Sunday, November 11, 2012

There are days that I wonder if all that I do is worth it. Today is one of those days. Today, I feel like I can't juggle, I can't win, I can't be what I think I am. Then, something whispers to keep going. But ... today, I'm not convinced I want to. Tomorrow will be different. Right?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: "Understanding Your Young Teen" by Mark Oestreicher


The first time a parent came to me as the youth group leader to ask for parenting advice was crazy. It was crazy for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason was that I was only 19 years old and the student in question was 14. I had nothing to say, mostly because I had nothing to offer - I was trying to figure out how to respond to the Elders' request that I take my lip ring out and stop dyeing my hair green.

The reason that Marko's new book "Understanding Your Young Teen" is so important is because it goes a long way towards closing the gap in the kinds of conversations that parents and people who work with young teens have to have, both with the teens themselves and with one another. The content of the book is a training for parents (the subtitle after all is "Practical Wisdom for Parents") but applies so wonderfully to my everyday world working with middle school students and their families that I must rave about it. Here goes:

Marko begins with a tongue-in-cheek rhetorical question: "Can Anything Good Come From This Age?" that smacks of the Biblical reference to Jesus's hometown but also underscores the attitude that so many people have towards middle schoolers in our culture. I can't begin to tell you how many people tell me on a regular basis, "That's great you work with THOSE kids, I certainly couldn't do it." Of course, knowing Marko's love for teens of this age I know that he is being snarky with the title. Marko uses this intro chapter to trace the development of adolescence as a cultural phenomenon and talks at length about misperceptions like the one I give above. "The gap between the perception many adults have of middle schoolers' potential and their actual potential is fairly wide. Most of this gap is rooted in complex cultural misunderstandings - even fear - of young teens." The basis of the book is that misunderstanding middle school aged teens is normal - maybe even OK - because it's an opportunity to learn the truth and biology behind the perceived stupidity.

Three important things are highlighted by Marko before launching full-tilt: 1) Most people come to faith in Jesus before the age of 13 or 14 (George Barna stats) 2) The two years following puberty (average age of 11, so 12-13 year olds) are a "tumultuous period of change. One of the most dramatic of these changes is the onset of abstract thinking, which is essential to owning one's faith" and 3) You (the parent) are still the number one influence in the life of your son or daughter!! (Christian Smith's research).

The middle school years are marked by change. We know this from a really base level - puberty happens, boys' voices squeak and bodies change - and girls seem to grow up overnight. But what Marko does so wonderfully in this book is give a teaching of all of the different kinds of teaching that really affect how we understand the process. There are certainly hormonal changes (Chapter 3), but we kind of get those because they happen so obviously. The bigger changes are the cognitive development and emotional development (chapters 4 and 5 respectively). Marko traces the way that the brain changes so dramatically in these years (for a full reading of these changes, I also finally just read "The Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch). We used to believe that the brian was fully formed and firing on all cylinders much earlier than it actually is. Teens are still forming their brains and won't stop until they are in their 20s - which means that what they say and do doesn't always make sense (shocking I know). But in all of this I think the most important thing maybe in the entire book is the understanding that teens learn to think during these years ... third-person perspective, self-awareness, nuance and gray areas, paradox, systems, speculation and inference ... these al come in to play in their earliest forms during these years.

Every week as I teach the 200 or so middle school students in Controlled Chaos I have to think about how to deliver the content to a student without the ability to abstractly handle them, as well as those that are starting to get what it looks like to speculate, reason, and disagree in new ways. The thing is, until I met Marko I didn't have this tool in the proverbial belt. So, for years I taught students abstract concepts to concrete brains. Now, I understand the value in bridging that gap, painting word pictures more vibrantly, experimenting with teaching in new ways. In this book, Marko gives us a better way to navigate and understand these years from this standpoint.

The chapters on relational change and independence have given me a new framework on dealing with those issues as well. For instance, the assertion in the relational change chapter that kids are given friendships early in life off of proximity but at this age start to re-work those friendships by affinity is huge. It makes it so much easier to understand why "lifelong" friends stop hanging out in 7th or 8th grade. It may not make it better or solve the heartache of it, but it certainly gives us an angle to approach it from.

Marko transitions by taking the implications of all of this information for spiritual development, leaning heavily on the Sticky Faith research of Kara Powell and Brad Griffin of the Fuller Youth Institute (who also contribute a bonus chapter at the end about the changing world of young teen girls that is amazing). This chapter (chapter 8: Operating System Upgrade) has obvious value to youth workers, and hopefully to a lot of the parents reading. It gives particular hope to the idea of parents and pastors partnering to make the faith and values systems of teens all that it can be. And again, with research and practicality mixed Marko lays out why teens are how they are at this age in this area.

The culmination of the book comes in chapter 9 - "White Hot Temporary: Early Adolescent Culture". Marko picks up the work that he did in "Youth Ministry 3.0" that talks about the roles of identity, autonomy, and affinity in the development of the teen brain. As the primary tasks of this time known as adolescence, they trade off importance in different decades like the long leg of a three-legged stool. Here, Marko dives deeper into how they play out in the current environment, encouraging parents to always be students of culture to a point where an exegesis of it can take place (interpreting how it pertains to your teen and situation).

The closing contain this sentiment from Marko: "We have both understanding and experiences (our own and what we've observed in others) that are valuable, necessary, and helpful. But we bring that understanding and perspective just as Christ brought his to us: We live incarnationally alongside our children - not merely as buddies or disciplinarians, but as relationally engaged and loving guides.:

This book isn't just a quick read and put on the shelf book. It is a field guide and handbook for anyone that has the best in mind for a young teen, or a group of young teens. My kids are little, but this book will come back into play for me in a whole new way in just a few years. If you are a parent of a young teen, or a soon to be young teen this will profoundly impact your parenting, your home - your entire life. If you teach this age or pastor this age of teen - you will learn more that you can imagine and have to underline and re-read to grasp it. Marko is a voice for a change in understanding and changing the way we do everything in ministry - and now in parenting - that none of us can afford to ignore or miss.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coin-flips and Choices: Who I Am



It almost feels like a guilty pleasure to say that I like the work of a guy like Bill Hybels. You know, in that, big church-look up to big church pastors-what is missional and attractional- who has the best ideas- too many people steal from Hybels, Stanley, and Warren- get some original ideas kind of way. But he is awesome.

Sure, at times he makes me cringe. Specifically, a few years ago at the Leadership Summit he made a sexist joke, got called out on it, and then in "apology" made a worse one. I hated that day. I wasn't a fan of him for those few minutes because it's an awful way to do ministry and, really, life in general.

But then there's other times when that rawness is fresh to me ... like the talk I just listened to from Catalyst called "Courage."

In tracing his own story of finding Jesus as a teenager at camp, detailing the times in life that he has "flipped coins" over things that became a big part of who he is, how he does ministry, and how God has used him and his church, I was struck by the feeling of how true it is that one decision that stands at 50-50 determines the outcome of so much of what we do in life, in ministry, in general ...

I chose to leave a job I loved a little more than six months ago. In all honesty, I wake up a lot of mornings with a deep sadness of the relationships I left behind - a desire to know and be known like I was in that community. A selfish hunger to be recognized everywhere I go, have people hang on words, and my opinion valued greatly; a want for the times I was the best innovator and thinker in a room. But that's why I left: I wanted to be challenged to become better at the things I'm good at; to be the person being poured into and taught. I wanted mentors and people that are better at their job than I probably ever will be - and I found it here.

In missing the things that I had, I remember the things that got me to where I am. The decisions that were either made slowly over time as I reformed my theology and, eventually, my behaviors, or quickly as I decided who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go in life. God has always been where I walked, which is an obvious statement in some ways - but, to me anyway, also very profound. Because the streets I walked down in El Cajon or Santee or Littleton growing up where no thought of God was present - no desire to care that it might be real even - He was still there. He was. And I missed it, at least to the extent that I wasn't an active participant. I see now, years later, things he was up to in my life that are huge, but I missed them.

