Learning to Love Watching Young Leaders Emerge

I think I’ve discovered a new favorite part of being a pastor:  witnessing the emergence of young christian leaders.  I’m not sure why, but it gets me all teary-eyed.  (Don’t judge me.)

It’s exhilarating to watch God’s love materialize in the shape of the life of a twenty-one year old.  Their passion.  Their wonder.  Their innocence.  Their talent.  Their recklessness.  Their courage.  Their creativity.  Their innovation.  Their perspective.  Their voice.

It’s fresh.  And new.  And green.  And exciting.  And inspiring.  And hopeful.

I’m not sure why I’ve come to this discovery.  Maybe it’s because I feel old enough now that I don’t see myself as “young” or “emerging” anymore.  Possibly it is all the times I’ve felt overlooked because of my age or lack of experience are catching up to me.  Or, it could be the memories of so many believing in me when I barely believed in myself.  Whatever the reason, I love to watch young adults finding themselves as God’s next generation of leaders.

Tonight we watched the emergence of two young leaders:  Craig White and Erin Sigmund.

Craig was one of the first students to catch our attention during Brooklyn’s first year as the Middle School Pastor at Highland Park Church.  As a middle schooler, he had a magnetic personality.  The other students looked up to him, and most of the girls wanted to be standing next to him.  He seemed to always be conscious of the outlier, and did what he could to make them feel included.  With a dad as a worship leader, he developed a natural penchant for music.  Now a college student at Trevecca Nazarene University, Craig is coming into his own as a songwriter and worship leader.

Erin is a new friend.  Eleven weeks ago was the first time Brooklyn and I met her in person.  It was also the beginning of her youth ministry internship with Brooklyn.  Erin is studying youth ministry at Asbury College in Wilmore, KY.  It was obvious from the start that Erin is full of intelligence and passion.  She is focused and responsible, willing to do what it takes to learn to lead.  Her commitment to justice is unbending.  She knows the culture yet isn’t consumed by it.  Tonight, she preached her last sermon to our students before moving back to college.  I believe it’s a message she feels compelled to live:  “It’s not the moments that change the world, it’s the movements.”  Erin will be part of a movement.

To Craig, Erin, and every other young adult leader, keep it up!  Be proud of who God has created you to be.  Don’t let our ways hold you back.  Take the shape God has created you to form.  Partner with each other.  Dream bigger than we have been able to imagine.  And stay away from anyone who denigrates your potential.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Have you discovered the love of watching young leaders emerge? 

 

 

Learning the Greatest Memories are Best Kept as Memories

miamibeachYou know your greatest memories.  It may take you a few minutes to clear your brain enough for them to surface.  Once all is clear, the memories flood your mind’s eye like a tidal wave.  Each memory brings a hint of emotion you haven’t felt for weeks, months, or years.

If you thought it possible, you would go back to that exact moment and live it all over again.  The problem is, you can’t.  Not because it’s impossible for you to go back to that place and do the same things all over.  You can.  You just can’t do it for the first time ever again.  All the exact emotions of excitement, anticipation, wonder, and surprise are unattainable a second time.

You’ve probably experienced it before.  You go back to something that was so great the way you remembered it.  This time, though, it is not the same.  It is not as good.  It pales in comparison to your memory, which actually ruins remembering.

Maybe you’ve tried it with a restaurant.  The best meal you can remember is at that one place.  You’ve only been there once, but you’ve been talking about it ever since.  For years.  Finally, you convince everyone you love to go back to that place with you.  The way you are describing the mouth-watering savory builds a gigantic cloud of expectation.

You sit down.  You tell everyone what to order.  You can’t wait for everyone to take their first bite.  As soon as the server places the food on the table, you are ready with fork and knife in hand.  The fist bite goes in your mouth, and…it’s not the same.  Not as good as you remembered.

I’m learning we sometimes do the same thing with our relationships.  In our jobs.  With our hobbies.  For our vacations.  Even in our churches.

