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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Diversity, Deals and Diet... 12-20-16

Gahhh!! I have not been on my blog game this fall. Too much interesting work has kept me hoppin'... It won't make up for my neglect, but I'm giving some extras on this one.

But before I share these Latest Links that I have Lingered over and Loved, I want to share a photo from my day. Sort of bringing Instagram to my blog...

Caught this shot on my scooter (don't worry, I was safely parked) on the way home from Trader Joe's.   I had some chicken and green chile tamales and a stalk of brussels sprouts strapped on the front basket, and this glory unfolded in front of me. #nevergetsold

Onward and upward... here are what I am guessing are my final recommendations for 2016:

New Yorker magazine documentary on Rob Bell As Relevant Magazine states, "the film is a fascinating -- and extremely emotional -- look at Bell's life, legacy and influence." It doesn't capture everything (heck, it's only 13 minutes long), but certainly describes some of Bell's unique trajectory. And I am equally fascinated by the fact that the New Yorker is fascinated by him...

Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World I just read this book with two college interns who both serve as worship leaders for their campus chapels. We didn't have enough time to really dig into it, but I keep thinking about it. It's as much about leadership as it is about worship. You may not agree with every word, but I think it will get you thinking, big time.

Thrifty Christian Reader OK, so maybe the dude who compiles this should consult with some marketing people regarding the title, but I have found serious deals that I would have missed out on. I think I've mentioned this one here before, but it bears repeating. And it's not just Christian books. I just got 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories for $3.99 thanks to this site. That is plane reading GOLD right there!

NutritionStripped.com This one might get your head scratching (it's not in line with what I normally recommend here...) but I just got home from camp last weekend and had a humbling reminder of how I ate during 30 years of youth ministry... I won't go into details, but I'm having to deal with years of poor nutrition NOW and this is a website that is proving quite reliable, creative and even inspiring? If words like "inflammation" or "gluten-free" or "joint pain" or "digestive issues" are passing your lips at times, this site is for you.

3 Foundational Tips for Senior and Youth Pastors... And now for a tiny bit of self-promotion. Here's my latest article for Seedbed.com. They are the bomb in my world.

25 Truisms This fall my denomination invited us to attend an "Emotionally Healthy Leaders" seminar by Peter Scazzero. This list of 25 truisms for pastors are a valuable place to start in terms of reflecting on personal and spiritual health. Number One hits you right between the eyes: It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. There you have it.

My President was Black I won't venture into election fatigue territory, though I'm tempted... but I finally finished this remarkable article today. Regardless of how you voted, I deeply recommend this one. Listen to the voice of Ta-Nehisi Coates as he reflects on these past 8 years and where things seem to be now. 

May it be so...

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.

Jane Kenyon, poet

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Inspiration, Innovation and Intercultural Dialogue

It's November 1. I am momentarily stunned as I think of how 2016 seems to have just flown by. So much has happened this year, both in my own life but also far more importantly, in our world: Zika, presidential debates, horrifying attacks in Ankara and Brussels and Orlando and Nice and New York, refugees from everywhere, the agony of Syria, Brexit, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police killings, Keith Scott... And how can we ever forget this dreadful presidential election. Who knows what the news will be in these last two months, especially after Nov. 8!

Before I fall into a spiral of anxiety and dread, I want to share some resources that gave me insight, inspiration, and a surprising amount of hope.

Sinfulness, Hopefulness, and the Possibility of Politics. IF you only have time to view one of these links, make it this one: This is the most lucid, hopeful but also realistic conversation I've heard about religion and politics, ever. One little tidbit: "We are over-politicized and under-moralized." Do not skip this one... share it with friends, perhaps even listen to it with a bible study, small group, family, whomever you can gather. Profound discussion that really moved me.

