Nugget from the Diamond: Stealing First

As many sports fans do, I go through phases of loving various sports. While football is always my constant, right now, I find myself addicted to baseball--particularly the Texas Rangers who are having one of their best seasons in a long time.
One of the lesser-known rules of baseball is that if a batter swings and misses at a 3rd strike and the ball gets past the catcher, the batter has the opportunity to to run to first. If he runs, the play becomes a force out at first in which the catcher (or other member of the fielding team) can throw the ball to first base just as if it was a ground ball to the infield. Rarely, do the batters reach first base safely, but it does happen. If it happens, the pitcher is credited with a strike out, but no out is applied to the batter in the game.
As I thought about this peculiar baseball rule, I thought about our relationship to God. Romans says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In essence, we've all struck out. Romans also says that while the wages of this sin is death, God's gift to us is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Essentially, despite our striking out, God has allowed us to safely reach base anyway. I think that's pretty cool!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Simplifying and Improvising in Youth Group Meetings

This summer, we tried something new in our youth program. After giving it some serious thought and after listening to what some other youth workers, pastors, and leaders were doing with their groups for the summer, we decided to go low-key and informal. What that means is this. Our regular meetings during the school year consisted of us meeting upstairs in our "big room" (not really big, but it's bigger than the other rooms, so that's what we call it), where our full band (bass, drums, elec. guitar) would lead us in worship and our Bible studies would be enhanced with Power Point, video clips, or other multi-media teaching tools. Well, this summer, we gave the band the summer off to spend time with family, do their summer activities, and not feel the pressure to be at practice every week. We also didn't do as much with PowerPoint and media stuff and just embraced the intimacy of a lazy summer.
Since our summer crowd was smaller because of people travelling and going to band camps, sports camps, etc., we decided not to meet upstairs in the big room and just meet downstairs in the "hang out" area of the youth building. Most weeks we didn't even have music. We just got to sit around and talk about the Bible study topic and let the kids teach themselves as they worked out the scriptures together.
This week, though, one of our musicians called me Wednesday afternoon to see if she could bring her guitar and do a few songs. Of course, I told her "absolutely". Well, we only had a very small portion of our kids show up due to some school activities that were going on. So we scratched our Bible study and just sang with a couple of guitars for about 30 minutes. No band, no power point, no sound system, and our kids were singing their hearts out. Had we been locked into our normal routine we would have missed a very powerful time of worship.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

People of Second Chances

This week, a news story really spoke to me and my relationship to God. As a sports fan, I watch my fair share of SportsCenter and other sports-related shows. I also admire athletes who are able to live out their faith in Christ in the national forefront and rise above some of the selfishness, greed, drug-induced cheating, and other criminal behavior that many professional athletes are known for. But a story on SportsCenter caught my attention.

As Michael Vick has served his time for operating a brutal dog-fighting ring, the former record-setting NFL quarterback is now finding his way back to society and to football. And who is the person in his corner leading this effort? Former Super Bowl Champion head coach and Christian author Tony Dungy has been in Vick's corner as a mentor and life coach for several months now. But the one who is spearheading the effort to help Vick get back on his feet is possibly the most unlikely person in the NFL--another starting quarterback who happens to be a dog lover himself.

Eagle's quarterback Donovan McNabb, who owns two American Bulldogs and a Belgian Malinois, according to an article at, began lobbying his organization weeks ago to bring Vick to Philadelphia saying it was a good move for the team. But why would a starting quarterback bring such a spectacular athlete with such a shady past to his own team and put himself in a position to potentially lose his job? According to McNabb in the interview, "I believe in second chances and I have strong faith in God that he forgives our sins...Yes, it was a bad thing and a malicious act, but somewhere in your heart, you have to have forgiveness."

Centuries ago, a man named Saul who had been a murderer of the followers of Christ , has an encounter with Christ and gives his life to the Lord. After his conversion, early Christians are wary of his change of heart and are more than reluctant to welcome him into the fold. But a man named Barnabas testifies to the truth of Saul's change and allows the other believers to open their hearts to him.

