Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm Jaw-Dropping Speechless

Pastor Jack's blog tells about a couple of astonishing worship services in area churches. How to have an extra-marital affair and a live strip tease to Santa Baby.
I'm speechless.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mark Your Turf with Meaning

Recently I moved from the off-site youth offices (aka, "Scranton") to the church (aka, "Corporate"). So I was faced with the decision of what to put on the walls of my office and on my bulletin board. I like to put up things that spur me on. Because I need visible reminders, I mark my 'turf' with meaningful items:
  • A 35 year-old page from Our Daily Bread about not wasting time. My mom sent it to me when I was in college.
  • My Open Water Diving Certificate.
  • Two 20k, Dam to Dam, Race Numbers.
  • My Personal Mission Statement.
  • 10 Maxims that guided me in youth ministry.
  • A quote from Thoreau that I copied from my daughter's bulletin board: "Drive a nail home and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction."
  • Sir Francis Drake's Prayer.
  • Monthly Ministry "WINS" will be the next items going up on my wall.
I'd like to know how you mark your turf with meaning?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Embrace Ministry Sadness

When I signed up to do ministry I saw hope and promise for people who find Christ. What no one really told me was how much pain people suffer. And, coming from a healthy home, I couldn't project how much sadness I would carry for others...
  • Ministry sadness is Jamie (I changed the name). At 19 years old, she had a 15 month old son whom she had to give up to foster care because she couldn't provide for him. The boy's dad lived with Jamie on her minimum wage, part time salary. Then, Jamie got pregnant again from a different guy. This guy then went to prison for who knows what. She was months along in her pregnancy and had no prenatal medical care. Still sleeping around.
  • Ministry sadness is the freshman guy who has no one to care for him. He smells and has greasy hair because no one has trained him to take care of himself.
  • Ministry sadness is the adult man in tears because of his financial failure.
  • Ministry sadness is my frustration for so many who are unresponsive to Jesus, or who reject wisdom, or who are stuck.
How do you overcome ministry sadness?
  1. Sometimes you just have to embrace the sadness. That is, cry.
  2. I'm not designed to carry my ministry sadness alone. And sharing it with others doesn't really relieve it. Only the Comforter's shoulders are broad enough to bear ministry sadness. Only Jesus shed tears of blood.
  3. Remember, we hurt a lot when we care a lot.
What gives you ministry sadness? How do you overcome ministry sadness?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


After watching this popular video I thought...
  • What am I expecting others to do for me that I'm unwilling to do for myself?
  • What makes it more appealing to me to remain where I am rather than to move ahead? What gratification do I gain from staying put?
  • Who am I blaming for my current status?
  • How do I convey my expectations onto others?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Killing Time with the Fam

Here are some of the 'funner' things we've done as a family over the Christmas break. Some are traditions, some 'r not...
  • Take one of the FREE personality or intelligence tests at Testdex. Compare results.
  • Share a Christmas eve Breakfast. Turk on the TV comedy Scrubs calls this 'Brinner'.
  • Open one present on Christmas eve and the rest on Christmas morning.
  • Take a picture of the "present" that Shamus left for us under the Christmas tree.
  • Play speed Scrabble.
  • Play Amy Grant's Christmas album and see how long it takes for Shannon to complain.
  • Catch a movie.
  • Play Nerts.
  • Play Upwords.
  • Play Rummikub.
  • Read the Christmas Story, of course.
  • When the kids were little we'd build a fort out of a refrigerator box, build a mattress slide down the stairs, build a fort with blankets and couch cushions, play indoor tackle football with Dad, get bumped onto the couch cushions on the floor.
  • Cook and bake experimental goodies (usually they're Very Good!).
  • This year I'd like to deliver some of those experimental goodies to neighbors.
What do you do with your family at Christmas?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

See You Whole in Heaven, Christopher

While Christopher was in his mother's tummy she got a virus. We don't know why, but at that crucial stage Christopher's brain didn't form right. Today, not too long after 24 years of speechlessness, sightlessness, and too many other limitations, we celebrated Christopher's wholeness at his memorial service. I was honored today to bless his caregivers and his parents, Denny and Deb. One lesson I've been learning lately: the closer we get to human need, the closer we get to Jesus. "Then the King will answer, 'I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.' Matthew 25:40 (NCV) daughter Shannon is 24. She was born a couple of months after Christopher. Shannon's serving Jesus and growing in life in Iowa City. I'm humbled, puzzled, glad, and sad.

