Hitting Pay Dirt

I keep a blog for my youth ministry students and parents , where I try to regularly post previews of what is to come for our weekly programs. This week, we’ll be talking about the Parable of the Soils. I thought I’d re-post this week’s preview article since, for me, the message in Jesus’ teaching here was particularly moving, especially coming off the coat tails of my last post about evangelism. 

legosowerI don’t have much of a green thumb. I’d like to, but there always seems to be something getting in the way of me cultivating my gardening skills – weather, new baby, cash flow, motivation – and I then find myself in the produce section of Walmart knowing that the over-priced tomatoes I’m about to buy will be squishy and tasteless. And don’t even get me started on the peaches.

We rent our home, so there is little obligation to do any landscaping beyond keeping the lawn in order. But in the spirit of making a house a home, we decided to do a few minor improvements this spring and summer. I dug some trenches, laid eco-friendly siding, poured mulch, and even planted some wild flowers (planting wild flowers: a self-defeating statement, I know). Continue reading

Licking Your Elbow (And Other Spiritual Practices)

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I’ve had a lot of conversations I’m not proud of. Most of them happened in my middle school cafeteria between the fall of 1995 and the summer of 1998. Yesterday, I didn’t get far in my reading of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome before I recalled one such conversation my friends and I had over our lunches. It was one of those Christmas Story-ish exchanges young boys have that rarely results in anything good, let alone dignified. I can’t remember who, but somebody brought up the notion that it is impossible to lick one’s own elbow. Before long, arguments ensued, and most of us were trying ardently to be the first one to achieve the elusive self-elbow-lick. Some of us really believed it could be done. I probably would have achieved it if I hadn’t looked up and saw a table full of girls looking at us like we had hot dogs shooting out of our ears. Those who knew me in middle school know that I could not afford much social embarrassment such as this, so I prudently put my elbow down, holstered my tongue, and ate my peanut butter and banana sandwich. Long story short, nobody managed the feat that day.

I usually skim over things like lengthy greetings in biblical epistles (something my Bible college professors taught me not to do). But today, something caught my attention in the very first verse. In Romans 1:1, Paul introduces himself (which was customary) as someone who is set apart for the gospel of God. The Greek word for “set apart” is aphorizō, which, in a good sense, means “to appoint” or ” to set apart for some purpose.” The meaning of this seems typical and obvious enough – as Christians, we’re led to believe that we are set aside because of our faith, and that somehow our faith ought to result in things like good behavior, passing on traditions, keeping kids good, hiding from the world, and carelessly judging other people. But for Paul, a man whose experiences were much more vast and intense than most Bible readers’ experiences today, the use of aphorizō meant something much deeper. Continue reading

How to Steal the Pax Romana

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Here’s a mind-blowing revelation for you: ministry is not without its stressors.

In my previous post, I listed some of the experiences a typical small church youth pastor has in a year of ministry. Some are good, some are bad, but all are spiritually strengthening and uplifting if looked at from the right perspective.

I’ve decided to spend some time studying Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (written from a friend’s house in Corinth in the winter of AD 57). I chose this for myself at this time because the context from which it was written seems to be appropriate for the stress, disillusionment, and questions a young pastor (and any committed follower of Jesus, for that matter) might have at any given time. Just try to picture Paul, as he dictated this letter to his friend: as he paces the room, his gait is labored from multiple beatings over his lifetime. His scarred body and face, just like Forrest Gump’s shoes, tell tales of where he’s been – but his eyes and spirit tell where he’s going. It’s that kind of optimism that I, and I’m sure many others, can use.

If you can relate with the first century Christians who felt beat down, weathered, marginalized, and perhaps forgotten, then I’d encourage you to spend some time in the book of Romans. If you lack knowledge, Paul’s magnum opus acts as an informative manifesto of the Church’s (capital C) essential doctrine. If you lack courage, you will learn to sympathize with the letter’s original recipients, and your confidence will be restored. Continue reading

A Note For Churches Looking For A Youth Pastor

qualifiedpastorI’ve been at my current ministry in Kansas City now for 2 years, and I still don’t know what Rock Chalk Jayhawk means. I just know that if I say it, it gets people’s attention around here. It’s been an eventful couple of years for me. Such a milestone causes a guy to look back. As I was doing some self-evaulation of my first two years of ministry here in Kansas City (after a move halfway across the country from Fresno, California), I couldn’t help but think back to some of the job descriptions I read during my job search. I looked at churches all over America and saw an incredibly wide range of requirements and requisites for potential youth pastors. Some churches understandably wanted recordings of sermons preached.  Some required a class B or C driver’s license (you know, in case the need for a long haul trucker comes up). A surprising number required applicants to include family pictures (is this legal?). But one of the most common and most upsetting requirements I encountered was the one that looked something like this: “Must have X years experience in a church of 1000 or more,” or maybe “…X years experience, preferably in a large church setting.” Continue reading

I don’t mean to gossip, but…

“I don’t mean to gossip, but did you hear…”

These were the first words I heard when I walked into my normal workout area at the gym. As I headed for the TRX, I had to pass the two gossip ladies who are always hoarding equipment but rarely using it on account of their constant chatter (thank God I don’t need to use the pink hand weights and jazzercise steps). They’re always there when I am. Always. And I always have to hear about whose life is in shambles, who needs to wear less makeup, who has the worst hygiene, and ohmygoshjustmakeitstop.

