Friday, December 18, 2009

God Bless...

Sometimes I hear people say, "God Bless America!"
And then I feel bad for the rest of the world, because we don't ask for God to bless them, too.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Community Sandwich

I'm so glad I decided to get a footlong sandwich at Subway tonight...
Arriving at home, I came up the stairs to a naked 1-year old, whom I scooped into my arms. He had escaped Momma's grasp after the bath, leaving the towel on the floor and streaking though our house.
The four year old was also naked, but wrapped in towel, hiding from me.
Two minutes later I sat down to eat my sandwich and IMMEDIATELY had two extra mouths to feed. TOGETHER we savored every bite of the Cold Cut Sandwich.
Was I upset that I had to share? Not one bit.
This does not mean I'm perfect. I've told them more than once to get their own food.
But tonight was perfect. Sharing a community sandwich reminded me that my "stuff" is not mine. God never intended it to be.
How cool would it be if I could share that way (and that deeply) with other people?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Interesting Bible reading today. Don't recall seeing this before about Lot. Remember? Abraham's nephew who lived in Sodom (or Gomorrah.) He was the only righteous one in those cities and so his life was spared. But the Bible tells us this about him...

7 But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. 8 Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. (2 Peter 2)

Lot lived in the most evil cities ever recorded. Think of the things he must have seen every day. Think of the atrocities. He lived among people that couldn't be reasoned with. In my opinion, he's lucky they didn't kill him.

This passage tells us he was sick of the immorality around him, but it goes one step further. It says he was "tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day."

May we be the kind of people who get sick of the immorality that surrounds us. May we be the kind of people who NEVER get USED to sinful behavior. May we be the kind of people who still cry when they see the evening news. May we be tormented in our souls by the wickedness around us...not because we are better, but because we love the things God loves.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Big Event Youth Ministry

I woke up this morning feeling like I had been run over by a MAC truck (and then it backed over me for good measure!) This weekend, we hosted a youth rally for almost 200 teenagers...and I am drained.
If you're in youth ministry, you will need to learn some thing about administration. The vast majority of church members have little to no idea the many hats a youth minister wears during a big event.
Take this last weekend as an example. At one point or another I was...

A/V technician
Kissing Police
Worship Leader
Answerer of All Questions (AKA "Fountain of Knowledge")
Host Home
Youth Minister
Parent Minister
Director of Crisis Management
Complaint Department

Along with all this, the youth minister is expected to maintain his composure and integrity. He is to look like Jesus to everyone he crosses...even those who are yelling at him.
If it sounds like I am complaining, well...maybe I am a little. :) But my hope is that churches (and youth ministers) can learn how to de-stress these big-event situations.

Note to Youth Ministers: Obviously I am still in elementary school when it comes to event planning. But I am learning that it's helpful to find people who are good at the above-mentioned roles to take the load off of you. It's no wonder we have youth ministers burning out at a terrible rate! DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP! Evaluate after each event, and learn from your mistakes. Above all, be encouraged that you are planting seeds for God in the hearts of young people.

Note to Church Members: If your youth minister is in the middle of an event, here are the sweetest words he could ever hear: "I'LL TAKE CARE OF IT!" As you can see from the above list, he already has SO much to do! Trust me, he will REJOICE if you take initiative and be totally grateful. If you're already helping in another capacity, feel free to delegate the job to another person. Tell your youth minister about it and get a free hug!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

As a Christian parent, what should I teach my child on the following: "What should you do when a bully approaches and pushes you down?"

So far, I have taken the typical American father stance... "Get up and punch 'em in the face!" The main goal of this approach is to inform the bully that you will not be a pushover.
Other parents may say, "Go, tell an adult." While I hope that my boys would tell me if ever this situation arose, I imagine the time will come when an adult is not handy...even on the playground.

And then I read one of the hardest teachings of Jesus (from Luke 6):

27"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

The way I read it, Jesus NEVER retaliated when someone attacked him physically. He was never involved in any kind of war, and He was not a brawler. He never went looking for trouble, and when it found Him, He depended on God and His teachings to get Him out.

If I am to believe the story of Christ, I MUST believe that it takes MORE strength to LOVE your enemies rather than getting revenge. I MUST believe that God will sort it out one day. I MUST believe that non-violence will achieve something better than violence. I MUST believe that LOVE (even love for my enemy) will win in the end.

And I MUST believe that this is right for my kids, too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What God Has Done For Me

“Go home and tell your family how much the LORD has done for you…”
Our minister, Jim White, challenged us this morning to tell our stories. I started to wonder what I would tell someone if they asked how Jesus had worked in my life…

The LORD put me under the supervision of two loving, Christian parents. They have shown me what it means to truly live as Christ did. They taught me to be color-blind when it comes to skin, forgiving when it comes to offenses, polite when speaking to others, and loving in all situations. I often wonder what my life would have looked like in another home…and then I thank God for my family.
Since I started following Jesus, I have been relieved of trying to control the world.
Yes, you read that right. I don’t have to worry about “getting ahead in this world.” I don’t have to fret, position, maneuver, plot, or use guilt to try and control situations or people. I have come to trust that God is in control, and I am not. Because of this, I have been relieved of SO much stress!
Money, popularity and “stuff” are not the driving factors in my life. Do I still struggle with desire for these things? Sure. But when I see the unhappiness of so many rich people, I’m thankful that my bank account doesn’t contain 6 digits! Once, when walking through a rich Omaha neighborhood, Tracy and I wondered what it would be like to live in one of those homes. Then, the thought came, “Yeah, but I wonder how much screaming goes on behind those doors.” Using God-instinct, we know those things won’t purchase the contentment we so desperately seek.
My faith also makes it OK NOT to know the answers to everything. An atheist reading this might mock me for this, but that’s OK. My friends know that this does NOT mean I put my brain on the back-burner and bury my head in the sand. I am actually quite a curious person. I am currently trying to teach myself Hebrew and one of my favorite books is “The Case for Christ,” in which an agnostic journalist researches the story of Jesus and comes to find faith in Him.
However, I don’t have to live in mental agony, trying to understand all the unanswered questions of this world. It also means that I don’t have to PRETEND to know everything. That’s too much hard work! I know a lot of people who “know everything,” but still fail in life and love. Knowledge is good, but it’s still secondary to love put into action.
Because of God, I have a GIGANTIC family! I have been blessed to travel to Africa, Jamaica, Brazil and most of the United States. There are people there who treat me like a brother. I have a “brother” in India, Ricky Gootam, who is doing wonderful things for God! My network is larger than any cell phone company!!
Lastly (for the sake of this post) knowing God gives me JOY! This one is a little harder to explain. I guess the joyful part of knowing Him came when I found out He was a God of love. My Father is the BEST at loving! He loves scores of undeserving people, and has WAY more patience than any human I know!

And now, I put the question to you: “What has God done for YOU?”Feel free to answer here, on your own blog, or tell a neighbor!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Uh-oh, Soapbox Issue!!

Soapbox topic tonight...

Omaha City Council is digging into old law books to find out if it's legal for city firefighters to raise money for MDA while on the clock.

Hey, City Council, don't you think you could spend your time on worth-while conquests?
Your people are NOT worried about this issue! They are worried about the number of shootings in our city, which continues to rise. They are wondering why you are tearing down a beloved city landmark (Rosenblatt Stadium) when there is no money to build a new stadium (and not much room downtown, either.) They are wondering why already-high property taxes are being raised.
I don't know how much influence you have over these things, but I am VERY upset at your use of time in fighting the firefighters on the above-mentioned issue.
If anything, MORE companies OUGHT to encourage their employees to raise money for charities while ON THE CLOCK! Why can the city not get behind the firefighters for this? Is this not "in the city's long-range plans?" Why is helping others with a debilitating disease so taboo?
Come on, City Council. Let's focus on things that will improve this great city. Let's encourage our people to be generous, benevolent, and to help one another!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Persecuted Christians

Did you know that people are still being persecuted for their faith in Christ?
I just finished a wonderful book called "Jesus Freaks II" by DC Talk and Voice of the Martyrs. It is the second volume in a series about the history of Christian martyrs. These books ought to be on the shelf of every Christian, especially U.S. Christians, to remind us of the religious freedom we enjoy. It also ought to remind us to remember in prayer those who are sharing the Good News of Jesus in a hostile environment.