Clayton Christensen on Disruptive Innovation So much of what I work on with people is how to bring their workplaces, systems, cultures, and organizations into the 21st century. This podcast speaks to that process in some thought-provoking ways. It might be interesting to listen to this with some colleagues. I got very energized as I considered the ways I have not gone outside the box in terms of structures, assumptions and goals in planning ahead.

Intercultural Discussion at the Catalyst Conference So much of the turmoil in our country and certainly in our world revolves around identity and isolation, racism and reconciliation, fear and faith. The panel assembled for this discussion was very well done, and again, this civil discourse on the role of the church regarding love for our neighbor again gave me the strength to be expectant of what might be ahead. The next link might add a bit more to the conversation too...

Multicultural, Cross-Cultural and InterCultural What do these terms mean? I just guest-lectured in a college course designed to assist students entering the health care field to engage in population health. I started off with a discussion of these terms and their meanings, and this article does a good job of defining them. I continue to look for ways to foster genuine dialogue and relationship, not just short-term projects and items to check off a list. This article comes from LinkedIn.

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2020 Just when you think you're starting to figure out Millennials, you better slam on the brakes! Because we are now dealing with "Generation Z," the first true digital natives. And I already see some differences between these two groups. To wade into the cultural waters of "kids these days," I have often used this resource from Beloit College. Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released their Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college. Here are a couple of tidbits for this year's class of first-year college students: In their lifetimes, the United States has always been at war.
Also, they have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time. But perhaps this says it all: “They’re an impatient generation learning how to be patient.” Full List: https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2020/

Final thoughts

An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. 

Martin Luther King, Jr

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Bees, Blueprints and Balance

Somehow September came and went, and I didn't post anything. It could be because I was on the road at least two days each week that month... I loved every adventure as I traveled from Greenville, Illinois to Seattle, WA to Pasadena / Azusa / Rancho Cucamonga... phew. All super interesting projects, but I am glad to be sleeping in my own bed for a few days.

During all those trips I've saved up so many good links that I will have to pace myself and not knock you over all at once! Let's get started.

Be the Bee: The Beehive as a Metaphor for Life in Christian Community. This 5 minute video is so beautiful and lyrical, I don't want to say very much. Just watch it. I will bet that you will use it in a staff meeting, Bible study or sermon very soon.

Five Fundamentals for an Evangelical Future. I start getting hives when I read any sentence with the word "fundamental" in it, but if you can resist the temptation to blow over this one, I think it's worth a read. Please do not think these are five MORE things to add to your never-ending to-do list... instead, I would recommend this list as a filter for you and other leaders in your Christian organization (church, non-profit, school, etc.) to use to think about your strategic planning. There is no one-size-fits-all blueprint that will work for everyone as we plan for the future, especially not in this season of "discontinuous change." I am currently working with three different organizations who are trying to adjust long-successful systems and programs in face of the new challenges of the 21st century. I think article provided some good points to jumpstart the conversation.

Work/Life Balance Strategies. In all of my conversations with friends, colleagues and client, this topic nearly always comes up at some point. There are WAY too many quick-fix solutions and platitudes. I thought this article took a unique approach, and may strike a chord with you.

This 100 Year-Old To Do List Hack Still Works. If the work/life balance issue applies to you, you might find this article of interest as well... I just passed it along to a maxed-out pastor friend of mine. I'm interested to see if it is helpful. We all have the "could-you-help-me-figure-out-how-to-get-everything-done-AND-somehow-keep-all-of-my-projects-organized?" problem at various points, right?? This article is an effective short answer to the question.

What #firstsevenjobs says about Today's Young Adults and the Job Market This quote caught my attention: "The number of teenagers who have some sort of job while in school has dropped from nearly 40 percent in 1990 to just 20 percent today, an all-time low since the United States started keeping track in 1948." I am stunned at how different life is for today's teenagers. To illustrate, you can also read this article on the decline of the driver's license among teens. I bet you'll never guess how many 16 year-olds get their drivers' licenses...

