Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Your Faith an Extra-Curricular Activity?

I've found myself wrestling with an issue I've seen other parents wrestle with throughout my 13 years in youth ministry. I now have three kids and the two oldest are getting more and more active in extra-curricular activities.  Each week we have violin, travel basketball, baseball, dance, and beta club activities to fit in between work, school, chores, family time and ... wait.. what did I forget?  Oh yeah... church!

As a family we have to make tough decisions between activities we love and worshiping/learning about a God that we love above all else.  Stating it that way doesn't make it sound like such a tough decision.  The God who created everything wants a relationship with us.  Part of that relationship is experienced through worship and study done at church.  A relationship with the Creator versus recreational baseball should be an easy choice.

But it isn't.  

Our kids love these things because we encourage them.  We take them to practice.  We listen to them play.  We cheer them on at games.  We get them flowers after a performance.  We invite family and friends to watch these events as well. And all of that attention, time and energy makes it difficult for us to choose church over these activities.

But do we take them to church?  Do we listen to their questions about God? Do we cheer them on as they do works of mercy? Do we encourage them when they reach spiritual milestones? Do we invite our friends and family on a faith journey with us?

That is the goal, correct?  A faith journey routed in a belief in Jesus.  Yet we don't take the time to nurture the relationship with Jesus or the journey with our children.

I often get the question about a child's future in the real world (as if the real world and church cannot intersect).  My response is always this: In order for your child to be the person that God calls him or her to be, your child must first know who God is.  The odds of becoming a famous musician or professional athlete are astronomical but the odds of God loving you are 1:1.  Do the math.  Go for the win.  Then go for the dream.

My kids have missed church a few times this year for extra-curricular activities.  The good news is that God still loves them (and their parents) even when they aren't at church.  My hope is that I can remember my own advice and give them as many chances as possible to develop a relationship with God. 

Until Everyone Hears, 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In the 1960s there was an experiment called "The Visual Cliff Experiment."  You can watch it here but the gist of it is, that a baby would be placed on a surface where half of it appeared solid and the other half appeared as though nothing was there.  The surface had plexi-glass on one side and they had babies crawling across the surface toward their mommies.

Babies aren't stupid.  The could see that there was nothing in front of them and would not crawl across.  But if the mommy was encouraging them with verbal cues and facial expressions, the baby would crawl across knowing that his or her mommy wouldn't let them get hurt.

When I picture this, I think of the story of Jesus walking on water.  Peter see Jesus..  Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and Peter starts walking on water as well.  If Jesus had said nothing, Peter would not have gotten out of the boat.

There are times in life when we need encouragement.  It may seem that we can't get to where we want to go, but you can.  You just need someone to tell you to get out of the boat.

May you find words of encouragement today so that you can be the person God calls you to be.

Until Everyone Hears,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Numbered List = Reformation

It never occurred to me before that I might have something in common with Martin Luther.  Then I realized that, he too, was a list maker.

I always knew that there was power in a numbered list, but until this revelation, I had never tried to unleash it.  My past lists were only created for me.  Lists that affected others were not written down.  Such as those on my $%&^ list. I try to be a positive person, so that type of list goes against what I'm aiming for in life.

So with my aim of spreading the love of Jesus and thus living a happy blessed life, here is my list.  May true reform commence.