Hybels' talk brings me back to the places where I discovered God as an 18 year-old for the first time, through to today as I refine my character and theology and try to get things right as best I can. I remember a dank church basement in Greeley where I felt his presence for the first time, really, as I learned what youth ministry was.

I recall my dorm room that has since been razed, the place where I couldn't sleep and read the Gospel of John through tears and knew this stuff was real.

I think back to a random conference room at a crappy hotel in Silverthorne where God relayed to my 20 year-old heart, soul, and spirit that full-time ministry was the calling for my life and I knew something that day that I couldn't have comprehended before it. Or the club room at Crooked Creek when God called me out of hiding when I tried to leave that calling five years later.

I think back to an empty warehouse that got transformed into a 5,000 square foot skate park with 100 kids a night that were just like the 13 year-old me ...

And to the Country Inn and Suites in New Orleans that housed my life being wrecked, healed, repaired, and rebroken over and over again.

Each one was a coin-flip. I could have watched TV instead of reading John. I could have ignored God at Crooked Creek or in Silverthorne. When I felt the call and need to do something in New Orleans after Katrina, it would have been a lot easier to ignore it like I have with so many other altruistic ideas and yearnings. I could chalk all of it up to emotionalism or sentamentalism or mental illness.

But God did something that I can't explain in so many ways - but can go on and on about in so many other ways.

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world ..."

I was made alive, and although I choke for air sometimes, I am alive still. I was a dead man walking, walking those streets where a present God always called to me, and I finally listened. And that coin flip was a winner like none other for me.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It's True ...



I've had a tough time lately with some "Life's Not Fair" moments that I'm much too coy to share. Really, the truth is that they aren't important - because the lesson I've been focusing on is this:

It's true, life isn't fair. Bad things happen to good people. Jerks are rich and famous and have easy lives. People we dislike are treated better than we are against (what we think) is all logic and sense. And the list goes on an on.

But in my own wallowing self-pity I've had this thought occur a few times this week: I'm lucky it isn't fair in so many ways. Not to be overly church-y or didactic - but it's like this: I am a punk kid from a crappy neighborhood that acted out in every way possible growing up. I treated people like dirt, insulted them, picked on them - stole, lied, cheated (mostly in math class, true story), etc, etc. I am still prone to great fits of moodiness, judging, anger, jealousy, back-biting, scheming, coniving - well, you get the picture. I'm perfectly imperfect.

But I have an amazing life by so many standards. Without even getting too deep into it - I live in a place where I drink clean water right from a tap in my home. I eat (at least) three times a day without worry, and a lot of other things along those lines. But also - today I was watching my kids play on the playground and I realized how lucky I really am - how smiled-upon my life really is. I have a wife that no one could've predicted - why someone so kind, loving, and beautiful would find love with a guy trying his hardest to push the boundaries of decency in humor for a cheap laugh is beyond me. But it happened.

I have two ridiculous kids. Soooo cute and so fun.

I have the job of my dreams (at least since I've known Jesus) and even the hardest parts are more than worth it. I get to talk about real life with teenager that can choose the path I couldn't find until much later. They don't always respond, but what an awesome specific redemption of the punk teenager I was!

I was raised by incredible, loving parents that equipped me well (and even bail me out now from time to time).

And a lot of other things that can fit in here are true, too.

It isn't fair that I should be set up so well. Even if there is a level of worldly "fair" that I am mad about missing out on, the real fair is right in front of me, and I'm missing it as I look past all of it to see what I could have in a hypothetical, never-going-to-be world. And that's the Jesus story in a practical way that I could probably never even work into a talk - he got me here by grace, not anything I earned or did.

The goal? Wake up tomorrow without reverting back to thinking the other way.

... and here's to hoping ...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Great, Expectations!


The old adage "there are only so many hours in a day" cannot be more true in my life right now. This weekend, I'm single parenting as Josie is away at a retreat. I love it, it's so fun - and I also can't stop thinking of what has to go from my schedule in order to parent well. I'm guessing this is the dance that Josie does every day, and I can't imagine what it's like for parents who truly are alone.

For instance, I couldn't go run yesterday or today because I can't leave the kids alone. I can't go the gym for the same reason. I have a pile of work things that I need to get to, but they will have to wait until Sunday night probably. These are small things, but things that I want and need to do respectively. But, as this is the example, something has to fall in order to do the greater thing better (which is being a good dad). Even writing this requires that I let my kids fall into a TV stupor for 15 minutes. Just as I typed that Emmy started crying and climbed in my lap.

OK, back for a few thoughts - none of it is inherently bad, but every person in our life, both close and casual has expectations of us and it is impossible to meet them all because finding any kind of balance in life means sacrificing something. We have family expectations, personal expectations, job expectations, spiritual expectations, physical expectations, we have the expectations that we put onto others (which is a whole different deal and thought process). In order to do all of these things well, they have to be thought through and processed, probably daily.

I suck at managing the different parts of my life. I think I'm capable of doing a few well at a time, but not all of them. Is that normal, is that your experience?

This morning I had a Nicaragua meeting in Monument (an hour and half to two hours away depending on traffic and weather) and would have to left the house by 8:30 to get there with the kids (who would run and scream the whole time). This is impossible for me. Literally. So I had to skip, and feel incredibly guilty. Letting people down isn't something I'm used to doing, and I'm not even sure there's a way to do it well.

Most often, the people that get let down are my family, particularly Josie. This is the battle front that I am most interested in tackling going forward. However, that is way easier said than done. I want to be a good husband and a good father, and very often I'm not really. Not because I don't care or I'm too lazy or my intentions are shady. It's actually the opposite of all of those things - but the result is the same, and that's all that matters when it comes down to it.

It really all makes me dwell more and more on Jesus talking about a light yoke. I could go for a kind burden, whatever that even really means. The Message version talks about "the unforced rhythms of grace" a phrase that I find to be one of the most beautiful I've ever read ... I want that rhythm in my life - a natural, smooth, flowing grace that empowers me to be who I am and to pursue God, family, and goals in an easy way. I'm just not sure really what that looks like - and that's not even a bummer statement, I find great opportunity in that fact. I find the chance to be chiseled and shaped instead of guilt-ridden and stressed beyond what I can handle.

So, to really make a difference, I have to be organized for sure - but I also have to be ready to choose the things that get me closer to these goals and not the things that take me further away. It means refining skill in being a husband, parent, youth pastor, friend, etc. And it means giving away the parts of those things that take me down the path of overwhelmed stress and disappointment in myself and others.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chaos!! ... and change



A new name for the blog, fittingly tied to the name of the new youth group I'm working with, Controlled Chaos (how great is that?!)

Change in one big area of life always gets me thinking about how I want to be different in other ways and places, too. Life moves quickly, and I'm often struck by how seasons end but the problems and tweaks I want to make always remain. At a base level, I'm talking about things like diet, exercise, Bible reading and prayer. I had a realization this morning that these things aren't going to get better unless I pursue them intentionally ... and that's the hard part.

Check this quote I found in a college textbook on leadership: "Chaos is order without predictability." I love it, for a lot of reasons. First, it describes a ministry to middle school so well, I think. It may seem insane, but in the chaos comes an order that we all kind of get. Second, it's my life summed up. I don't keep regular hours, sleep very well, or even always remember what day it is ... but my life has an order to it that works, and that ultimately I "get".

The adjoining principle is that chaos is organized through creativity. Which we can all relate to as true, can't we. When we haven't slept because a kid is sick or a problem is weighing on us; when everything seems out of place and crazy ... we get creative and figure out how to turn those negatives into something that on the high side is of beauty and on the low side, just works.

Here's to the continued pursuit of that kind of creativity.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coaching + Mentoring = Better Me



2010 and into 2011 has been a big year for me in a lot of ways. The only reason that I am using a timeline of last April to this March is because of an incredible program I just finished called the Youth Ministry Coaching Program (YMCP). Teamed with the leadership class I took at the Air Force Academy on Dynamic Leadership, focusing on character development in leadership, and the weekly meetings with a mentor that shook my perspective, challenged my notions, and pushed my boundaries, I came out way ahead.

