Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Better than two loaves and five fish

It never ceases to amaze me, the little gifts God brings my way. This week I received an email from an amazing man who happened to be a student in my first youth group. I hadn't heard from Jonathan in well over a decade, and had no clue what God had worked in his life. The last time I saw him was at a high school graduation party we went back for, and he was toying with the idea of ministry. I tried to encourage him, but never knew what came of it. I remember standing outside of another student's house, having a conversation about it, and hoping with all of my might that he would follow the leading God seemed to be giving him.

Turns out, he did. He wrote me this week, and has his own blog up and going. You can check it out here. (Go over and post a comment or two on his stuff. He's quite talented.) He has, like myself and many other students I've had, married well above himself it would seem. And he is the youth pastor at the church where I was his youth pastor. He's carrying the torch on in that community.

I can't begin to express the love and joy that brings to me. My heart is overflowing with gratefulness that he is there, loving students today. When you leave a church, your heart always has a connection to the people there, and the community you leave behind. I can not think of a greater gift God could give than to have Jonathan leading the students there.

So never underestimate the ability of God to take your small offerings in your life today, and to multiply them. I was a young youth pastor, blindly stumbling through ministry (much like today), hoping to help. God has multiplied that a thousand times over, and is using Jonathan in great ways. If He is willing to use something so small as my time there to produce something so beautiful, then I promise He is doing it in your life today. Guaranteed. No doubt. So be faithful in loving those around you. Speak truth in kindness. Give yourself away. You simply do not know how God will reinvest your gift. You simply do not know.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Hosted a Rock Concert for $100,000!

Last night several of our seniors were at the house for our weekly small group. We played the game of Life. You know, the one with the board, the little cars you put the people in, buy the house, etc. There were seven of us, so Phil and I played as college roommates. We went to college, got a job as an accountant, and drew the $20,000 a year salary card. Needless to say, we got smoked. Wes, on the other hand, skipped college, drew the job as the computer tech, and because no one can keep the spinner wheel on it's track, he racked up over $2,000,000,000 in cash. Sounds about right.

So anyway, we play the game, get to the end, Wes smokes us all, and we talk about it for a little bit. What role should money have in a Christians life? If you go to college, what's the goal? What should we do with our gifts and talents. I really encouraged each of these amazingly talented students to consider taking a few years when they graduate from college, and investing it in some part of the world in need. Wes wants to be an engineer. What if he went and worked with communities desperately in need of water, teaching them how to drill wells? Kim wants to be an accountant. What if she took the time to go and run a micro-finance bank. Justin wants to teach, Kim wants to help the blind, Paige wants to work with teenagers. What could be done if each of them gave 3-5 years out of college? It would be monumental.

But what about today? What can you or I do today? One of the easiest steps is child sponsorship. Never underestimate what it can do. But what about locally. What of the poor in our community? As Mother Teresa said, poverty of the soul is the greatest poverty of all. What of our neighbors in need? What of those around us who are broken and dying? What can we do today? It all starts with prayer. Ask God for His eyes, His ears, His heart. You'll see what I mean. Give it a try.

1 Steep Hill + 1 Launch Ramp X 26 teenage boys = ?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On a dark and quiet night...

I was reading Oswald Chambers this morning, and the verse for today is Matthew10:27. In it Jesus says "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs." Oswald brings up the point about Jesus speaking to us in the dark. I never thought much about the imagery, just that Jesus is saying what I show you, make known to others. But when I stop to think about Jesus telling me something in the dark, I don't like the dark. The dark times of my life are when I feel alone, lost, wandering, unsure. Jesus ties these times to Him whispering. For me to hear Him means that everything else has stopped making noise. Sometimes maybe I'm disciplined enough to shut everything else out. But often, I hear His whisper when I'm flat on my face, and alone.

It's so hard to embrace these times of darkness and silence. But I'm learning. And I'm learning to speak about them, to point others to Jesus in them. Darkness and silence is only scary if I'm alone, with no one. Darkness and silence is nice when I'm close to the one who holds me and loves me. It's just a change of perspective.