"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." (Hebrews 13:3)

"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel..." (2 Timothy 1:8)

"May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains." (2 Timothy 1:16)

May we be like our brother Onesiphorus, not ashamed of our imprisoned brothers and sisters, praying for them, refreshing them.

If you would like to find out more about today's prisoners, click on the link to the right, and add the page to your favorites. You can also sign up for emails updating you on persecuted Christians.

*A HUGE "thank you" to Voice of the Martyrs for bringing this continuing problem to our remembrance.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What a Summer...

I've been reflecting on this past summer in my youth ministry. From my standpoint, it was an utter success. Let me quickly add that the success was not due to me.

I really feel like God has been teaching me something this summer: To get out of His way! My M.O. is to plot, plan and fret. I tend to freak out if I don't at least have a basic plan.

But, sometimes, God isn't in "the planning."

Sometimes, He is right there in the moment when you don't know what to do or say or think. The best thing you can do is copy Jesus, and then God shows up.
We've had some huge events this summer. But the "bigness" was found in the small, special moments. At other events, God showed up in surprising ways that weren't at all planned.

Here is a brief recap:

It's Summer Lock-In - This was our first event of the summer. During our 2 a.m. devo, one of our teen girls asked to be baptized! I could NEVER have planned that!
Sam Thomsen Memorial Concert - We invited Aaron Shust. He showed up, along with God, and we had an incredible evening. There was healing through music that night. And we raised over $2,000 for local charities.
Nebraska Youth Camp - continues to be a special place for our teens. Four were baptized out there, one a friend of one of our teens who went to camp for the first time! I always have great conversations in the unplanned moments at camp.
30 Hour Famine - We snuck this event in at the end of the summer. We only gave the teens ONE WEEK to raise funds. Since we did it in August (rather than the usual February) we slept outside in cardboard boxes. Have you ever slept in cardboard boxes? When it started raining, we rain inside the church building. Homeless folks can't do that. We raised over $3,600 to feed hungry children around the world. That means 14 kids will be fed for the next year.

And I haven't even mentioned the impact of our wonderful interns (thanks Sara and Mitch!), or feeding homeless men at Siena Francis house, or all of our wonderful visitors and new friends, or SoulQuest, or...well, you get the picture.
Praise God for an awesome summer!
God, help me to STAY out of your way. Continue to work, despite me and through me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lunatic, Liar or Lord?

There is a famous quote by C.S. Lewis that goes something like this:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis here argues that the claim of Jesus to be "the Son of God" leaves us three options. Either Jesus was a lunatic, a liar, or He really was/is LORD.
After reading the book of John, one thing really sticks out: Jesus asked God to let people see who He really was. He was always complaining that people didn't understand.
So my next question is this: Would a liar publicly ask God to reveal his true identity? It seems that a liar would want to steer people away from his true identity!
So, for me, it seems that I can logically remove this one from the equation. So, is Jesus a lunatic? Or is He truly the Son of the Living God?
Of course, I choose the latter.
So does this mean that I am defined by this equation, too? Either I am a lunatic or really, really smart! I dunno...sometimes I feel like both! I feel like a lunatic who "gets" something that a lot of other people don't get. As long as I'm not a jerk about it, that's OK with me.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Blind Humans

As a race, humans are very blind.
Oh, not the kind of blindness where you can't physically see something. No, I'm speaking of the blindness where something is made clear, but we still don't believe it.
I often think, "How could people have witnessed ALL of the miracles of Jesus and still doubt?"
Here is a man who walked ON TOP of water, fed a mountain-ful of people with a handful of food, re-attached an ear with no medical equipment or stitches, and successfully told a violent storm to "Shut up!"
Our jaded-ness is not held to religion, though. Have you ever doubted any of the following...?
- someone saying they love you.
- a doctor telling you that you're in bad shape.
- a doctor telling you that you're's all in your head.
- weathermen
- yourself
Just because you doubt something doesn't mean that it's not true.
May God heal us of our blindness.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Woman Who Gave Everything

She has a limited income. No, a VERY limited income. And yet, her heart was moved by our youth group teens a few weeks ago, who fasted for 30 hours to raise money for hungry children in the world.
Out of her limited income, she wants to share $30 each month with a hungry child. She considers herself very blessed, and wants to share.
But her amazing goodwill did not stop there.
"Can I talk to you?" she asked as I turned away from another church member.
I walked behind her and her head-covering (she's from another country) into the foyer. She told me that she wanted to do MORE. She wanted to contribute to the teenagers (so they could help more children), but she didn't have any more money. So, she devised a plan...
She went to a local grocery store and asked permission to sit outside and collect money. I'm surprised they told her yes. Well, at least for a short time until the next manager came on the clock. Then she was told she had to leave. But by that time she had collected over $50, which she handed to me in an envelope.
My first reaction is my American sense of social propriety: "It's not right to ask money for a cause as an individual! How will people believe you?"
But I caught myself and corrected my first reaction: "What a beautiful thing! This sweet woman had no money of her own and had NO problem asking for help from others."

How many things do not get accomplished because of our sense of pride? Because we won't ask for help? Because we would rather do it ourselves?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Aaron Shust: "To God Alone"

From Aaron's new album coming out August 4th. I'm telling you, EVERY song is awesome! This is one of those albums you just put in and let play.
This song came from the idea that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the letters "SDG" at the end of each of his songs. It stands for "Soli Deo Gloria" which means "To God alone be the glory."
What if we lived our lives for God's glory? What would that look like?
What would happen if every time someone congratulated us, we pointed them towards God and said, "Thank Him"?!
What if we stopped taking glory and gave it to God?
Do you try to do things to get glory? (I know I sure don't mind when people tell me, "Good job!")

For a sneak peek at the other songs on his album, check out

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Let Us Pray!

How do you pray?

Since I was young, I was taught to close my eyes, bow my head and close my eyes. I don't fault my parents for this...I do the same with my own child to keep his rambunctious-ness in check!
It wasn't until about 3rd grade that I had an inkling that some people pray differently than others. My father had been invited to speak at an African-American church. When it came time to pray, I folded my hands and bowed my head.
The pray-er asked for God's help for Sister Johnson, who was suffering some malady, when, to my surprise, a man in front of me almost yelled, "That's right, Lord!"
I didn't know you could talk during prayer!

If your prayer life is stale, here are some other prayer postures found in the Bible. Try them out!
1. Open Your Eyes - The Bible mentions several times that people "raised their eyes toward heaven" when they spoke to God. When we close our eyes, sometimes we miss out on prayer opportunities. With our eyes open, we can see those who need help. We can notice drivers and pray for safety. We can notice the color green! (John 17:1, Psalm 123:1-3)
2. Lift Your Hands - I love 1 Timothy 2:8..."I want men everywhere to lift holy hands in prayer, without anger and disputing." I find it terribly ironic (and funny, and hypocritical) that one of the things we ARGUE about is whether or not it's OK to raise our hands!! I have heard several things that help me when I think of the concept of lifting holy hands to God in prayer. (a) It's like a child reaching for their mommy or daddy. In other words, I just want to be held by God! (b) It's showing God our empty hands. We have nothing to bring to Him but ourselves. (c) It's a sign of surrender. When someone sticks a gun in your back, you lift your hands in surrender. All of these are GREAT things to ponder when in prayer!
3. Kneel - "Come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD, our God, our Maker." (Psalm 95:6) Vassals in the medieval age would kneel before their king to show respect and honor. It's humbling to put your knee(s) to the ground for another person. We should kneel before our King..the King of kings!
4. Lying Prostrate - Lying facedown, spread-eagled is the most uncomfortable prayer position ever. It's also the most humbling. In this position, you are like a child waiting to be picked up. It's also humbling because anyone could come and attack you, but you are defenseless. They could put their boot in your back and you could do nothing about it. The verses that talk about this prayer posture are some of the most heart-wrenching, sorrowful stories in the Bible. This is not a position you would ask others to do in church...this one is completely personal. It is the moment you realize you have turned away from God and need to get back. (Deuteronomy 9:13-19, 2 Samuel 12:16, 1 Kings 18:25-39.)