A year ago I knew a few things about myself: I loved the students in my ministry (I still do), I was pretty good at being a youth pastor, I had a wonderful family (I still do, of course), ... and I was dissatisfied, frustrated, tired, and above all, just plain wanted to get better at being all of the things I am - husband, father, pastor, leader, friend, mentor, protege, etc.

The first step happened a while earlier when the father of one of my high school guys approached me on a mission trip and told me that he saw potential in me above where I was professionally and personally and that he could tell I wasn't being developed to my maximum (which was like having someone tell me I wasn't crazy and that the emperor truly had no clothes). I began meeting with him regularly, nearly every week in September 2009. It started hard ... I had to break some bad habits and look at things differently if I really wanted to get better. After a rough, honest meeting the very first time we had coffee, I sat and gave myself the space to ask if I truly wanted to have my heart wrung out and reanimated with stronger things. I did, and I grew immediately and quickly.

Next, I found out about the Youth Ministry Coaching Program run by Mark Oestreicher, whom I have read for years and admired as the former president of Youth Specialties and a thinker that I have always wanted to be more like. After reading about the launch of it, I knew I had to be involved. My church graciously paid the tuition and Josie and I made the sacrifice to pay for the travel expenses of going to San Diego every other month for a year. It definitely helped that I got to travel to the area I grew up in. Those who know me also know how deeply sentimental and borderline cheesy I am about all things, but especially San Diego. Of all the experiences of the last year outside the program, which I'll get to in a second, the capstone was taking a run on La Jolla shores along the ocean as the sun set my last night in town after the closing YMCP. There is a metaphor about endings and beginning in there, but simply put it was inspiring and one of the moments of my life as a movie that will replay for the rest of my days. Like all of the coaching cohort experience, it was just a spiritual moment.

The program itself changed me in rich and profound ways. Marko has an uncanny ability to state things that are complex in ways that are penetrating. Or, said another way, my soul was pierced by the application of simple truths both about God, but also about myself. And the marriage of those concepts is really where ministry comes from.

I found a new confidence, a new clarity, a refreshed inspiration. I rekindled my love affair with the craft of youth ministry, challenging thinking, and vigorous application. My students benefited, my family benefited, my career has flourished and is taking new directions that have given me life in places that were at least dying if not dead. In all honestly and without hyperbole, I don't know what kind of rut I would be in if I had not pursued this opportunity.

If you are a youth pastor, go. Do this ... now, not later. Sell your car or whatever, it's well, well worth it. Your life will change, I promise.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Beatitudes in Action

video

I love the Beatitudes as Eugene Peterson presents them in the Message. They are just real, and especially to middle school and high school students. I'm starting a series this week taking commercials and placing them against a Beatitude to offset the message the world wants us to get and the one Jesus does.

For instance, a food commercial, I'll use the Snickers ones with Betty White, Aretha Franklin, and Liza MInelli. The idea will be that marketers tell us that our emptiness needs to be filled with their product, like a candy bar in this case. But Jesus says in Matthew 5:6, "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat."

I'm excited to start this up, as I think the implications for the application of the Beatitudes to a teenagers' life are huge. The themes will be consumerism, contentedness, and change. I'm even going to use the classic Wendy's "Hole" commercial that Mark Oestreicher uses in Youth Ministry 3.0 to illustrate the concept of turning around and doing things differently. And you can't go wrong with the commmercial posted above, it's scary funny.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Josie's Birthday Wish



I know that only a few people read this regularly, but I am going to post here anyway about what my wife, Josie, wants for her 30th birthday on Saturday (the 20th).

We listened to a Catalyst Leadership Conference talk by Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water on our way home from Tucson last week. I had heard it a month or so ago, and knew Josie would love it. And love it she did. The story of Harrison dropping out of the Church at 18 to pursue, "fame, sex, and fun" and his subsequent return when he woke up one day and realized he was the most "selfish, sycophantic" person he knew is awe-inspiring. For him, though, it led to inspiring a new focus: helping people. He went to Africa with Mercy Ships and saw how people were dying from dirty water (I don't drink much water to the detriment of my health, so it hits me even more how much I take this for granted). He started charity:water shortly thereafter and they are doing incredible things, 100 % of what is raised goes right into wells because of creative financing for staff, and they have delivered life to more than a million people as of this year.

Josie is "donating" her birthday in an effort to raise at least $1,000 for the charity. Would you link to this post or tell your friends about charity:water if you read this? Would you give? I am inspired by the selflessness of Josie not only in this, but in so many aspects of her life. SHe continues to make me better, our kids better, and through things like this, strangers better.

The link to give and share: http://www.mycharitywater.org/p/campaign?campaign_id=10300

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lessons from the Eye Doctor's Chair



I had my annual eye appointment today. It was expensive, not having insurance is tough!

Every year, I feel a little bit closer to blind in the doctor's chair. As I waited for him, I held my iPod against my nose to play a game, and I couldn't read almost any of the chart. The crazy part is when he placed the machine against my face and I could see, but could also still see the blurry edges around the machine.

I realized
- I can only see in part. God clarifies the things in my life that need to be seen and sometimes the edges are uncertain and no matter how hard I strain to make them clear they won't be. Paul promises that one day I will see clearly, though.
- focus is only as good as the mechanisms I run my view through. If I am using the wrong point of view, nothing will ever be clear like it could be or should be. Even the smartest wrong thing is still wrong, if that makes sense.
- I am more dependent on my contacts than ever. The doctor laughed and said that as we get older we tend to want less dependence and told me about lasik options. I can't afford lasik, but the real underscore is that I can't afford to not be dependent. The cost of losing a contact is near blindness or wearing my glasses, which makes me realllllly tired. In the same light, trying to do things outside of God leaves me stumbling around blindly, and spiritually worn out.

In a season where I can just feel change coming to my life, some I yearn for, some I'm scared of, and some that area both, I am thankful that I keep seeing hints of what it looks like to allow the lenses of my life to be powered by God. I see in part, but one day I'll see in whole.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Change

We church folk talk about change a lot. Weekly, we ask people to digest a message (or for my youth group kids 2 or 3) and apply it to their lives. To change the things that need to be fixed and to emerge a better person.

But I've noticed lately how very few people I interact with allow for people to change. We pigeonhole people, expecting the same things out of them even when they have stated a supernatural occurrence has taken place. Of course, this isn't everyone or even most people, but it's something I hear a lot, sometimes even from myself.

I'm taking a leadership class at the Air Force Academy. It's me and like A dozen high ranking military officials. It's still intimidating more than half way through the semester, but I am being challenged like crazy. In the past few weeks we've talked about a concept called "already always listening" which basically states that we think we know what people are going to say before they Say it, so we don't really listen to them. I think we do this with behaviors, too. We think we know how someone "is" so we ignore the work they are putting in.

The counter to this concept is called "standing on nothing." Basically, the pursuit of the idea to not come at a leadership opportunity with a pre-existing idea of what is going to happen, or even what it means to lead or be led. Instead, consider that all things are possible, including the first idea you have, but not at the exclusion of other possibilities.

This is really messing with my head and my leading already. I have been challenged in my own application that as a follower of Christ I should always be practicing these things order to best allow myself to be an empathetic, caring, sold out leader. I don't just want to run people through programs, I want to make a lasting impact on their lives.

As I look back one this weird thing called a blog, which is really a diary for strangers and friends to see, I laugh at how knee jerk some of my posts were. E funniest being when I wrote about my frustrations after a few badly attended weeks at youth group. The last year and months has brought a richness to what I'm doing, and in equal measures I feel ready to tackle it forever and to give a new ch.allege a try. But I know for sure that the last months of giving my character and internal motivations a good vetting, I am a better leader, pastor, Christian man, and probably most importantly right now, father and husband.

I love my family and my youth group kids more today than ever, and I love that God continues to refine me to make me better, and offers hints of greater things even yet to come.