Not Again

This image makes me laugh each time I see it. I found it yesterday and it's my current wallpaper. How many times must Jesus feel this way about me, yet He loves me constantly. It's not that I laugh because I disappoint Him, but this is how a close friend feels about someone they dearly love who is embarrassing them in that goofy, screwy way. THAT I do all the time. Yet He loves me. And I laugh.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More than a full bucket

The Bible tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. I've read teh story several times in the past, but this week a different thought (for me) hit. Donald Miller pointed out how Jesus was all about relationships, and still is. He sits down with the woman, opens the discussion, asks for her help. I had heard, and taught, most of this in the past. But then He offers her the living water that only He can give. Her reply is somewhat sarcastic it seems, because she tells him to give her that water so she can quit coming to the well. I don't really think she meant it as a put off towards Jesus. I really believe that he was personable and genuine enough that she was joking with him a bit in her sarcasm. Jesus' reply is for her to go and get her husband.

Now He knows she's not married, and has been with five men. I always thought it a bit harsh of Him to make this jump in the conversation. I tended to see it as Him turning a corner to conviction, and lowering a hammer on her. But it was pointed out that maybe that isn't the case at all. Maybe he realizes how broken she is, how she is desperately seeking a loving relationship, and offers it to her ("living water"). Then He gently points out to her what her need is by bringing up the issue of her relationships. He sees her brokenness, her need for love, and draws her into it.

Suddenly, her running into town and proclaiming to everyone that they need to come and meet the one who "told me everything I ever did!" would be so attractive. She found what she was looking for. Not just conviction and forgiveness, but a relationship with the One who loves her because He is Love itself.

Maybe this doesn't hit you as new, or amazing, but it does for me. The story makes so much more sense, it fits better within the story of Jesus now. And it changes my life, as it should. I need to be more like Christ, calling people to the love affair that Jesus offers them with Himself. I need to recognize the true needs in people and offer them real hope. I pray that I can learn to see people the Christ does.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jesus vs. Phil

Last night, I was meeting with our new 12th grade small group at my house, and we were discussing what it means to love Jesus. We were thinking through our faith, and how we sometimes take it for granted. It went something like this...

Why are you a Christian? If you lived in a country where the predominant religion was Islam, or Buddhism, would you be different than you are now? If your parents were the same type of people, you lived in the same type of house, and had the same type of friends, would you be any different? If not, then isn't our faith just a social system? I mean, if you can unplug one faith system, plug in another, and things are basically the same, then they are just social systems that we are raised within. I realize you'll want to disagree, but really, would you be different?

If not, then why? Are Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity all the same? Do they accomplish the same goals, produce similar people? As a religion, is Christianity all that different? Unfortunately, in many people's lives, no it really isn't.

Then we discussed Phil, one of our leaders. We talked about why we love him, why we have a relationship with him, what we appreciate about him. You can substitute any good friend in the box. It doesn't have to be Phil. But think about why you love this person, why you are friends with them. Would you honestly say that you are better friends with Jesus, or Phil? It's tough, because Phil, or your substitute friend, is here. They are tangible. But who is the closer friend to you? Again, no Sunday School answers allowed. Really think about it.

You see, if we aren't developing a very real friendship with Jesus, if He isn't the primary friend in our lives, then we are following another religion. It's why the church isn't having the impact we should for grace, life change, beauty, and salvation. We are religious. Just like everyone else. So, in your case, who wins? Jesus, or Phil?

The Magic 8-Ball

This is one of the daily devotionals I receive from Homeward; which is Jim Burns ministry. You can find out more about it here. So, while I didn't write this, I thought it was worth passing on. Let me know what you think.

The Magic 8-Ball
This devotional was written by Leslie Snyder

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.—2 Timothy 2:15

Not long ago my daughter reminded me of a childhood toy that I absolutely loved, the Magic 8-Ball. In case you aren’t familiar with this iconic toy, allow me to refresh your memory. The ball itself looks like a large black 8-ball used in the game of billiards, except that this ball is larger and is filled with a dark liquid that gives cover to its contents: A small three-dimensional triangle that has phrases on each face such as “Signs Point to Yes,” “Don’t Count on It,” “You May Rely on It”, “Yes,” or “Definitely.” The person holding the 8-ball gets to ask a question, shake the ball and then wait breathlessly for the answer to appear. Of course, if you were like me and the answer wasn’t one you liked, you would shake the ball again until a better answer appeared.

Some people mistakenly approach the Bible this way. They have a question, open the Bible, point their finger on a verse and claim that as an answer from God, that is, as long if they like the answer. The problem is, the Bible isn’t a Magic 8-Ball nor is God a “Genie in a Bottle” that seeks to serve us and grant our wishes.

