Trying Something New For Lent: The Prayer Wheel

I had no plan for Lent this year, which is odd for me. I grew up Catholic, became a Protestant Youth Pastor, but still love many of the observances I grew  up with. I normal do a Facebook Live devotional or fast something, and none of these things appealed to me or even came to mind.

My slippage of memory could be because Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday have fallen on the same day this year. I’m in weird place right now, almost a lame duck feeling that presidents get in their last term in office. I just can’t move forward until I’m through whatever I am in.

I came across this article by Jana Riess where she said,

I’ve done it all: given up meat. Given up chocolate. Given up TV. Given up unnecessary spending.

And then after many years of those small sacrifices I gave up the giving up, because it wasn’t “working” – it wasn’t bringing me any closer to God, however good it may have been for me on the self-improvement front. Lent isn’t about self-improvement; it’s about a journey to God.

This really resonated with me. I’ve done Daniel Fasts, Social Media fasts, etc. etc. and each had their value. Jana then began to share about a medieval prayer wheel that was discovered  that seem to have seven weeks of focus.

No one knows how the actual prayer wheel works but Jana has written a book on how she might think it works or has created her own way to use it. Either way I am intrigued and for the next seven weeks I will be writing about my journey, with the prayer wheel as a steering wheel, toward God.

Today is day one and, as per instructions on the FB group, I repeat the words, the declaration, surrounding the circle

“The order of the diagram written here teaches the return home. ”

Today’s question: In a word or two, what do you want/need “home” with God to be?

My answer was: Community. Home is where people gather around the table for discussion, food, laughter, and games.

I thought about heaven today. I told God what I wanted heaven to be. People always say there will be no death, dying, or sickness which is all great, but the one thing I look forward to about heaven, is that I will never be alone again. There will always be someone to talk to, someone to hug me, or someone to cheer me up.

Maybe there will be lots of round tables, with coffee of course, filled with people to have interesting discussions with. Although I will know God as I am fully known at that point, I won’t know the other people in the same way, which means I can get to know a whole new group of people who are happy to talk and share and no one sits at a table alone.

What is home to you?

It’s My Fault

It’s my fault

It’s my fault if I have a bad attitude
It’s my fault if I didn’t accomplish my goals
It’s my fault if something doesn’t get done.
It’s my fault if I am not where I want to be
It’s my fault if I feel the way I feel
It’s my fault if people overlook me
It’s my fault if I don’t like the state of my relationships
It’s my fault if success is escaping me

It’s my fault, even if it’s not my fault.

I refuse to give anyone else control over my life by blaming them.

The goal of the post is to blame ourselves so that we work harder on us and less time trying to fix/blame others. Because the only people we can improve upon is us.

Own your stuff and then make changes, not before.

Keeping Your Church From Becoming A Museum

 “I think you have too many dead things in your museum, Daddy.”  – From The Greatest Showman

I went and saw the Greatest Showman with my wife for our 27th anniversary. I don’t mind a good musical, West Side Story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc. and I enjoyed this movie, except for all the singing. Ok, that’s not true but I did enjoy when Hugh Jack man broke out his claws and killed all those guys for mocking his performers. Ok, that’s not true either. That’s what I wanted to happen. It would have broken things up for me.

There was that line in the movie where PT Barnum’s daughter bluntly tells her father, “You museum has too many dead things in it”. His other daughter chimes in with something to the effect of, “Yeah you need more things that are alive.”.

I instantly thought of many churches where was no life. Churches invite people to a weekly service to observe dead, lifeless, rituals and to pay to enjoy them.

Let me say, I’m Pentecostal, and although Pentecostal churches can be a lively bunch, there can still be so many dead things. Dead customs, dead songs, dead preaching, dead worship and the list goes on.

The chorus to the  best song in the movie, Come Alive,  says

Come alive, come alive
Go and ride your light
Let it burn so bright
Reaching up
To the sky
And it’s open wide
You’re electrified

While this whispy sentiment reflects the heart of PT Barnum’s “freaks” who come alive through, as Oprah says “living your truth”, I think there’s a better chorus from another song called Come Alive (Lauren Daigle) , that reflects God’s movement in the church

As we call out to dry bones come alive, come alive
We call out to dead hearts come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes let us see an army rise

We call out to dry bones, come alive

If the church is to avoid becoming a weekly museum that people attend, we’ll need more than a new attraction, a new freak show to impress the circus goers. The church does need “freaks”, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the tattooed, the unusual, and the broken, not to show off their “freakiness” but because God is present and calling them to rise from the ashes and be transformed. That’s how the church comes alive.

The church stops being a museum filled with old stories when new ones are being written.

 

When Your Number Is Called, Be Ready

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I was watching the College Football National Championship  between Georgia and Alabama last night and wow, what a game. It was 20 to 7 at some point and I thought, “Man, is Alabama gonna lose this game?” Not if Nick Saban had anything to say about it.

