Monthly Archives: October 2011

Halloweenies: A Lesson in Context

Okay, we all know Halloween is full of controversy for Christians.
We love the candy but hate the devil.
We like to dress up but know modest is the hottest.

If we grew up in the church in the late 80′s and early 90′s we learned that Halloween was the play day for evil.
Just like AC/DC meant Anti-Christ/Devil’s Children.
Or KISS was Knight’s in Satan’s Service.
I later learned that it simply meant, “Keep it Simple Stupid.”

But how should we approach this day?
It obviously poses some interesting things for us to consider.
Last week I jabbed at one approach to Halloween, but this week I thought I’d take a more serious tone.
I’d love to get your thoughts.

Historically, Halloween is thought to have originated from the Celtic festival Samuin, meaning “Summer’s End.”
Tied to this end of harvest celebration was the belief that as the crops died in the cooling climates, the “dead” spirits and ghouls could spend this one day out playing tricks and intersecting with the physical world.

Trick-or-treating is thought to have originated from something called “souling”.
The ritual occurred as the poor in a community would go to door to door saying prayers for the dead thought to be in purgatory.
As an act of kindness, those answering the door would give them small cakes–called soul cakes.
With each cake was thought to come freedom for one of these purgatorial souls.

What’s fascinating about All Soul’s Day, though, is the fact that it originated with the Catholic church, and not as a pagan celebration. As missionaries from the Catholic church began to intersect places like Ireland (with a heavily pagan culture), Pope Gregory I took a different approach to outreach.
Instead of sending missionaries with a “cleansing mentality” to rid the natives of the “evil” ways in their culture, he developed a syncretistic approach–using native holidays to set Catholic holidays as a bridge to evangelism.
Thus, Samuin became the annual occurrence for All Soul’s Day.

If you’re still with me, here’s a few things this has me thinking about as I take my kids trick-or-treating tonight:

1 – The Church still faces struggles with syncretism.
Typically we see syncretism as a bad thing.
We think of the gospel getting watered down, softened, or muddy.
Sometimes this is true.  The gospel can be swallowed by culture.

2 – Syncretism can be a tool.
Paul understood healthy syncretism.
He became all things to all men in the purest sense.
When Jesus tells us to be a city on a hill I don’t think he meant we were a separatist city.
A city is a place that gathers all kinds of people–and welcomes them–culture, customs, and all.

3 – Halloween is perhaps one of the greatest community-wide opportunities for missional impact in our world.
Think about it.  What other times do you see your neighbors out walking the street?
What other days do you get a chance to intersect with them in natural conversation as families?
We live in a private, suburban box culture where people hide from each other.
Halloween is the opposite of this.

4 – The Church has avoided the world for too long.
We need to stop playing ostrich and get our heads out of the sand.
We need to jump on opportunities to intersect our community life and engage the world with the gospel in loving ways.
Seriously, go buy some candy and a costume (even if its a biblical character costume–but no Rahab!) and follow Jesus into your streets tonight.

Different opinions?
I’d LOVE to hear them!

Oh, by the way, a friend of mine has a great series of posts about how to be missional on Halloween here

 

Friday Recap

Steve Jobs’ bio by Walter Isaacson was released this week.  CNN had the best tidbits.

This is Herman Cain’s campaign ad.  Really?

The best of the simple MTV videos of all time?  What’s your pick?  Here’s mine:

 

And here’s my latest favorite video–not so minimal:

 

Along the music lines, here’s a fascinating piece on how latest trade laws affect guitar makers.

I missed this last week, but President Obama has sent 100 US advisers to Uganda to help end the attacks of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in the area.

Along those same lines, here’s a piece about Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of this move of Obama.

 

Best Blog of the week:

This video on the importance of wisdom from JR Briggs.

 

 

God is not Portable

Most of us tend to think God is portable.
Like he is small enough to be picked up and tossed in a pocket to fit our needs.
Pull him out, apply like ointment, and then put him away.
Not a chance of accuracy in this assumption.

Not you?

Read 1 Samuel 4 and 5 and then finish reading this.
Seriously, read it.

Quick synopsis–
Israelites house the “ark of the covenant” in the “house of the Lord” in the town of Shiloh.
Eli the priest lived there and guarded this.
In chapter 4 the Israelites go to war against the Philistines.  They lose… badly.
4,000 Israelites die.
They go and grab the ark of the covenant –their portable God–and return to fight.
The Philistines attack and kill 30,000 foot soldiers.  Worse than before.