  1.  I do believe in God and love to talk about Him.  I will keep doing so ... well .. you know... Until Everyone Hears.
  2.  There are some things in life that should not be taken for granted. Naps, baby snuggles, bacon, and The Big Bang Theory are a few.  I am thankful for all of these whenever I can experience them and I'm thankful for my family, my healthy, and my church on an ongoing basis.  I encourage you to think about what you are thankful for as well.
  3. I feel that the mind, body and spirit should all be attended to with great care.  It is especially important to teach young children and youth the importance of knowledge, health, and faith.  We do a poor job of this in our culture.  We say the importance of all three, yet our actions show another.
  4. I believe in prayer time with my children.  Every night. Before bed.  I want this to be the last memory they have as they drift off to sleep.
  5. The mandate and art of the Sabbath has been lost.  Our culture makes it very difficult to do so.  We need to be culture changers.
  6. I think that laughter is the best medicine but not when it is directed toward other people.
  7. I know that love is more powerful than anything.
  8. I know that power is a subjective term.
  9. I believe that Martin Luther's list was too long.  If you don't keep things simple, then people will stop reading.  Of course he did bring reform, so what do I know.
  10. I know that doing any of the above  are difficult at times.  We are human.  We won't always get things right.  I am human.  I will fail.  And when I do, I seek forgiveness and repent.  I get back on track.  I keep moving forward. Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.

Until Everyone Hears,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What I Virtually Learned From General Conference

I hesitate writing this post.  I fear that 1) it might bring up actual General Conference issues and b) it is a waste of time since General Conference 2012 has officially Jumped the Shark (google it).

But alas I have many things that need to be said.  Fortunately for those reading, I'll only say three of them here.

For those of you who don't know, General Conference is something that happens in the United Methodist Church every four years.  People from all over the world get together to worship God and make decisions about the future of the UMC.

This year I got to watch the sessions and worship services online.  While I was watching it live, I could also go onto Twitter and, using the hashtag #2012, see the opinions of several thousand of my not-so-closest Twitter friends.

Now that we are all caught up, I'd like to voice my insight about watching GC2012 online.

1) Always think about what the streaming video will look like when you begin stage/altar design.  While the designs were beautiful and went nicely with the theme, some of them were confusing when we only got a small glimpse of them.  For example this cross:

...seems pretty stunning.  But when I saw it, all I could see was the corner of it and it was green.  It looked like the Jolly Green Giant was the next speaker waiting his turn. I kept wondering if the next topic was about environmental initiatives.  Of course it doesn't take much for my mind to wander, but I wish I knew that this was what I was really supposed to be looking at.

2) Watching the feed and Twitter was addictive.  I found myself really missing it when I had to go somewhere. I was constantly checking Twitter on my smart phone so I could try to piece together what went on.  Another clergy and I would text each other if something happened, so that we didn't miss anything.  Yet when the feed was turned off and twitter slowed down, I felt a bit let down.  I felt like I was part of a community until the media slowed down.  Something to think about for those of you using these things in churches.

3) The affirming voices need to speak up. I'm speaking "virtually" here.  I'm not sure how it was in person, but on Twitter there was a lot of negativity.  Every so often you would be able to follow a few people who would praise a speaker or a delegate (especially during worship) but it didn't happen as often as one would hope.  GC2012 was supposed to be a celebration of who we are and where we are going.  We all know that there are problems in the church.  We all know it is hard to agree on the right direction at times. But its hard to fix these problems in 140 characters.  So speak up in praise of the delegates we sent there to do the job.  They need to hear that we are thankful.

I enjoyed my experience from my home office.  I feel like I now have a better understanding of how things work at General Conference.  And I'm also happy to know that the Jolly Green Giant is a United Methodist.

Until Everyone Hears,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bonuses from Living with your Mom

This year I hit a milestone a bit early in my life: my mom moved in with us.

It is interesting the reactions I get when I tell people this.  Either 1) they get a look of pity on their face and assume she's an invalid 2) they get a look of pity on their face and assume I'm going insane or 3) they get a look of pity on their face because their parent(s) have moved in with them as well.

While numbers 1 and 2 have varying degrees of correctness, there have been several bonuses that have popped up as a result of living with my mom (again).

1) The Laundry Fairy Does Exist:  Just when I'm beginning to think that The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Santa Clause may  be less than perfect, The Laundry Fairy shows up at my house.  She doesn't come every day.  But occasionally I'll come home after having left my laundry in the dryer, after drying time is over, a bit longer than recommended, and The Laundry Fairy has removed AND FOLDED an entire load of laundry.  Call me sentimental, but this might be better (at times) than a stocking full of chocolate.