So what about us? Are you and I like Michael Vick and Saul who have messed up and just need a break? Or are we like McNabb and Barnabas who are in a position to help someone who needs a second chance? If we are in one of these situations to offer help to someone who has made a mistake, there are three things we need to remember.

1) Dont try to play God. I Samuel 16:7 says that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Only God knows the true intentions of the heart of someone who is trying to turn their life around. 2) Offer forgiveness, but offer help as well. Forgiving someone in their heart for wrong doing is only half of what we are called to do. True forgiveness comes when we put actions to our words by reaching out and helping those who need it. 3) Leave the results to God. Donovan McNabb doesn't know exactly how Michael Vick will handle his return to life in the spotlight and his NFL paycheck. Will he buckle under the pressure and go back to his old ways or will he rise above the pressure and hype and keep his life on track? McNabb doesn't know the answer to this, but he is evidently willing to trust God with the results.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Parable of the Lost Knife

This is my pocket knife. It is a Moore Maker double-locking blade made in Matador, TX (a pretty expensive knife). This knife is special for several reasons. For one, it uses a chrome vanadium blade, similar to those made by Case, Schrade (Uncle Henry, Old Timer) as opposed to the stainless steel blades that have become really popular which do not rust, but in my opinion do not sharpen up as well or hold their edge. It's also made in Texas at a very small factory, so these knives are more rare than some other brands. Another thing about this knife is that most locking blade knives only have one blade. This knife, obviously inspired by a similar non-locking Case knife, has two blades that lock into place. If you've ever had a knife fold up on your hand while you were using it, you can appreciate this feature. Finally, this knife was a Christmas present from my dad. We have a fine tradition of yellow-handled pocket knives. Maybe it's because they are easier to find or we just like the color. Either way, it's just our thing.
Well, last week, Dad and I were building some shelves in his barn and I put the knife in my pocket as I normally do. After a few days of not seeing the knife and dismissing that I had merely left it somewhere else (the car, the truck, the table by the chair, etc.), I realized that my knife was nowhere to be found. So, I checked my dresser, my night stand, all the usual places. I checked the car, the truck, the consoles and glove compartments. The next day, I checked my dad's truck, my parent's house. Then, I checked my office and all over the youth building. It was nowhere to be found. Finally, after a week of searching, on Sunday afternoon I realized that I had not checked the couch cushions or any of the furniture. After checking both couches, I tipped over our recliner and there it was! For two days, I've been swooning over finding this very special possession.
Then yesterday, it occured to me that Jesus told several stories about lost items in Luke 15...a sheep, a coin, and a son. As a shepherd, he leaves all the other sheep to come find one that is lost. Like the woman with the lost coin, she does nothing else until she finds the coin. And like the loving Father, he stands there watching the horizon waiting for his lost son to come home. To think that God went after me the way I searched (and even more so) for my knife is humbling and overwhelming. It seems that when we remember the great lengths God went to in order to be in a relationship with us, it really puts things in perspective.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mary, Martha, Baseball, and Me

I haven't written a blog post in several days for a few different reasons. Namely, that I've been gone to another camp (my third camp of the summer), and am currently involved with our church's Vacation Bible School. Next week, I will be heading off to my last camp of the summer. Being called into youth ministry, busy summers seem to be just part of the deal that "comes with the territory". I mean for 91/2 months of the year we "compete" with school, band, sports, scouts, one act play, UIL academics, and all other things that are connected to a life in public education. So summer is a time when kids theoretically have more time to devote to other things--such as church and spiritual development.

I've been doing some reading, though, and have realized that summer, although free of school, is still summer and is a time to be relaxed, laid back, and should be a time to refresh? So why do I feel like a Martha running around like a headless chicken trying to teach kids how to be like Mary? In our youth group, we have scaled down our Bible study times on the week's we've met and haven't met at all when we were gone to church camp or one of our missions camps. So how can I stay refreshed in the midst of being gone so much and being so busy week after week? Well, here's what I've found that seems to work.

