Thursday, December 30, 2010

video
This is Josiah.  He is a student here in our middle school ministry.  He decided that instead of having people buy him gifts, that they should use that money to buy hats/glove/scarfs to hand out to the homeless.  So on Christmas morning, after everyone had opened their gifts, Josiah and his family bundled up and drove into the inner city in Indianapolis.

When his dad told me what he was planning to do, my heart broke at my own selfishness and my heart jumped for joy as my mind went to Luke 4 and what Jesus said-

 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What would happen if we all did this?  I think it's a great question to ask coming into 2011.  What can we do to proclaim 2011 as the year of the Lord's favor?

Blessings

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daaada!

Last night I came home from a leader's meeting and walked into the living room to see my wife holding my son.  He was almost asleep, but when he saw me he got this big goofy grin and said "Daaada!"  My heart broke as my son reached up for me and decided that I was just what he needed to finally fall asleep.  As I sat there holding him, all was right in the world.  Nothing had really changed.  It was just my son and me, sitting there on the couch.  But because it was my son and me- everything was perfect.  I just sat there and held him until his breathing became slow and deep.  It was quite literally perfect.

I got to thinking- "Is this how God feels when we come to Him?"  I wonder if He just wants us to sit in His lap and be with Him- no grocery list prayers, no worries or cares, just time spent with Him.  I wonder if we've made it too complicated:  We have to sound a certain way or we have to act a certain way...then we carry the guilt and shame of not living up to being like Jesus. 

In John 15 we see Jesus talking about our relationship w/ Him and the heavenly Father.  He uses the metaphor of the vine and branches.  He tells us that we are to "abide" or stay close to Him and that HE will grow the fruits in us.  He tells us that apart from Him, we can do nothing.  It is this connection to The Vine that we draw EVERYTHING we need in this life.  I can not be like Jesus- it's impossible.  My absolute best efforts are like filthy rags in His sight.  Apart from Him- I can do nothing.  What a freeing thought. 

It's not up to me to be better or different.  All I have to do is stay close to Him.  I do this by reading/meditating/memorizing His words.  Allowing them to penetrate my very soul and then and only then will I stay close to Him. That's when real life change occurs and I begin to see the world through my Saviors eyes.

As I sat on my couch, holding this sleeping treasure, I kissed his little mouth and thanked God for what He gave us.  My heart was aching at that moment and I honestly thought that if I could do this with my Father I bet He would feel the same way; that if I just came to Him to be close, without an agenda or list, that He would hold me the same way.  I bet He would just hold me until my breathing became slow and deep and that He would look at me with a love that caused His heart to ache; that He would kiss my mouth and be thankful the I am His.  What a freeing thought.

Blessings

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas?

Watching T.V. the other day, a commercial came on showing some kids playing with some toy.  The kids looked like they were having the time of their lives.  It was as if they had been born for just this moment- to play with THIS toy!  My 8 year old Jenna, looked at me with all seriousness and said, "They are using persuasion to make me want that toy."  I laughed as she used such an adult word.  But as I stopped to really think about what she had just said...it hit me that she just summed up our modern day holiday season.

The culture we live in has told my daughter that her life is incomplete without this new toy/game/doll/clothing line.  And it doesn't change as we get older- it just gets more expensive.  And no time of the year is worse than Christmas time.  When ALL the newest and best gadgets come out.  Commercials showing loving looks to one another of a brand new car or diamond.  Fathers/mothers getting hugs and laughs from sleepy eyed children ripping into gift boxes.  All exhorting the viewer to go out and buy in the "Spirit of the Holidays"!

Don't misunderstand my thoughts...I don't believe giving gifts is wrong.  I LOVE to give gifts.  I love watching the recipient of that gift as they realize what they've gotten.  I adore watching my kids get something and then play with it for the first time.  It is truly my pleasure to do so for the people I love.  But as a follower of Christ, I have to question what we're doing.

To celebrate the coming of our Savior- who came to preach the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to give sight to the blind, release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor- we spend money on stuff that we don't need and give it to people who don't need it.  So much so, we as a country will spend an estimated $140 BILLION on it this year!  It would only take a fraction of that to provide clean water to the entire world!