Please remember, these are not the only ways you can pray! You can pray standing or sitting, at morning or at night, out loud or silently, with others or alone. The point is not how you hold your hands, but that you simply speak with God. He is waiting to hear from you!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Accountability Partners

Do you have an "accountability partner?"
I hear this often at youth rallies and religious gatherings. At the National Conference on Youth Ministries, they tell us every year that we should be in an accountability group.
What is an accountability partner?
It is someone that you trust to call when you are struggling spiritually. It is someone with whom you share your secrets. You know them and they know you. It is someone who will call you out when you are not being holy.
All of this is good, but I have continually run into a problem...all the good accountability partners are taken!
I've asked several people and here is the typical answer, "Oh, that's cool. I'm glad you're doing that, but I already have an accountability partner."
I hope I don't come across like a jealous junior high girl, but I don't think I'm the only one encountering this problem.
Since when did "accountability groups" become exclusive? Is this another way to form a friendship group and keep others out? Would Jesus want us to close off these groups when others are begging for friends to help them stay on the high road?
Somewhere along the way, we started another man-made tradition: Find ONE person whom you trust and share openly. It's not a bad thing, but is it the best thing?

*In case you are worrying about me, I have a friend in Michigan who is going against the grain. I'm pretty sure he already has an accountability partner, but he has opened his circle of accountability friends to include me. (By the way, I'm doing OK's just good to have someone ask once in a while!) Thanks, Dave. I appreciate you, bro.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Aaron Shust Song Leak! "Forevermore"

Aaron really blessed us last week as he shared his heart and his music. It was almost like he wrote those songs for us!
Imagine our surprise when we found this little video of him leaking a new song...and he did it while in Omaha...woot!!
Shameless plug: You NEED to get his new album "Take Over," which will be in stores August 4th.
We love you Aaron. Thanks for sharing with us.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Good News About Sin

*Textual Tuesdays will study an excerpt of the Bible or a biblical topic.

The following is an outline of a sermon I presented on Sunday. I hope it's uplifting and encouraging and convicting for you.
The format was actually a lot of fun. I asked our teens a question on Facebook: "What questions do you have about sin?" And they really came through! So the points of my lesson were based on their questions...

"If you sin, but fail to ask forgiveness, does God hold that against you?"

You've probably heard this question before. If I sin while dying (like curse while I wreck into a tree) will I be forgiven?
Heb. 7:26-27 tells us that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice ONCE FOR ALL.
This phrase is used five times in the book of Hebrews! We need to start believing that Christ died, and his death (once we accept it) took care of our sins! We cannot drive ourselves crazy keeping a checklist of the sins we fail to repent of.
Heb. 10:19-23 tells us that we can have "full assurance" and our hearts should be "cleansed of a guilty conscience."
You were not meant to live in guilt if you have given your life to following God.

"Does God punish other people for my sin?"

I used to wonder about this question. There are verses that talk about God punishing the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. I believe this is talking more of natural consequences than punishment. Here's why:
"Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin." (Deut. 24:16)
Others may suffer the CONSEQUENCES of your sin (e.g. drinking and driving) but YOU are responsible to God for your own sin. PLEASE don't think that God punished someone else because of YOU!

"Is there a sin so bad that God cannot forgive it?"

Jesus says in Matt. 12:31 that "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" is the only unforgivable sin. But even this is open for interpretation.
Does that mean you cannot get angry at God or yell at Him? (What about the Psalms?)
Does it mean that you cannot run away from God? (What about Jonah?)
Does it mean that you can't ever be against God? (What about Saul/Paul?)
I think it means a lifelong, turning your back on God, not taking any responsibility for your actions or your spirit that lives inside of you.

"Is sin treated all the same?"

At first glance, some sins seem worse than others. After all, they DO carry different consequences.
However, James 2:10 tells us that if you stumble at keeping ONE law, you have broken them all. This is because ANYTHING wrong breaks God's heart! (Lying to murder.) So, unfortunately, we have ALL been lawbreakers (and heartbreakers) at one point.
But the good news? Christ's sacrifice covers ALL sins!

"What will it take to make up for my sin?"

Unfortunately, we have this idea that WE can make our sins better. But let me try to expose a flaw...
If you lie, what can you do to make it better?
If you have premarital sex, what can you do?
In both these cases, we think we have an answer! But if we "make ourselves OK" by fixing it, then answer these questions...
If you get someone pregnant, how do you make it better?
If you murder someone, how do you fix it?
When answering these questions, there is really no way to "undo" what you have done! Does this mean these sins are beyond redemption?
Please read this carefully:

So, what should you do to get your sins forgiven? Read Acts 2:38. Once you accept God's forgiveness, you will know the good news that God forgives and forgets!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remember Those...

*Textual Tuesdays will be days when the Bible or another text will be examined for spiritual examination and encouragement.

Today's reading is from Hebrews 13:3
"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." (NIV)

I like the New Living Translation slightly better...
"Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies."

Reading this verse, first of all I am struck by the idea that I am far from perfect in following this sentiment. I hear of people in prison, or those being mistreated and feel sorry, but feel very disconnected from their situations.
This passage would have us move beyond our "who cares" attitude to a connected, caring one. Not just sympathy, mind you. Sympathy means feeling sorrow for another's situation. No, this verse calls us to something calls us to empathy.
Check out this definition from The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition:

empathy [(em-puh-thee)]
Identifying oneself completely with an object or person, sometimes even to the point of responding physically, as when, watching a baseball player swing at a pitch, one feels one's own muscles flex.

I pray that God gives me a more empathetic heart; one that feels sorrow and pain along with others to the point of moving me to help care for them instead of remaining aloof. I pray that God moves among Christians to give us this kind of caring heart for one another, and for the world...that the world may know we are Christians by our care, by our love.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Sense of Adventure

*Family Fridays contain tips to maintain a strong sense of family and to pass your faith on to your children.

A major component is missing in the spiritual lives of our young people...a sense of adventure!
Parents feel at a loss in the spiritual training of their children. They think they must KNOW everything before they can teach their kids. This is so far from the truth! If all we do is boring is that?
The problem is that parents don't PRACTICE their faith WITH their kids. Parents, be encouraged to DO "faith stuff" with your children.
Take them to help feed people at a local shelter.
Make gift baskets for underprivileged children.
Visit a hospital just to pray for those inside.
Help an elderly person carry groceries to their car.
Let your children see you in a Bible study or teaching.
Encourage your children to be friends with your neighbors.
Make an adventure out of your faith-life! And live out those adventures with your kids, one day at a time.
Nothing guarantees vibrant faith for your children, but this will greatly increase the chance of them growing their own faith.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The In-Laws

Today I am thankful for my parents-in-law. They are staying with us this week. My mother-in-law is always willing to help watch the kids. She has a genuine concern for other people and prays every night for many. Oh yeah, her cooking is phenomenal (after this post, I'm headed for the chocolate meringue pie in the fridge!)
My father-in-law is the hardest worker I know. His family yells at him to stop and rest constantly. This week he has mowed my front yard, cooked pork chops on the grill and helped us install a retaining wall on the side of our house. I also enjoy our little on-going golf competition. So far, the best I've done is tie him. This week, he beat me by four strokes.
Great times with great people. Not everyone enjoys their in-laws!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Textual Tuesday

Today's reading is from Luke 1:

13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

It's amazing to see that John was among the first in "family ministry." One of the main reasons he was sent, we are told in verse 17, was "to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children."
The problem is not a new one. For centuries, fathers tend to get busy with "business" to the neglect of their children (and wives.) Sometimes, they don't mean's just the way men are wired! Once we get something in our heads, we want to finish it...we want it to be accomplished.
I've been told one of the best things we do in our youth ministry is to provide times for families to be together. Our last series of events was called, "Chillin' With the 'Rents." (For you old fogeys, that's "spending time with your parents!")
It is always heart-lifting to see dads talking, playing and connecting with their children. This is one of the most important ministries of all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thankful Thursday

Today, I am thankful for good health...something that has eluded me for the past 24 hours. I haven't been this sick to my stomach since I was a kid.
I usually take it for granted when I'm in good health. What a blessing from God!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Textual ___day

Sorry I'm a day late! And now, to the scripture this week...! (two, actually)

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. (Matthew 24:1)

This is where many of our churches are today. "Look at our building! Isn't it great! We have ample parking, and plenty of restrooms. We have a gym and a kitchen. This is all new carpet, isn't it plush? Check this our auditorium we have state-of-the-art audio/visuals!! You probably came in today because of our sign..."
OK, so maybe we don't actually SAY that. But can we admit that we are awfully proud of our buildings sometimes?

Let's see what happened to the disciples LATER...

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. (Acts 3:1-5)

What did the disciples notice during this trip to the Temple?
It wasn't the grandiose temple. It wasn't the temple gate called Beautiful (I would have loved to see that gate!)
This time they weren't sucked in by the pomp and pride of the temple.
This time, they noticed...a beggar.
And they didn't just notice him, they stared at him and refused to leave until he interacted with them.

Why the change? I think it was because of the difference Jesus made in their lives. They had seen the resurrected Jesus and finally realized that He came to this world not to show off and become its king, but to die for its people.
And when we make this realization, we too will start to notice people...who Jesus came to save. And our buildings won't be the most important things for our deacons to fix...

Friday, May 08, 2009

Family Friday

The Blessing of Words

You hear them all day. Some are positive and some are not. Some are long and some are short. Some represent God...many do not.
What you do with your words can be a positive force in your family. Positive words can:

Affirm love
Prove forgiveness
Give hope to a failing relationship
Inspire someone to try harder
Heal wounds inflicted by another
Boost self-esteem
Bring about the most joyous sound on earth...laughter
Bond a family together
Envision a positive future for a loved one
Bless a starving soul
End family feuds
Make a friend of a perceived enemy
Introduce someone to Christ
Change someone's day...maybe even their outlook on life
Make the world a better place

In the midst of your family, use words to be a powerful force for good!
"Encourage one another, and build each other up..." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thankful Thursday

Today, I am thankful for our home church...the Southwest Church of Christ!!
Let me share a few things that have made this church special to us...

This past Sunday, one of our shepherds (elders) was making a really long announcement. I was wondering where he was going, when he finally broke the news that one of our couples was reconciling! This couple had struggled in their marriage for years and lived apart for most of that time. Many members had counseled with them, cried with them and reasoned with them. And so imagine the reaction! First, it was applause with a few whistles. Then, the minister and I noticed that everyone was standing to applaud them!

Another one of our shepherds asked me how things were going the other day. He listened and affirmed me for the job I was doing. He told me to pass on his appreciation to my wife, too! (Wives of ministers usually get overlooked.) And then, he did the BEST thing a shepherd could do for a youth minister: He said, "Franklin, can I pray for you?" (And this is a common occurence here!)

And of course, I could talk about how our church responded when our Sam Thomsen died in a tornado last year. There are some churches that would let the ministers do all the comforting of a bereaved family. Not Southwest! By the time I arrived at the Thomsen home, there were at least 30 people there! For the next two days, people were in and out of that home, checking on the Thomsens. This church truly understands that EVERY member is a minister!

If you're ever coming through Omaha, Nebraska...come by and visit Southwest. It's a very special family!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Textual Tuesday

*Sorry to those of you who heard my sermon on Sunday...this is a rerun!

From 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, [c] saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request.

I've never been sure what to think of this passage. At first glance it looks terribly rude and self-centered. Plus, I'm not a real fan of the "fame and fortune" preachers and their lessons.
Is it OK to ask God for a blessing? Can I ask God to bless me?

Here are some other passages that have helped me to embrace the prayer of Jabez a little better, and understand maybe what he was thinking...
  1. The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (Gen. 12:1-2) Did you catch the last phrase? "...and you will be a blessing." I believe the Israelites understood that when God blesses you, you pass the blessings on to others (and don't hoard it for yourself.) This makes it a little more palatable to ask for a blessing.
  2. Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding. (Prov. 3:13) The Bible also mentions health, long life, and children as blessings. Most Americans think of a "blessing" as money or material wealth. God gives us so many blessings other than material things!
  3. And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:16) Almost every "blessing story" in the Bible has the "blesser" laying hands on or touching the one being blessed. To ask God for a blessing is to ask to be close to God or be touched by Him. And what better blessing could exist?!

These verses make me think that it's OK to ask God for a blessing if I have the right mindset. May God give you a special blessing today!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Family Friday

"Hi, Franklin," said the nervous voice on the other end of the line. It was the mom of one of my (youth group) teens.
"Ummm, I’m sorry to call at such a late hour. Is there…any way you could come over to the house for a little bit? We need your help. Our son has locked himself in his room and won’t talk to us. He’s pretty upset."
As I entered the house, Dad sat in a recliner, putting on a good face (for the youth minister) but obviously angry. You could actually smell tension in the air. After getting a report from Mom and Dad, I headed up the staircase to coax the teen out of his room and talk to his parents.

In a situation like this, how much privacy do you give your teenager?

How long should you give them to cool down?

First of all, make sure that YOU as a parent have calmed down! In the above-mentioned situation, I could tell the mom was fine, but the dad had not yet calmed down. While you wait, calmly weigh the "worth-it" scale of this argument. Try to put your logic into better words instead of "because I told you so!"

Wait long enough for both of you to cool off, but not too long. If you wait too long, your child will think: (1) the issue is closed (this may lead to a bad decision to do it anyway) or (2) that you don't love them (I know this is a little unfair, but that's the way they feel!) If you let this go on too long, the "No Parents Allowed" sign will go up on their door! Don't let that happen.

I am a firm believer in Ephesians 4:26 - "'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry..." Solve all your problems before the day is over. Either compromise, apologize, or promise to talk about the issue again tomorrow.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS end your talk with a sincere "I love you" and a meaningful (appropriate) touch. Hugs, kisses, tousling their hair, wrestling...all these are great. This shows your child that THEY are more important than the issue at hand. Unfortunately, as our children enter pre-teen years, we stop the hugs and touches because we believe they don't want/need them any more. Trust me, even if they cringe, they want AND need those hugs from you!

Thankful Thursday

"Good morning, class!"
I am so thankful for teachers! Many times, these folks use their own money to pay for class materials. They genuinely care for other people's children.
I remember my teachers in Africa, who would swat the children who snickered when I attempted to read in Chitonga (the local language.) They would smile at me and urge me to keep trying.
I remember falling in love with Creative Writing in high school because of a gentle lady that spoke about writing with a gleam in her eye.
I remember Dr. Geiger, who taught us Greek...he taught us to enjoy it as well as study it.
I remember Dr. North, who just made everything in the Bible so understandable!
I remember Dr. Baird, who challenged me to memorize more Bible than I thought I could cram in my brain!
There are so many more. So many Sunday School teachers and grade school teachers that I haven't mentioned.
In my opinion, teachers should be paid more than movie stars and professional athletes. But maybe that's just me...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Textual Tuesday

The spiritual world fascinates me. Demons, angels...all these unseen things are interesting. The following is one of my favorite passages (from Acts 19) about such things:

13Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
15One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
17When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.