If you go to church, you’ve probably heard it said, “if we could just get back to the days when…,” or why don’t we get back to singing….,” or “I loved it when the previous pastor would…”

Memories are meant to be made, not repeated.  There’s nothing wrong with a memory inspiring you to explore greater experiences to remember.  I strongly encourage it.  The power of memories is giving you the desire and courage to make new ones.  Spending your life trying to recreate old memories is like a hamster in a spinning wheel.  You will wear yourself out and realize you’ve gotten nowhere.

I’m learning to cherish my memories as a memory.  Life can be free from the pressure of reliving the past.  Life is about collecting the thousands of memories that lay ahead.

What are your greatest memories?  How are they best kept?

 

 

Learning What Makes Relevation Difficult to Understand

**This is a re-post from March 2013.  It is one of the most popular posts to date.  While I am away from blogosphere this week, I thought I might provide another look at something you might have missed.

In High School, I had a friend who got sick any time he read the book of Revelation.  He would get nervous and start to feel nauseous.  Sometimes, he would literally run to the nearest bathroom and vomit.

Needless to say, it was difficult for him to read Revelation.

Many of us, and by us I’m including me, also find it difficult to understand the book of Revelation.  Not to the same extent as my friend, hopefully.  Unlike the gospels and most of the writings of Paul, it’s not an easy read.

This realization is fresh for me because we’re starting a new sermon series this weekend based in the book of Revelation.  It’s tough.  Since I’m learning what makes it so tough, I thought I would share it with you.

Here are 3 Factors that make the book of Revelation difficult to understand:

  1. Popular readings of Revelation treat it like a TV Guide.  If you’ve grown up in church, then you’ve probably been privy to discussions about the “premillennial” versus “postmillenial” debate, or opinions about the “great tribulation”, or the signs that Armageddon is near.  People around you may have treated the book like it’s a guide to the future, letting you know what comes next.  The tendency was, and still is for many, to flip to the book as a guide for “end times” events and details.  This is not the purpose of Revelation.  The book is a word of comfort and encouragement for churches in Asia who were experiencing societal pressure and even persecution.  It is a word of hope and a reminder that the ultimate victory belongs to Jesus and Jesus-followers.
  2. The book of Revelation is infused with numerous references and allusions to other scriptures throughout the Bible.  It is packed so full of them, it comes out to be a rate of one allusion or reference per single verse.  The book assumes you will know and be familiar with the rest of the Bible.  For the message of Revelation to come clear, it is required of us to read it in light of the Bible as a whole.  The problem is, though, most of us don’t have a strong familiarity to the other books.  Without it, understanding is made difficult.
  3. It uses cryptic words protect the churches from further persecution.  The situation of the churches in Asia is unlike ours today in the United States.  They were not living in a democratic state that afforded some of the same religious freedoms and protections we experience here.  They were under duress from imperial pressure as well as other social factors.  To prevent worsening their situation, the writer of the book used cryptic words to refer to Rome and other powers of their time.  Words such as “Babylon the Great” or “the harlot drunk with the blood of martyrs.”  What makes it difficult for us today is decrypting words and phrases that aren’t in our everyday language.

The book of Revelation can be intimidating.  It doesn’t need to be.  With these three factors in mind, a clear understanding of the central message of Revelation becomes quite possible.  I’m working on it.  I hope you will too.

What are your feelings about the book of Revelation?  What makes it difficult for you?  What advice would you give for help make it not so difficult to understand?

Learning to Become a Better Version of Me

wedding**This is a re-post from May 2013.  It is one of the most popular posts to date.  While I am away from the blogosphere this week, I thought I might provide another look at something you might have missed.

Brooklyn asked me, “Do you think I’m a better version of me?

Ooooh.  Tough question to answer your wife.  Obviously the answer is, “YES.”

It’s one of those questions that women ask their husbands knowing there is only one correct answer.  Questions like, “Does this look good on me?”  Or, “Do these jeans make me look fat?”  Or “Do you want to get some ice cream?”

The question came up because we were flipping through pictures of our wedding and honeymoon.  Today, May 23rd, marks our 15 year wedding anniversary.  There’s no better time to dig out the old photo album.

After looking at several pictures of herself, Brooklyn makes an assessment about her appearance then and now.  She says to me, “I think I’m a better version of me, now.  What do you think?”

I agreed.