If I wasn't allowed to change as the Holy Spirit breaks me down and those around me just assumed they knew what they were getting, I have no idea where I would be, the ministry I'm involved would be, or my family would be. Thanks to all who exhibit the grace to me to allow me to change. And may I learn to really do the same for you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Getting Old(er) in Youth Ministry




After getting soundly beat down in yet another game of football today, I had a realization ... at some point I jumped the shark from it being "unfair" for me to play against 13 year-olds to nobody really wanting me on their team.

I started out in youth ministry as an 18 year-old kid, and really I could beat just about any kid at any game (except for you Jon Meyer, you always could beat me but you're 12 feet tall, it's not fair). But time has set in, as well as my unhealthy diet, and it's just not the same. And I'm okay with it if I look at it the right way.

Soon, I'll surpass the equilibrium point, where more years will have been spent in youth ministry than years not. For instance, I'm 32 this year, and have now been driving as many years as I didn't, 16-16. In a few years my ministry experience will pass this point, too.

With the bad of becoming less athletic, fatter, and having less hair, there are goo things, too. I'm better at a lot of things I struggled with when I was younger. Here's some lists:

What I'm BETTER at as a 32 year-old:
Teaching
Vision and Initiative
Spiritual Maturity/Knowledge
Parent relations
self-awareness, including the humility to ask for help to change
planning
letting things roll off my back
doing ministry with other youth pastors
laughing at myself
multi-tasking
... maybe more?

What I'm WORSE at:
Fun ... I am less fun for sure, no doubt
Games, I have to make myself have them sometimes
Lecturing ... all of a sudden I want to give pep talks to kids, weird
Exercising and Eating well, only nominally ministry related, but still ...
assuming the best of other team members and giving slack. Almost as if I operate with a sense of urgency
giving myself slack and allowing myself to not do/be the best at everything, always
... probably more?

Some of this is related to my previous post, but I look at it differently. Not all of this is good, nor bad. The question to me is facing reality and embracing the opportunities in both sides. I know a lot of people older than me get offended when I talk about feeling "old", but let's face it: youth ministry is stereotyped as a young man's game. Not a lot us make it this many years or this age without either trying to move up, quitting, or being asked to move "up".

Are there others out there examining this?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fixing My Dysfunction




I'm not perfect. Shocker, eh?

But in that room to be imperfect, I have been trying to come to grips with what exactly it looks like to change those imperfections. I have been obsessed with the concept of change lately. And I want to be able to change those things that I see and others have pointed out about me. We talk in the church a lot about change, but rarely allow people to do so with grace ... and I know at least for me, even more rarely do I actually take a hard look at myself. If you have the patience to listen to a sermon I gave on change, you can click here.

Recently, I've noticed weird moments of anger and borderline depression. I wasn't sure why or what they were until a chance meeting at Starbucks with a friend and a dad of some of my students. He's not the talk-y type, but he helped me in about 30 minutes realize a bunch of stuff. The chart I posted above is a result of that conversation (you can click on it to see it bigger and more readable).

I have a lot of work to do in order to figure out a natural flow of changing this in the everyday. The thing is, for my own sanity and the sanity of my family and loved ones, I need to make it happen. Even for my students, I suppose. In a weird way, I feel like this is the chance for me to really connect the changes I ask people to consider from the platform of my job to my own day-to-day.

Depending on how vulnerable I feel, expect follow-ups.

And join me in embracing the concept that real change is possible, and that it starts with the courage to first name the alternate reality we'd like to live in, and second make the necessary adjustments to do so. With God's help, these things are going to look very different for me soon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Punk Kid at 7-11

I am just finishing up the second session of YMCP, a coaching cohort for youth ministry. It meets in La Mesa, about six highway miles from the neighborhood I grew up in, which is huge for me.

Those who know me well know that I'm a sappy sentimentalist. I say with little shame that I teared up when I drove by my old house and schools today. i even went to the 7-11 that my friends and I spent countless hours in, playing Street Fighter II and stealing candy. It's sacred space.

The funny thing is that as I pulled into the parking lot some middle school punk was walking up to my car, holding his arms up at me, and bobbing his head towards me like an angry chicken or something. I'm a guy, I know what he was going for: trash talk.

I got out of the car and he scootered up to me and started doing it again. now, if you know me well, you also know middle school boys don't intimidate me. i asked him in a joking way, "Why are you acting tough, what're you, like 12"? He cussed me out and was gone.

Now, there are a few reasons while this short exchange means something to me. One, he reminded me of me. It was like looking at myself as a 12 year old, talking trash to people that could kill me with a flick of a wrist, hanging out at 7-11 for no good reason. He had probably just got done stealing some candy.

Two, I had just driven through Santee where I went to three years of my four high school years at West Hills. When I entered Santee on Mission Gorge Road there was a huge sign that said "Welcome From the Churches of Santee" or something along those lines. I had never realized how many churches there were in Santee, because I never met a youth pastor from one in high school. I never saw a youth pastor from one at school. I never heard a kid talk about his youth pastor. And etc.

Now, I'm not writing an indictment of youth pastors in Santee. There might be now, and could have been then, great youth pastors doing great things and I missed it. But running across that kid at 7-11 and that sign in Santee reminded me why I love what I do - I'm looking for kids like me that aren't against Jesus or anti-God, they just have never had the chance to "get it".

It makes me think about what outreach to youth really looks like, both in general and in my ministry right now. I want to continue to be a campus presence, to have kids ask who I am, and to continuously introduce Jesus into lives in meaningful ways. The practice and execution, the specifics ... Those things might get tweaked and change, but that heart can't. We need multiple ways, new ideas, crazy thoughts, bold approaches. We need to not just ask a kid if he knows where he's going when he dies, but ask him if he really knows what it means to live.

A foul-mouthed time warp "me" taught me that tonight at 7-11 in El Cajon. I hope I remember.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

15 Years Ago This Week



I traded the beaches of San Diego for the mountains of Denver. 15 years! I can't believe it, but it's true. I can remember the feeling as a nearly 17 year-old moving to a place that may as well have been Siberia that the world was ending. In a lot of ways it did, in that my childlike naivety and innocence got lost and/or changed, everything I knew vanished, and I had to figure out who I was all over again.
Looking back a decade and a half later, I am so thankful for the way that the changes have shaped who I am. The faith I have, the spouse I chose, and the kids that came of that. The person I have turned into is shaped in a lot of ways by where I came from (San Diego), but just as much by where I landed (Denver).
In a perfect world, what would I choose? I can answer that pretty easily - I'd be living on Coronado and writing novels that set me apart as a modern J.D. Salinger or Jack Kerouac. But I know that a perfect world in the reality of now is that I have the most incredible family that happens to live in a small townhome in a non-descript town in Colorado, and I turn out no writing of note. And that's exactly how I want it right now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nicaragua Journal

As I have time I am going to add the things I journaled while in Nicaragua. I might censor a little bit of the stuff with too much personal introspection. I'm not THAT vulnerable, and also add a few thoughts here and there...

2/12/10 - Friday

We arrived about 9 pm in Managua ... a mariachi band greeted us as we went through luggage. It was a strange blast to the senses after arriving in a foreign country, bu tit was cool, too. We jumped on buses and rode until I think about 1 am to San Ramon. I couldn't see anything out the windows - extremely dark roadsides - but I could certainly smell the agriculture. I'm glad we get to ride back to Managua in daylight next week. That souns crazy, next week ... I miss my kids already, so it's going to be interesting to see how I hold up! The dorm here (the "Quinta" as they call it) is basically a mansion. I had no idea what kind of sleeping arrangements to expect, o this is a pleasant surprise. Off to a great start!