Philistines capture the ark and take it back to their land.
(They’re glad to have another, added, portable God for their temple.)
They rest the ark right next to Dagon (their original portable God).
The next morning and the morning after that Dagon is found fallen on the ground.
“The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people… and their vicinity.”
They move the ark somewhere else and that city suffers with “tumors in the groin”.
The Philistines send the ark home to Israel.

The lesson in this story… God gets pretty pissed when we make him portable.

Here’s 5 ways we make him portable:

1 – We treat him like the latest celebrity to endorse our cause.
God is not to be co-opted.
He is not the basis of the Republican party.
Or the Democrats.
He is not fenced in to one denomination or political agenda.
He is not “for” your stance.  He is the reason you are standing.

2 – We treat him like a talisman.
God is not a good luck charm.
Not a lucky rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover.
God is not “on your side” because you follow him.
He doesn’t love you more than the Muslim on your street.
He loves you both.  In spite of the heaps that you are.
You are not “in” on his inside jokes.
You cannot wear him around your neck and walk taller.

3 – We live with “superstit-ianity” rather than Christianity.
God is nto going to bargain with you.
You are not sitting at a poker table trying to outbid the maker of the stars.
He is not going to zap you with lightning because you took his name in vain.
Stop being afraid of him and fear him.
He is not manic.
He is jealous and gracious.
Roaring and whispering.
And he speaks to you about a life that costs you everything–not a superstition that lucks you into something.

4 – We build ministries with an agenda rather than the lead of the Spirit.
Stop putting the Jesus stamp on your latest ministry idea.
Stop claiming God has spoken to you about this when you’ve barely spent time with him.
Stop talking about the Spirit’s leading when you haven’t listened to the Spirit in years.

5 – We set him up beside our other portable gods.
God is greater than your Dagon.
He will kick the crap out of your Dagon.
That means your money.
Your status.
Your fame.
Your achievement.
They will break under his weight.

God is not portable.
He is raging and expansive and intimate and sweet.
He will not fit in your pocket.
You cannot carry him to your battles when he is already there.
You will not earn his love when he already loves you to the fullest and greatest extent possible.
He does not support your cause, he wrecks you and rebuilds you as his follower.

Youth Ministry Perspectives from Former Students: Kristin

Round 2 of our perspectives of youth ministry from former students!  This time, from Kristin:

I don’t have very many fond memories of middle school. 
In fact, middle school may have been the hardest time in my life so far, because I was bullied on a daily basis.
I begged my mom to keep me home from school, but each day I stepped nervously onto the school bus and greeted my mom with tears when I stepped off at the end of the day. 

 Toward the end of the year in 6th grade, while I was sitting by myself, a girl in my class walked over to me and introduced herself. Though cautious, I began talking with her when she invited me to her church’s youth group.
When I got home that night, I asked my mom if I could go, to which she agreed ecstatically. 

 The youth group organization was called Crossroads, and I learned very quickly the dynamics were unlike anything I had encountered before.
The students’, youth pastors’ and volunteers’ high energy was contagious and I knew immediately I wanted to belong to this family. I came back week after week, and though I was getting connected, I never really felt like I fit in.
All the amazing games, activities and upbeat worship music kept me engaged, but I was so disappointed that yet another group of peers did not seem to connect with me.
They were friendly, but I felt like something was missing.
I began to think there was something wrong with me.

 And there was. I kept missing what had been presented to me week after week.
After a lot of reflection, I’ve come to realize that the Lord has created me to be a little bit lonelier than I’d like.
He knew I needed to depend on Him. I kept seeking after people, which is fine.
God created us to be relational people. But I was trying to find my identity in them.
After the Gospel finally soaked in, and I realized the Lord is the only one who can satisfy my loneliness and longings, I found myself connecting to my youth group more than I ever had before.
These people were here to point me toward the Lord, not substitute Him.

 Though bullying at school continued for a time after that, I finally had a Friend to walk me through the day.
And every Wednesday, I met with my peers to worship Him, play some of the grossest games I’ve ever experienced, and become a part of the greatest family I know, His church.