Some observations:
1. These Jewish exorcists wanted to experience the full responsibility of knowing Jesus, but they did not want to commit to Him. Notice they added the tag, "...whom Paul preaches..." to their incantation. It seems they did not want to take it upon themselves to preach about Jesus, but just to cast out demons in His name.
2. "One day the evil spirit answered them..." Can you imagine days of talking to this "evil spirit" and all of a sudden, the spirit answers back? Frightening moment! I think I would have passed out cold...
3. "...the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor." Despite the fact that the demon "won," the name of Jesus was still held in high honor! No matter how evil something may seem, there is always an opportunity to see and praise Jesus.
4. "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" I pray that my faith will grow to the point where, one day, the evil spirits know MY name. I hope that I will become a powerful warrior for God, and that the demons will say, "Let's get out of here, here comes that Franklin guy!" Do the evil spirits know YOUR name?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Family Friday

Another example of a parent trying to be a friend rather than a parent:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A mother and another woman face felony child-endangerment charges after a 14-year-old's birthday party that ended with two young teens being taken to a hospital. Karen Christine Downs, 43, of Kansas City, and Kelsee Guest, 25, are accused of providing liquor and beer to six 13- and 14-year-olds at a February birthday party for Downs' daughter. Two girls, one 13 and the other 14, passed out and were later taken to a hospital, according to court documents.
Downs allegedly offered $10 to whoever could chug a glass of vodka the fastest. Guest is accused of pouring the shots.
"We continue to work to educate teenagers and adults about the dangerous effects of teen drinking," Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd in a news release. "But understand this: It is a crime to give alcohol to somebody's child. And any adult who creates a substantial risk to the life, body, or health of a child can face felony charges."
Police responded to a complaint of a loud party at a home in northern Kansas City around 2 a.m. Feb. 22 and found the teenage girls, several of whom told investigators that they had been drinking heavily. One girl who was unconscious was taken to a hospital, where her blood content was later determined to be .218, more than twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle.
A second girl also was taken to the hospital because officers believed she had alcohol poisoning.
"This was a very serious and dangerous situation," Kansas City police Chief Jim Corwin said. "We are fortunate we are not standing here discussing a homicide."
Officers found between 60 and 70 empty beer bottles and several empty liquor bottles scattered throughout the home's basement.
The girls told officers that Downs offered them shots and told them not to tell their parents about it. After running out of alcohol, Guest asked the girls if they had any money to buy more, Zahnd said, and the two suspects and one of the girls then bought another bottle of vodka.
One of the girls told police she had beer and nine or 10 shots of vodka, he said.
"I would like to think that the outrageous actions alleged in this case will be viewed by responsible adults as totally unacceptable," said Vicky Ward, coordinator of a community group that works to reduce teen drinking.
Downs was being held on $25,000 bond and Guest was being held on $20,000 bond. Both were cash-only.
The prosecutor's office said neither woman had hired a lawyer as of Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thankful Thursday

"Hey, what do you think about this scripture?"
"Franklin, God has better things in store for you."
"Dude, how is your marriage?"

They constantly challenge and push me. They ask personal questions that make me squirm, but then make me grateful that someone asked to keep me straight. We laugh and laugh when we are together at retreats and rallies. Some of our favorite things to discuss are God, the Bible and teenagers. They have walked with me through the best times...and they have watched over me in dark times.

Today, I am thankful for my ministry friends. (I apologize in advance...I'm sure I'll forget several great people!)

Youth Ministers: Tim Hall, Tom Dahlman, Todd Brumley, Dave Blanchard, Philip Quelle, Trent Baker, Jesse Anderson, Bryan Johnston, Rick Odell, Bobby Kern

Pulpit, Worship, and "Other": Jim White, Rusty Tugman, Lanny Jobe, Randy Johns, Jim Tuttle, Dudley Chancey, Shane Coffman, Robert Cox, Kerry Cox, Ricky Gootam

Can't forget those Superwomen (I mean, "Administrative Asssistants!"): Patty Coffman, Jamie Schoonover

These folks are active (and for the most part, paid) ministers. They understand what other paid guys go through. They are "in the fields" working and blessing many people.
Be sure to tell some of your favorite youth ministers/ministers/secretaries "Thank you" today!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Textual Tuesday

God must be trying to teach me something. Today's scripture kind of continues the thought from last week...

It all started when I found my new favorite website:
Here is a short excerpt from a section on Blessings:

"Jews normally do not say "grace" before meals (as do many Christians) but rather after they have eaten. They do not "bless" the food either, but rather acknowledge that God is the One who provides for their sustenance."

This prayer is called Birkat Hamazon.

The reasoning behind this "praying after meals" makes alot of sense. Listen to the words of Dueteronomy 8...

"10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."

Sometimes truth needs to smack you right between the eyes for you to notice.
It's so easy to pray for God to fill my stomach...but then I don't praise him when I am full.
It's easy to ask God for help in difficult times...but it's also easy to forget to thank Him when He answers.
Last week I posted about Jesus praying after huge events and helping lots of people. I think God wants us to pray after small things (like eating meals) too.
Do not forget the LORD your God. Praise Him for all He has done.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Family Friday

*Family Fridays contain stories and tips on raising healthy, godly families.

At the mall playground, children were leaping from obstacle to obstacle. Their excitement was evident by the shrill squeals that bounced back from the white walls.

Our son, Fischer, was already out of the game. He and another boy had collided at full speed. The other boy's head was fine, but Fischer's eye was not so fortunate.

As I comforted Fischer, I watched two other boys playing together. Boy #1 jumped onto a playground obstacle and was joined a few seconds later by Boy #2. Boy #1 didn't like this and shoved Boy #2 off with a snarl. He proceeded to jump down and chase the second boy, swinging and kicking at him. Luckily, Boy #2 treated it like a game and was able to evade his aggressor.

Meanwhile, I was thinking, "Where in the world are his parents?"

There is a maxim that all parents should learn from this episode:
Inaction is just as powerful a teacher as action.

If parents do NOT correct their children, they are, in essence, teaching their children that said action is acceptable. When disciplining children, silence usually means, "Go ahead and do it!"

Parents continue to get weaker and weaker in the battle with their children. It boggles my mind how many people "let things go" that their children are doing...especially when it comes to common sense and courtesy. How can you let your child swing at other children? Or push them down to reclaim a toy? Or mouth off to another adult?

Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now!

But please remember that inaction speaks to your children just as loudly as action.

Thankful Thursday (on Friday!)

(Sorry I'm a day late!)

The mop moves back and forth across the gleaming floor. He takes the last few swipes, disposes of the mop, proceeds to the next room and plugs in the vacuum cleaner. There is trash to be taken out, things to be picked up. There are toilets to be cleaned and cobwebs to be removed. There are desks that need dusting and odor removers that need replacing.

I am thankful for janitors!

These people work long and hard to keep our facilities nice, and often with little pay. They take on the job that not many others want.
Thank you, janitors, for your work! We don't always say it, but we appreciate you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Textual Tuesday

"41Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42They all ate and were satisfied, 43and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

45Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray." (Mark 6:41-46)

Did you see it? Let me print it again and try to make a word pop out at you...

"After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray."

We seem to have nailed the idea of praying BEFORE an important event:
  • The test
  • Labwork that may reveal cancer
  • The wedding
  • The event you've been planning for a year

Where I seem to fail in following the example of Jesus is praying AFTER...

  • ...the marriage begins
  • event went off without a hitch
  • ...I bombed my test (or aced it!)
  • ...the lab test comes back positive (or negative!)

When a life event is over, we either (1) congratulate ourself or (2) tell ourself to learn from it and move on.

Perhaps we should lean on God AFTER an event as well! It seems awfully selfish to ask God for help before-hand and then take the credit afterward! And yet, I've been guilty of this SO many times in my life.

So next time, take a page from the life of Jesus: Pray before AND after that important happening in your life.