Oh...and I do so wish that Denny could have fulfilled his dream to study Greek with his firstborn son. Maybe someday...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What I Learned NOT to Do in Youth Ministry

Here are the results of an off the cuff survey of Youth Pastors.
What I learned NOT to do in Youth Ministry. I learned...
  • Not to send 5 guys down a zip line in one harness.
  • When re-enacting the crucifixion with a nail and hammer, don't assume the female volunteer will move her hand.
  • No matter how responsible teens seem to be, don't leave them unsupervised.
  • If guys go outside to make snow angels, make them wear shorts.
  • Not to take myself too seriously.
  • Not to gossip.
  • That I should not back up on an interstate entrance ramp with a van load of teens.
  • Not to read emails in the wrong place.
  • Don't doubt the janitor dude.
  • Jump at the same time onto the Blob.
  • Don't let teens play the Salt Game that can send them to the emergency room.
  • Not to interrupt parents before they tell their whole story.
  • To be careful with what I tell my mother.
  • Not to do the Birthday Spanking Gauntlet.
  • To keep my mouth shut.
  • To never shut off all the lights.
  • Not to take the van load of teens to Hooters.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What's a Leader's Job?

For the sake of simplicity, I forced myself to boil down the bare essentials of what I think a leader absolutely has to do to serve others well...

· Pray… "Get on your knees and fight like a man!”
· Motivate (vision)… “Don’t underestimate the power of a Story.”
· Mobilize (gifted placement)… “Serve from your Strengths.”
· Mentor (train/coach)… “You can only EXPECT what you have EXPLAINED."
· Measure (track results)… "INSPECT what you EXPECT!”

I like memorable slogans so I added those.
I think that effective leaders intentionally and rhythmically cycle between these essentials.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Random Stuff

Here's some more random stuff that I found mildly interesting...

It's no fun to be branded. But I think we carry brands more than we'd like to think

Ever heard of mind-mapping? Here’s how to mind-map a meeting.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Media I've Run Across

I am so random...

A great time-waster is Facebook Lexicon. How many times do people mention a given word in a week on Facebook? Check out Facebook Lexicon. For upward trends type in Craigslist, or gas. For yearly cyclical trends enter depression, or Easter, or Bible study.

Cult of Sincerity is a full length secular indie movie about POMO; thoughtful, clever, witty, a prophetic message About 20-somethings, By 20-somethings, and To 20-somethings. ALL people from 15 to 30 yrs. old MUST watch this flick and discuss it! My 7-word review..."a critique of the post-modern ethos".

I can’t believe re-shaped 38th Parallel is now The Ministry of Magic contributing to the wizard rock scene. I love ‘The Bravest Man I Ever Knew’. I get a buzz from these former youth group members (TLC! woot!). The great British accent by Mark Jennings gave me a flashback to his high school All-State Improvisation performance!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oprah's Spirituality

Fortunately, not too many teens watch Oprah. Here is her audience's demographic.
I shouldn't be surprised at how Oprah is pushing her spiritual views as gospel truth. Here's one of the compilations of her "religion" on You Tube.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spiritual Obfuscation: No Clear Way to Heaven

