Archive for February, 2012

To be a Champion!

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last night I watched “Mighty Macs” with my family. I liked it. It was actually my second time through. I took my 14 year old daughter to a screening last year.

(spoiler alert) Coach Rush teaches her players that trust is how you win. “If basketball were an individual sport, it would be played 1 on 1!” but when they get to the championship game, she adds another ingredient. Championships are won by heart.

Trust, heart…two great ingredients for raising up champions. What would you add to the recipe?

One local news story today was about Transcanada’s decision to build an oil pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast.  Are you bored already?  Hang on.

As with every news story there are multiple lenses through which to view the story, but the one that caught my attention had to do with the most immediate impact on my wallet.  Apparently there is an oil glut in storage in Cushing due to inadequate distribution.  And so I am told for the time being, our cost at the pump continues to be artificially depressed.  Of course, once the logjam is broken and adequate access exists to the oil, others will be able to enjoy the product and the price will equalize.

Of course, thinking about oil made me think about youth ministry!  Recently I have been pondering again the expectation in Scripture for the whole community of faith to be involved in passing the faith to the next generation.  (Actually, if the truth were told, I think about this all the time.  All.  The.  Time.  Just sometimes I think about it in fresh ways 🙂

In my context, I have an amazing church with unbelievably talented individuals.  Come to think about it, that’s the only way it has ever been in any of the four churches I have served.  Must be something about the people of God.  But I have at times struggled for volunteers.   (I don’t like the “v” word…but I’ll use it for now for clarity).   And even now, as I am in the trenches with some wonderful people….not all of my community is involved in reaching the next generation in ways they could….and even would want to!  And while there are valid reasons at times, at other times the reason is very much…. me.

Now some of you are racing ahead.  You have seen similar scenarios and are making a list of why a youth pastor may not have enough volunteers:  He has too much pride to ask for help.  She has her identity wrapped up in performance.  He thinks its about getting others to join/help “his” program.  She is intimidated.  He is overwhelmed.  Her life experience is limiting her vision.  Well, all of those have been true at some point and can sometimes still be lenses through which I may operate.   But there are moments of breakthrough and growth as well.  For example, our youth just pulled off an amazing event for over 700 people that took months of preparation and was made possible not so much by staff, but by this community of faith pulling together.

The one lens that has been getting my attention lately is to examine the bottleneck created when a limited number of people (sometimes as few as one in a church) are  enlisting/recruiting/empowering etc “volunteers.”  I’ve got a lot of thoughts.  But this is long enough already.  And I want to hear from you.

Let’s cut to the chase:

  • What do you do…or have you seen done….to empower a community of faith to reach young people in powerful, intentional ways?
  • What do you wish youth pastors could/would do to help free or empower you and others like you?
  • What are some actions/unintentional attitudes that stifle the community or create a bottleneck among the people of God?
  • What are some of the best ways to strengthen partnerships between birth families and families of faith?
  • What else needs to be said about this issue?

Thanks for being patient. I’m thoroughly submerged in the busiest time of my year.  Thankful for the invention of coffee.  You know, one of the politically correct addictions.    I take it intravenously during the month of Feb every year!

However, coffee is not my only PC addiction.  I’m a texter.  I never did like talking on the phone and wholeheartedly embraced texting when it came along.  Recently though, there has been a resurgence of interest in the issue of dopamine’s role in addiction as it relates to texting and social media.  Here is a recent article from Buffalo Grove, IL:

But this is not a new issue. As you can easily see by using Google, mulitple articles like this one from Slate have been around for at least four years.

After reading the above article from Buffalo Grove, I had a conversation with one of my children.  Some highlights:

I read an interesting article on teen addiction to texting and social media.  Did you know that a third of teenagers send 3,000 texts a month?   Did you know that I checked with our carrier yesterday and you sent over 11,000 texts last month?”  A pretty good conversation ensued.  And then  this…

Dad, would you like me to bring up Diet Pepsi now or wait until another conversation?”

Why don’t you go ahead and bring it up  now?”

Studies show that it makes your organs fat….one day yours are going to explode.   And it kills brain cells.   (Pause…wait for it) Which is probably why you believed that article!”

The research on dopamine seems to indicate that almost anything can become an addiction.  And some of the research seems to indicate that the access to use of technology may become one of the most destructive and debilitating of all.  It seems to me that there are some obvious questions:

  • Why are some addictions considered okay – Coffee, facebook, texting, foods, television shows etc – and others not?
  • How is addiction impacting our culture, our education, our families and the church?

And even

  • What is it about us that makes us susceptible to addiction?  (I don’t believe the answer is purely biological)

But there are also some more challenging questions?

  • How do we raise kids to function in this world without falling prey?
  • How do we raise ourselves?
  • What boundaries, habits, postures, and commitments are you making to guard against dopamine’s influence, to keep your habits and decisions governed by choice and your mind fresh and clear?
  • What role does/could Romans 12:2 (Scripture memory?) have in all of this?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Shamrock Shake

Posted: February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I was surprised last week to discover that MacDonalds is offering their Shamrock Shake and it is not even March.  It was only 9:30 in the morning, but I had to get one for old times sake….you see, very few food items are as indelibly imprinted on my psyche!