2/13/10 - Saturday
We woke up and had orientation - then we sorted all of the medicine and other items that came in the bins that we packed and carried on the plane, getting them ready to take to the clinics in the villages. A lot of work on the tedious side, but it will be worth it when we see how it's used I bet.
The rest of the day was supposed to be free time with the "Veterans" team going out to work in a village only. I managed to get myself assigned to help them though, which was a great move. We rode about 20 minutes up the road to a school straight up the mountain. The views looked like LOST, except for the shacks peppering the landscape. I rode in back of a truck with Stuart and another kid and was fairly scared, haha.
The school was a little two-room building with dirty floors and open-air windows. At one point something dropped on the ground and one the vets remarked that it was cleaner than the floors of the average home and picked it back up for use. I wasn't sure what that meant, but saw later when I walked around. Homes, with few exceptions, have dirt floors and cracks in the walls and roof that let in more dirt, water, etc.
The clinic was pretty cool. There were a couple of hundred people waiting there, most with little kids that looked sad and sick. People weren't very friendly there as opposed to Panama and Mexico. We'll see if that holds up, I hope it doesn't,
We sorted pills and packaged them, they were anti-worm pills that are given to virtually all of the little kids that come through the diagnosing station. Boring ... until one of the nurses came through and told us that each packet essentially saves a kid's life. Sobering - and suddenly it makes the work seem important instead of shackling.
Stu and I walked around a little bit, it was simple and poor. Dirty and kind of simply cool. I thought about the simplicity of life and it's kind of appealing in some ways, you know? Especially if I had never know the things I know as comforts now.
The kids are cute, but it's really sad to see how sick most looked. Maybe it's because we were at a medical clinic, and it's not every kid though? I hope so.
We rode on top of the bus coming back down the mountain. I t was pretty neat - temperature was nicer, but we had to duck low-hanging branches.
I miss Josie and my babies a ton. Gonna be a hard week! It's almost dinnertime now, we'll see what tonight holds.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Publish Me! (Come on, please?)

Those of you that know me well probably know that my only goal in life from the age of like 7 has been to be a writer. My mom thinks I'm pretty good.

Unfortunately, the process to get work in front of people who might agree is SO frustrating. I'm going to take a risk here, because I get nervous when people read my writing, it's like a kid - criticism hurts. But, since it's necessary I'm going to put the Introduction of a project on New Orleans thatI've been working on onto here and see if it can fall on eyes that can help (FYI - don't ask an agent for a meeting, they get really rude. I have no idea how you're supposed to connect with one. And the one publisher whose guidelines I followed and labored over to send a manuscript to didn't respond - RUDE!).

Anyhow: Here we go.

The project is called (tentatively) One Step Beyond, and it's a book about Youth Missions changing the world. It's written to both teenagers and to those that lead them in youth groups ...

Introduction to the Introduction: I Believe

“And I believe that what I believe is what makes me who I am.”[1]

I picked up the group of about seven from the corner of a street by the Claiborne Bridge in New Orleans after we searched and searched but couldn’t find a spare for the tire they had blown an hour earlier. I had been across town, but made it over as quickly as possible to make sure we could get the group to a work project and not waste their day.

They loaded into my mini-van and I led the guy from the missions agency up Claiborne since I knew the way to the 9th Ward from there. Traffic slowed down right before the bridge.

About half a block up we could see a semi-truck with its flashers on. Before I knew it, one of the students in the car said, “There’s an accident. It just happened.”

As I slowed into the flow of stopped traffic, all of the doors in the car flew open, almost scaring me into slamming down on the gas pedal out of a reflex. Before I could say anything, the van was empty, so a few seconds behind them, I pulled over and walked to the intersection where the semi we saw had slammed into a tiny, old Chevy car.

There was a crowd watching, including two police officers, as two women stumbled, bloody out of the car and toward the sidewalk, hysterical. One was holding a small girl. In a flash, almost as if they were the only ones moving our teens and a volunteer dove into the melee, taking the women to safety, holding the baby, and praying for healing from the dazed stupor they were in.

The victims wept as they were prayed for, and within moments had collected their cool. The residents who had been watching from the porch of the nearest house started helping. Our kids had redeemed an ugly situation through the Holy Spirit.

I watched from across the street as I walked up. I cried a little bit seeing it. Our group had just changed the world.

This is what I picture in Matthew when Jesus tells Peter and Andrew and James and John, “Come, follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”[2] Essentially, he was telling them, Drop everything you know, leave home, forsake your family business and let’s change the world.

Do you hear him calling?



[1] Rich Mullins, The Jesus Record.

[2] Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fall is Upon Us


It's that time of year again: everything is new. At least, school is starting, so we have the New Year for Youth Ministry. We try new things, try to get kids plugged back in, get frustrated when it starts slow, hope that we can reach all, be all things, etc, etc.


Fall is about the weather changing, and killing everything green. But it's my favorite season - kind of funny. I like the shift to cooler (but not yet cold) weather, wearing sweatshirts and jeans, and turning the A/C off.


I think about how God preps the earth - trees shed their leaves and then, basically, die for a season. He freezes everything, and it takes all of the life away until he shifts it all again and makes it all truly new. Spring makes it all green again. Life is restored.


And, it's not that hard to see the line I'm drawing here...


I have spent the last couple of weeks in a down state, dead inside. I've been worried about everything, dreading everything, not wanting to even answer my phone for fear that I'll be asked to do more, help more. It culminated in me basically going off to my friend about everything under the sun. The look on her face said all I needed to hear.

And then something really weird happened: I woke up on Thursday morning full of life and passion, even though I was more physically tired than I could remember being in a long time. Suddenly, I was looking at everything differently than I had 24 hours earlier.

May my freeze be over, and may the Living God bring my limbs and my roots back to life, green and beautiful.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Arise From The Dead


I am really bad at sticking to a plan for my devotional time. I love My Utmost For His Highest and try to get back to it whenever I can. Today is the first time I picked it up in a bit, and I read the following:

"We all have many dreams and aspirations when we are young, but sooner or later we realize we have no power to accomplish them. We cannot do the things we long to do, so our tendency is to think of our dreams and aspirations as dead. But God comes and says to us, 'Arise from the dead. . .'"

It killed me. It hit me right where I needed to be struck. I am a dreamer, but also a person who tends to abandon those dreams to far corners of my mind because of fear, busyness, and other "real-life" issues. It was absolutely an inspiration this morning to read the line from Ephesians that tells us to rise fromt he dead and try to recapture our dreams and aspirations.

I recently found an old list of goals that I have let fall by the wayside as I pursue the life of busyness and burnout. It's funny because I even made a new-ish version of that list in my journal in recent months that is also sitting dormant. I am deciding this morning to grab ahold of the momentum that comes from allowing God to raise me from the depths of my own slumber that comes from letting busyness take over and joy to be stolen. 

I expect 2009 to be awesome.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

This is flat-out one of the best movies I've ever seen. I know that's a strong statement, and it doesn't necessarily fit in with my all-time favorites (Memento, Pulp Fiction, Adaptation for example), but this is just a fantastic film.

I'm not ashamed to say I cried multiple times, it was that touching - and I'm a sucker for stories of kids in poverty and for True Love stuff. 

It follows the story of a kid from the slums of Mumbai, India (the recent site of terrorist attacks) who wins on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and is subsequently arrested and tortured for suspicion of cheating. It sounds gimmicky and lame and I initially had reservations because of it, but it really isn't those things. The story flashes back as he tells detectives how he knew the answers, each telling a part of his life, from living in the slums to how he survived without his parents, etc. 

It exposes the conditions of slums, not only in India, but around the world. Ever since I read the book Child of the Dark by Carolina Maria de Jesus, which traces her life in the slums of Brazil, in grad school it's been a subject that is fascinating to me. In addition, the plight of orphans in the developing world, from the living conditions to their virtual enslavement to make a few pennies, is highlighted in this film, sometimes in humorous and inspiring ways, but most often as the horrendous reality that these kinds of kids actually live in.

Without getting too long and involved: go see this movie. It might win Oscars, it might not - but it is inspiring, humbling, and just freaking good.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fate Fell Short This Time


I'm not necessarily proud or whatever, but I have to admit that this: http://www.pickrset.com/markhoppus/?p=306 blog entry's last paragraph made my cry tears of joy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Youth Ministry 3.0 Review


I finished up the book Youth Ministry 3.0 earlier this week. Marko from Youth Specialties laid most of this out in his talks at the  National Youth Workers Convention(s) last year, so I kind of knew what to expect. It was a quick read (especially since I am a crazy skimmer), but there is a lot of good stuff in it.