But today’s gossip gave me a little more insight into just how sickening it is. Today the conversation revealed enough to me that I was able to determine that these two dressed-alike-hand-weight-hoarding ladies are talking about folks that go to their church. Continue reading

On Rights for Rights and Lefts

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog post. It’s not for lack of material – indeed, I’ve had plenty of observations over the last several weeks that could manafest an interesting blog post – but due to busyness and the fear of being inaccurately labeled as a ranting liberal (who knew gun control was such a hot issue?), I’ve chosen to dial it back a bit. But here we are, and here is the simple truth: I’ve read something in the Bible and want to share it with you. Whether it is considered to be conservative or liberal in nature, I could not care less. I would hope it is neither.

I serve as youth pastor at a church where the senior pastor is cool enough to call me “Associate Pastor” rather than just the “youth guy.” He even lets me preach from time to time with a “whenever you want, just let me know” sort of attitude, and I really appreciate that kind of ministerial validation. When the opportunity came for me to take on a four-week preaching binge, I gladly accepted and planned a four-week series on the book of Philippians. In reality, one could exegetically take months preaching from this epistle, but I’m happy to at least do a brief survey over it. Continue reading

In Utero Theology: Wisdom from an Embryo

This is my son Milo, the day we first saw him. He’s already excelling at his pre-reflexogenic skills.

You probably wouldn’t expect that a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Psychological Science would have written anything that could deepen my theological understanding of the divine-human relationship, or even my faith in Jesus Christ . . . but here we are.

I’ve recently read a book by Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, that completely changed the way I read Genesis 1:27 and Luke 9:23. The book is titled Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and BeyondI’m sure my parents raised their eyebrows a bit when this title showed up on my Christmas list, but when I saw it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, my only thought was “there HAS to be some teachable stuff in this book.” Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Welfare (and be cool about it)

It saddens me that I have seen multiple forms of this message posted on the social networks by my Christ-following friends. Does this communicate a heart for the hurting?

I have my own opinions about welfare. I also have a few thoughts about immigration. But I’ll do my best to keep them to myself for now. What I want to talk about today is not the actual subjects of welfare and immigration, but the general tone and attitude a follower of Christ ought to have when discussing the issues around helping those in need.

To be honest, I intended to write about something completely different today (prenatal behavior as a sign that we are actually made in the image of God). But this morning, I happened to read Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” from Matthew chapters 24-25 and suddenly had flashes of CNN and Fox News making my quiet time not so quiet (plus, there was a little bit of Jon Stewart in there as well). Continue reading

OMG, it’s the Third Commandment!

I guess it’s no secret by now that I’ve been just a little bit disillusioned with my fellow Evangelicals lately. I think this feeling comes to many of us who, after experiencing just enough adulthood, realize that age does not inherently give a person wisdom. It’s that feeling you get when you realize that, intellectually speaking, you’re on your own. You can’t trust everything you’ve been taught.  And really, you shouldn’t. I think a big part of spiritual growth is learning to question everything. After all – God’s truth can stand up to the deepest of scrutiny.

With that said, I want to re-visit the Third Commandment. It is a passage of scripture that, like so many others, has been plucked out of context and used to back up personal agendas. How can “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God” possibly back up a personal agenda? I’m glad you asked. In the modern day, over-politicized Evangelical Church where we pretend that the government has it out for us, many have embraced a “Christian” way of life that has morphed into something that is, well, completely unCHRISTian. We’ve become a group of people who carry on a “persecution complex,” clinging to a notion of self-righteousness rather than striving to actually become righteous (and to know what it means). That’s why you can log onto Facebook and Twitter today and see more Christians hating President Obama and selfishly clinging to their guns than loving God and loving others. But that’s all for another blog post. UPDATE: My good friend tells me the gun comment is antagonistic to gun owners. Rather than delete what I said, I offer this disclaimer: I am not anti 2nd Amendment. The “selfish clinging” I am referring to is in regard to those who refuse to have a civilized conversation about gun control
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On Gun & God Control

Like everyone else, I’d like some answers. I’ve looked to CNN for clarity. I’ve even turned on Fox News. MSNBC. Blogs. Newspapers (online, of course). Nobody has quick answers for me. But as I read in Matthew 14, the thing to do in times of sorrow, disappointment, and confusion, is to unload it onto Jesus. Even Jesus himself went to pray in solitude when he was troubled. If you spend even more time in Matthew 14, you’ll also read that when we become too focused on ourselves – our circumstances, insecurities, concerns – we begin to sink. When we feel lost, sunk, or in the process of becoming either of the two, the only logical thing to do is turn our eyes upon Jesus.

And yet too many of us are focusing on our “rights.” Some folks are suggesting that the President, along with gun control advocates, is “politicizing tragedy.” It’s ironic to me that these are the same folks who have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to politicize their faith – folks like Mike Huckabee who suggest that God abandoned the children at Sandy Hook because we’ve “systematically removed God” from schools and government. I agree with Huckabee when he says, “Maybe we ought to let him in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end,” but I would suggest that this politician is woefully misguided as to where the “front end” is located. Continue reading