My wife and I love Texas Rangers baseball. This has been a really good season for the team that has never made it past the first round of the playoffs. At one point they were in first place in their division, and 5 games ahead of the LA Angels. June wasn't a good month, though, and it's taking them a while to hit their stride again. The biggest issue for the Rangers seems to be getting hits with runners in scoring position. At one time this season they hit 14 solo home runs in a row. In order to win games, they have to get their hits with runners on bases. After all, the game is won on runs, not hits. This means that baseball is a game of timing.

For me, this summer, I've tried really hard to embrace the time I have at home with family. I also have tried to spend less time at the office when I'm not away at camp. We took a great vacation this summer and it has helped me stay connected to my family and to God. Capitalizing on opportunities is what has kept me going. If we are in the service of the King, I think there are times where we will inevitably be like Martha and that's not necessarily bad. What we have to do, though, is make sure we have time to spend on the things that matter most and that we make the most of those opportunities.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Smile of God

I've always been hesitant to quote cliches...especially those that aren't found in Scripture. One of these catch phrases is "The Lord works in mysterious ways." I guess this kind of coincides with the opening passage in the book of James, "2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." What? Consider it joy when we face trials? Are you sadistic or something? How in the world are we supposed to be happy about trials?
Last week we had one such "trial". At a regularly-scheduled doctor's appointment, Cindy and I found out that we had lost our baby some time during the last few weeks since our previous visit to the doctor. After having heard the heartbeat and seeing the ultra-sound and putting the ultra-sound picture up on the refrigerator, now all our hopes and dreams just came crashing down. This was our second miscarriage in the last 18 months, so we just had a lot of questions.
Well, the Lord is all about timing. You see, we had been planning to take a vacation on Friday, but found out on Tuesday that we had lost the baby and that Cindy would have to have a procedure on Wednesday to extract the baby and the tissue. "What in the world was God doing?", I thought. So we weren't even sure at this point if we'd get to go on our much-needed vacation. Well, long story short, we did get to go and had a wonderful time. It was as if God had his hand on us the whole time we were gone. Let me show you what I mean.
Because of our changing plans, we did not book a hotel room until the day we left. The picture above is our room in the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas. Friday morning, we booked the Adolphus (a historic hotel where each of the last 15 presidents has stayed and goes for $350-$500 a night) for three nights at $65 a night. Using some vouchers I had gotten for taking our youth group to a Ranger game, we paid $6 for a child's ticket and parked for $5 because it was a Friday game. That's an $11 Ranger game not counting food. We also took in a day at the Dallas World Aquarium, Ft. Worth Zoo, Ice Age 3 at the historic Inwood Theater and a day at Splash Kingdom water park in Canton, TX. Thanks to some gift cards we had, we also ate at Texas Roadhouse for $13.
Our much-needed vacation was like a big hug from God saying to us, "It's going to be all right." It takes faith to see that God is doing things. I didn't realize what was going on until we pulled up to the hotel and realized what a swanky joint it was. But God is good and he gave us a precious gift by allowing us to enjoy the blessings we DO have. So, yes, the Lord does work in mysterious ways!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spiritual Windmills

Last year, my dad--who is a rancher--acquired a new plot of land to pasture his cattle. This place had a couple of barns, a small corral, and a stock pond (we call them "tanks" in east Texas). One of the items out at this place was a small decorative windmill that stood about 7 feet tall. It had a yaupon holly bush growing up through the middle of it and was not serving any sort of purpose whatsoever. For the longest time I thought, "Wow, that would be kind of cool in my yard." So, I asked my dad about it and he said I was welcome to have it.
Well, a few weeks ago, I was over at the pasture doing something and while I was there, I picked the windmill up, put it in my pickup, then brought it to my house. It sits in my front yard. I've heard that these small windmills are a deterrent for gophers because they don't like the vibrations they send through the ground. I cannot attest to the success or failure of the windmill as a gopher repellent. What has amazed me, though, is how much I enjoy watching the stupid thing. Yes, I get up in the morning, go to the kitchen window, and look at the windmill to see how hard the wind is blowing and which direction it is blowing from. It's a wonderful surprise in these summer months to see the windmill pointing toward the north and spinning at a brisk rotation!
Well, a few days ago, I was admiring the windmill and I was thinking about a verse of scripture. In the second chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit is described as "a mighty, rushing wind". In the passage, it appears to be a literal wind as the spirit comes down and inhabits the believers at Pentecost. In John 3, Jesus is having his famous night-time conversation with Nicodemus and he says, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." One of my favorite quotes from Billy Graham is that God is like the wind. We cannot see the wind. We can see the effects of the wind, but cannot see the wind itself.
Several years ago, I went through the study "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby. One of the teachings in the study is that we should find what God is doing through the Holy Spirit and join him there. I think every Christian would probably rather work alongside the Holy Spirit than work alone. But the working is not the hardest part. For most of us, it is finding where the Hoy Spirit is at work. What if we had a spiritual windmill to tell us what direction the "wind" was blowing and how powerful it was? Or do we have some of these spiritual windmills already? What are the indicators that God is at work? I think we often assume rapid growth of a church is a sign of God's movement. So what things serve as indicators of what God is doing?