Scot McKnight, whom I deeply respect, posted a letter from a youth pastor who actually believes the Pomo drivel . He had no clear answer to an elder's simple question, "How do I get to Heaven?"
One question: What the HECK?
  • What's wrong with just guiding a kid to any choice of dozens of passages regarding salvation and clearly telling him Repent and Believe?
  • We've got enough confused teens. Why unnecessarily confuse them spiritually?
  • What happened to the simplicity of childlike faith?
Scan the comments on McKnight's post and you'll see Tony Jones writing, "Tell him that 15 year olds don’t ask questions like that. And tell him that you won’t answer hypothetical questions. Then ask him if he’s projecting, and it’s actually *he* who wants to know how to get to heaven."
A sophomore guy prayed with me to receive Christ last Friday. I'm not naive enough to think that he understood everything. I don't know how much his will was bent toward Jesus. I don't know if he was 50% or 100% sincere. But I do know that if he genuinely repented and believed in Jesus he is heaven bound.
I care too much for kids to confuse them with what Jesus came to clarify.
By the way, if 15 year old kids aren't asking this question, they need to be. Their eternal destiny isn't something to screw around with.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Thomas Egg Roll Competition 2008

Some family traditions have staying power. We've been doing our Easter Egg Roll competition for about 30 years; most of those years with the Brannans. All ages enjoy it!
How do you do an Easter Egg Roll competition? Four Easy steps:
  1. Pick your own hard boiled egg.
  2. Roll it at your opponents egg on the count of three.
  3. Repeat #2 until a piece of shell falls off of one of the eggs.
  4. The winner gets to move up to the next round.
Of course trash talk starts heating up weeks in advance (so much for Lent). We create competition brackets on a poster, lay down dark bath towels on our dining room table, unfurl the Easter table cloth that everyone signs each year, and we provide prizes for the winner.
The Finale? We take our cracked eggs outside, lay the winners egg on the ground and we pelt the SNOT out of the winning egg until it is demolished! Sweet Revenge!
Phil Young, engaged to a Thomas opponent Jackie Brannan, won the competition for the 2nd year in a row! For you novices, this has Never happened before in the history of the Egg Roll competition. I think Phil is a RINGER, so I'm appealing this "win" to Doug Lewis, Chairman of the International Rules Committee in Cameroon, West Africa. Doug is a missionary and past participant in our Egg Roll.
Rules that apply:
NO Juiced eggs allowed.
No altered eggs allowed.
Handle opponents' eggs gently.
I'll post a video in another post when You Tube isn't down for maintenance.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Karl Rove on Barack and Hillary

Okay, I'll try to stop the politically oriented posts after this one. My daughter Shannon sent me this insightful interview of political strategist Karl Rove. It's good enough to share with an Obama supporter.
By the way, whether or not I agree with him, I learn so much from the way Karl Rove thinks. How can insightful analysis like this be applied to ministry?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What Do You See As Important Qualities of a Youth Pastor?