I believe it was 1984 and the exact location of the MacDonald’s eludes me (Sutton, WV?  Perhaps Clarksburg?) but first a little background….

I had traveled to northern Virginia to work during my college break.  There was a fine lady that I was interested in (the magnificent Annamarie Stein, now Annamarie Hamilton) that lived in that area.  Always the strategist, I made arrangements to carpool with her and her brother.  Unfortunately, her brother thought it would be great to drive in tandem with one of his friends and invited him to caravan.  Annamarie decided to ride with her brother and I was elected to ride with his friend.

FINALLY stopping for a meal at a MacDonalds with an unusual floor plan, I let the others order first.  Receiving their food, they went around the little u-shaped divider and down 3 or 4 stairs to the recessed eating area.  I ordered some sort of combo with large fries and a Shamrock Shake and made my way to follow them.  I did not immediately see them as I started down the steps.  My eyes lingered on the room and not on balancing my tray.   I suddenly realized that I was about to lose my fries.   I adjusted the tilt of the tray rapidly.  Too rapidly.  My Shamrock Shake flew into the air.

Now I’m not very good at physics.  But apparently, when the little perforated X where a straw gets inserted is defective, there can be a sort of mild vacumn that exists.  And so when a milkshake (Shamrock or otherwise, one would assume) is launched into the air and lands not quite upright…but almost…the top can blow off as most of the mass of the milkshake exits its former container and seeks new lodging.

Have you seen the scene in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows where the protagonists are running for their life with an arsenal of weapons firing at them?   Even though everything is happening so quickly, time seems to slow down and for moments almost stop, before exploding into real time again.  I don’t know the physics for that either….but in those years….or were they mere moments?…before two old farmers exploded in laughter, this is what I saw:

  • A gentleman to my immediate left who appeared untouched….until he pivoted to look at me.  His nose was dripping green ice cream.
  • A young couple on a date diving to get the ice cream off his leather coat
  • Another gentleman noticeably balding, reaching for a napkin to wipe the green mist off of his head.
  • A family to my right handing out napkins to one another.
  • My own body, covered with hundreds of tiny green flecks. 

And this is what I heard, from a child in a high chair across the room:  “Mommy, he didn’t get me!”

And then it was loud laughter, and humiliation, and apologies and napkins and a quickly emptying restaurant. 

There are probably many worthy lessons I could and should take from this event.  But I leave those to your witty and worthy suggestions.   I look forward to reading them!

Love is…

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized
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It’s been said that love to a teen is spelled “T…I….M….E”

No question about that being true. What else have you found to be helpful in communicating love to teens?

The Winding Road is Jeffrey Jensen Arnett name for the period from the late teens through the twenties.    Arnett sees emerging adults (as he calls them) identifying three  cornerstones for becoming an adult:  accepting responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions , and becoming financially independent.  If he is right, then a bit of consensus is beginning to emerge for an cultural “marker” that would identify adulthood.  Years ago, I saw a study that looked at close to 20 possible markers in our culture (everything from driver’s license to voting  to marriage).  The question was asked “When in our culture are you considered an adult?”  The winner was financial independence….with only about 17% percent!

If you have crossed that threshold already, when did you consider yourself an adult?

Tomorrow I am part of a panel at a local high school to talk to parents, teachers and other friends of adolescents about staying connected to teens as they move along  this “winding road.”  You, reader, are a rich resource.  I have already listened to my college students and my  children.  I have reflected on what I have learned through study and experience.  The crowning piece would be to add your voice to my preparation!

Now or later, your thoughts on the following would be appreciated:

  • What should parents do/not do to stay connected with their teens?
  • How do parents keep the bond strong while making space for Arnett’s three cornerstones to be established?
  • What are some of the best ways for the faith community to support families?
  • What is the role of doubt…and failure…and risk?

Thanks in advance for joining the conversation!

When my oldest daughter was two years old, I watched The Father of the Bride. (The 1991 remake with Steve Martin, not the Spencer Tracy classic from 1950) Someone had told me it was a great comedy. I was totally ambushed by the flood of feelings that came at the thought of letting my little girl go. I suddenly realized with more than a little panic, “From here on out, my fathering is a gradual letting go! I thought it would be different. I don’t know if I can do this!”

That was then, this is now. Earlier this week, an outstanding young man called me to ask for my blessing and counsel as he and my oldest daughter planned a wedding and a life together. Again, I was a little unprepared for my emotions. Years ago I expected to laugh. This time around I expected to grieve. In both cases, I was wrong.

