connectivity

So this week I had the privilege of getting to perform a tune-up on our 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan. I say privilege due to the fact that I am amazed that my wife ever lets me tinker with anything under the hood of either of our cars. But hers had been idling roughly and even almost died on her, so I think she was desperate. Early into this operation I could tell that it was going to be a doozy. But I followed all the instructions I received off of YouTube and seemed to get through it okay. Even though I was so nervous about the wire connections to the spark plugs. What if I didn’t get them in the right order? What if the connections are too loose? Will the car blow up? Will my wife consequently kill me? But I am happy to say that all is well in Dodge Caravan land…she’s purring like a kitten (the car that is).

But that got me thinking about connections. Just last week with our students we were talking about how we, as a church, could transform Flint and the culture around us. And we brainstormed program and service ideas and then one of my leaders pointed out a very simple and yet profound truth. In the midst of all of our scheming and planning it is essential that we stay connected to God. We have to be in the Bible, we have to be praying…otherwise all of our efforts are either a) useless or b) ineffective and we will eventually run out of steam. One of my favorite passages of scripture puts it this way, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 There is something key to our efforts and our connectivity to God.

Back to the car for a bit. The spark plugs I put in are brand spanking new and so are the wires. They are the perfect implements for powering that lovely 3.3L 6 cylinder engine (albeit an old engine). But if they aren’t connected or even just partially connected, they will fail miserably and all of a sudden I may have to rely on Flintstones power to get said Dodge Caravan from point A to point B. And I think it’s the same way with our Kingdom efforts. If we aren’t connected to the vine, if we aren’t intimately connected to God we will just be spinning our wheels. So may you renew your connection; even strengthen your connectivity in order to effectively bring the Kingdom of God to those around you.

 

 


hinder

Vacation Bible School…when I type these words I am sure a multitude of things enter into your brain. Whether it is flashbacks to watered down kool-aid and elbow macaroni crafts or more recent days where you find yourselves rushing to get the kids dressed into semi-appropriate, yet stain and water resistant clothes; these words usually mean something to us. Vacation Bible School for some of us may have even been the place where we first heard or really began to understand about what it means for Jesus to love us and for us to be able to follow after Him. Between crafts, games, stories, songs, offering contests (Side note: do you guys remember where it used to be a weight contest? And a roll of pennies used to be magical? Just me? Oh, ok) and the like, we somehow experienced something amazingly different that week. And I think I am just now beginning to put my finger on the pulse of what it might be.

You see in the gospels there is this story about Jesus (go figure) and some children. The writers speak about people bringing their young children to Jesus for Him to bless them and the disciples start to rebuke the parents. But Jesus response is simple and yet amazing, “He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:14-15 That phrase, “do not hinder” is probably what stands out the most to me. Jesus wants the disciples to drop all of their preconceived notions, agendas, issues, etc. and just let the kids see Him and subsequently Him the children. He goes on to say that God’s Kingdom, His Kingdom, could only be received like a child.

So let’s contextualize this a bit. During Vacation Bible School adults, teens, and all make-up of volunteers drop everything for a week. For a week they revel in Bible stories, kiddie songs, crafts (and I for one am not a crafty person), games, motions, laughing, singing, dancing, etc. And all of this is done why? To show Jesus to kids…or rather to bring kids to Jesus. And the part that always blows me away is that the kids do see Jesus. They know that behind all of the programming is the heart of God being lived out in these volunteers and they receive the love, attention, compassion, and care graciously because that is how the Kingdom of God is received. It really is magical, some might even say Divine.

Now think with me…what if VBS wasn’t just a week, but a platform, a paradigm for the way in which we conduct ourselves with the world around us? We drop our ideas, preconceived notions, agendas, programs, booklets, classes, etc. and we just showed people the way to Jesus. Maybe that is an oversimplification or maybe that is really what Jesus means when he says, “do not hinder”. I for one never want to be in the camp of people where my agendas, schedules, etc. get in the way of someone encountering Jesus and realizing how much He loves them. I just want to keep showing people the way to Him; I hope you do too.


busy spirit

I love summer. You have warm weather, longer days, and sun! Summer is one of those times of the year where people are supposed to unwind, vacation, stick their toes in the sand and in general relax. But I have been examining my own life and the lives of those around me and nothing seems further from the truth. People are bustling from one place to the next; creating memories, crafting experiences, waiting in lines, traveling in cars, filling schedules and ultimately being more busy than they were before the summer. And honestly I don’t blame anyone. For just a few months (at least in Michigan) we get beautiful weather and sun, so why not make the most of it? But I find myself in an almost frantic pace and standing ultimately in need of repentance.

Let me explain. In Psalm 51:10 we find the following, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The writer talks about how God’s action in our repentant confession is not only to clean us, but to steady us. To help our spirit to be fixed. And honestly this is something I find myself struggling with in the midst of all this busyness. I feel like my spirit, my soul, that deepest part of me is getting pulled in so many different directions at times that I just feel hollow….maybe that’s just me.