The day we were married, I don’t think either one of us could imagine what we would be like 15 years later.  It was a shot in the dark.  Somehow and in someway, though, both of us knew deep in our hearts that we wanted to be better versions of ourselves.  Better spouses, better friends, better children, better parents, and yes, probably even better looking.

Our hope wasn’t that May 23rd would be our best.  It would be the beginning of our journey toward the best.

Our story, your story, with God is the same.  The first day of your commitment to Christ is the beginning of your journey toward the best version of you.  God’s vision for who you can and will become starts in that moment.

So that, 1 year, 5 years, 50 years later, you can look back and say, “I think I’m a better version of me.”  And everyone else around you, will agree.

Are you a better version of yourself?

Learning an Unpopular Reading of Jeremiah 29:11

Jer 29.11**This is a re-post from March 2013.  It is one of the most popular posts to date.  While I am away from the blogosphere this week, I thought I might provide another look at something you might have missed.     

I don’t think this one quite edges out Philippians 4:13 for most notable life verse.  It may come in a close second, though.  I would guess the majority of you can quote it word for word.  I would also guess that 99% of the time it has been memorized in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.  Let’s say it together:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11  (NIV)

What a beautiful promise from God.  It offers an assurance for the future.  Whatever the circumstances today, God’s people can trust God to change their tomorrow.  It declares God’s intimate relationship to God’s people.  God isn’t leaving God’s people out to dry like a sheep among wolves.  God is intricately involved in creating a new future.  It brings a perspective of hope.

As much as I like this verse, I don’t think I like the NIV translation.  Here’s why:  our focus is drawn to two words.  Plans.  Prosper.  It’s like our mind is magnetically attracted to them.    And I’m afraid, a preoccupation with these two words messes with our interpretation.

Focused on the words “plans” and “prosper,” our tendency is to limit our understanding to me and my future.  Quickly, the verse is about God’s specific plan for my life and my success.  Taken to the extreme, we cherish this verse for the promise we think it makes about God laying out every plan for my life, such as which college I will go to, who I will marry, what career path I will follow, and how much success and wealth I will gain.

If I’m honest, I think this takes us way off the path of what the verse is really trying to say.  Check out at how different it reads in the New Revised Standard Version:

For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah  29:11  (NRSV)

Reading just a couple chapters previous, we realize these are God’s words to a people who are hopeless.  They are in exile.  They’ve been completely stripped away from their homeland, their temple, and their king.  To make matters worse, God instructs the people to serve King Nebechadnezzar of Babylon (27:6-7).  And if they don’t serve him, then God “will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the LORD, until I have completed its destruction by his hand” (27:8).  God repeats this three times in chapter 27 alone.

Then, God warns the people to ignore the promises given by prophets, diviners, or any other religious person (27:9).  God says they will try to convince the people to give up obedience to King Nebechadnezzar by telling lies.  If it were me, I imagine I would gladly welcome a word that says I don’t need to obey the king who stole my life.  The lie would sound better than reality, to me.  But, God implores them to trust God’s words.

Then, in Jeremiah 29:7 God’s words are given:  “seek the welfare of the city where I sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  What???  God’s not promising to rescue them, right now?  God wants them to do what for the city that is holding them captive?  Tough words.

It’s like God is saying, “Trust me, I have everything under control.  I know your situation stinks, but I know what I’m doing.  I have your best interest in mind.”  God says, “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

So, maybe Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about God’s specific day to day plan for you.  Instead, it is a message of hope for God’s people, including you and me.  God knows what’s best for us.  God will lead us in the direction of a new future.  The lies of this world, though they may sound good, will never get us there.

 

What are your thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11?

Learning a Handwritten ‘Thank You’ is Better

Thank you cardsWe live in the technical age.  We don’t need to write anything handwritten anymore, right?  You can say ‘Thank you’ with a simple text, email, Facebook message, tweet, Instagram, or possibly even Snapchat.  There’s no reason take the time to write it out and spend the money to send it in the mail.

Wrong.  Handwritten letters are, most of the time, better.  Somehow or another, it shows genuine love and care.  It says I am willing to take the extra step to give my appreciation.  It is warmer than the cold touch of a machine-transmitted blip on your scream.  In your handwriting, the reader sees a glimpse of you.  No emoticon will ever replace the stroke of your pen.