So this year, let's make a difference.  There are plenty of opportunities to buy gifts that make a difference.  You can go to these websites and make purchases that help do just what Jesus said he came to do:
globalgoodspartners.org
persecution.com
samaritanspurse.org
toms.org
activewater.org
haitinislandministry.org

And these are just a few of the many avenues you could take.  The point is to really proclaim what this season is truly about.  It's not about who gets what, or standing in line early in the morning for good deals, and it certainly is NOT about what phrase a store clerk uses during check out.  It is about the divine coming in flesh and tearing history in two!  It is about Christ giving up heaven and humbling himself to human form.  It is about a God who loved us so much as to sacrifice His son so He might have community with us. And it is about us using this time of year to truly proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Blessings

Friday, November 12, 2010

My son LOVE trains!  He can't get enough of them.  Where we live, there are train tracks about 1 mile and 1/2 away and every morning around 6 a.m. you can hear the train and it's whistle go by.  And almost every morning you can bet that Brock is standing up in his bed and yelling "CHOO-CHOO!  CHOO-CHOO!"  He also loves music.  Whenever there is music on, he's dancing like crazy, spinning in circles, jumping in the air and landing on his little bottom.  Right now, his favorite music is the theme song to his sister's shows- Spongebob Squarepants and Phineas & Pherb.  He'll get this big goofy grin on his face and start dancin' whenever it comes on.

My daughter loves to dream.  In fact, in just the last couple of weeks, she has decided that she wants to be a teacher, an astronaut, a scientist, and a singer/songwriter.  She has visions of solving the worlds problems, walking on the moon, teaching the next generation how to read, and having thousands of people singing her songs.  She's even tried to teach Brock a thing or two...

Remember when the world was open to any possibility?  Remember when you could be anything that you could dream up?  Remember when anything in this life gave you as much pleasure as a little boy and his train?  What happened?  Why did that stop?  I thought about this yesterday as I sat and watched story after story of our veterans.  I thought about what we've done with what God charged us with while watching the effects of living separate from His love.

In Colossians 1:19-20 we see that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was for the reconciliation of ALL things to Himself.  Not just a personal pronoun, I/you, but all of creation is being redeemed through His grace.  To live apart from that truth is to be something that we are not created to be.  It's in that statement we find (or at least I do) comfort in knowing that it doesn't have to be this way.  We were not created to be this way, He had so much more for us!  And yet, it was us who walked away from that.  In that moment, when man decided that he knew more than his Creator (Genesis 3:6), we began the quick descent into what we've seen throughout our history- life apart from His redeeming grace.

Last night, I went into my daughters room and pulled the covers up, kissed her beautiful face and said a prayer.  I walked into Brock's room and pulled the covers up, kissed his beautiful face and said a prayer.  My prayer was that God would give me the wisdom and strength to show them a different Way.  A Way that was better than what I had just watched.  A Way that leads to His grace.  A Way that would keep that wonder, magic, and hope alive- where they could still dance and love trains, where they could walk on the moon and sing a song on stage. A Way where they could grow up and change their world.

Blessings

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is it really?

One of the questions last night was:  "Do you really believe the Bible is the Word of God?"  All of the students in the group answered yes.  An answer we pretty much expected (even if not everyone actually believes that).  Then one of the students asked:  "Why do you believe that?"  Silence.

It's a good question.  One that anyone who calls themselves a follower must address and answer.  Why do you believe that?  Unfortunately, no one in the group really had any kind of an answer.  I'm not sure that they had been challenged like that before.  To really think, and defend why they believe certain things isn't something most people deal with.

1 Peter 3:15-16
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Scripture clearly tells us that we need to be ready to talk about such difficult questions.  Why do we believe this or that?  What about this or that?  No one is saying that we have to have all the answers, but we should be reading/studying His Word to get a better understanding of what it is we believe/follow.

If we are called to Follow Christ, to be His disciples then we must know what He taught and how He lived.  The only way to do that is to be in the Word.  To read daily and to read communally in the larger body of believers.  Not only having "quiet times" but getting together with other followers to read and talk through Scriptures.  It wouldn't hurt to have some people not of our faith push us too!

My prayer for our students and families is that we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through His word, that we allow it to change who we are, that we realize that it is living and active, and that we begin to live it out.  And the ONLY way to do so, is to be IN the word.

So the question remains: "Why do you believe the Bible is God's Word?"  What's your answer?