ENOUGH for now! I'll post again in a few days. Meanwhile, I'll end with this:

In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing
vessels is likely to be more productive than energy
devoted to patching leaks.
Warren Buffett

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dating, Discipleship, Drop the Mic... 8-30-16


I normally post 4 or 5 good things I have come across in the past week or two, but I hit the jackpot this past week. I found every single one of these little gems fascinating... hope they are half as interesting to you!

Hello Goodbye? Catch up with Josh Harris and I Kissed Dating Goodbye. As my friends in Minnesota say, "Uff da!" As a youth pastor who worked in the 90's, I can verify that this was the IT book of the era for Christians. I don't know the origin story for purity ceremonies, but this book sure contributed to the whole nutty phenomenon. Almost 20 years after the book first came out, this article in Slate.com includes an interview with the infamous author himself, and he discusses the fallout that came a-tumblin' down for years afterward. MUST READ.

3 Tips for Aspiring Women Leaders. OK, this isn't quite on the "must-read" level of the first article... especially since I wrote it! Published on the 96th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, this is a revision/update of an article I first had published in 2014. I list it here because I really appreciate the good people at Seedbed.com, which is becoming my #1 go-to theological / ministry resource site. CHECK IT.

How God as Trinity Dissolves Racism. If you're in a hurry and only have time to read one article from the bounty of this week's post, read this one. This is a masterful and prophetic essay by one of my heroes, Richard Rohr, on how racism has risen in our country, and offers a substantive solution. #dropthemic.

Don't Let Future Shock Happen to Your Non-Profit. Regardless of whether you are part of a non-profit, a church, or an educational/government institution, I think this article asks some excellent questions to reflect upon. I have worked in the non-profit arena for over 30 years, and I feel like the rules have changed since the financial crash in 2009, the advent of globalization, and and and... This article comes from a new newsletter generated by SmartBrief (all their newsletters are here: http://smartbrief.com/subscribe The article about Future Shock comes from there "BoardSource SmartBrief" on non-profit governance.

Daily Text. I know, we all have favorite go-to's in terms of daily readings and devotions. Here's a new one that I'm finding challenging, thoughtful and creative. This is also from Seedbed.com -- have I mentioned I like them? I recommend this particular daily devotion because it is delivering new insights on passages I've read (and taught on!) multiple times already, and I find that very refreshing. They are currently beta-testing a new online group devotional platform that I am trying out, where a group you meet with can remain in touch in between meetings through this devotional. I will post about it in the future if they go big with it.

Thrifty Christian Reader. This website generates a daily email during the week on deals they find online for books... not just Christian books, but maybe... books that might be interesting to Christians? This little newsletter seems to find all the big discount days on books I want to read and talk myself out of because of the cost. But regularly they find the days where books like Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is on sale for $5.99 on Kindle, or The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne for $1.99. My Kindle library has exploded due to this little website... #ilovetoread

Teens' Online Church Draws Young People from Around the World. Perhaps the trippiest of all the links I have on this post. One part amazing and a few parts weird... Read the entire article. Pretty darn fascinating. As I read this I could not help but recall the infamous line given by Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball: "Adapt or die."
Final thought.

That is the true perfection of man, to find out his imperfections.
St. Augustine, philosopher and theologian

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-18-16

This is a rich passage from Annie Dillard, whom I also quoted on Monday...

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. 
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the solid, turn, and unlock— more than a maple— a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.

Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (pp. 184-185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

The truth and power in Dillard's writing is often not evident at first glance. But on vacation I have the luxury of lingering over what she writes... so as I dug a bit deeper, I discovered what she was referencing from Ezekiel. It comes from 13:5, where Ezekiel says,
Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. (KJV)
This didn't help! So I read some of the surrounding context, and looked into a commentary or two for this passage. The Oxford Annotated Bible says this:
True prophets would care enough about their people to go up into the breaches (like Moses, Ps 106.23), i.e., to risk their lives by arguing with God on the people’s behalf (9.8; 11.13).
Ah, now I'm getting somewhere. This is about that well-used (but perhaps little understood) phrase, "stand in the gap." Building on that, I see that Dillard is calling us to dig deeper into life, to not settle for less, to speak the truth to power when necessary, to squeeze the last drop out of life, even if it means facing deep and intimidating confrontation. This reminds me of C.S. Lewis' counsel in his sermon, The Weight of Glory:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Where are those "gaps" in my life? In your life? Where do I need to go, stalk, squeak and spend?