 

I met Kristin when she was in middle school, walking through this difficult time she describes.
She has never done anything but bring joy to the wherever she finds herself.  Even at that young age.
When Kristin graduated high school and went to Penn State University, she exploded for Christ.
Seriously, she is on fire and has impacted a ton of others with her joy in the gospel.
She has rocked that campus.

My family is privileged to know Kristin as more than a former student.  She is also a good friend.
She is a strong influence on our girls and an answered prayer as we pray for godly women/mentors in their lives.

I am so proud of Kristin and the woman of God she continues to become.
In January she’ll be spending her last semester living with us, interning at our church.
The girls here in Michigan will be so blessed to have her.

A couple observations from Kristin’s story:
1 – Every kid who walks through your church’s doors is looking for BELONGING.
On the other side of adolescence, our perspective grows and we are able to see the temporary nature of bullying, cliques, and belonging.
In the middle of it, life is hell.
For adolescent students, if we allow them to belong the chances are high that the gospel will change their lives forever.

2 – Belonging breeds IDENTITY.
When a students feels like they fit, they also feel like they exist.
Because others (leaders, pastors, peers) see them, they suddenly have identity.
Again–however strong your programming is, relationships must come first.

3 – Middle School students are the roots of long-term effectiveness.
When you pour into a 6th, 7th, or 8th grader, you are building longevity for your ministry.
Kristin, as a 7th grade student, was a light in our ministry.
Now, almost a decade later, I am amazed at where she is.
She has taken the early building blocks and allowed God to propel her into the future.
For me, there is no greater joy than playing a minor role in that.

Weekend Recap: Pause Retreat and Monday Night

I. am. beat.

Our high school retreat was this weekend at Springhill Camps.
If you ever have the chance, use them.  They are phenomenal.
Seriously one of the best camp experiences I’ve had in over 10 years of youth ministry.

We called the retreat PAUSE, and gave our students the opportunity to take some time to do just that.
Step back.
Quiet their hearts and minds.
And listen.
Listen and see God at work around them.

Top 5 highlights were these:
1 – GREAT conversations.
Nothing brings me more excitement than getting to sit down and tell the Jesus story with hungry kids.
I love it.

2 – Silly games.
Imagine 15 people trying to throw each other against a garbage can.
Or an hour spent tossing two water bottles around a circle.
Simple, pure, fun.

3 – Late nights.
I pay the price on Monday after the retreat, but it really is worth it.

4 – Watching kids click with other leaders.
One of our girl students told a female leader this weekend,
“I haven’t hugged this much in a long time.”
Priceless.

5 – Coming home.
10 guys in a cabin.  Lots of smells and late-night noises.
Then I come home to pink and purple land and my kids hang on my legs.
I love it.

Oh and then there was last night at UN1TED.
Jason Garwood rocked our Q&A with students sharing his heart and knowledge about Scripture.
I’m watching kids get hungry for more Truth.
It’s a spectacular sight.

Be blessed this week.

Candy Corn and Jesusween

Last Thursday night, my brood of girls and I watched my favorite seasonal cartoon of all-time.
This picture says it all:

You have to understand, we do BIG holidays around here.
I don’t mean we spend a ton of money, but we engage the holidays to the fullest extent possible.
October is filled with pumpkin crafts.
November is turkeys.
And December, well, let’s just say you’ve probably never seen more red and green than in our house.

But with today being one week away from Halloween I want to stir it up.
That’s right, we’re going to dive into the Halloween controversy with every fiber of our being.
Like a fat (or metabolically challenged) kid and a cannonball, here we go…

My Top 5 Reasons We Love Halloween:
5.  Candy corn.
Seriously, this candy is like angel poop.  It’s that good.

4. Mooching snacks from my kids for the sake of saving them from “tummy aches”.
I’m that good of a father.
Can you say agape love?

3. Another thing for other Christians to argue with me about.
I know there are many sides and battles when it comes to the dividing line between faith and culture… but Halloween is the king of them all.  Just ask these guys.

2. Scary movies.
Not, like, good scary movies, but like scary, scary movies.
Like this one…

1. Taking our dress up days public.
Three girls obsessed with princesses (or ‘da-da’s’ as our youngest calls them).
A basket full of grandparent-purchased dress up clothes.
We’re set for costumes for at least 5 more years.
I figure by then I’ll rethink my stance on this holiday when my kids start asking for zombies in lingerie costumes.


* I have another Halloween post coming next week, with a different tone… stay tuned! 