The second question asked of students who used to be in our youth ministry was, "What do you see as important qualities of a Youth Pastor?" Here are some of the responses...
  • Hair. (very funny)
  • Relational Skills, by far! Hands down having relational skills as a youth pastor is insanely important. That's how kids can tell if you care about them and that's how they rate a person. Beyond that, being able to teach/being a good communicator would be a really great quality along side relational skills. Genuine, If they're not genuine kids will see right through em. And of course, an all encompassing heart for the Lord. Someone who has the conviction that God has given him the skills and talents to work with youth and someone who has the conviction that he can make and will make an impact of the generations to come. He's gotta believe that this is what he's supposed to be doing. -- Kyle (very WISE answers. I wonder who your dad is?)
  • ...he really takes the time to get to know people and sincerely cares about each and every one of them. Also, someone who is easily approachable, not judging, but readily open to hear about our personal problems. -- Joanna
  • I think it's important to be able to relate with the kids- to deeply care about them and to be able to ask questions and show their love for them. It's important to have good leadership skills and be encouraging; to build leadership up within the youth. -- Anna
  • I think he needs to have high goals and the ability to express the goals to others in a way that will excite them to the same end. A good sense of humor but knows when to be serious and when he must lay down the law. -- Evan
  • They need to be a people person. [Our youth leader] would ALWAYS come say hi to me. Back in [Jr. High], [he] would always make sure that my friends and I got involved with the activities and the other kids. They must be more concerned with connecting with individuals than having tons and tons of kids showing up. -- Allie
  • ...very good relational skills, but also for the students to really have a lot of respect for the youth pastor. If I didn't respect who was talking, I didn't listen much. -- Lydia
  • RELATIONAL SKILLS!!! No one is going to listen to or care what a youth leader has to say if they don't have any relational skills. -- Rachel
  • Teaching skills- very important, communication skills, energy-charisma, relational skills, maturity in leadership, creativity. -- Bri
  • ...someone who has a vision to help the youth group grow and mature in their walks with the Lord, but I feel it's really important to be able to impact the group serving. -- Kasey
  • Obviously leadership is a very important quality as well as teaching, but I think a youth pastor absolutely MUST has good relational skills. As far as high schoolers go, a pastor could have the greatest sermon in the world but if he doesn't ever talk with them, only at them, and doesn't get involved in their lives to show them his interested and that they truly matter to him, they're not going to care or listen. The leaders that are most effective go out of their ways to level with students, try and talk to them individually, and make time for them. And also he can't have favorites, that will be the number one thing that will turn people away from him- he HAS to treat everyone equally. -- Anne
  • ...leadership, teaching, passion for the kids, passion to make disciples. -- Emily
  • The most important quality has to be his love for God. It has to show, the students have to be able to see that fairly quickly. Second, the pastor has to have a heart for students and be willing to serve them. Another important quality is integrity in what he says and does. He's got to know where God is leading the ministry and if there are a ny obstacles in the way. -- Augusto

Monday, March 31, 2008

"What Impacted You the Most?"

Wendi Swartz is one of our awesome youth ministry volunteers. Wendi emailed the following question of some former members of our youth ministry, "What impacted you the most going through our ministry?" Here are a few of the responses:
  • I would say that the relationships have impacted me the most in our ministry; especially my small group. I've learned a lot through these but most importantly, I've had Christian fellowship and people who genuinely care about me and who I can be totally honest with. I don't think that there is anywhere else that I have been able to have that kind of experience - it has been so meaningful in my life. -- Maria
  • The stories they told and the advice they gave. -- Chelsea
  • The good fellowship and strong Christian friends. -- Joanna
  • Challenge and mission trips impacted me the most. The fellowship built within the youth group impacted me the most. I like it when people share testimonies and create accountability relationships. -- Bonnie
  • The thing that impacted me the most was probably the fellowship. There are a lot of youth groups out there that have good speakers and plenty of ideas for improvement but they lack the friendships and "hang out" time that seem to bring everything together. -- Evan
  • I think just the way the leaders are so personal... and want to talk to me one on one. It really made an impact on me that they do care about where I am at spiritually and will help me in any way i need it. -- Kelsey
  • The people. The leaders, my small group leaders, the teachers, the guys and girls in ministry team to look up to when younger, the community and friendships built, the leaders who would spend time to hang out with you over their same age friends. But even cooler is that all those people and relationships were centered around a common uniting Faith. So the people/relationships. Yep. -- Kyle
  • The things that impacted me the most were my relationships with the leaders and other peers there. The other things that i found to be very important was the depth of the material being presented to me and the creativity of our youth group as a whole. -- Mike
  • My small group leader, small group, missions trips. -- Bri