I’m learning this because I am returning to it.  I say returning because it is a practice taught to me by family.  They taught me every gift deserves a hand written “Thank you.”  I never understood it, then.  My thought was, “Why would someone give a gift expecting a thank you in return?”  It didn’t matter, I still had to do it.

Writing “Thank you” cards for graduation gifts is painful.  Writing “Thank you” cards for wedding gifts is brutal.  After college graduation, I had enough.  I hung it up.  No more hand written cards for me.

Until now.

I’ve witnessed Brooklyn continue the practice over the years.  I even bought her specialty stationary for Christmas.  She loves buying and sending cards.  It’s part of who she is.  Every card she writes is sent with authenticity and love.  The response of those who have received them is proof enough.

So, I’ve picked up my pen and card again.  I wouldn’t say it is coming naturally to me just yet.  Or, that I’ve mastered the craft of saying the right things.  But, the response has been amazing.  Deeper connections are being made.

If I want my “Thank you” to be really be felt, I am learning to grab a card and pen.

When is the last time you wrote a hand written “Thank you?”

 

Learning What Limits a Man from Dreaming Big

OSU UniformIf you are a man, chances are you heard these words at least once:  “Be a man.”  “Suck it up.”  Shake it off.”  “Pick yourself up.”  “Quit your whining and crying.”  “Stop being a baby.”  “You’re acting like a girl.” 

In other words, don’t need or feel.  To be a man means to dominate and control your emotions and your relationships.  Be tough.  If you can’t, find some place to be weak where no one else will see.

An article on www.npr.org inspired this post.  The title is “The 3 Scariest Words A Boy Can Hear,” which is part of a series on Men in America.  You can listen to the story of former NFL linebacker turned pastor, Joe Erhmann.  You can also read a short summary of the main ideas.

Erhmann admits growing up with experiences that conditioned him to “be a man.”  Tough.  Independent.  Accomplished.  Powerful.  Traits that served him well on the football field.  But, not so much when facing the reality of cancer discovered in his 18 year old brother.  He says:

All I had was these old “man up” kind of things — “suck it up, we’ll get through this together” — when he really needed the emotional, the nurturing, the love. And I had to really struggle to pull that out of my heart.  —Joe Erhmann

As the interview continues, Erhmann suggests boys are conditioned to believe three messages about masculinity.  Being a man is measured by (1)  athletic ability, (2) sexual conquest, and (3) economic success.  A quick look at culture, and I think he’s right.  There may be more myths about masculinity than these three, but I believe these certainly carry heavy weight.

Boys grow into men with limited potential to dream.  Their imagination is held captive.  They are trapped by the conditioning to prove their heroic, sexual, and financial worth.  Small dreams.

Small compared to God-sized dreams.  God offers you a much bigger dream than you can ever imagine within the limits of athletics, sexuality, and wealth.  Dreams that have little to do with your gender, and mostly to do with your relation to God.  God inspires big dreams in God’s own children.

It is time for Christian men to trade small dreams for big ones.

Do you have a dream?  Write it down.  Is it limited?  Are you satisfied living a small dream?  If not, ask God for a bigger one.  

Learning a Song of Inspiration for the Church from Aloe Blacc’s ‘Hello World’

 

Inspiration for the Church isn’t limited to the church.

God’s voice speaks through all of creation and created things.  God’s Spirit has a special ability to speak through the only part of our world created in God’s own image.  Humanity.  Regardless of one’s knowledge of it or not, God is able to call forth truths through each of us.

I happen to believe Aloe Blacc’s new song, Hello World is one such occasion.

I have no idea why he wrote this song, or if he even wrote it (shame on me for not doing the research).  His intention behind the song isn’t something I can claim to know.  I can’t say for sure whether he believes or doesn’t believe in the saving power of Jesus.  I am not familiar with his previous work as a musician.  I happened upon this song, and in it, heard an anthem for the church.

The song starts with:

Hello World.

It’s nice to meet you.

I’ve been waiting for this moment to come my whole life.