Blessings

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Active:Water = Active:Faith

Last night at Crossfire, we had an Active:Water night.  We watched the film Zambia's Song, did the disease pathways experience, and brainstormed ideas about how we could help. It was amazing to see the light in their eyes as they began to see that they really could make a difference.

I look at the church and I notice something amazing... I see a whole generation of followers that realize that their faith isn't tied to a building.  Their faith isn't something that rests on a Sunday morning service, a Bible study, or a worship style.  It rests in the fact that their faith propels them to take action locally and globally.  They see that if they are following Jesus, they must take the words of Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 4:18-21 seriously.  One is very much tied into the idea that serving those on the outside of society is intertwined with our faith and even salvation and the other is Jesus claiming a passage in Isaiah.  Both speak to serving the poor and disadvantaged.  Scripture screams that we must not love with just words, but with action and in truth.  The book of James even says that faith without action is dead! 

I see people serving the homeless in St. Louis, driving to New Orleans to rebuild homes, spending weeks in Haiti at medical clinics, and serving at summer camps for the underprivileged.  And that's just from people at my home church, that doesn't include the many other churches that send thousands of people all over the place!

I believe that when the Church sees the fact that our faith is tied to the "least of these" that we'll see an awakening like nothing ever witnessed.  That when we realize that our brothers and sisters are suffering, it's our call to either ease that suffering or willfully participate in that suffering with them. 

Last night, our students saw that they are called to serve.   They saw that they are called to be different.  They are called to love the least.

Blessings

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can you hear that?

How is it that God starts a movement of the heart?  How does He chose to speak to us...to me? 

Last night we had a prayer/worship service for our teens.  We spent an hour praising and praying to our Creator.  We went through eight different stations dealing with things from self image to lying to over indulgence to vanity.  At each station, we were challenged to take a scoop of sand from a bucket if we struggled with that thing.  After a while, our bags began to grow heavy.  Our struggles and sins began to become a physical burden to carry.  Our eyes were opened to the fact that we carry way too much in our lives.  That in the hustle and bustle of trying to do Christianity, we have forgotten what it mean to BE a follower.

We spent some time just listening.  Waiting.

Then we left the bags, filled w/ our struggles, in a pile at the front of the room.  Does that mean we won't struggle with those things?  Hardly.  In fact, we might struggle more.  The point of the whole night was to not go through some feeble exercise, naively thinking it was really taking our struggles away.  No, more importantly, we took the time to listen.

We see in 1 Kings 19, that God speaks to Elijah while he was in a dark place in his life.  God tells Elijah to come out of the cave he's hiding in, because the Lord was going to pass by.  It says that a wind tore through, but that God wasn't in that.  Next an earthquake, but God wasn't in that either.  And last a fire came, but God wasn't there as well.  Then, a gentle whisper.  In Scripture all of these natural occurrences can be seen as a precursor to the coming of God.  But not here.  That fact has tremendous importance to us.

So what's the lesson that God spoke in a gentle whisper and not the miraculous or spectacular?  That when God speaks to us, more often than not, He speaks to His people.  Reformations, and awakenings all at the hearing of that gentle whisper. 

In the passage above, it says that when Elijah heard it he covered his face and went out to see the Lord.  It might take a while for us to hear that whisper.  We might have to take some time to look over our lives, to get rid of some clutter to hear him, but when we do hear it- how will we respond?

I would challenge you to take a moment right now, to go somewhere quiet and listen.  You never know what you might hear.

Blessings

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Be still, and know that I am God!
Psalm 46:10

In Crossfire we talked about prayer.  We'll talk about it again next week, and we're talking about it at our Fuel groups as well.  I've been doing a lot of it lately and I know several others that are too.  Prayer is showing up all around us here for one reason or another.  We're doing an awful lot of talking.

So we decided to let Him talk to us last night.  We set up 3 prayer stations and had a time where the students could just come and go to each one as they saw fit.  It was awesome.  Students stopping to think, to listen as God spoke to them.  Some of them for the first time!  You could see the change on their faces as the evening wore on.