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bart Ehrman

You've got to download this video of the beginning minutes of Bart Ehrman's lecture at Stanford and show it to your church youth. I showed the video to our High School group this morning. They were stunned. Use it as a discussion starter. (use the free programs KeepVid and VLC media player).
If you go to your local bookstore's religion section you will certainly find a title by Bart Ehrman. Dr. Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was a former floor-mate of mine at Moody Bible Institute. Now Bart seems to enjoy dissuading people from faith in God. Among his more popular works is Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.
Biblical scholar Ben Witherington gives a recent review of Bart's most recent book, God's Problem.
William Lane Craig has a transcript of his debate with Bart.
You'll also see Bart on TV from time to time as the guest Biblical scholar who knows a lot of stuff.
I think he's popular, in part, because of his evangelical roots; having fallen from the faith. The press loves to do an 'in-your-face' to right wing Christians.
Oh...I thought 2 things were funny in the video:
1. The guy that introduces Bart calls him Dr. Ehrrmaan (pronouncing his name in with a German accent; we would have mocked him at MBI for that).
2. Bart has this wicked laugh when he tells the story of his class of Christian students.
How did Bart lose his faith? Maybe he got hung up on the problem of evil and his research into textual criticism sealed the deal. I don't know.
I didn't know Bart that well at Moody's even though his room was next to mine. He was super smart. I get sad when I think of him and his students and his future. I hope it's okay with him that I pray for him from time to time; wanting the best for him.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


You know me, I don’t usually get too hyped about political stuff. I try to understand both sides of the argument. But Obama leaves me a bit frayed around the edges.

I’ve observed several aspects of Obama’s church controversy:

1. First of all, the issue itself is a bit of a red herring. There are bigger issues to talk about nationally than Obama’s pastor. The conservatives drone on about issues like this but no one is asking the candidates the hard questions: What about the unchecked irresponsible spending by both parties? The budget deficit? Social Security? Alternative sources of fuel? Defending the rights of those who can’t speak for themselves? Our nation’s moral collapse? Etc.

2. Obama vilified the American church in a recent speech by saying that “the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning”. But snoop around on the web site of Obama's home church. His church, Trinity United Church of Christ, projects itself as all Black. It is exclusively Afro-centric. Anyone without roots in Africa would not be enticed to attend there. Your see, they are “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian”. Actually, I’m mostly okay with that. Churches should bring the gospel to the people groups in their area that they are called by God to reach. But Trinity needs to wonder if they aren’t being too exclusive against whites and open to charges of racism.

3. Rumor has it that Trinity UCC’s theology of preference is Liberation Theology. In keeping with the UCC denomination, their statement of faith is lame. But since Obama is so doggedly loyal to this church’s pastor I’m getting a clearer impression that Obama’s socialist leanings are very consistent with Liberation Theology.

4. So what about Obama’s dedication to his pastor who publicly chastises, “G_ _ D_ _ _ _ America!” Obama says that this quote was from a collection of Pastor Wright’s worst sermon moments. Maybe that's true. But my concern is with a presidential candidate who continues to align himself closely with a church and a pastor who are FOCUSED on liberation. In particular, liberation from the evil of America’s ‘domination’ of the black race and of all the oppressed peoples of the world. Pastor Wright's anger resembles that of Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez, who called George Bush “Satan” at the UN. Interestingly, Liberation Theology is widely popular in South America. Now it's one thing for a South American dictator to hold these views. It is another matter when an American presidential candidate holds these views.

5. Consequently, I’m beginning to suspect that Obama aligns himself with the failed socialist agenda of the past 100 years. And I bet Obama wants to speed up the forced redistribution of national and global wealth from the White House. But the problem is that socialism threatens to kill the goose that is laying the golden egg. Obama should highlight Christian individual responsibility and seek to level the playing field of opportunity so that the poor have a chance to succeed. He should seek to raise the moral and legal standards in countries who are struggling; so that they can improve themselves. Societies who turn a blind eye to corruption and whose courts are ineffective or unjust will never progress. All the money in the world will not rescue an unrighteous society. America and Western Europe should take note as well. If "righteousness exalts a nation", then what does unrighteousness do to a nation?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Postmodernism is a Myth Devised by Frustrated Youth Pastors"

Christian apologist William Lane Craig said something like this at a recent conference, "Post-modernism is a Myth Devised by Frustrated Youth Pastors". I would suspect that Dr. Craig is referring to the Emergent Village folks; Jones, Paggitt, et al. Craig says that the EV folks have misdiagnosed our culture. Craig contends that we have not entered a post-modern culture; rather, we are thoroughly modern. Now more than ever, he insists, we need to provide rational arguments for the Christian faith. We need not resort to vague narratives and stories. Craig should know. He picks debates at packed university venues around the world.