In a surprise move, in the second half, Nick Saban replaced his starting quarter back Jalen Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailoa. This is exactly what his team needed, a spark. 

The saying, “What got you here won’t get you to the next level” came to mind as I thought about the quarterback switch. It’s true. Jalen go them to the National Championship. Jalen was 25 and 2 entering this game, but he wasn’t going to win this game for Alabama.

Tua, had not taken a snap all year. He didn’t win any games. He just worked, practiced, and stayed ready.

I think of Biblical heroes who waited until their number was called, people like David. David was shepherd boy who had served faithfully As part of his preparation, he occasionally killed a lion and a bear. Then came the day his number was called.

The prophet Samuel shows up to David’s house and anoints David King of Israel. He is King in word but doesn’t have the position yet. Then, David’s number is called. He says, I’m ready to slay the Giant Goliath and take Israel to the next level.

Maybe you’re like David. You work hard. You’re a team player, but you are one of many. My advice, stay ready. Someone’s going to call your number.

I Was Not Living In Reality

And that has caused me a ton of frustration. This quote from Gary Vaynerchuk  is stuck in my head,

“The reason you are so frustrated is because you are living in the way you want the world to be rather than how it really is.”

All I could think about was how things should be

How I thought my work should be

How I thought my relationships should be

How I thought the church should be

and every time I thought about it, I got angry and stayed angry. This kind of wishful, wanting thinking was ruining my day and my life.

I had to face it, life was not as I wanted it. People were not as I wanted them to be. It’s hard to love people as they could be because of the glaring shortcomings all of us have. It’s much easier to love people as they are and journey with them.

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. – Nikos Kazantzakis

I cannot change my reality, at least not all once, but I can change how I see reality. I need new eyes, and that is my prayer. Brandon Heath, in His song Give Me Your Eyes sings,

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

I want a new reality, but I need new eyes, first, to see the reality I am in.

18 Things I’m Not Stressing About In 2018

The size of our youth ministry. I’ll love whosever comes.

What others say. Words. Just words.

The future. God’s already there.

New technology. It’s continues to evolve and I can jump in any time.

Social Media. It will serve me. I will not serve it.

My weight. Care not obsession.

People who don’t get me. Their loss.

Politics. No one is 100% right.

Keeping up with everyone else (I got my own race to run).

What people think I should think. Shame is no way to treat someone.

Guilt and shame. Jesus took care of that.

Perfection. I’m just gonna write and ship my stuff to my tribe and hope others find it as well.

My e-mail list. It’ll grow when I pour more love and care into it.

Success. I’ve already achieved success. I have a great wife, three great kids, God loves me and serve an amazing group of kids. What else could I need?

God’s will. I’m living in it right now. If He wants to move, I’ll move with Him.

Equating work with value. I’m much more concerned with who I am becoming than what I achieve.

Spiritual achievement. For who? Not you. Becoming is a journey not a destination. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

How others will judge me. I’ve built a body of work over the last decade. In the end, I hope it’s blessed a bunch of people, trained a bunch of youth workers, and equipped a bunch of saints. History, and, more importantly, God, will judge me in the end. My legacy is His glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 Things I Learned In 2017

I decided to do some reflecting on the past year, on a personal level, and this is a list of a few things I learned.

1. Dreams do come true, as I spoke at the National Youth Workers Conference.
2. My romanticism, about certain things, runs deeper than I thought.
3. I’m a better writer than I thought, but I have a long way to go. 
4. My real fight is against the pull to be average
5. I let myself become frustrated at small things I cannot change.
6. I learned, through ancestry.com that I am not Irish, but 40% British, 30% European Jew, and the rest Irish/Scottish/Scandinavian
7. The youth group I serve is pretty amazing (I kinda already new that)
8. I’m not looking forward to turning 50 next year.
9. I may not be “good enough” to make it to the “next level” and it will take far more work to improve my chances of making the next step.
10. I quit believing in a personal destiny, where I believed I should be at certain place by a certain time. Giving up this idea has freed me up to be wherever God would have me to be.
11. I have to lean into where my life is going versus fighting it.
12. I need to broaden my horizons when it comes to relationships and contexts.
13. The fight against isolationism is real.
14. Improvisation is better than scripted.
15. Doing Facebook Live is rewarding but more taxing than I thought.
16. I was very consistent in creating content across multiple platforms.
17. God continues to be faithful when I am not.

What did you learn in 2017?

Improvisational Youth Ministry

I played a part in a dinner theater where I played a lawyer. I had a script to follow. A script lets the actors know when they are to speak their lines. I say a line, you say a line. But, I am terrible at memorizing scripts. Case in point, for this dinner theater, I hid little notes of script all over the set unbeknownst to the audience. Even this could not save me from forgetting my lines.

I came to a part in the script I could not remember. We had a reader behind the scenes who could give us a line if we forgot. For some reason I could not hear the person back stage so it looked like I was having a conversation with the wall. The audience laughed even harder. So much for scripts.