There has been a lot of talk of it being somewhat controversial, but I don't see it. It's most likely because I already do most things the way he lays it out. Not that I'm trying to say that I have things figured out or I do things "right" - it's largely a function of the group and resources I have, and I've decided to let our groups work themselves out. What has developed in the last four years is a youth group that is very low on programming and has few events. The kids in Monument just don't really show up for events that much. I have fun with the few that do, but all of the planning and expenses got old.  What they DO like is missions and missional living. When we are participating in something bigger than us, it works.

Marko, in a nutshell, says it's time to de-program and launch into meaningful life investment instead. Communion and mission are the priorities, which I am all for. One of the basic principles he talks about is the idea of affinity groups, which has caused a lot of hang-ups with reviews I've read. I get it, though. It's about communion - providing points of meeting (in an unprogrammed way) is still important to me, where all the groups get together for worship or a retreat, or a missions trip. I think it makes sense, when you consider that small groups are basically set up this way anyhow. When forcibly picked, small groups have issues, even when they eventually "work out."

Part of the reason I resonate so much with the ideas is that our mission (both on trips and in a missional context during "normal" times) is what drives me in youth work, and is also what motivates most of our teens. (If YS wants to read my manuscript on mission and teens, that's zackweingartner@hotmail.com, LOL. But, seriously ...) I believe that connecting to a bigger purpose is what drives teens to figure out living out a missional life. When we see our teens catch the vision for a rebuilt New Orleans, many of them have come home and had their lives changed by seeing the potential for those around them to be "rebuilt" too. I'm trying (and wrestling) with the idea of how we make things more missional on a day-to-day basis after reading stuff like Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways and Missio/Adallum's The Tangible Kingdom (also Neil Cole, Tony Jones, and some more). This is a piece that I hope to develop before next semester. ( I like the use of John 17:18 here, too. We are sent into the world, and it's important to recognize what that means for each of our ministries).

I think the idea of affinity is getting misunderstood a lot as Marko is using it. He isn't necessarily advocating a group for just, for instance, the white kids. Or a group that mandates that jocks, skaters, and goths each meet separately. If that's the natural split, I guess it creates some new questions for your group - but small groups that are based on affinity are actually, in my opinion, the norm. In our church we have a bikers' small group, most conservative-conservatives meet together, those into social justice issues seem to find one another, etc. It's about breathing life into what is already.

I like, also, the ideas of contextualization and being present. I think they both gap some of the things I found compelling and also lost with in Chap Clark's Hurt. Being present is an obvious bridge to reaching those that feel abandoned, but it is also a wonderful word to describe what I think is youth ministry at it's best. When we are just there, embodying the Holy Spirit to teens it is a huge thing.

This also bleeds over to ideas of programs and events (we do still do things, after all). I have been bothered for a long time by the idea that we all regurgitate other peoples' ideas. While I understand the need for help, and don't think it's "wrong," I've never been able to do it. I need to tailor things specifically to my group, whether it's topical or teaching through, say, James - I have to be able to teach it o them, not in general. That's part of the contextualization piece. Marko writes, "You know your students; you know your community. Dream and discern with them to create a localized ministry that brings the gospel to the real kids you see every week." (page 86).

In closing, the idea of affinity is a funny one, because I feel that with this book. I need to do these things better, of course, but I love the affirmation of deprogramming, using a house church model, and stripping down the events we do. I am anxious to talk about some of these things with friends and colleagues, but overall - I resonate with just about every idea that Marko brings to the table in this sucker - good stuff!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More Important Than Politics

We lost a great friend and inspirational figure in my own life in the wee hours of this morning. Pat Heinz was a teacher, a mother, a wife, and a woman of unbelievable joy and character. She exhibited the traits of the woman described in Proverbs 31, the Wife of Noble Character, and then some: “Her children arise and call her blessed;her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ ... Give her the reward that she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Cancer took her earthly body, but it will never, ever steal her soul. She died smiling, even in the middle of unbelievable pain, worrying about her family more than herself. She is already missed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Favorite Seinfelds


I'm bored, so I'm blogging about my favorite episodes of Seinfeld. OK, I love this show a whole, whole lot. With the exception of only about 5 episodes (and pretty much all of season 1), I can watch any episode, any time. I started with a list of my favorite 40 episodes, and whittled it down to these five ... Enjoy!

5. The Abstinence, Season 8, episode 9
Don't tell Sarah Palin or George W. Bush, but abstinence didn't work for George either ... but it did for a bit! George's girlfriend can't have sex because of some medical thing, so he needs a new hobby. He takes up reading and becomes a super-genius! It turns out that he has used so much of his brain thinking about scoring with women that he has dumbed himself down. Hilarious and has a good crossover point for all of us when you think about it!

4. The Conversion, Season 5, episode 11
George Costanza is a simple man - he likes to eat, he likes women, he likes Monk's coffee shop. When he gets dumped because his girlfriend is Latvian Orthodox and has to marry someone of the same faith, he decides to convert. As he puts it, "What do I care?" Of course, the girl moves to Latvia and George alienates his parents and friends, typical George stuff.

3. The Switch, Season 6, episode 10
Jerry's girlfriend has no sense of humor, but her roommate does. Jerry decides he really wishes that he was dating the other woman, but he and George decide that trying to pull off the roommate switch is impossible and unprecedented. The great part of the whole thing is about a minute and a half of the whole show when Jerry and George gameplan the attempt in a silent montage over dramatic music. It's a spoof of serious movies and all of the junk they do - it's just brilliant (You have to see it to get it).

2. The Marine Biologist, Season 5, episode 13
Again, to impress a woman, George pretends that he is a marine biologist. She's into it and George sweeps her off her feet. It's just a ridiculous, sublime Costanza episode, culminating with a wonderful ending of George dramatically telling how he saved a whale and got dumped for admitting he wasn't a marine biologist in one fell swoop. "The sea was angry that day, my friends.."

1. The Opposite, Season 5, episode 22
George's line says it all: "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right." He goes with it and life turns out great. However, since Jerry is Even Steven, Elaine pays the price, her life bottoming out. Another great quote: "I had so mush promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but ... I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be."

By the way, this was written while I "watched" the most horrible movie I've ever seen: "The Happening." What the heck happened to m. Night Shamylan?

Monday, October 13, 2008

News From NOLA


I am winding down a quick weekend trip to NOLA, for my cousin's wedding and a few odds and ends to get ready for future trips. It's pretty weird being here by myself today (my mom left yesterday night and after watching the Chargers TROUNCE the Patriots, today is an alone day so far). I'm used to having the lobby at the Country Inn buzzing with activity, but right now I'm sitting in the breakfast area and there isn't even one other person around ... weird.

Mr. Good is Mr. Gone. I asked some guys about him and they said they haven't seen him since July (which is when we were here). I'm thinking there's a pretty good chance that Mike's efforts with him paid off? i hope so.

I went to the Riverwalk for a few hours today and saw Scott (on the right), he seemed like he was doing well (he doesn't know me, so that was as much as I could get). I talked to some guys and asked if they knew some of our friends - Mac, Ronnie, etc.

They didn't, but I'm hopeful that I can still run into them. I'm going down to Bridge House in a few hours when Bob-Rob gets here. I'm making him walk to see me because I didn't rent a car. I feel like a jerk, but I'll buy him some good food to make up for it.

I love this city, like I know many of you do. The staff at the Country Inn welcomed me by name and gave me an awesome room, so it's pretty cool to see how much they like us. I am going to watch some more sports and relax on one of the few times in my life that I get quiet! But I miss my friends at home and especially my sweet wife and my little monkey-monster!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Walking Down a Dead-End Street and Looking for a Place to Turn


Do you have those days when the world closes in a little bit on you? When an event or a series of events makes you question everything? These can be good events or bad events, but for me they are usually negative.