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Fun New Toy for Worship

Okay, so I didn't set this blog up to be a forum for product reviews, but I wanted to share some experiences I had this weekend with incorporating

some new media technology into our youth worship experience. Several weeks ago, our adult praise team members informed me that they were going to be out much of the summer. Our piano player use the digital rhythm section on our keyboard to be kind of a "one man band" that we supplement with acoustic rhythm guitar. When he's not there we don't have any kind of rhythm section. Although, I play drums, we don't have anyone else in our church who plays bass. So when the piano player is out, it's just been me on bass and our guitar player on acoustic--until now. As a remedy to our situation, I purchased the Alesis SR-18. It has 100 different drum sets (pre-grouped drum sounds placed together), 100 preset rhythm patterns (that can not be edited), 100 user patterns (preset patterns that the user can edit), and additional storage space for more patterns the user wants to create. My sales rep at Sweetwater Music recommended, as an accessory, the Boss FS6 dual footswitch. Each pattern on the drum machine has an A sub-pattern and a B sub-pattern. Using the footswitch, the user can tap out his tempo, start the pattern, then can play fills on either the A or B sub-pattern or have a fill that transitions from A to B or vice versa. (This footswitch can also be used with any TRS (tip ring sleeve) cable to select channels on a guitar amp or control a keyboard. The pedal can be set for latching or non-latching where the pedal will stay on after pressed or it will only be activated when pressed. This could allow a keyboard player to use it for a permanent sustain function for organ sounds)

The drum machine has two mono outs for true stereo output, plus a third auxillary out as well as a headphone jack. It also has a midi in and midi out/thru. The display is backlit and easy to see. It has plenty of acoustic drum sounds that will be great for using in our church praise services, but one thing I wanted was a set of patterns that I could use with an acoustic drum set in the youth worship times. So this is what we did in our youth service, yesterday. We used an "industrial" patch (similar to a Nine Inch Nails sound) for the intro to "My Glorious" then cut the machine off and rocked in with acoustic drums and full band. Then we used the machine to play a "beat box" pattern (almost like 80's rap with vocal "drums") as an underlying groove for the song "Your Love, Oh Lord" by Third Day. While it took some rehearsing, this was a fun addition to our worship band. The unit was pretty easy to use and with about 5 or 10 minutes in the manual I was rockin' out. I have not begun to nearly tap into everything this unit will do, but considering the amount of time I've spent with it, it's already been a huge addition to our youth worship set-up.

It also comes with bass sounds on every rhythm patch (kind of cheesy, but functional) so if you just want to jam over a groove, you can do it. Or you can program your bass sounds to fit a particular song using the drum/bass pads on the unit. If you just want to use the drum sounds, you can mute the bass sounds on each pattern. Another cool feature is it has an instrument input where you can plug your guitar or keyboard straight into the unit with a 1/4 inch instrument cable. This would be a handy feature if you were in a situation where you were short on channels in the sound board.

If you are frequently in a drummerless situation or you are just wanting to add another dimension to your band's sound, this drum machine is available for around $260 from many retailers. It's predecessor, the SR-16 began production in the early 1990s and had about a 15-year run. Hopefully this one will do the same.