The Bible is an amazing collection of God-inspired letters, writings, poems, songs, history, prophecy, judgment and more. It was written over hundreds of years by over forty different authors ranging in profession from king to shepherd, fisherman and recovering Pharisee. It is God’s love letter to the world. The Apostle Paul wrote of the comprehensive nature of the sacred Scriptures stating, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man or woman of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The early Christians in Berea were on the right track. They revered the Scriptures and were commended because they studied them daily. May Christians who come after us be able to look at our lives and similarly commend us for our commitment to God’s Word.

Not sure how to approach Scripture? Try one of these reading plans:

1. Begin reading the book of John. Read one chapter a day through the end of the book.

2. Read through the book of Proverbs in one month.

Psalm 119:11; Acts 17:11; John 1:1-5

Leslie Snyder is a youth and family ministry veteran currently serving in the Kansas City area with her husband and three kids.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Graduating Seniors

There is a good, brief article on working with graduating students from Chuck Bomar on the Simply Youth Ministry Community site. You can check it out here.

If you read it, let me know what you think. I'm trying to really work through this issue and would love to hear any input. We're starting a small group for graduating seniors, and I'm trying to figure out how to best serve them. Let me know your thoughts.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Green Acres It Ain't

Jill and I have this dream, you see. We picture ourselves with a 100+ year old farmhouse, on a small piece of land, maybe two or three acres. There is the requisite barn out back, a white picket fence around a part of the property, a large porch with a swing and rockers, and neighbors houses in the distance. Of course, inside the house is this mix of old and new. All of the original wood trim is still there, and the house has a beautiful banister staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms. There is a large dining table you pass on your way to the kitchen, which always smells like cookies. But there is a modern HVAC system, new carpet, a modern kitchen, and modern bathrooms. We have discussed this house, designed this house, and dreamed of this house for years upon years; long before we actually moved to Indiana.

Once we moved here (almost seven years ago), we thought we would surely find this house, without too much effort. We've looked on and off for years. Every so often, we cruise through the realtor's websites, looking for potential matches to this dream. And, every so often, we find a picture that is intriguing. On the rarest of occasion, we will actually go tour the house. We don't want to burn a realtor's time, so we try to be careful not to jump too quickly.

But on that rare occasion that we find one close enough, we will go and look. We get our hopes up. It is really close, and we can see all of the changes that we can make and accomplish. Jill will sketch out a diagram for me, since I am visually impaired with this stuff. It looks good. Great even. It's a real possibility. Then my role kicks in.

I have to sit down and figure out a rough budget for the overall cost. We add in the cost of the house, the move, the demolition, the construction that we can do, the construction we'll have to pay to have done, the time given to the project, and unforeseen costs. Then we laugh. Then we sigh. It's too much, it's beyond our scope. We turn and walk away.

We went through this process again recently, and it got me to thinking. What if God did a cost analysis on me? What it takes to create me, sustain me, hold me together. What if He factored in the cost of rehabbing me; you know, the demolition of the rotted out parts of my life, the reconstruction and healing He'll have to do, the time He will have to invest? Will it be worth it? Will He end up with an upside down investment, with more put in than He could ever get out of me? He would have walked away years ago.

But He doesn't. He's one of those who you wish you could be. God has more resources than He could ever run out of. He can invest in me not for what He will reap in return, but simply because He wants to. He can build into me with the finest of materials, without a thought about what will come of it. He loves to pour into my life simply because He is generous, giving, loving, creative, and beautiful. Of course, I will respond with love. And praise. And worship. What else would my heart cry out for when it sees His goodness? But it will never equal the investment. You see, God doesn't just invest sweat equity into us, He invests blood equity. He gives us Everything. What a horrible investment, if you are looking for a return.

But then, He empowers us to do the same. We can invest in others, with no hope of their ever living to give us back what we give them. It's a struggle near and dear to me right now. I am watching some who I care about deeply, and have poured much prayer, love, and time into just walk away. It hurts. But God reminds me of the greater investment He continues to make in me. And in them. So, I won't quit, I won't give up, I will continue to invest in others.

I want to call you to do the same. Make great investments in the lives of others. Give yourself and your resources to those around you. You will lose it all sometimes. It's okay. He never stops pouring back into us. What else would you invest your life in?