On this vacation, when I'm not reading, resting, or enjoying the outdoors, I am watching the Olympics! Today I heard a quote used by one of the USA track women as motivation, taped to her bathroom mirror, that captures all of this succinctly:
"You do not wake up today to be mediocre."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-17-16

Today I'm recommending an entire article today, not just a pithy quote. As I nerd out on vacation by reading to my heart's content, today's adventure takes me to exploring the realm of spirituality in California's history. As someone who seeks to develop leaders for the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA for the 21st century, I want to be a constant student of my context. Despite being born and raised in California and having lived both in Northern and Southern California, I still have a lot to learn about my state.

Through some lovely serendipity, I have come upon an interesting journal published by University of California press titled, appropriately, BOOM. It's subtitle is "A Journal of California," and that fits. Perusing the last couple of years of issues, I see some fascinating articles on various aspects of CA culture, past / present / future.

The article I recommend from it today is titled, A Golden State of Grace? by Lois Ann Lorentzen. Here are the opening lines that hopefully motivate you to read further...
Making sense of religion in California is a daunting task. California’s religious extravagance is fascinating—Heaven’s Gate, the Crystal Cathedral, Synanon, Starhawk, Harold Camping’s end-of-world predictions, Aimee Semple McPherson, Esalen, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Grateful Dead. Everything is here, it seems, and then some.

Keep in mind what isn't mentioned in this quote: the California Missions, Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement, the Vineyard, Scientology and Saddleback... and these days, Bethel Church is leaving its mark. What a fascinating, spiritually eclectic place that California is!

Given the breadth of this topic, the author only touches on several examples in the article -- and makes me want to learn more. At the outset, she gives a quick recounting of earlier CA history, and I found this powerful:
The point of this abbreviated history is to note how populations and religions change dramatically in very short windows of time. California went from indigenous in 1769 to Catholic by 1833 and to predominantly Protestant by 1860. The mix of religions in California doesn’t look the same as other states.

Check out these stats:
Forty percent of all US Buddhists live in California, as do most Hindus and most Muslims—70,000 Muslims in Los Angeles County alone. California is 28 percent Catholic, 20 percent Evangelical Protestant, and 10 percent mainline Protestant. This is in contrast to the United States as a whole, where 70 percent of Christians are Protestant. To study religion in California is to study the world’s religions.

This grabs me the most:

As goes California, so goes the nation. 
California’s present is the nation’s future.

Though I sound like an impassioned representative of the Tourism Bureau at this point, I would say that none of us can ignore this. History seems to bear out this theory, so it's worth studying in depth.
The article concludes with these thoughts:
Is there anything special about religion in California? As a teenager in northern Minnesota, I fantasized about California a lot; I knew it was special. I wanted it, the mountains, the oceans, the freedom, the diversity, the tolerance, the experimenting. Did I romanticize and essentialize? You bet! But now I am a Californian, with an ongoing love/hate relationship with this place. An academic, I’m still unsure about the answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this essay. I have concluded, however, that California matters a great deal when we think about religion. 
Forgive me if you are not a Californian reading this. But as I vacation throughout the state this week, it still intrigues me greatly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-16-16

From Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. As you probably know already, this is a collection of essays addressed to his 15 year old son.

That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2015-07-14). Between the World and Me (pp. 11-13). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I am simply listening at this point. My lips are sealed, and I'm trying to read with my eyes, ears, heart and mind wide open.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-15-16

I'm on vacation and planning on lots of reading. Here's some goodness from Annie Dillard:

It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. But— and this is the point— who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremendous ripple thrill on the water and find yourself rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? 