So, what products have changed the way you do worship? What would you recommend? What would you stay away from?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sin and Consequences (What I Learned from Mud Volleyball)

This weekend, I took my youth group to an event at Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, TX called Omega Fest. This was a fun Saturday event that featured a crawfish boil, live music, and a mud volleyball tournament. The sun was hot, the music was great, the mudbugs were spicy, and the volleyball was...well...muddy. You can't participate in a mud volleyball tournament and expect to stay clean. But on a hot summer day, the mud was cool and wet.
As our team was called up, we eased into the cool mud and it actually felt kind of good. It was at least six inches deep throughout the entire court, so none of us were quite sure what was underneath it. After a showdown of Rock, Paper, Scissors, our team got the first serve. I bumped the muddy ball up over the net and it was vollied right back at me just a few feet up from where I was standing. I jumped forward and went down on my knees to get my hands up under the ball. As I watched the ball go back over the net, I realized there was much more than mud in the pit. It seems as I attempted to return the ball, my knees had landed on a pile of rocks under the soft cool mud. After a hose-down and later a real shower I noticed scabs forming on both my knees as I suffered the consequences of a seemingly innocent game of mud volleyball. (The picture above is a shot of my knee taken on Monday after the Saturday match.)
As I pondered my experience, I began to realize that this is how sin is. Just like that soft cool mud (although dirty) looked good on the surface, I didn't realize until after I got in the pit that there were rocks in there. Once the rocks had cut me (both on my knees and the bottom of my feet), I didn't seem to notice it as much as long as I was covered in the cool mud. But when I got out of the pit and cleaned off, I really noticed the pain of what I'd done. James 1:13-15 says: "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." As sin entices us, and we give in, it brings pain in our lives and sometimes it seems like the only way to mask the pain is to keep on sinning (remain in the pit). However, God is light and what light does is expose the pain of our sin. 1 John 1:7 says "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." If you will allow me to extend the metaphor, God is the one who gets us out of the pit and washes us off and allows our wounds to heal. Thanks be to God that he calls us out of the pit of sin and cleanses us from our pain to bring about healing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Often Do You Meet?

As a youth worker, I've always felt the struggle between the actual amount of time I get to spend teaching and working with youth and the amounts of time they spend doing other things that are required of their time such as school, school sports, choir, band, drill team, cheerleading, one act play, UIL events, Academic Decathlon, sleeping, chores, hanging out with friends, going to the movies, etc., etc. Naturally, I've always thought that an easy way to combat this was to give students more opportunities to meet for Bible study throughout the week and through more events and activities on weekends. Many churches meet only once a week, but I've always tried to meet on Sunday and Wednesday nights--Sundays for small groups and Wednesday for a combined group meeting. At each meeting we have about 30 minutes of hang-out time (refreshments, video games, table games, Christian music videos playing on the TVs), then about 15-20 minutes of worship, then we have Bible study (everyone together or split into small groups). After Bible study is over, we have about 30 minutes more of hang-out time. We also have Sunday School, however, that has never been an outreach-oriented time. That is mainly attended by the kids whose parents are members of the church and are attending a class of their own and our church services.
Today, though, I was emailing back and forth with one of our youth workers discussing some of the issues in our youth program. Although he was very supportive of our twice-a-week meetings, he seemed open to the possibility that having more than one meeting a week (besides Sunday School) may actually be a deterrent for some kids who feel like if they can't make all of them, then why should they come to any of them? I've always thought if they couldn't make one, they could always make the other, so in my mind, more meetings was a good concept. However, the more I think about it, I think he may be on to something.
So, I'm posing this question to you, my peers in youth ministry. How often does your group meet? What format(s) are those meetings. Do you have any outdoor recreation? Give me your thoughts on how your group responds to your scheduled meetings and leave them in the form of a comment to this blog. Your input is valued and appreciated.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where's the Love?