Hello World.

The Past is over.

It’s time for us to come together and make the future right.

I had an epiphany one night

Looking at the endless star-filled sky.

The world is ours!

(Reading the lyrics doesn’t do it justice, so you should probably follow this link to watch and listen for yourself:  Hello World.)

Ironically (or maybe intentionally), he’s standing in the middle of a dilapidated church.  From here, his anthem echoes on the walls of a forgotten place of worship.  The world is ours to change.  The world is ours to transform.  The world is ours to create. The world is ours to love.  The world is ours to redeem.  The world is ours to re-imagine.  The world is ours to embrace.  The world is ours …

I am reminded of the beginning.  God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  The world is ultimately God’s.  But, the world is ours to care for.

“It’s time for us to come together and make the future right.”

Are you ready for this moment?

Learning A Quote About the Holy Spirit Worth Remembering From Abraham Lincoln

On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln bid his farewell to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.  It was his last speech before boarding a special presidential train headed for his new home, our nation’s capital.  Today, it is known as his Farewell Address.

He speaks of his sorrow for leaving friends.  He mentions the people’s kindness, for which he “owes everything.”  He reflects on the time he spent in this town, passing from young to old.  He recalls the years of raising his children in this place, and also burying one.  Then, he marks this moment as a time for him to leave, unsure if or when he will ever return.

I doubt you will find the next words highlighted in any history book, or given much attention from historians.  The same words are the ones I believe are worth remembering.  He said:

Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.  Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.”

Lincoln knew the power of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit, he is certain to fail.  With the Holy Spirit, success is immanent.  The Holy Spirit goes with you everywhere, always, working for good.  Lincoln put his trust in this power.  As history tells us, he made the right choice.  He did not fail.

Remember these words:

Without the help of the Holy Spirit, I cannot succeed.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, I cannot fail.

 

Learning John 14:14 Doesn’t Mean Jesus Will Literally Do Anything You Ask

John14.14The NRSV Bible translates it this way:

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Taken literally, by itself, it seems straightforward.  Anything.  You ask in Jesus’ name, and  done.  No if, and, or buts about it.

Maybe you have heard it said another way?  Name it and claim it.  The idea that a mixture of just the right amount of faith with whatever it is you request, and pow, it will be yours.  The fact that you are naming it is proof enough that you have enough faith to claim it.

I wish it was true.  How amazing would it be to have any request granted?  But, I don’t believe it is.  I think we miss something by glossing over the previous verse.  John 14:13 reads,

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

Jesus is speaking to his disciples.  They are not sure about this place Jesus says he is going to.  They don’t quite understand what Jesus means when he says “if you know me, will know my father.”  He attempts to clear up any confusion by pointing to his own works.  At least they can find something to hold onto by considering the life that Jesus has lived and the miracles he performed.

The disciples have witnessed his works.  They can grasp the divinity in it.  Then, Jesus tells them they will do the same, and even greater works “because I (Jesus) am going to the Father.”  By going to the Father, Jesus can empower them to do whatever works they ask in Jesus name.  So that.  So that, God the Father may be glorified.

It isn’t literally whatever you ask, Jesus will do.  Instead, it is whatever “works” you ask to do that reflect the works that Jesus did, and that give glory to God, Jesus will do it.  A HUGE qualifier exist in verse 13:  whatever you ask must glorify God.

This disqualifies many a request.

I was watching Phineas and Ferb (don’t ask me why), and a scene provided a satirical example of our sometimes misuse of John 14:14.  One of the characters named Stacey setup a shrine for her lost friend.  She is praying to the “Oh mysterious force.”  She laments, “you can see I am really trying here.  Please, bring back Candace.”  Candace enters the scene nonchalantly and says, “Oh, hi Stacey.”  Thinking the “mysterious one” granted her request, Stacey immediately turns back to the shrine to ask, “And, I also want a car.”

John 14:14 may not mean you can literally ask anything in Jesus’ name and he is bound to give it.  It does mean, however, that Jesus is able to accomplish amazing works through your life.  Works you could never accomplish on your own.  Works that reflect God’s glory back to heaven.

What are you asking Jesus?