If you look at the above verse, and then go read Psalm 46 you'll see something there.  Something that really intrigues me.  The whole chapter is about how mighty he is, about how the very earth obeys Him.  How we never have to be scared, even in the face of destruction, because He is our refuge and strength.  Shouldn't that be obvious to us?  Isn't it weird that He would say "Be still and know..."?  Why not something like, "Look at how awesome I am and know?"  Or  "Take a look at what I've done and know"?

I wonder if God had the author pen these words with us in mind?  How hard is it to "be still"?  When was the last time you were still for even just a moment?  In your car this morning?  Was it before the kids got up or before you got dressed for school?  Is it in that moment before sleep that you find stillness?  Whenever it is, if you're like me, it's rare. 

In the hustle of everything we "have" to do (practices, rehearsals, school events, church groups/studies/events/services/parties/lock-ins/dinners/meetings) we never stop to "be still".  We get so busy doing, that we forget about being.

Next week at Crossfire, we are going to create an atmosphere where our students will be allowed to do just that.  To stop.  To be still.  To listen.  To KNOW.  And if you haven't done that in a while- I invite you to come as well.

God is our refuge and strength,
      always ready to help in times of trouble.
 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
      and the mountains crumble into the sea.
 Let the oceans roar and foam.
      Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! 
A river brings joy to the city of our God,
      the sacred home of the Most High.
 God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
      From the very break of day, God will protect it.
 The nations are in chaos,
      and their kingdoms crumble!
   God’s voice thunders,
      and the earth melts!
 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
      the God of Israel is our fortress.
 Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
      See how he brings destruction upon the world.
 He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
      He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
      he burns the shields with fire.
 “Be still, and know that I am God!
      I will be honored by every nation.
      I will be honored throughout the world.”
 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
      the God of Israel is our fortress.

Blessings

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gargling and Heaven

After Kelsey had beat out 2 other teens in gargling a song, we opened the word and began to look at what it said about heaven. We talked about the no more pain or tears or hunger verses. We looked at what John saw and tried to describe in his book of Revelation. We asked questions like: "Do you believe in heaven?" "How do you get there?" "What does it look like?" All for the purpose of leading them to one particular questions...."What next?"

In Acts 1 after Jesus had ascended into the sky, the disciples were just standing looking up. Intently, is the word used. When two men dressed in white appeared beside them and asked why they were just standing there looking up. The two men told them He would come back just as He left. It was almost as if the two men in white were saying..."What are you guys doing? Get to gettin'!"

All too often, we in the church stand around gazing into the sky waiting for a return no one can predict. In the mean time, people all around us and the globe are suffering. Whether that pain is from a job loss, or the loss of a loved one. They struggle with depression or sexual identity. Maybe it's a child that is hungry in a village in Mozambique or it's a pastor imprisoned for his beliefs. Regardless of what that pain is- Jesus has called us to more than just waiting for heaven.

Scripture shows that Jesus prayed that His will be done ON earth as it is in heaven. Revelation 21 shows a picture of a new heaven and new earth coming together as the final dwelling place. It's a picture of the Divine living in community with His followers. I believe it's the idea that the church is here to communicate His story of love and redemption in action and in truth. It's time to do something! Anything!

We can no longer stand around and look skyward as if that's all we have to do. Jesus is calling us to make a difference. To bring His presence to where ever we go. It's time for us, His followers, to begin living it every second of every day. We are called to put flesh and bones on Jesus' prayer.

After we were done last night, three middle school students pulled me aside. They said they were tired of living "regular" lives. They wanted to be different. They told me they wanted to commit their lives to Him and be baptized. My heart jumped in my chest and tears came to my eyes. Right in front of me was Jesus' prayer. His will on earth as it is in heaven.

Blessings

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tale of a 6th grade something

I had a parent come to me with a story the other day. It went like this:

“My daughter (they both will remain nameless- but you know who you are) and I went to the store b/c she wanted to buy some balloons and stuff to decorate a locker at school. She saved up her own money to do it. She had three dollar bills and the rest was all change. For her to do that was a big deal.”

“While we were standing looking at what to buy, I had someone tap me on my shoulder. I looked and it was a young woman holding a baby. She said that she had come to the store to buy baby food and ran out of gas. She was embarrassed to ask for some money for gas. I was in tears b/c I didn’t have any cash at all. That’s when my daughter took the money she was saving and handed it to her. I was so proud of her.”