I’m excited for Rebekah and Philippe. They love the Lord. They are facing life with courage, creativity, and compassion. They laugh easily and include others well. They bring out the best in each other and don’t shy away from the rest. They are not conformers, but transformers with the favor of God clearly on their lives. Those that know Philippe talk about what an incredible guy Rebekah is getting. Those that know Rebekah talk about the treasure that Philippe has found. I’m as proud as can be to be Rebekah’s dad. And I’m as pleased as possible to welcome Philippe to the family.

God gave us an incredible gift with Rebekah’s life….a gift that keeps on giving. I probably will cry at the wedding. But it will be tears of joy and thanksgiving!

Revisiting Ritual

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, I received a thrilling text from a college student.  “What is that creed?  It popped into my head this morning for some reason, but I can’t remember it all and it’s bothering me.  Mainly the part about choosing joy over cynicism.”

Let me give the backstory.  During a discussion about discipleship in our strategic planning committee a couple of years ago, we talked about the value of ritually affirming as a community what we believe.  I was given the joyful task of formalizing our conversation and commitments into a ritual that has become a frequent part of our worship at my church.  We call it our Affirmation of Discipleship.  It goes like this:

“As fully committed followers of Christ, we receive the love and mercy of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit and we respond with grateful hearts.

By God’s grace, this week we choose again joy over cynicism, faith over unbelief, obedience over pride, and trust over fear.

As fully committed followers of Christ, we surrender to life transformation as we give ourselves to relationships, worship and mission.

We commit our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness to Him – not out of obligation, but out of a heart of loving obedience.

As fully committed followers of Christ, we are ambassadors of His love and grace. Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price. To God be the glory!”

If you want to dive in a little deeper, here are some theological concepts I tried to represent:

The internal movements: receive, respond, choose, surrender, give, commit, and be.

The beginning: God initiates.
The end: We give Him glory.

The choices: Fundamental issues of discipleship from Scripture as measured in the heart.
The surrender: Believing that our core programs create space for life transformation
The commitment: Our membership vows….as a heart response
Our identity: Shaped by Him and meaningless without Him.

I quickly emailed the entire creed to that college student, rejoicing in the embedded language that the Holy Spirit was using to inform the student’s heart and mind.  And then I sat down to read through it again for myself asking the Lord to make it true in my own life.

There will always be a disconnect between players and coaches….and referees.”

One more sports related post (at least for now!)  I spend a lot of time in a gym this time of year.  This past Saturday, having coached two games already, I was attempting to watch one of our high school teams and one of our junior high teams tackle undefeated teams at the same time on parallel courts.   Watching with me was a former standout college athlete with sons on each court.  And all around us was the buzz of complaining about a ref in the previous game.  The parents had plenty of evidence.  But it was his tempered wisdom in the quote above that stood out among the others.

I wrestle with how to think and feel about referees every season.  I appreciate the good ones.  A lot.  And pray for grace for the others.  Grace for them and grace for me.  I really do. I think they have a really important job in our culture as they choose how to model ultimate authority in a given situation.  Power trip or velvet brick….gracious teacher or earning a check?  Whether they serve…and how they play their role has a lot to do with how many young people learn about how to handle authority.

My younger brother was the head ref in a soccer league in high school, so I got to hear the yelling and the complaining that came in over the phone every Saturday.  The buck stops at the top.  Some people called every week.  Somehow, their child was always the one with the raw deal!

I refereed for my brother, so I knew first hand of the abuse that comes on the field as well. But I have also been on the other side (I won’t tell you how recently :-)), coaching in games where the official was lazy and rarely got into position, where I had to call a timeout to get my bleeding player out of the game, and where officials took retribution on fans who were rude by calling imaginary calls on their players.  I have been the ref who groaned inside when I saw particular parents arrive….and I have been the coach who realized that the game would be an uphill struggle well before the tip-off.  And I have been the coach who was chewed out by parents for not defending their sons and daughters against unfair calls.

My friend had a lot of pragmatic wisdom.  And the big picture is that a blown call mostly doesn’t matter…even in the pros…even when the ref decides the outcome of the game instead of the players.  But I still find myself wondering questions  like:

  • Where is it appropriate in life to fight for justice?
  • When should you offer grace to an authority that is obviously in over his/her head?
  • When should you turn the other cheek?
  • As a role model, am I teaching strength under control or a form of tolerance…..justice or self-righteousness?
  • What happens when I model allowing an injustice to stand?  What about when I offer grace in the midst of failure?
  • When does the game become bigger than the players?
  • Can I really compartmentalize my players from the game?

My questions go on and on….every season, every year for more than a quarter century.   My mom and dad had the courage to pull me out of sports completely for a year in middle school to help me gain some perspective on this issue.  I grew a ton that year.  But I still have questions.  The lessons of sport transcend the game.  And we never stop teaching theology.

I wish that I had internalized much younger that life is not fair….but God is good.  That is my default and yet, I struggle with passivity that seems to me no virtue, but compromise.  As you can see…there are few issues that matter much to me about which I feel more conflicted.

Does anybody feel my pain?  And how do you work through the issues of sport….and coaching….and refereeing?  Of justice and mercy?  Of being right and doing right?