2) I Am Not As Soft Spoken As I Appear: I was about to get the rest of my family's hearing checked.  I say something. I repeat it.  I speak it thrice.  And still my requests go unanswered.  I thought that maybe I was just soft spoken, so I started raising my voice in order to be heard.  It didn't help.  Then I discovered there is someone else in this world who can hear me just fine.  I do not have to yell things in order for my mom to hear me.  If she doesn't understand, she'll ask me to repeat myself and not stare blankly at the TV.

3) I'm Saving The Planet: A visit to see mom now requires me to walk downstairs.  I no longer have to call.  I don't have to waste the gas.  There are some Sundays when the six of us go to church all in one car! We don't waste energy in our basement for no reason.  We use it for mom.  She's pretty comfy down there and our dog loves having someone else to give her some attention.

All in all, its not so bad.  I feel like I'm finally honoring her when I haven't been able to before. That particular commandment had always eluded me, but now I feel that we are being the family that God wants us to be.

Until Everyone Hears,

Monday, May 21, 2012

Apology to my Youth Pastor

I had two different Youth Pastor's growing up and many amazing lay youth leaders at Morrow UMC.  They saw me at my finest teenage moments. The other five years and eleven months they saw the real teenage me.  The awkward, obnoxious, rude, know-it-all that I still am but suppress as  much as possible.

After working in youth ministry for the past 13 years, I am way overdue in writing all of these wonderful people a letter of apology.

As a parent, there was a moment where I got frustrated with my children and decided I needed to tell my parents that I'm sorry for doing the exact same thing that my kids just did 30 years ago.  It doesn't always happen the same way in youth ministry.  So for all the youth workers of America, this letter is for you...

Dear Trinka, Willy, Papa Ray, Mama Johnson, The Brannons, et al,

You'd be happy to know that God finally got a hold of me and I am now focusing my life on Him most of the time.  I have finally learned what Grace is and realize that you all showed me Grace in an abundance of ways while I was in your youth group.  There are so many things that I'd like to thank you for but right now I'd like to focus on a few things that I need to apologize for.

1) Rolling My Eyes - I'd like to make the excuse that I was looking toward heaven but we both know that is not the case. Eye rolling is mandatory among teenagers.  Although I don't believe in predestination, I do think that it might apply to eye rolling in teenagers.  So I guess I should cut myself some slack except that I didn't just roll my eyes when the adults said something that showed their age.  I won the gold medal in eye rolling.  I became a champion in the ocular muscle movement. But I can't forgive myself for the eye rolling that took place during the times you showed me your heart and I rebelled. I realize now that I probably hurt you during those times and I'm sorry. (Along the same lines, I'd like to apologize for huffing, whispers, snickers, and sassiness that was uncalled for.)

2) The Social Club Mindset - For much of my teenage years and into my twenties, I thought of church as a place to meet people.  It was all about having fun with prayer included.  Doing things like reading the Bible or being a good steward were not on my radar.  Then when I got to seminary I had the audacity to ask why my church had not taught me more when I was younger.  I realize now that there were several opportunities to become a better disciple, but I complained that we weren't doing enough fun things. Although I'm grateful for the fellowship and friendships I had in my youth, I'm also grateful for those adults who tried to help me become a better disciple and I wish I'd paid attention more.

3) Not Sharing - I'm an only child.  I guess that could serve as a sufficient explanation. But the world from birth to age 18 was all about me.  I never realized the importance of sharing the little things like the popcorn I brought as a snack, much less the bigger things like my faith.  I realize now, if I really like something, then I should share it. Tell people about that great restaurant.  Let people know how amazing that doctor is. And above all else, share the love of God.

I'm sure there are many other things I should apologize for but these are the big three I can think of right now.  And I'll also have you know that no matter how teenage-like I was during my teen years, your wisdom did sink in.  It shaped who I am and is still helping me to be a better person.

Thank you and bless you.

Until Everyone Hears,

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