Since I think that 'Billy' is the bomb (Dr. Craig's wife affectionately calls him Billy), I have to sit up and take notice when he makes such a bold statement.

To my best recollection, Craig also indicated that rationalistic, enlightenment hope is alive and well.

I had suspected that Craig's view is a truer assessment of Western culture than the broad label 'post-modern'. We worship science. Like Napolean Dynamite's brother, Kip, we love technology, and we expect medical advancements to save our lives. Inventions have enriched our lives and good old-fashioned Enlightenment empiricism is even applied to the Church (church growth movement?).

I'm not a philosopher, but I think Craig is onto something here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For Laughs

Other people post some funny stuff on their blogs.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Beta Version of a Ministry and Evangelism Training Model (part 2)

Now, take these ideas (Service and Contribution) from my last post a step further. Consider Service and Contribution as root elements of a unifying approach for evangelism.
I think everyone is struggling with how to train students to evangelize other students. Our students can be easily labeled as intolerant when they talk about Jesus. Few of them feel effective. Some YP's are literally throwing the old methods out the window (see a great article Tossing Aside the Tract: Why Just About Everything I Learned About Evangelism is Wrong). But once we are tossing out the old models of evangelism as increasingly irrelevant, what do we replace them with? Like others, I've recognized this problem with traditional witnessing methods for years and I've fiddled with my evangelism training models; going so far as to use Brian McLaren's, More Ready Than You Realize (gasp!).
So, assuming that a student is first Living an authentic life in Christ; his next steps toward evangelism can be to Serve the needs of others and then to Contribute by ultimately giving them the message of the Good News.
But I'd like to add one more component. I've noticed that most effective evangelists in our ministry Invite others to our gatherings, and they usually Invite them to follow Jesus too. I don't think that an Invitation necessarily comes before or after any of the other three components of Live, Serve, Contribute So, I'll just throw it at the end.
Now I'll be playing with this 4-step model of evangelism: Live, Serve, Contribute, Invite.
Sonlife ministries' acronym of Live, Love, Lead sums this up too. But "Love" is too generic of a word to be useful. And "Lead" sounds manipulative.
Anyway...I'll be testing this out.

Beta Version of a Ministry and Evangelism Training Model (part 1)

A youth pastor comrade (Jim Newberry) recently told me that he refashioned his ministry team of students around the theme of "Contribution". He said that he wanted them to find ways to Contribute to the Kingdom work of Christ, by giving spiritual input to others, or by serving in the church nursery, or by leading a game for Jr. get the idea.
I think 'Contribution' can be a sensible unifying theme and qualification for this important group of responsive students. By "unifying theme" I mean, "What one thing unifies this mismatched bundle of kids?" and, "Where do I want to lead them?" and, "How can I honor the leadership training examples of Jesus and Paul while also honoring the individuality of these willing teens?"
'Contribution' also sets a bar or standard that qualifies a student to be a member of our ministry team. This year I asked my ministry team students to take on at least one weekly ministry responsibility. I helped to place them based on their gifts. Most students want to Contribute but they don't feel they have the permission or empowerment to do so. Some are leading peer Bible studies. Others are mentoring middle schoolers. It's all good. Now when we gather we can discuss how their ministries are going and how they can sharpen them. They are a tad bit hungrier for ministry principles since they are actually doing ministry.
Add to this idea of Contribution some recent, but not too original, thinking of mine about Serving. I am convinced that our first spiritual inroads into peoples' hearts rest in simply proving we care for them by discovering their needs and Serving them, helping them. Henri Nouwen cracks this idea open in his FANTASTIC little books The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, among others.
The next step is to translate Serve and Contribute into an approach for evangelism. I'll split here and pick this up in my next post.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Birthday Card for Dad