Friday Recap

Heading out today for a High School retreat… but here’s the best of the week.

* Kenyan military is mounting operations against Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia… and in their own capital of Nairobi.  The Somalian population (and Al-Shabab sympathizers) is apparently very heavy in a district of Nairobi called Eastleigh.

Two springs ago I took a group of college students to Kenya and we had quite the five minute adventure in Eastleigh.  Weird.

* The desperation in Somalia and the horn of Africa over the drought is incredible.  400,000 children are reported at risk of death.  A friend of mine from college is there, trying to help, with her husband.

* Craziest story of the week?  The guy in Ohio who freed 56 exotic animals on his farm and then killed himself.  Interesting today to find that one of them had bitten him.

* Obama administration has apparently deported a record, almost 400,000 immigrants.

* Interesting post about the wealthy joining the Occupy Wall Street protests.

* Do we really have free will?  How could a choice be free if a scientist could predict it with certainty?  Enjoy sifting through this.

* Best posts I read this week:
- In tears over this.
- From Scot McKnight.

Blessings on your Friday!  Talk to you next week!

 

 

Youth Ministry Perspectives from Former Students: Brittany

 

Last week I had an idea for a series of blog posts that I’m starting today.
I thought it would be fun to reconnect with students I have had in former youth ministries and ask them to share their stories.
So here they are.

I asked them to share briefly their connection to a youth ministry–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’m going to share their words exactly as they wrote them and then offer a few observations at the end of each post.
Enjoy!

 

Brittany:
To cut right to the main point, I had a lot of major events that led me to recommit my life half way through my senior year of high school. It wasn’t that someone persuaded me, or asked me to bow my head, close my eyes and repeat a prayer. It was watching students my age professing their faith. It was seeing students my age seem peaceful, joyful, and truly happy. That wasn’t me at the time. During worship at Uproar 2006 I was able to really feel God’s presence.  I knew he was tugging on my heart and calling me to give my burdens to him. I remember that day like it was just yesterday. I gave my life to God that day and I realized my life was not my own and I would never be the same.
Giving my life to him that day seemed like the easy part; it was the steps after that seemed more challenging. I lost all of my friends, my social network that was so important to me. Come on let’s face it, being social and having friends is the most important thing in high school . But thankfully after a few hard months God brought amazing people in to my life, friends like I had never had before and a youth pastor who truly seemed to care and press the fact that he wasn’t “holier than thou” but a real person, a sinner saved by grace!

From there what really helped me was the constant fellowship, accountability, and learning how to read and study the word. I was also able to start helping as a student leader. This responsibility helped me realize how important it was to be a good example for younger girls. It was that responsibility that also kept me accountable. I was also apart of a Bible study that met on Monday’s after school at a coffee shop. Justin let us pick a book and we would walk through it together. I remember reading “Blue Like Jazz” and being challenged and encouraged to speak up in a group of fellow believers. We were a community and I believe that is crucial for believers. 

With all of this I decided to go to a Christian college and there I was able to really rely on the Lord and use all that I had gained to further my relationship with the Lord. Of course I hit a few bumps along the way, started to rely more on myself than my Savior, but I realized doing things my way wasn’t going to work. As I got closer to God I had opportunities to minister to younger girls, work in youth groups and children’s ministry, and eventually be apart of starting a ministry called Frequency. I have seen God’s hand in my life and even more so today than the day I gave my life to Him. 

I consider my life a mission field.  I come in contact with people everyday and I want God to shine through me. I truly believe that student ministry and my youth pastor were huge blessings in my life and helped me get to where I am today.  I truly cannot say a bad thing about my experience with youth group or my youth pastors and other leaders. They impacted my life by being there and being real.

I’ll end on this point. Jesus is calling all of us to be disciples, to spread His gospel, and love people as he loves us. We need to be in community with one another, encouraging each other and helping each other. I want to encourage youth pastors, pastors, and student leaders to pour into the youth of today, because they are the leaders of tomorrow, and it is my prayer that they will go to all places of the world and share the God’s love, mercy and grace!

God bless…
Brittany

 

A couple thoughts about Brittany.
She is a living, breathing example today of a disciple.
She has carried her cross and grown in beautiful ways, and God is using her.
Her mom passed away while she was in college and Brittany faced suffering with courage.
And she hung on to Christ.
I am proud and humbled by her faithfulness.
A couple thoughts about youth ministry from Brittany’s story.