Changing It Up

Yes, I know I've changed my blog 5 billion times already this year...
However, I seem to have entered a rut, and want to challenge myself. So, starting now I want to give people more than just my family stories (although I am still free to post them!)
Here is what you will be seeing at this website in it's new test phase:
Textual Tuesdays (sometimes the Bible, sometimes another text!)
Thankful Thursdays
Family Fridays (Hints and tips for families to excel)

Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


"All pilgrims will receive complete absolution for all sins committed while on crusade, and should death befall anyone who takes the cross, his soul is assured swift admission into paradise."

How could a people be so duped into believing such things? How could a church allow their priesthood to have so much power as to claim that they can absolve sins? Didn't Jesus himself say "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

It's interesting to read about the Crusades. Even though the book is just a fictional story based on history. ("The Iron Lance" by Stephen Lawhead.)

Another interesting quote:
"'The blood of the enemy will be a rich sacrifice for God and His holy church,' the captain of the guard replied."

The blood of the enemy? What about, "serving our enemy will be a rich sacrifice for God?!" Killing our enemies sounds nothing like Christ.
Interesting to read about the darkest chapter of Christianity and get a glimpse into their belief system.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I bought this book as tool to help me in forming classes and sermons, but I've found myself just reading it and enjoying it!

If you want a book with some good, wise, thought-provoking quotes, go grab this book!

Some samples:

"If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen - nothing else matters." - Jaroslav Pelikan

"To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong admit it,
Whenever you're right, shut up."

- Ogden Nash (My wife cheered when I read this to her.)

"I must not think it strange if God takes in youth those whom I would have kept on earth until they were older. God is peopling eternity, and I must not restrict him to old men and women."
- Jim Elliot (martyred at age 29 in South America.) (This quote really makes sense to me when thinking about my teenage friend Sam Thomsen who died in a tornado last year. God just wanted him in heaven!)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Smiling at God

I wonder if God feels like parents do?
I mean, God is "our Father," right?
Do my experiences give me a glimpse of what God might feel for His children? Let me give some examples...
When my children come to me with their problems, I am honored. It's not a power trip. No, I would love for my kids to be able to handle their own problems. But, since I love them so much, I WANT to help them!
When my children smile at me, my heart just melts. I'll do anything I can just to see a grin! But here's the best part: when I manage to make them smile through tears. It's those times when my children understand that Daddy loves them, even when life is rough.

Have you smiled at God lately?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tulsa Workshop

Ah, good times were had by all in Oklahoma this year. It's always a joy to go to Tulsa. One, my family is in OK. I also enjoy seeing my spiritual family and being inspired by the lessons.
Some highlights from this year in Tulsa:
  • While at Braum's (restaurant) Fischer spied a man wearing an eyepatch. He squealed, "Dad, that man looks like a pirate!" As we passed the man on the way to the bathroom, Fischer opened his mouth to make the announcement a second time. I quickly clapped my hand over his mouth. The pirate smiled.
  • From Rick Atchley's class on Identity: "If you take Christianity out of your life, what would you have left? Would your life look pretty much the same, except for cussing a little more and not having anything to do on Sundays? If your life would look the same, then you don't have Christ. What you have is a hobby." Wow! Preach it, Rick!
  • Weather: On the way in - dry as a bone; saw fires burning in nearby towns. Then, cold and wet. Saturday - SNOWED ALL DAY LONG. No comment...
  • In our hotel room, we had two queen-size beds. Fischer was being hyper, doing "boy things." As he jumped on one bed, he looked at the other one and a light bulb went off. He gathered his courage and made the 3 and 1/2 foot jump from one bed to the other, and stuck the landing! While Tracy scolded him, I silently said to her, "That was AWESOME!" I would NEVER have done that as a 3-year old! We have a little daredevil!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another Cool Prayer

Found another jewel of a prayer in my son's book of first prayers:

Day by day, dear Lord, of Thee
Three things I pray:
To see Thee more clearly,
To love Thee more dearly,
To follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day

-St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seven Years

Who says your 7 year anniversary has to be boring?
My lovely bride will be posting pictures and and commentary sometime soon. Check out her blog here.
But our date was fun, too. One restaurant for a delicious meal, and then off to another for dessert. We finished off the night at Family Fun Center, playing video games and earning enough tickets to buy several little trinkets to bring home for Fischer!
I love the fact that Tracy still loves to have fun. And I love it that we don't have to do fancy things to have a good time. That's part of her secret to being a good mother, too...she is inventive, creative, and adventurous.
Psychologists have used the phrase "seven year itch" to describe declining interest in a marriage after seven years or so.
The only thing for which I "itch" is to spend the rest of my life with this beautiful, spunky gal that I call my wife! She is amazing, loving, sometimes overanxious, thoughtful, funny, incredibly maternal, friendly, and fun to be around. Not to mention that she has put up with ME (and being a youth minister's WIFE) for seven years now!!
Happy anniversary, Tracy. I love you, and I love everything about you!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Winds of Change

At the insistence of a few nameless critics, I have decided to change my blog design once again. Yes, for a fleeting moment, the "Myriad of Mustaches" design was funny and seemed to capture youth ministry in a nutshell.
I agree, though, that it was hard to read and somewhat impractical for a web page.
I hope you enjoy the new layout...until I decide to change it again!
God bless you all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ancient Wisdom

I love the sound of Latin. I found this little nugget of ancient wisdom:

Animadvertistine, ubicumque stes, fumum recta in faciem ferri?

Translation: "Ever noticed how, wherever you stand, the smoke goes right into your face?"

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Youth Ministers and Facial Hair

Yes, you may have noticed the odd background I have chosen for my blog. However, as I think of most youth ministers I know, a background with different facial hair is entirely appropriate!

I have been asked many times, "Do ALL youth ministers have facial hair?"

And here are my answers:

1. "Yes, that way the parents can tell us apart from the teenagers!"

2. "Yes, because that's what Jesus would do."

3. "Yes, it's what sets us apart from 'other' ministers!"

4. "No, some youth ministers have back hair, nose hair, and shoulder hair, but no facial hair!"

5. "We're youth ministers. We don't have TIME to shave!!"

6. "Yes, if God blesses you with wonderful facial hair follicles, you ought to put them to good use!"

Friday, February 27, 2009

Vacation Memories...

"Dad, you don't trust me." - said by my 3-year old, about 13 years too early! I guess that is a hazard of having a young child and being minister to teenagers.

Wise-cracking Southwest flight attendant:

"Southwest IS a non-smoking flight. It is also non-complaining and non-whining flight. If you do feel the need to smoke, please feel free to step out on the wing and puff away. Please do not tamper with the smoke detector in the lavatory. Any damage will earn you a $2,000 fine. If you are willing to pay that kind of money to smoke one cigarette, you should be flying Delta right now!
If the oxygen masks drop down, and you have children, please put the mask on yourself before assisting your husband.
If you have any complaints, please take out a twenty dollar bill (nothing smaller.) Write down your complaint and hand it to me as I walk by. Enjoy your flight!"

I tied my father-in-law playing golf the other day. I'll get you one of these days, Steve!

My family is all back home with me now. It is cold outside, but the house is warm once again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Walk In Their Shoes

The man stood in front of us, shaken by heart-wrenching memories of growing up as an orphan. He recounted family after family that had taken him in, only to get rid of him after a short time. He stared down the teenagers in the audience and held their gaze.
"Let me tell you something. I would have given ANYTHING to have parents that always 'got into my business.' All the people I stayed with didn't give a FLIP about me, or my friends, or anything I was doing. So, when you're parents ask you all those annoying questions, just remember, they're asking because they care!"

I remember being in the audience watching this man, convicted of how blessed I was to have parents that cared.
Tonight, I passed along the following advice to our teens and their families (based on the above story):
  • If your parents ask questions, it's because they care.
  • Feel free to grill your parents about what they are doing, who they're hanging out with, and what time they will be back! (They should be open and honest, too!)
  • If something is "not anybody's business," then it's probably not good business.
  • As you get to know each other, do activities together that let every family member be a HERO. (Don't just do activities where Dad or Son are good at something, but let everyone excel!)
  • Jesus is our ultimate example of "walking in someone else's shoes." We should seek to know our families the way he sought (and seeks) to know us.