St. Patrick's Day is my dad's birthday. It's relatively easy to pick out a meaningful card for dad.
Is it as easy for others to pick out a card for me? Maybe that's why I have to remind everyone of my Birthday!? hmmm.
Happy Birthday, Pops.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Don't Let Someone Rent Space in Your Head"

I met a dear African American brother, and new pastor/friend Ed, at a meeting last week in San Antonio. As we were killing time on the river walk and the Alamo, we found that we needed directions back to the van. Ed walked over to one of San Antonio's "finest" police officers to get directions. As we headed off toward the van, Ed casually mentioned to me that the officer had made a snide remark laced with racist overtones. After curtly giving Ed his directions, the officer asked snottily, "Anything Else?"
Now, if an officer would say that to me, a white guy, I would dismiss him as a jerk. But when the same thing is said in Texas to a person of color, he's a racist jerk at best. I wanted to go back and insert that guy's night stick...
Before I get too cranked up about this, you need to know that Ed was very cool about it. He shared his encounter with me more out of surprise than spite. As you can imagine, this episode launched me into asking a ton of questions about Ed's feelings and how commonly this occurs, etc.
I asked Ed, "How do you keep things like that from getting to you. Ed's reply was, "I tell my people (in my congregation) 'Don't let people rent space in your head."
Who "rents space" in your head? Why don't you give them an eviction notice?

Friday, February 22, 2008

C'mon Already, It's Only a Vacation!

I started writing this in the middle of the night to my kids, but I thought I would share it with my one or two blog readers as well.

Hi Family,
I know that we don’t have to explain ourselves to you, but something has plagued me about our trip to Hawaii.
Bottom line, for months I had been hoping for an extended sabbatical from church but the search process for the new youth guy wasn’t letting that happen. So we reassessed and took the long vacation instead. I got permission to get away for 3 weeks. With the cheaper airfares we got, we felt that we both could use the emotional break from the load of ministry and to have the chance to re-calibrate. The downside of using vacation time and resources for this was that we couldn’t include you kids with us. Aligning all of our schedules was also a big barrier to making something like this work for all of us.
Yes, I know each of you would say that mom and I don’t need to have all of our vacation plans work around you all. But on the other hand, stretching the proverb, “Better is a little where there is love than eating steaks where there is strife.” We didn’t have strife on our vacation, but we did have plenty of “steaks” that could have been richer with you to enjoy them with us. Frequently, mom and I would say things like, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious to watch Kyle break into an imitation of the hula dancers?” or, “Shannon would probably say this about now, and it would crack us up.” Or, Megan would love to be in NATURE like this.” Sharing experiences bonds people. I want more shared experiences with you.
Also, my gift of Thomas Welsh-ness made it hard to spend money like we did. We were frugal to a point, but Hawaii isn’t a cheap vacation destination. Yes, we’ve saved for something like this for 10 years and we have the empty-nest freedom to go and do things. Again, I wouldn’t trade our experiences for the world, but I am led by God and conscience to balance the money we spent on ourselves with a more earnest resolve not to make self-directed spending a habit or a focus. I really did return, thinking about the poor more and how empty it would be to have lots of money to simply spend on oneself to accumulate experiences for oneself. This self-orientation simply amplifies the loneliness we try to conceal with money. I’m reminded of how easy it is to plan out our future self-indulgences so that we always have something to look forward to that will hopefully bring some relief to our drab, wintry drudgery.
The dozens (hundreds?) of tents of homeless people on the beach 15 minutes away from one of the world's most luxurious resorts has etched itself into my mind. We found that our resort management won’t refer its guests to any business that would cause people to drive past these homeless encampments. This is understandable from a business image perspective, but it’s really sad to me.

You might think, why is Dad so evaluative about a vacation? Can’t he just enjoy a time away? Yes I can and I did. I just wanted each of you to have a glimpse into my soul. I hope you’re not sick of these Proverbs, but here’s one that started me on this rant:

Proverbs 15:21 (NASB)

Folly is joy to him who lacks sense,

But a man of understanding walks straight.