* Worship is evangelistic.
When Brittany describes her recommitment at the “Uproar” event, she is talking about a town-wide gathering we hosted for students in our area.
It was not an “outreach” with fluff and entertainment.
It was unashamed, deep worship.
And it affected Brittany in a deep way–bringing her to Christ.
Don’t ever doubt the evangelistic power of people worshipping.

* Students will rise to responsibility.
Give ministry away to students.
They will fail and make mistakes.  But they will also rise to the challenge.
Seriously, let them lead small groups and teach.
Let them lead worship.
Unleash them.
And coach them along the way.
They will be transformed much more than sitting in the chairs listening to you. 

* Community is transforming.
Brittany and her friends (community, as she says) were a special group of students to me.
They loved each other and cared about each other.  They still do.
They faced conflict and enjoyed peace.
But they were transformed by the experience.
Build community, not programs.

The Forgiveness Controversy

The woman in this story is courageous.

She is, in Jewish standards, known as a whore.
And yet she has the nerve to show up at a dinner party hosted by the religious elite.
Think of an Afghani woman coming to a men’s dinner with no head covering.  The feeling had to be the same.
But then she steps even further over the line.

With tears she uses her hair to clean Jesus’ feet.  Then she pours expensive perfume across his toes.

Most likely, this act is one of symbolic anointing for burial.  The woman signifies Jesus’ death.
Regardless, the religious leaders are shocked.

But then the unthinkable happens.

Jesus forgives her.

Because of her gestures and acts toward Jesus, and in relation to the lax attitude of the Pharisees, Jesus says, “Her many sins are forgiven.”

“The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’” (Luke 7:49)
Apparently, the most controversial thing Jesus does in this narrative is offer forgiveness.

It’s not that he allowed this woman to sob on his feet.
It’s not that she was someone who lived a ‘sinful life.’
It’s not that she was cast aside in the eyes of the elite.
It’s not that she wasted perfume (and money) in her acts.

No, what riles Jesus’ audience more than anything is the simple mention of forgiveness.

I believe this forgiveness was controversial because it tipped the scales in these people’s minds of how society should work.

For them, there had always been rungs on the societal status levels.
Everyone knew their places.
Surely these Pharisees were fairly high on the scale.
Priests were very high.
The wealthy had to be up there too–hadn’t God blessed them?
But whores weren’t even on the rung.  They stood with lepers and the outcasts.
How could they deserve forgiveness?  God was surely punishing them.

Forgiveness always turns the tables.

It is always controversial and it always confronts the power and status empire.
Surely it shocked this woman to hear the words.  No one had ever forgiven her.
Surely it shocked these leaders.
Surely it shocked the disciples.

The only one who wasn’t shocked was Jesus–and the loving Father looking on.

The controversy of forgiveness is the heartbeat of the kingdom.

 

 

The Circle Dance [Team Leadership]

If you are in church leadership and you have not read George Cladis’ book Leading the Team-Based Church you should.
Soon.

The opening chapter is worth the price.
Cladis takes the time to lay, as a foundation for team-based ministry, a vision of the Trinity.
He uses John of Damascus, a late 7th/early 6th century theologian, and his explanation of the relationship of the Trinity.
John described the Trinity as a perichoresis - or “CIRCLE DANCE”.

Basically, the relationship and intertwining of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a relationship of submissive authority.
Each is unique and each is authoritative–but each is also submissive to the other because of the relationship.
Is your head hurting yet?

For Cladis, this is a theological picture of a true, team-based structure of leadership–which I believe is crucial to effective ministry in our culture.

Please get this.
I understand the need for structure, and I believe God uses leaders.
I believe men like Moses, David, Elijah and women like Esther were given specific callings to lead God’s people.
So, I get the need for leadership.

But–
I also believe the Church, the BRIDE of CHRIST and the COMMUNITY of GOD’S DIVINE PLAN, was founded by a group.
A team.
Apostles who journeyed together for 3 1/2 years (and suffered the emotional loss of one of their closest’s suicide).
Brothers-in-arms.
Planting and leading churches all over the known world.

God using leaders does not devalue teams.

And the most effective, Christ-loving community is carried forward by the CIRCLE-DANCING team.

What do you think?
What is the most effective leadership structure for this culture in this place at this time?