But I can’t help but think that this might be a shared state. As I peruse social media sites and see all the stuff we are occupying our space/spirit with I wonder if there is not a need for God to renew our spirits to be a bit more fixed, a bit more steady. And maybe this isn’t accomplished through travel, vacation, or more events and activities, but maybe it is through insane honesty before the Divine. In the latter part of this same Psalm the writer declares that God will not “despise a broken Spirit and a contrite heart”. In other words God honors our brokenness, our admission of frailty before him. And I think that sometimes the busyness, the noise of life is just another way we try to convince ourselves that we can be whole apart from God.

But I’m tired. I’ve been too busy. I’m broken and so I repent and long for my Spirit to be made steady again by God’s renewal. I pray that you find the space to experience that same renewal and maybe become a little less busy.


separation

A week or so ago I was part of a Senior High camp…not out of the ordinary for a youth pastor I realize. But with this particular camp I had the privilege of hosting early morning (8:00 AM for Senior High Students) coffee talks. These talks revolved around theological issues and we would sit and discuss these for an hour or so. The craziest part about all of this…the students actually showed up. We would average between 30 – 60 students every morning. They would come in bleary eyed and sometimes bed-headed to discuss things like Theodicy, Trinitarian theology and even Atonement theory. It was on the last discussion day that the issue of sin came to the forefront. What is sin? Granted there were all sorts of text book definitions and Sunday School answers thrown out and I even added my own mix to the pile, “Anything that separates us from God”. And one of my counter parts (who shall remain nameless…) threw out the questions, “What about anything that separates us from our neighbor?” Hmmmm….(Now you are privy to my inner monologue) what about that?

And thus began a mini exploration that led me to a passage I shared recently with my students. It goes a bit like this: Jesus is hanging out teaching, per the usual, and a teacher of the law comes up to question Him. He asks Jesus a very pointed question as to which commandment is the greatest. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 Now it can possibly be derived that if the entire law and prophets hang on these two commandments then any violation of these two commandments is a violation of all the law and the prophets. That being said, if we are commanded to love God and our neighbor above all other commandments then anything that breaks that love, creates that separation would therefore be sin…

This one is by very nature tough. It’s easy (well maybe not easy) to understand sin as a violation against God. We understand the need for atonement and forgiveness and reconciliation when it comes to sin and God. But what about when it comes to our neighbor? And Biblically we are not allowed to think of our neighbor solely as the person on our immediate street, but effectively (see The Parable of The Good Samaritan) our neighbor must be seen defined by those we consider our enemies…the others. Now what do we do with this command? What do we do with this separation? How do we embody the Kingdom of God with lives counter to sin when it comes to our neighbors? Honestly I wish there were a clean cut answer. The scary (and yet infinitely opportunistic) part is that there isn’t. And crazy enough we are given this life to figure that out. So what are you doing to bridge the separation…or better yet, what are you allowing God to do through you to bridge the separation?

It’s funny what can come out of early morning talks around coffee with teenagers.


when you’re smiling

“I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” This is still one of my favorite lines from the movie Elf. Maybe it’s because I really do love to smile. I think back on our recent trip to Guatemala and my face may have been sore from smiling. Really! Every person we would encounter or pass on the streets we would exchange a smile and a horribly mispronounced Spanish greeting. It was almost customary for us to be overly friendly…possibly even labeled as the scary smiling gringos. But it was just one of those things you do…you almost can’t help it. The beauty of the country and it’s people was overwhelming. But now we find ourselves two weeks removed; back in our routines, work habits and possibly even struggling to smile.

Well this wasn’t good enough for me. So I tried a little experiment a few days ago. As I was visiting my local Kroger I went crazy with the smiling. I smiled and said “Hi” to everyone who would make any sort of eye contact with me. So now I am not banned from that Kroger as the creepy smiling pastor…j/k. In all seriousness I probably received an 80% positive return rate of either a smile or a return greeting (granted I wasn’t keeping statistical reference and there wasn’t a control group). But I begin to think about how a smile can really communicate so much.

1 Peter 3:8-9 goes a bit like this, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Inexpressible and glorious joy. I love that phrase. Although I am not entirely sure that the joy Peter is describing is inexpressible. Maybe it is beyond our normal human limitations to try to describe this joy, but I actually think it is quite easy to express our Christian joy. It might even be as easy as smiling. Think about it for a minute. What is the second fruit of the Spirit? “Love, Joy…” If we are consumed by the Spirit of God, then the second most important identifying mark of that life, second only to love, is joy. And yet how often do we walk around with vacant, lifeless expressions. Or worse yet, sour or frustrated expressions. This should not be.