My Paraphrase:

Screwing around and random activities make the fool happy;

But even the recreation of the wise is purposeful and yields good results.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen

I am re-reading this book. Here's a challenging paragraph:
"Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not and open, blatant, roaring anger, but and anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. it is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ."
All I can say is, "Wow".
Can anyone else relate to Nouwen's description of contemporary ministry?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

God and the Oceans

Sue and I are on vacation near the ocean. As Iowans, being near the ocean gives us a fresher look at God. Over the past few days I've been beat up by the surf and I've sat, watching and listening to the pounding of the waves. So, I was led to ask, "What does the ocean tell me about Us and God?"

  • When depressed, picture yourself tossed about in the fury of His love; like being thrashed by the waves of the ocean (Psalm 42).
  • God is mightier than the breakers of the sea (Psalm 93).
  • He treads on the ocean waves (Job 9).
  • Fear God who sets limits for the seas (Job 38).
  • God stirs the sea and calms the sea (Psalm 107).

Here’s my take on the meaning of the oceans in scripture:

The seas represent, to a certain extent, chaos and damage. The seas are somewhat mysterious and hold frightening creatures. The oceans are overwhelming, unpredictable, and untamed. Their brute force is apparent and their power can be unleashed or calmed in an instant. There is nothing that I know of in the Bible that depicts the ocean as a place of opportunity or peace. The oceans evoke feelings of fear and danger.

Even the sounds of the breakers of the ocean speak a mysterious spirit-language of their own; calling to one another (deep calls to deep). Waterfalls echo this chorus. I suspect that the ancient mind would understand these passages as more than simply a personification of nature.

God’s control of the boundaries of the seas is a recurring theme. Even the Genesis epic tells about God establishing the boundaries of the sky and earth and water. But during the great flood, God allowed the waters to breach those boundaries and they overwhelmed creation with their destructive power.

But the Lord is a God who no longer will allow the chaos of the oceans to encroach upon the earth. God holds the ocean in check, protecting man from its turmoil.

Now, transport this ocean motif into the accounts of Jesus who stilled the waves, walked on the sea, found a coin in a fish’s mouth, and commanded a large catch of fish. In the OT it was God Himself who tread on the ocean waves. God alone could still the chaos of the ocean with a whisper, He mastered the creatures of the ocean.


  1. Could the instance of Jesus teaching while calmly seated in a boat tell us something about His command over creation?
  2. Why would Jesus teach the parable of the soils from a boat? All of the synoptic accounts record it this way.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

I'm really liking this book! Chip and Dan Heath cut new trails with this freshened exploration of the communication process. Their work is well-researched, interesting, and immediately applicable. The authors use the SUCCESs acronym as the basic outline of their book. Each chapter unpacks the 6 main methods we can use to make ideas stick: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. These methods will work with almost any form of communication; advertising, public speaking, writing, sales presentations, vision casting, etc.
Because Made To Stick has a simple outline, don't be fooled into thinking that it is simplistic. There is a lot to ponder here. This text will become another reference work that I'll need to return to again and again in order to sharpen my skills.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, Lane Jones

The authors make no pretense that their principles for ministry are not derived primarily from the Bible. As with many business success books, 7 Practices weaves a parable that provides a common sense backdrop to the principles. The authors’ baseball narrative does provide a relatively consistent metaphor for these ministry Practices.

The 7 Practices are…

  1. Clarify the win: Define what is important to every level of the organization.
  2. Think steps, not programs: Before you start anything, make sure it takes you where you need to go.
  3. Narrow the focus: Do fewer things in order to make a greater impact.
  4. Teach less for more: Say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it.
  5. Listen to outsiders: Focus on who you’re trying to reach, not who you’re trying to keep.
  6. Replace yourself: Learn to hand off what you do.
  7. Work on it: Take time to evaluate your work and to celebrate your wins.