I hope you appreciate your family, and seek to "walk in their shoes." Get to know them. Appreciate their different-ness. Ask lots of questions!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Best Youth Group In Omaha

My statcounter showed that someone recently came to this website seeking "the BEST youth group in Omaha."
Well, I'm here to tell ya, that title fits the Southwest Church of Christ youth group!
I love our youth group so much! God has done amazing things in the past year and will continue to do so:
  • Our teens LOVE meeting new teens. One of their favorite activities is when we "kidnap" visitors and new members to our church. We take them somewhere special and have a great time getting to know them.
  • Our teens are VERY connected. At first, I didn't notice. Only recently I discovered that they text, email, and call each other way more than I had assumed. They know what's going on in each others' lives!
  • Our teens are growing into the likeness of Christ. More and more, I receive deep, spiritual questions. Students want Bible studies, and they want to learn about baptism. Service among the homeless brought us some unforgettable experiences.
  • And, our teens are FUN!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Blessings: Omaha

Omaha is a beautiful place that I am coming to love.

As a city, it has good jobs, plenty of activities (many golf courses!) , excellent schools, great healthcare...

OK, I have to go on a tangent here. Our pediatrician, Dr. Severson, is the most amazing doctor I have ever met. When Garrison was in the hospital with a collapsed lung, Dr. Severson came to see him every day, even though Garrison's case was being handled by the hospital's pediatrician! He was SO helpful, explaining medical terms and procedures to Tracy and I in ways that we could understand. Dr. Severson, you are truly a caring doctor, and give me faith in the medical community!

Omaha is a caring community. There are at least two homeless shelters that I know of, and many agencies that distribute food, give jobs, and care for the elderly.

The people of Omaha will surprise you. They have a constant positive attitude. They believe their Huskers will win EVERY game no matter how badly they have played previously! They love their city and take pride in it...and it shows. Personal property is well-manicured. Trees and flowers abound in neighborhoods. People love to get out when it's warm (and sometimes when it's cold!) and walk the series of trails flowing throughout the city. Oh, and I MUST mention that our road crews do a FANTASTIC job of removing snow (one of our church members is on this crew, tirelessly driving the streets at all hours of day and night!)

I love the fact that Omaha is a "little" big city. Plenty to do, but not so big that you will get lost among throngs of people. I am blessed to live in this great city!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Blessings: Part 1

In view of my last post, the next few entries are going to be positive! There are SO many things in my life that are positive, and I am blessed to be a part of them.
Since it's Valentine's Day, I'm going to start by bragging on my beautiful wife.
If you don't know, Tracy has a crazy side. Oh sure, it's been dulled a little by motherhood, but it's still there! And those moments when she gets "that mischievous look" in her eye, and announces our next's fun.
This might sound funny, but I love Tracy because she fights well. My tendency is to clam up when there is tension, but she doesn't allow that! As a result, we actually talk about our disagreements, and I have found that they don't last very long because we talk.
Tracy has a tendency towards realism, also. She doesn't much like sci-fi and fantasy like I do. But this means that instead of daydreaming and planning all the time (like me), she pushes me to action and practicality.
Another reason I love her is her big heart. She is always dreaming up ways to help people. A few years ago, she came up with the idea to take flowers and chocolate to all the widows of our church on Valentine's Day. That day became one of my most cherished memories.
Tracy is a good mother and a constant companion. She is so gentle and patient with our baby boy. I love the fact that she calls me just to say 'hi.'
She also has the ability to get tan overnight. (I threw that in since she's in Florida getting darker as we speak!)
I love you, babe. I always will.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Venting Time...

Sometimes I get frustrated with all the talk I hear that bashes churches, and sometimes religion as a whole. (By the way, these comments come from a general discontent and not in response to any one blog or conversation.)
These folks believe that religion has failed because it has abused its power. Therefore, it is a failed system.
Perhaps my reasoning is faulty, but shouldn't those people carry that thought into other parts of their lives as well?
If religion has failed because it has abused others...
  • then "marriage" doesn't work either.
  • the place you work has failed.
  • then "families" are a failed system.
  • any type of government should be avoided.
  • the use of money should be stopped.
  • you should pull your kids out of public schools.
  • then relationships are a failed system.

My point is this: If you rail against religion (and avoid it at all costs) because it has abused others, then shouldn't you avoid all other failed systems? Be consistent!

I think you will run into a problem. NO system is perfect. NO system is foolproof. Why? Because flawed people get into them and make a mess. Yes, even individuals are a flawed system.

We (including me) like to complain. Instead of owning up to a problem of our own, we look for flaws in something or someone else. It's so easy to spot the evil in someone else and be a critic. Instead of looking at flaws, why don't we examine what's RIGHT about something and build off of that? Why don't we ENCOURAGE one another to make all of life's "systems" better?!

Otherwise, we'll end up lonely and bitter, because nothing will ever "work." Everything will fail. And it will be everyone else's fault.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Prayer Rewrite

Aunt Shelly commented on the last blog entry that she liked this prayer, but would like it to be updated. While I sometimes enjoy the sound of "ye olde language," I think that making spiritual things understandable and useful is important. Following is my humble attempt to write the covenant prayer in more contemporary language:

I am no longer my own, but Yours.
Let me do Your will instead of mine, and choose the people in my life.
Put me to work, I'll suffer for You if needed.

Let Your will be done through me, or in spite of me.
Let me be famous for You or a nobody for You.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have everything, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily surrender all things for Your use and control.
And now, O holy and awesome God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am Yours.
So be it.
And this promise which I have made on earth,
Let it be approved by heaven.

Try praying this every day. It's HARD! There are times I do it out of repetition, but other times when I slow down and pay attention to the words. It's at those times when I realize that I cannot say these words with utmost sincerity, and I pray extra hard for God to give me the faith to utter this special prayer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Dare You

I have a dare for you. It's one of those that you might jump at, but later realize that you have bitten off more than you can chew.
I dare you to say the following prayer. First read it and absorb it. Read each line carefully, then read the questions that follow, and then pray it on your own.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.

Which of these lines is the most difficult for you to pray? Why?

FYI, the origins of this prayer are unknown, but John Wesley was the first to publish it.
I am going to lay off posting (maybe a week or so) until I have memorized this prayer and the prayer from the last post.

I dare you to memorize them, and pray them every day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

God Is Good, God Is Great

"God is good. God is great. Let us thank Him for this food. Amen."

Do you remember when you were first taught to pray? Do you remember your first prayer said at the dinner table?

How about this one? It gets my father-in-law in trouble when he says it:

"Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Biggest pig gets the most!"

Tracy and I couldn't resist buying this book we saw at Barnes and Noble. It's called "First Prayers." We bought it for Fischer, but I think I am going to enjoy it more than he will!

Here is a prayer found in the "Thank you for my food" section:

Thank you for the precious food

I eat three times a day.

Some children eat just once a week

In countries far away.

I wish that I could help them,

But I don't know what to do.

Please, God, will you make sure

That they have three meals, too?

Wow. Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rowan Atkinson Invisible Man

Rowan Atkinson is one of my favorites. Who else could come up with this stuff?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sabotaging God

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
- From "Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath

I heard the song above while driving home this afternoon and found myself really identifying with its message. I got really excited about seeing others through God's eyes, seeing past their surface to their hurts.
But it's one thing to get excited about lyrics, and another to live them.
I can sing this song in my car on the way to work, and then lock myself away in my office the rest of the day. Somehow, when I pray that God opens my eyes to help others, but then cut myself off from humanity, it seems like I'm sabotaging God's answer to my prayer.
Any other times you've sabotaged God's answers to prayer?
  • "God, help me get well." (But I refuse to go to the doctor, exercise, etc.)
  • "God, I need a job." (But I expect the perfect employer to call me without any effort on my part.)
  • "God, heal my marriage." (As long as it doesn't take too much of my time.)