I start to question everything, and I wonder what the heck I'm doing and where I want to go. Sometimes I process out loud, and that doesn't help anybody.

But this week's one of those times for me. It may lead to nothing, or it might change everything.

I've been battering Philippians 3 around in my head a lot ... all else is garbage compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ. I believe that it is true, and I want to know what it really means to live my life as if I do. I want to be bothered by the right things, torn by the right things, challenged and energized and devastated all by the right things.

I don't know if that is a challenging concept for others - I think if we were to truly grasp the enormity of that statement from Paul it would be. But, myself included, most of the time we just shrug off things and go about regular life.

Would you join me in being challenged by the idea that we must truly find a way to live as if knowing Jesus is really the only thing that matters. Everything else - even my car, my house, my jersey collection, is trash.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Just In: I Love Football, Don't Care What You Think


Football is fantastic! I love everything about it, except for really bad refs making horrible calls that cost the best team in the league a game against an over-rated eventual 2nd place finisher. I'm speaking hypothetically, of course.

I love the freshness of the new season, the tension of each game, I love the athleticism, I love everything about it. It's a long season, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. I still hope against hope that it's my year.

In full disclosure, here are my week 4 revised finish prediction for the AFC West, the only division I really care about. I'll post my original idea and what I think after watching three games from each team, and see what was closer when the season's over.

ORIGINAL:
1. CHARGERS, 13-3
2. Broncos, 8-8
3. Raiders 6-10
4. Chiefs, 5-11

NOW:
1. CHARGERS 12-4
2. Donkeys 11-5
3. Raiders, 6-10
4. Chiefs, 2-14

Saturday, August 30, 2008

NOLA three years later ... and Gustav is coming

I can't believe that it's been three years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans. I've been there seven times since (and will be back in October, January, and next July) and have seen the entire range of what the recovery and the lack of recovery looks like. I've met homeless guys that are on the streets as a direct result of Katrina, and even gone to our friend Ronnie's beautiful house that he can't live in so he has lived under Claiborne Bridge and other places.

Ronnie is close to getting his house back together, and now, here coms Hurricane Gustav. I can't imagine what is going through people's minds and hearts right now. But I do want to say one thing to Christians that keep claiming that Katrina was God's judgement on the city and other crap: get tuned in to reality.

Your sin is as bad as the sin in New Orleans. I know some amazing people who don't have whatever stereotypical life you think "everyone" there has. What about them? Even in the Old Testament (which is before Jesus changed everything with a single amazing act of grace) God said he would spare paces that had even one righteous man. Well, I've met scores of them in NOLA. So stop it. (Rant over, sort of).

I don't know what NOLA will look like after this next week, Gustav might miss, it might destroy it, etc. But what do we do in response? Some have said we need to close the city forever. Really? If Chicago had another huge fire would we declare it worthless? If another terrorist attack hits NYC are we done with it?

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of those suffering the most in NOLA: the poor, and especially the working poor (again, break down the stereotype. The people of New Orleans are not collectively lazy or unwilling to work, there are other things going in that you and I can't relate to). Who will help them, even as most are STILL suffering after the storm three years ago.

One thing that has struck me over and over in my trips to NOLA - Christians are being out-served by socially-minded people. That sucks, I think. We don't need signs telling people to repent. WE, the church, need to repent for our lack of care, for our addiction to the comfortable lives we have, for our propensity to live the "it sucks to be you" lifestyle. And we need to go get our hands dirty in places down the street, across the world, and, yes, in the Gulf Region. NOLA and the mirror that it held up to our country's issues isn't just going to go away because a Hurricane hits it, but the mirror is going to continue to expose our weaknesses.

Join me in praying that NOLA can rise up ... and join me in being a part of making it happen.

The Machine Has Been Raged Against

Rage Against the Machine

My friend's brother is the bass player for Rage Against the Machine, a band I've been into since high school. We got to met them and then watch their show that was a protest against the Iraq war at the Democratic Convention. That was amazing! The show was really great.

After that, Larry and I decided to join the war march, whichended up being about 4,000 people with banners and signs, led by Rage and the Flobots, as well as a group of soldiers that had come back from Iraq and now oppose the war.

It was interesting. The group was non-partisan, and I mean that. They hate all parties equally. Larry is a Republican, I'm an Independent, he's neutral on the war, I'm against it - and neither of us has made our mind up for November's election, but are both leaning certain ways.

It was fun, had a certain element of danger - but, ultimately we decided to run ahead a bit and watch things unfold. All in all, we walked 12-15 miles that day and saw some crazy stuff.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Lifetime of Losing


I've definitely earned the ridicule of having everyone on the planet ask me about the Padres being in last place. I could attempt to analyze their destruction, but I know it sounds like making excuses, so I won't. Instead, I'll say it: they are awful. And embarrassing. And hard to watch very often, even when winning.

But I have a secret: I'm used to it, and I really don't care as much as you might think. Le tme explain, though.

I'm 30 years old and the Padres have been to the World Series twice. The first cam when I was 6. I do remember pieces of that - like their broadcaster Jerry Coleman's daughter was my teacher that year and we got to watch the Padres in class a few times, and Steve Garvey's  homer to win the pivotal game of the series against the Cubs, and the Cubs Busters shirts, and the record album my Dad had of all kinds of goofy songs from the radio station KFMB about the team (I stole it from my Dad after he started cheering for the Rockies and then the Twins ... don't tell him), and a whole bunch of other random junk. The next time they made it that far I was 20 years old, and obviously I remember a whole lot about that. It was fantastic and I felt just as happy and caught in the moment as I did as a little kid.

The thing is, the Pads are 1-8 in World Series games, and even taking certain at-bats and bad calls frame-by-frame (which I have done and will gladly do for you anytime if you'd like to see Tino Martinez strike out in Game 1 of the 98 Series although it was called a ball and he subsequently hit a grand slam off of Mark Langston) they weren't close to winning at all. The team has been in last place more times than I care to look up in my lifetime, there have ben years where there was little to be excited about besides Tony Gwynn (and yes, he's fat. He also rakes like mad). Basically, I'm used to it. Oh - and in some sick, weird way, I love it!

I love underdogs, so much so, in fact, that I often cheer for them even when I hate the team or don' t want them t win. I'll even start pulling for a team that I wanted to lose when they are down in the late stages of a game.

I never liked Michael Jordan. Ever. I can go on about it, but it will seem crazy to you.

I detested Kobe before he even got charged with factual crimes that he subsequently got away with (editorial opinion/"fact").

The Patriots are the worst thing to ever happen. And Red Sox fans weren't obnoxious until they started winning.

The site of a single Yankees hat makes me vomit.

Sometimes, the idea of the Chargers realizing their potential and winning the Superbowl makes me sick when I think of all the front-runners that will wear their gear afterwards. (NOTE: I'd get over it. This is an allowable paradox. I do want to win ... I just like the suffering on some level).

All this to say, I'm not bothered b it. It's one year. The Padres have had moderate success lately, and maybe we'll figure stuff out next year, who knows? All I do know is that I'm loyal, I'm used to the losing, and I love my Padres even more every time they lose. Call me crazy, but I will follow these losers everyday until I die, even if they kill me early.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Batman: What's With His Voice?


OK, so I liked the movie. Heath Ledger was a great Joker, and it was entertaining. Maybe I'm old, but it was a bit long for me, though.

The thing that bugs me is that voice that Christian Bale uses as Batman. It's really lame.

It sounds like he just ran a marathon and he's trying to relay important information to someone in the aftermath. Or like he ate a really hot pepper and he's trying to recover. Or something.

I'm a big fan of the movie Memento that the Batman director made a few years back. I think it's one of the best movies ever, for real. I also like what Christopher Nolan has done with the first two new Batman films - they're raw, brutal movies that have the feel of both the natural and the supernatural. I feel like Batman and Bruce Wayne aren't that different - and that's the point of the voice, I guess. A separation. But all I get from it is breathlessness.