So my challenge to myself and to others is to recapture a bit of the dumb crazy gringo Guatemala magic. I am going to smile, to wave, to greet anybody around me. Why? Because inside me I am consumed with the ever present fact that I have a God who would do anything to be with me (and in fact has already done that). And maybe if people see that on my face, hear that in my voice they might wish to be consumed with that same joy. So if you see me and I am not smiling make sure I am not dying first and then quickly correct my expression. Because I just love to smile…


heh’vel

This last weekend I returned from a mission trip with my students to Guatemala. This was a unique trip as it focused, by design, on experiencing as many different dimensions of missional opportunities as possible with what limited time we had in Guatemala. Little did I know how much this would wreck me; and is still wrecking me. In the short time we were there we participated in relief and mission efforts in a rural community, an inner city ghetto and the infamous Zone 3, the location of the Guatemala City Dump. We saw people who were starving, people who couldn’t rub two Quetzales (1/8 of a US dollar) together and those who rummage through others trash to try to scrape by a living. Those who lived in Paradise would work for sometimes 22 hours a day to earn a little more than a US dollar only to see the crops they spent their day picking (that easily could cure their families malnutrition) shipped overseas.* We saw extreme privilege and extreme poverty shaking hands in a beautiful country and it will not leave me alone.

And so now I come back to the US and I realize how lucky I am to have been born here. But I take a look, an honest look at all that surrounds me and I declare it to be “heh’vel”. If this doesn’t sound familiar let me try it this way, ““Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!Everything is meaningless.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2. The Hebrew word for meaningless/vanity is actually the word for breath, smoke, fog, air…I look around me and I see air. Really! If at the end of the day all of this stuff I am accumulating isn’t making a difference in the world for those who so desperately need a difference to be made then it is “heh’vel”. And what do I do with that? I honestly don’t know…

So right now, I tell the story, I pray, I seek the face of Heaven to show me how to escape this heh’vel. We are a ridiculously blessed people and we are called to be a blessing. The constant nagging in my head now is of course, how? The verse that continues to haunt me in the midst of all of this goes a bit like this, “f anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” – James 4:17. Now sin, I think fairly enough, is anything that separates us from God. And I know God’s heart is with the oppressed, the outcast, the destitute, the poor. And my heart continues to be broken for what I have seen and experienced. So my prayer is that I would reject apathy, that I would reject heh’vel and that I would find a way in the midst of all of this to live out the Heart of Christ. And I pray this same prayer for you.

 

* Guatemala’s chief occupation is agriculture of which they export 80% of their total product. 90% of all farm land is owned by about 25 families who enjoy the export spoils. Granted this is derived from a few conversations with some local Guatemalans.


it’s summer…wait a minute

Okay, first things first. It has been way too long since I have posted anything and I want to apologize for that. But as you know, youth ministry starts to escalate a bit around summer time and so honestly, it’s just been a bit busy. Between open houses, mission trips, camps and all the other craziness it just seems as if time is fleeting. And let’s be honest, who wants to be indoors these days. Perhaps if I could dictate my blog while running around in a game of tag or sitting around a campfire? But that kind of misses the point. After all, it’s summer. The time to run, frolic, jump, swing, swim, hide, chase, sweat and enjoy all this season has to offer. Which brings me to my rant, I mean point today. I wonder how many of you have seen this commercial:

What is going on? Is this really what childhood is becoming? After seeing this commercial I just felt sad. I for one have now instated a ban on taking any kind of gaming device outside. I remember being young and the door basically being closed on me during summer and then opened again at the end of the day and occasionally for meal times. Getting outside and enjoying all that life has to offer is probably one of the most defining characteristics of being a kid. And yet, for those people who have the privilege of affording luxuries like the 2DS, we are robbing our kids of their childhood. While in some countries kids aren’t even able to play like these kids could because of being forced into slave situations in order to help their families survive. All that being said, I think there is something special about protecting the innocence of childhood. After all, it’s through the innocence and the joy of childhood that we see the possibility for all that is the Kingdom of God.

The writer of Luke put it this way, “But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:16-17″ And yet, I think so many things we do today rob us of the ability to see all that God has in store for us and in store for His Kingdom. I think a big part of that is not being able to enjoy all that is around us. So maybe we need to turn off our phones, tablets, DS’s, computers (give me a few more words first), etc. and start living the life that awaits us right out our respective back doors. And it might look a bit like blowing bubbles, playing in the rain, jumping in mud puddles, collecting rainbows, smelling flowers, stopping along the way, building sandcastles, watching the moon and stars come out, saying hello to everyone, going barefoot, going on adventures, dancing, flying kites, wondering and wandering around, riding bicycles, looking at the sky, staying up late, climbing trees and ultimately enjoying all the good gifts God has given us to remind us of His love for us. So enjoy the summer! It’s rhythm reminds us of a God who continues to make all things new and wonderful.


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