This weekend, I was driving to a friend's church to lead worship for a Good Friday service. On the way, I saw a motorcycle rider on a sport bike--a small, brightly-colored bike built for speed-- quickly wave at a passing biker who was riding a cruiser--a Harley-styled bike with lots of chrome and loud pipes built for enjoying the open road. Two strangers on completely different types of bikes who were bound by one common bond--the love of having two less wheels underneath them than the average highway vehicle. As I saw that, I thought back to my days a few years ago when I had a Jeep Wranger TJ. Before I bought the Jeep, I took it for a test drive and noticed that as I passed other Jeep drivers they would wave. Not just a small wave either, but a bold wave. If they were in all-out Jeep mode and the windows or top were down or they would stick their arm out the window as a way of saying, "Hey, you're cool because you drive a Jeep!" For the next year, I enjoyed those waves and feeling like I was a part of something special, until I realized that although I loved my Jeep, it just didn't have the room I needed for the things I wanted to do. So I got a pick-up.
Fast forward to last week. A friend of mine was telling me that someone had basically told him he was not a Christian. He was in a convenience store and offered to buy a stranger's drink as a gesture of Christian love. When he told the stranger that Jesus loved him, the stranger asked him if he was a Christian. As the conversation went on, this particular individual went on to say that my friend was not a Christian because he was a part of a different Christian denomination than his own and that Christ never intended for there to me so many different churches. Acknowledging that he would pray for his new acquaintence, my friend walked out of the store.
Is this what we've come to? Are we really in a world where bikers and Jeepsters share a common bond and Christians just fight over our doctrinal differences? Maybe we've gotten too complacent. In the first century, the persecuted Christians would carve part of a fish symbol in the dirt and when the drawing was completed by the other individual, they celebrated their kindred spirit. Now we have these same fish symbols on bumper stickers, chrome car emblems, t-shirts, tattoos, earrings, necklaces, name tags, business signs, door knockers, and who knows what all else, and what do we do with it? We accuse one another of not being "saved" because someone goes to a different kind of church. In John 17, Jesus is praying a final prayer for his followers (both the ones of that day and the ones that were yet to be) before he endures the pain of the cross. Here is what he says.
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." God help us to be more unified!

How to get forms in on time?

This week, I've almost pulled my remaining hair out trying to get forms from all of the students we have going to two different mission trips. It has been a virtual communications experiment trying to acquire the registration forms this week by the April 15th deadline. Actually the deadline was April 1st, but the grace period carried over to the 15th (yes, I know it's tax day). I was joking with a friend of mine that I had decided to look on ebay for a team of ninjas (preferrably elderly and fat ones to keep costs low) to send to homes and acquire forms and payment from families when we were up against a deadline. So, here is how I went about everything. Please let me know if you would have done things differently.
1. Announce it to the students at youth group.
2. Email the forms to parents.
3. Snail mail the forms to the parents because email obviously didn't work.
4. Call/text remaining forms.
5. Have the pastor announce from the pulpit that registration forms are due.
6. Call/text ones that still weren't in.
All of the families paid their deposits for their students to go, so whether the kid wants to go or not, isn't the issue. Payment isn't even due for them until next week after we do a fund raiser lunch. So all that was required was to fill out a form and send it back with their kid at a youth meeting. I would rather not spend a good chunk of my youth budget on old/fat ninjas, so I'm asking my colleagues in youth ministry what you do to get forms in on time. Please comment on your thoughts!

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Bible Lesson from NASCAR

I've been following NASCAR on and off for the last 8 or 9 years. I get really into it when team sports are lacking, then I really lose interest when football season returns. However, one driver I've always watched and admired is Jeff Gordon. Although disliked by many fans because he is from California and not North Carolina, Tennessee, or Georgia and his last name is not Earnhardt, Petty, or Waltrip, he has consistently been one of the best drivers on the tour for a number of years. Another reason I've admired him is that he has been open about his faith in Jesus Christ and has used his celebrity status to share his testimony with others.

An interesting thing to note, though, about Jeff Gordon is that he finished 2nd in the points standings last season and is first in this season's point standings despite not having a win since the 2007 season. That means that while he has not been the best driver in any one race in over 18 months, he has consistently been ONE OF THE BEST drivers throught that time.