Monday, January 19, 2009



Yes, my son is now the proud owner of his first whoopie cushion! I found it for $1 at Wal-Mart and we've had hours of fun with it.
I've already shown him how to slip it under a sofa cushion and invite a guest to sit down. I also demonstrated how to slip it under his arm, squeeze, and make the appropriate face to match the gassy sound.
Sigh...I'm so proud.

I know what you're thinking...and I refuse to grow up!! It's the little things that bring joy in life...especially the little, high pitched, gassy noises!
Hope you all have a good laugh today!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dependent on God: Part 2

So, are we dependent on God? Do we need to pray? Or are we self-sufficient to the point where we no longer need Him?
Let me try to outline two answers that I've been contemplating.
The first answer is somewhat simplistic: YES, I am dependent on God! On the surface, it seems that I don't need God, and I can do things myself. And yet, when you think about it...
  • Instead of asking God for a raise, I could just work harder. But God gave me the smarts to do my job, and He invented jobs!
  • Instead of asking God to heal my child, I could just call the doctor. But who created that doctor?
  • Instead of praying for rain, I could dig an irrigation canal. But God created the river or lake that I'm tapping into.

We don't think we need God, and yet EVERY breath is a gift from Him! Every muscle movement, gravity, the way light enters our retinas, heart rate, sense of balance, the way our fingers can manipulate tiny or large long could this list go on?

As my friend Jim often prays, "God, I can't take ONE STEP without You."

Now, my second answer is a little more difficult to grasp. I am still dealing with it myself.

"Asking" prayers are the prayers of an immature relationship with God. Don't get me wrong, I think God WANTS us to feel free to ask Him for things or help. But if this is all we pray for, something doesn't quite seem right.

When we are children, our conversations with our parents are "asking" conversations. My 3-year old and I don't have deep conversations about the world yet (even though he is incredibly intelligent!) Most of the time, he is asking for juice, or a sucker, or a toy, or to have a book read to him, or for a get the idea.

As we grow older, we are able to speak with our parents about more subjects. We are learning more about our world and ourselves. We can communicate better. We start to become self-sufficient. Sometimes we even think we don't need our parents. (Sound familiar yet?)

When we get still older, our relationship with our parents changes. We become more interested in their lives. We call them more often. We check in on them, just to see how they are doing. We mention that we love them more.

And why this change? Because, I believe, as we grow older we realize the world does not revolve around us. We think less of ourselves (hopefully) and think more of others. We give up our ideas of wealth and popularity and greatness and being god and start to see how truly small we are in a great big world.

While I have an adult relationship with my parents, I am still a child in my relationship to God. Most of my prayers default to "asking" prayers. The next step, I'm told, is "thanking" prayers, or recognizing God for who He is. And even further down the prayer road is the prayer where all you want is to spend time with your Heavenly Father.

In my previous blog, I listed the Lord's Prayer. In it, Jesus only asks for one (physical) thing: His daily bread. Everything else is a recognition of who God is.

Read Paul's prayers. Very rarely does he pray for physical things.

  • I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints... (Eph. 1:17-18)
  • For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)
  • Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19)
  • I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philip. 1:3-6)

I may never be a spiritual giant, and I think God is OK with that. But I aspire to have a more mature relationship with where I talk to Him more often, tell Him what's happening in my life, listen to Him, and just enjoy being with Him. And even though I am self-sufficient in many ways, I aspire to reach the point where I realize that every minute of my life is due to God's amazing grace.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dependent on God?

It's a prayer heard around the world. It's a prayer that Jesus taught His followers to pray: The Lord's Prayer.

Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

This is a prayer of dependence on God. It asks many things of Him.

Philip Yancey shares some good thoughts in his book: Prayer (Does It Make Any Difference?)

"In former days farmers lifted their heads and appealed to brazen heavens for an end to drought. Now we study low-pressure fronts, dig irrigation canals, and seed clouds with metallic particles. In former days, when a child fell ill the parents cried out to God; now they call for an ambulance or phone the doctor.
Prosperity may dilute prayer, too. The wealthy rely on talent and resources to solve immediate problems... We can hardly pray with sincerity, 'Give us this day our daily bread' when the pantry is stocked with a month's supply of provisions

Do we really need God any more? Can we pray "The Lord's Prayer" with integrity? Why wait on God when we can just do it ourselves? Are we dependent on Him still?

My answers in a few days. For now, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brings Out the Best

I get encouraged and challenged each year when I attend the National Conference on Youth Ministries. This year was no different.
I love it when I am challenged, and then God reinforces that challenge in my own life.

Tonight as I was getting Fischer ready for bed, I noticed a can on top of the fridge as I poured him a drink. Apparently, my wife got a can from church that supports a good cause. Nebraska Christian Services operates out of our church offices and assists in adoptions and assisting struggling mothers. As I reached for the can, an idea came to me.
You see, earlier today Fischer found some money in a drawer (you know, the ole "junk" drawer!) and asked for some to put into his piggy bank.

I wonder what he'll do if I solicit some money?

I explained to him that we should put money into this can, because it would help a child to find a mommy and a daddy.
He listened intently and stared at the can as I explained that not all children have a mommy and daddy like he does.
When I finished, his eyes lit up. "Daddy, let's put some money in there!"
He opened up the family junk drawer and showed me the change. (OK, so he didn't offer his own money, but I think this was a good step for him.)
As we put change in the can, I realized that all Fischer needed was an opportunity and a challenge to do good.

Sometimes in our youth groups (and in our lives) we just expect kids to "get by." Get good grades, obey the rules, show up for church. Maybe we don't provide enough challenges. Maybe it's like the kid who goes to school, but is bored to death because it's not challenging.

Provide challenges. Provide opportunities. Bring out the best in your children by giving them a shot at doing good things...even if it means doing good things that you are not used to doing.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Monks Share Wardrobe With the World

I'm leaving for the National Conference on Youth Ministries tomorrow, and thought I'd leave you with my new favorite commercial.
I laugh every time I see it. My favorite part is when they are around a fire and then at a football game!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Farewell 2008

Albert Smith once said, "Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid upon it."

I can't remember a year when I have cried more than 2008. Several things brought on the waterworks...

The worst phone call of my life was the one back in June telling me that Sam Thomsen had died in a tornado. While my wife's emotions rolled down her cheeks, I sat on the bed in complete shock. The tears would come later. They still come every once in a while, like this morning as I browsed through old emails. I miss Sam. I miss his smile, and him poking me in the ribs. I lament the fact that I won't get to work with him on another sermon this year for LTC.

And then there was our ordeal with Garrison. Ten days in the NICU after he collapsed a lung. It's a disturbing thing to see machines keeping your newborn baby alive.

2008 also brought the most intense feelings of hatred/pity (and eventually compassion) for the members of the Westboro Baptist Church who picketed at Sam's funeral. After a time, I realized that hatred would do nothing more than continue their legacy...instead of the legacy of love that Christ wants us to show the world.

Other great events of 2008:
  • My first intern! It really wasn't too painful...and Brent is a good sport! Now, I hope to continue and maybe even expand this internship stuff.
  • Running my first 5K. It was a good feeling to run more than 2 miles (my previous record) and it helped that it was all for a good cause. I was trying to encourage teens to raise more money for the 30 Hour Famine (they did, we raised over $3,000!) and the proceeds from the race went to a local homeless shelter.
  • Akastasia. Our annual youth rally was incredible this year. It resulted in two baptisms and a lot of open talk. I am also grateful that several other teens decided to be baptized last year.
  • Seeing my 2nd son (Garrison Steven Samuel Wood) smile! This kind of brings meaning and closure to all those tears. It reminds me that tears and pain and heartache won't be around forever. His smile teaches me that I can have joy in the midst of pain.

I hope that your 2008 was joyful and fulfilling, and I pray that 2009 is even better!