I like the idea of both Batman and the Joker being a millisecond from you and me. Like the potential that we all have is for both madness and heroism. Because I believe that's true. Whatever the real story is behind the Joker's scars, he was obviously running from the past and had become crazy because of the emotional scars that matched the incident. Batman is doing the same thing, as we saw in the Batman Begins movie. Two guys with similar reasons and excuses to do messed up stuff, but one chooses a good path and the other evil. It's classic stuff, but it is compelling nonetheless.

Maybe the two natures that Paul discussed in Romans is running here - we are all caught in a trap of wanting to do one thing with ourselves and then doing another. We are all drawn to darkness in our weak moments and compelled by the light in our best moments. The catch is when we swap the end result for the one that doesn't match in normality.

The story that the movie franchise is going forward with now - Batman kind of inexplicably chooses to take the blame for the bad stuff that went down, becoming a fugitive even though he's a hero - that mirrors another outlaw that was innocent. We'll see if the parallel holds up, but it's pretty interesting for now ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Tangible Kingdom

I don't really have time to write a full-blown review right now, maybe I'll do it later, but this book is incredible! I met these guys in Florida about a month ago, but they are based out of Denver, right up the road.

Basically, the book sums up everything I've ever felt about ministry, and gives awesome insight into how we can actually live out the Kingdom to see better results. If there are about 60% of the people in our country that are uninterested in current church models than we need to figure out what we're going to do about it.

Hugh and Matt don't give a list of what to do - instead they give thought-provoking ways that we can engage our own ministry philosophies and reconcile them to the way that Jesus lived out mission. What does it look like to create community in meaningful ways that attract people to the real Jesus instead of to the pop-culture Jesus that the American church has created?

Anyway, it is a must-read for pastors and even volunteers in ministries, and I dare say that I think every Christian should read this book. It won't take you forever - I read the bulk of it on my flight home from Oralndo - but it will haunt you for a long time after you finish it.

Jeff and Becca's Journey


My friends Jeff and Becca Neel (who happen to be absolutely incredible people) are venturing into the unknown of God's call on their lives. Jeff is a middle school pastor in Greeley that has heard from God that it's time to move on, and specifically to attempt to reach people to whom traditional methods of church and expressions of worship hold little or no appeal.

Jeff, Becca, and I began a ministry called The Life Extreme in 2000ish, and Jeff and Beccca still remain faithful to that place in Greeley today. (Incidentally, it has evolved into an unreal ministry center - an indoor skatepark and year-round snowboarding rail - see it at http://www.ridethefarm.com). 

Please do me a huge favor and check out Jeff and Becca's story at their blog - http://lovetheneels.wordpress.com/category/our-story/ 

Pass this link to any Christinas or sojourners you know that are interested in seeing the world transformed by the hard work, ingenuity, and love of amazing people!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Woman at the Well Reflections

Jesus is staring into the eyes of the Woman at the Well, and he’s seen her before. In hundreds of blank stares and dead eyes, he’s seen her stare back. Hurt, pain, despair … feelings of unworthiness and inability to reach an impossible standard that the people around them are propping up as “God’s way.”

She’s Samaritan, which means that Jesus’ instinct should be to turn his back and scoff because of his own lineage. Jews would even cross through the River Jordan to avoid having to go there. Through it, not even around it. She is at the well at the sixth hour, and she is there alone, which shows us that her own people didn’t even want to be around her.

Jesus later reveals that the reason that she is an outcast is that her life is unusually chaotic. She has allowed herself to be discarded by men over and over again. I heard one pastor speculate recently that she was probably barren because that would diminish her cultural value and cause men to abandon her over and over again. She must feel worthless.

Here is Jesus dealing in an interpersonal way with someone that nobody else sees fit to talk to. She is astonished when he asks her to share a drink from the well with him. Maybe she’s afraid that’s she’s on some early version of a reality show – Jesus is setting her up to draw a drink so that he can refuse it to the delight of a hidden audience. Surely a Jewish man won’t risk becoming unclean to have a drink from Jacob’s Well.

Jesus has been walking all day. We know he’s thirsty, we know he’s hungry, as his disciples have been sent for food. But he’s not too tired or parched to tell the woman about the Living Water, the true life that God offers, and the way he describes it rules. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
To a woman who is beaten, broken, abandoned, hurting, dying right where she is … refreshing life that will not only cure all that ails her, but will spring out from within her to change the lives of those that are around her, too. A rejected woman, not only by the religious elite, but by her own people becomes a healing force for others. And it’s even better because she doesn’t get it. Jesus, it seems to me, would have gotten tired of people not getting it, but he doesn’t. He presses forward instead, seeking to bridge the misunderstanding.

Even after recounting her tough relationship past (and present), Jesus still invites her to realize God’s love. He tells her what worship will look like in the immediate future (“when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”), and he leaves her with a piece of information that he tells nobody else until his trial before his death. He declares himself as the Messiah – not to crowds of thousands or to important leaders that can wield influence, but to a lonely, beaten, outcast woman in the “wrong” people group.

Maybe it’s significant that they are sitting at the Well of Jacob, famous for being the one who overcame his past as a deceiver to grab a hold of God’s best for his life, and subsequently the generations to come. The Samaritan woman is afforded this same opportunity by Jesus’ willingness to sit down and talk to her even when the constructs of society said not to. He didn’t see a Samaritan, a woman, a shady past, a sexual sinner, a poor person, an outcast, a mission field, a charity case, a beaten down shell … he saw a child that God loved and wanted to redeem no matter what the story of her shortcoming may be.

And I’m challenged by that idea. The Christian movement of today is more interested in bickering over who’s version of the truth is the best, or whether having too many candles lit means you’re a Emergent. Or if being granted the gift of tongues makes you Pentecostal or weird or a fake or more holy. And we are famous for things that would absolutely repulse the man who sat on that well and drew a drink of water from a marginalized person.
More than eight of ten people see us as a people of hate – gay haters, liberal haters, movie haters, some kind of haters. And the age-old rhetoric about being a person who loves the sinner and hates the sin doesn’t fly for me. It’s an excuse. Maybe someone actually believes that motto and lives by it, but I doubt it. I haven’t seen it anyway.

Jesus is doing something fascinating here in my opinion, though. He has sent his friends off that probably need to see this interaction so that their won behavior can be redeemed. But Jesus isn’t preoccupied with a teaching moment, he’s intent on embracing a life and changing it in a meaningful and lasting way.

When his friends get back they offer him the food that they brought, and he says, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” And I’m thinking, how mad would I be? Jesus sends me to get food after a full day of walking around and now he doesn’t want it? But the braintrust instead wonder what he ate. Maybe they even blamed the Samaritan woman in their minds for wasting their time.

But Jesus ends the suspense, explaining, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

He is fed spiritually by serving.

Not by a great sermon series, the best worship leader, or the most polished program. He is fed by serving those who are most in need of God’s touch. By discovering God’s will and seeking to fulfill it. He fed himself with action instead of waiting for a rabbi to fill him up with the latest series of teaching.

If we were more obsessed with getting out and serving people than with arguing over who’s version of the truth is best, we would change the world. If we spent a few extra hours talking to hurting people instead of trying to get them saved, we’d change the world. If we actually loved people that we defined as children of God instead of sinners, we’d change the world.

Since Jesus never saw a sinner, but instead saw God’s precious child, loving a sinner and hating a sin is not a task for a little Jesus (Christian) to undertake. It doesn’t make any sense. As Paul said, he himself is the chief sinner. I am the greatest sinner out here, and I certainly don’t want others to identify me that way. I want to be identified the way that Jesus identifies me – as his possession, bought and paid for with his blood. Imperfect, but perfecting. Broken but mending. Unlovable but loved. Hateful but loved anyway in the most powerful, mind-bending, limb-numbing way possible.

Many Samaritans believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world by his act of love and by words that spoke the same love to them over the next two days. Not a scathing assault on lives of sinners. Jesus loved the sinner and never even saw the sin. What will I do?