In Hebrews 12, the writer comes off of a list of people in chapter 11 who displayed great faith in God. He says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Perseverence isn't about being the best on one day. It is about consistently being very good. The whole idea of Methodism is that we are to be methodical in our approach to our faith. Anybody can have a mountain-top experience and be a one-day champion for a short period of time, but the Christian life is about consistency. Let's pray that we have that consistency to run the race so as to with the prize, every day of our lives.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Faith and Colorado City Limit Signs

Our youth group just went on a ski trip to Colorado. On this trip, I noticed something about mountain towns in Colorado that I've never noticed before. On the city limit signs, they put the elevation, not the population. Some have both, but the elevation is always put above the population. In my opinion, this kind of negates the whole idea of having people, right? What makes a town important? People. What makes a town special? People. This strange trend got the wheels of my head turning a bit.
How often in the Christian church, do we advertise or "brag" about what is superficial or frivilous rather than what is important? When we discuss our churches, how often into the conversation do we ask how many members a church or youth group has? We may discuss the size of our budget or the big plans we have for great events that will be supplemented by our big budget. As individuals we do this as well. It is easier to talk about what devotional we read that morning instead of opening up to fellow believers about the problems we are facing in our own life. Why let anyone know we are struggling?
In Psalm 15, the writer is asking "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?" The answer is one who is righteous and "speaks the truth from his heart." So, the thought I have is this? If we had a city limit sign on our heart or on our church, what would we put on it? Would it be something superficial and irrelevant or would it be something honest, and meaningful?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unintentional Break

I have no clever picture or anything for this post. It seems I inadvertently took a break from writing a blog post. I've been busy at the office organizing some youth events and getting my desk back to where I can see the color of the top of it. I've also been working on a manuscript for a book on youth ministry I hope to get published somehow. I also make it a point to try not to take my work home with me or spend too much time on the home computer working on youth stuff--I'm gone enough as it is to evening meetings and youth events.

Sometimes it's good to just cut a few things out for a bit. Hopefully, I'll get inspired to write some more stuff soon, but for now, rest has been good--really good.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Different Kind of Maturity

This weekend we did a new activity in our youth program called 30-Hour Famine. This is a program developed by World Vision encouraging students to get sponsored by friends and family to do a 30-hour period of fasting and prayer for world hunger. It's a great opportunity to teach your students about some of the deeper disciplines of the Christian life. World Vision makes it a pretty easy event to pull off because their website is a wellspring of programming ideas.
I went into the Famine weekend with high expectations. Due to some recent graduations, my youth program is pretty thin on senior high leadership. So, my hope was that this weekend would be a time when my students would come out of the shells a bit and actually pray out loud for various causes. We had a prayer vigil service for all the children around the world who were dying of preventable causes and we did a prayer walk through the streets of downtown Palestine. At each of these times, students were given opportunities to pray for different things.
I was very disappointed to finish the weekend feeling like my voice was the only voice that was heard. I was honestly tired of leading prayers and frustrated that my students were still embarassed, unsure, apprehensive, and reluctant to be vocal about their concerns for the world around them. I even began to wonder what they were thinking. Were they even affected by the information we discussed? Seeing the kids cut up and be rowdy at times that should have been reverent, provocative, and even a bit disturbing made my frustration go even further. Honestly, I left the event tired and disappointed with $1 worth of Kroger brand macaroni and cheese in my belly (World Vision feeds people for $1 a day, so we broke our fast with $1 worth of food).
Somewhere that night, though, it hit me. Throughout the whole 24 hour experience, not once did the kids whine about their lack of food. We had juice and things to keep us going. There were also jokes about sneaking a bite here and there. But when it was all said and done, these students who had become tired, irritable, and in many ways very uncomfortable from a lack of food, did not complain about their situation. This morning one of our church members came and told me she had asked one of our 8th grade boys about his fasting experience and she said he talked about it with a lot of maturity and understanding. This truly blessed me!
You see, I had in my mind a particular outcome for my students. I wanted them to show spiritual growth in a particular area. But what had happened was that they grew in another area--an area that is probably more important. So, as I seek ways to get my kids involved in the spiritual acts of leadership in the group, I can do so knowing that they are growing to maturity in Christ in their own ways!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Being the Body