How amazing is it, when we realize that our lives are meant to be a blessing to others? That our entire existence is to glorify the One that created us? That our reason for being is to serve others so that they see His amazing grace and love? And how amazing is it when we see that lesson lived out in the life of a 6th grade student?

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

It is when we realize who we are in Him that we can do what we should in Him. Not for personal gain or glory, but all for Him.

So, to you 6th grade student: Thank you for living Jesus in that store, on that day. And to you 6th grade mom: Thank you for sharing and for allowing your student to be Jesus to that woman.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A teenage girl from the mid-west and a book from the middle east

Last night at Crossfire, we talked about stereotypes.  We sang some songs, played some games, read some scripture and went into breakout groups.  It was pretty much the same thing we always do, until something happened.  One student allowed the Spirit to move in her life. 

She opened up about her story and began to share how people treat her b/c of what's on the outside.  She shared about how that warped her view of others and ultimately her Savior.  She was vulnerable.  She cried.  Then she wept.  It was in that moment that I saw Christ speak to her heart.  Life change!

I was reading through different posts and blogs and news stories today and I kept seeing one particular story pop up:  the Florida pastor (the fact that you know who I'm talking about goes to show the media coverage of this incident).  I can't help but feel like the two separate events are intertwined somehow. 

One has to do w/ a teenage girl in Wentzville, MO and the other has to do w/ a pastor of a church in Florida.  But essentially they are the same.

What I mean is this:  that teenage girl had been decieved into thinking she had less worth because of her appearence.  That Florida pastor has been decieved into believing that someone else has less worth because of their religion.  Both are lies.

Christ came to reconcille us to Him.  He came so that we may be freed and not have to carry the chains of sin & death.  He came to set the captives free.  And yet so often we allow Satan to trick and decieve us into believing his lies.  Whether that lie is: "You are of less value b/c you look different" or it's: "If you yell loud enough people will believe you're right and they're wrong."  Both are lies and have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus.

Instead, Jesus taught things like blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), love and pray for your enemy (Matthew 5:42-44), turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-40/ Luke 6:28-30 ), and blessed are those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:9-11).  He showed us a different way, a better way to live.  In Philippians 2:3-4 it says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."  Our attitude should be just like Jesus, who loved us while we were still sinners and died on a cross to show us that love.  Since when did we become about judging others based on appearances or any other superficial means.  Since when did we forget that this fight is not against flesh & blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). 

I'm not sure where that leaves us.  I know that Jesus' way doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me most times.  I do know that I serve a God that doesn't make a lot of sense and I love that.  I do know that most of the time I hang on for dear life as He directs me.  I do know that He has called me (us) to love others regardless of what/who they are. And I do know that I'm not called to prove Him right, I'm called to show people His love.

So, there you go.  A teenage girl from the mid-west and a book from the middle east...who woulda' thunk it.

Blessings

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stereotypes and authenticity

Our talk tonight centers around stereotypes/ judging people by looks.  It's about how we all try on different identities through out our lives, depending on where we are in life. Over the last week I've been looking at my own life and my walk w/ Christ.  I've come to the conclusion that many times my ministry is what I use to have people accept me.  The rush from a well delivered sermon, the ability to communicate Christ's love effectively:  These are all things that can and do hinder my walk.  Instead of constantly reflecting God's glory, sometimes my own gets in there as well.

I remember in high school and college, I tried on identities like socks.  Some days I was the prep, others the jock.  I even went through a punk phase where I only wore clothes from the Salvation Army!  The problem was, none of them were truly me.  I wasn't living as Christ designed me!  I was not living like his son.  It was like living life as a counterfeit or living a story different from my own.

It wasn't until many years later...after I had been in ministry several years that I was able to begin to allow my real identity to shine through.  It was difficult and many times I still revert back.  But being real, authentic, being who Christ made me, frees me to live life differently.  Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  That's who we are.  That's who I strive to be.  Who are you?

God bless

Hello WCC

Hey everyone!  Welcome to my blog.  My prayer is that every week teens, parents, and anyone else can come here and read something that uplifts their spirits, causes you to think and maybe start a discussion or two.  I will primarily use this to blog about things we are talking about w/ our teens but occasionally I will use it to inform you guys about a particular topic that is relevant to the larger body.  Thanks for following along on this journey called student ministry!


God bless,
Joe