When my son was little, I remember him trying to tell me knock knock jokes. He’d say “Knock Knock” and I’d say, “Who’s there?” and he would cut right to the punchline It still made me laugh. Maybe he gets it from me, I can’t tell a joke. Jokes feel canned. Improv on the other hand, that’s where I shine.

I love the back and forth of making a joke on the fly. I love shows like Who’s Line Is It Anyway. Improv is like playing with play dough until something is created. Youth ministry, these days, feels more like improv rather than a script.

I am reading Impov Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. It’s a fantastic book about ditching the script and rolling with what’s around you. In her 10th Maxim: Make Mistakes, Please she offers this wonderful quote

The more precise my vision of an outcome, the more likely I am to be disappointed. Things don’t turned out as planned. You don’t need to abandon your dreams; just don’t let them get in the way of noticing what IS taking place

I work with a youth ministry filled with wonderful students, but the more precise my vision the more disappointed I come. That’s the problem. This youth ministry will never become what I want it to become and it’s time to let that go. In letting go of my ideas and dreams I become aware of what God IS doing in and around my students, parents, leaders and church.

This is not to say I do not have goals or plans. Heck, I wrote a whole book about the planning process, but I’ve become willing to ditch the script to notice what the Sprit is doing versus what I want Him to do.

In her book, Madson introduces me to a new and fantastic word bricolage. According to Mirriam-Webster

According to French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the artist “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life.” Lévi-Strauss compared this artistic process to the work of a handyman who solves technical or mechanical problems with whatever materials are available. He referred to that process of making do as bricolage, a term derived from the French verb bricoler (meaning “to putter about”)

I love this so much. As youth workers, we often rely on a script of how a youth meeting, event, or program should go yet, all our best memories are from events that did not go as planned.

God like an artist, “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life”. Isn’t this what we are trying to do? Take a youth group of diverse kids, some bright, some not so much, and make something out of it that will bless God, our church, and our communities?

I’m gong to try to do. a little less planning (in detail) and make a lot more room for puttering and see what God will make with this play dough called youth ministry.

The Christmas Nobody Wants

Jimmy Kimmel loves his pranks. Every year Kimmel encourages parents to tell their kids that they have eaten their Halloween candy, and film it. He takes it another step further for Christmas by asking parents to give their kids an early Christmas a present, but one they know their kids will not like. You can watch the compilation below (Warning: kid uses salty language at the end)

The reactions from the kids range from confused to throwing fits to absolutely losing their minds! Kids have certain expectations about Christmas, they expect only things they want. Life, like Christmas, offers us gifts we weren’t looking for and we are often disappointed with.

There are so many “gifts” life gives us that we didn’t ask for, that we want a refund on, that we simply want to throw away, but, maybe we should re-think this.

Nobody asked for the “gift” of sickness

Nobody asked for the “gift” of divorce

Nobody asked for the “gift” of failure

These are “gifts” that circumstances gave us.

Think of a “gift” the world gave you that you didn’t ask for. What is that gift responsible for? Did sickness make you more thankful to be alive? To treasure each day? To be grateful of modern medicine?

How about divorce? Did it make you work harder on your relationships so this wouldn’t happen to you?

Failure. Did it teach you more about life than the successes?

I was adopted. Although I struggled as a young man with my identity, as I get older, I am thankful that my parents gave me up for adoption rather than choosing abortion. I am glad my life took this path, with all is struggles. It looked like tragedy but it was really a gift.

Nobody asked for Christmas. God took it upon himself to invade the world, uninvited. Christ offers mankind gifts we did not ask for such as grace, peace, joy, forgiveness and renewal that people refuse on a daily basis.

King Herod wanted to kill him.

His family rejected him.

The disciples abandoned him.

This is not the “gift” they had been expecting.

Yet, Jesus offered the widow back her dead son alive, the woman at the well redemption, and salvation to all mankind though his death. All unexpected gifts to those who received them.

Many times we act like the spoiled children in the video when we do not get what we want, throwing a fit or complaining about our “gift” . This may not be the Christmas you wanted, but it’s the one you got. What will you do with it?

 

 

 

 

What Will You Do With This When You Get It?

I just read this story about Kellie Marie Tran. It’s a feel good story that makes you wish all actors felt like this, but Kellie shares something that we should all be in tune with.

She says.

“In my 8 years as a struggling actor, I came to the realization that the hardest thing to obtain from another human being is their genuine interest,”

Actors, businesses, bands, churches, youth groups and everyone else, are looking for what Kellie was looking for, genuine interest.

She rewarded a table full of genuinely interested people talking about her role in The Last Jedi by going over and introducing herself.  A simple and kind gesture, but it meant the world to that table of people.

As human beings, we can come to believe we deserve genuine interest, but Kellie was humble and grateful for such attention. We should all be so grateful that anyone is talking about us, buying our stuff, or recommending what we do to others. We should also have a plan to reward them when they do.

How will you reward people when they give you the genuine interest you’ve been looking for?