Last week, I was nonchalantly walking down a sidewalk at our church paying no mind to the fact that some roofers had cleaned up just a couple of days earlier from the job they'd done on our church buildings. No less than 10 kids ran up the sidewalk right in front of me on their way to our Tuesday afternoon tutoring class. But as I walked, all of a sudden, I felt a sharp, excruciating pain shoot through the bottom of my foot, right on the smooth skin beneath my 4th and 5th toes. I literally thank God that I had the presence of mind to stop mid step before my foot went all the way to the ground with the full weight of my body on top of it. Somehow, I was able to catch myself, and quickly sit down leaving about 1/8" of the nail sticking out the bottom of my shoe. I'm also thankful I was wearing a pair of Wolverine chukka boots that day and not the Crocs I often wear to the office. A couple of band-aids and a tetanus shot later I was limping home, back to my daily routine.
The amazing thing is, though, how much that small puncture wound affected the rest of my body. I found that walking on my heel was much more comfortable than putting down the front of my foot. I also found that walking on my heel was much more comfortable if I was wearing a loose-fitting shoe, so I found myself wearing the aforementioned Crocs around the house. This very small injury caused me to walk in a completely different manner and actually develop muscle soreness in some different areas of my body.
As I pondered my "gimpy" state, I thought of Paul's teachings on the body of Christ. My favorite passage on this is I Corinthians 12. In this passage he says, "parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indespensible, and parts that we think are less honorable, we should treat with special honor."
How many of our churches are deficient in many areas because the people who should be doing the minstry of a "hand" or "eye" are to busy trying to be a "foot" or an "ear." When my foot was sore, my body did not have balance and control. It was inefficient. I have a feeling that's what some of our churches look like when we don't have enough people doing certain things in the body.

Monday, January 19, 2009

And People Say There is No God!

"Miracle on the Hudson" is what the headlines and news stories read. What amuses me, is today's definition of miracle. In our pseudo-Christian society where God, if he exists, is more of a relative hodge-podge of various cultural deities thrown into a postmodern philosophical blender, people are acknowledging that a miracle has occurred! I just think it's fascinating that even though the pilot was one of the most qualified individuals probably in the world for the task at hand AND did everything he was trained to do AND all the by-passing boat captains did what they knew to do to help out (whether they were trained or not) AND the crew of the aircraft knew exactly what to do to get everyone safely off the plane AND the plane was equipped with the proper safety features for such a time as this--that people still are calling this a miracle. Why? BECAUSE IT WAS A MIRACLE! You can write all this off as coincidence, but we all know that no one lands a jumbo jet in a river without losing a single person unless someone is watching over you.

Isaiah 26:8 says this..." Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, [a] we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts." We were put on this earth to testify to the wonder of God. What better time than when the world is witnessing what even non-believers are calling "a miracle"?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Importance of a Good Foundation

For Christmas, my wife and daughter bought me a pair of shoes. Very nice shoes that I really liked. Well, I wore them for a couple of weeks thinking, "These are pretty comfortable, but they just seem to be a little loose." You can always tell when a shoe is too big or when it just needs to be tightened at the laces. The problem was, though, that I couldn't get the laces any tighter. Not because they were already too tight, but as I looked closer they were laced in a funny way. Growing up, I learned to lace shoes by crossing over and putting the lace through the hole on the inside of the shoe, then crossing over and going through the inside of the next hole and so on. These were done the opposite, for reasons unbeknownst to me. Instead of being laced from the inside of the holes, these were laced from the outside to the inside which meant that when you tried to tighten the laces, it didn't work. It seems that someone at the shoe factory, or maybe at the shoe store did not know that laces needed to go a certain way. As I pondered this, I began to wonder how many things do our kids (whether our own children or students entrusted to our ministry) pick up over the years that are just not right?

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." This is not a promise from God, but rather a proverb--a general nugget of truth and wisdom. But the truth is there. We should train our children in the proper way. In the church, this means teaching them a sound theology. If they do not have an overall grasp of who God is in their lives, as soon as life gets rough, they will jump ship to the first temporary thing that will momentarily ease their pain. As we serve God's children, let us be thorough and accurate in our teaching.

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