It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (p. 152). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

I am halfway through this collection, and cannot recommend it enough. I started reading Dillard years ago, but in the years since then, I've lived more of the highs and lows of life, and she feels brand new to me. This book is a collection of "top hits," and offers some new as well.

Dillard is not for the faint of heart. What I mean is that she is a precise and thoughtful wordsmith. I cannot read her the way I read a magazine article or blog post. I have to slow down, often re-reading a paragraph, to drink in the imagery and point of what she is saying.

The essay titled "Seeing," taken from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, is a tremendous way to start this vacation. I want to have my eyes (and ears, and heart, and mind, and soul) WIDE OPEN to the wonders all around me. Indeed, the world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. Let's do this!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Parenting, Prayer, and Papa

I'm heading out soon for a much-anticipated week away on vacation, but before I drop the mic, I wanted to share a few resources that I found especially useful this week. Not sure how they all relate to one another, but they sure reflect the varied things I'm always working on.

Common Prayer ~ free app! In my post from the end of July, I noted some reliable devotional resources I have taken advantage of for years. Soon after, I received an update about one of my favorites, generated by New Monasticism leaders Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne. I've used my hardcover copy of Common Prayer since the day it was released in 2010, and access the website almost everyday. But this past week I received news that their app for iPhone/iPad had recently been released for free! Pass along this great news to everyone and use it to create spiritual connection and intimacy among your friends and leaders.

Child Leaving for College is Like Labor All Over Again. This was published in our local alternative weekly, and I thought it really captured the angst that many parents feel especially at this time of year as their beloved offspring enter this crucial transition into adulthood and leave the nest. The subtitle says it all: "Hey, can I get an epidural here?" If you work with youth and their families, this article provides a good laugh (and perhaps a few sympathetic tears), and best of all, an invitation to talk more.

Two Homes, One Childhood: Co-Parenting After Divorce. Another, more jarring parental transition comes when parents separate and/or divorce. Perhaps through your work or maybe in your own life, you have to walk with someone through this painful journey. This podcast episode provides some excellent, though at times poignant, insights.

Need Help with Your Writing and Editing? I'm working with a client on crafting a mission statement, and I always see the first draft or three as an opportunity to throw all the spaghetti on the wall and not wordsmith too much. But eventually you need to be brutal with your precious creation and get real. I found this great page of Hemingway quotes to get my editing groove on, and sent it to my client as well. This also feeds my eternal English major heart! You may or may not know that Hemingway's nickname was "Papa" ... I had a professor in my 20th century lit course who described Papa's writing style as "never use ten words when one will do." As someone who can tend to suffer from "verbal diarrhea," this website is a great motivator (and wake-up call?)

Final thoughts. I read this this morning:

He prays well who is so absorbed with God that he does not know he is praying.
    ... Francois de Sales (1567-1622)

As I noted in my journal, "I have brief moments of this, but certainly pray for many more." Ironically, to pray like this is something like becoming humble; the second I actually achieve humility, all is lost! In other words, it is a goal that I cannot reach consciously or willfully. Such connection with God comes on his terms, and through ongoing relationship and intimacy rather than through goal-setting or to-do lists. So my wish for you is to... be absorbed with God, I guess. Godspeed!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Quotes, Quests, Quandaries

This has been a very full week for me as I finish up my sixth summer of interns. What a lovely lot! I pinch myself at the thought of getting to do what I feel like I was built to do. What a creative, generous God we have!

In the midst of that, I also worked through some helpful resources... here are some highlights:

Quotes that Feed My Brain, Heart & Soul. One of my very, very small contributions in daily life is to post thoughtful, challenging, convicting, encouraging, uplifting, wise quotes on social media... rather than cat videos (though I love cats) or what I've accomplished in Pokemon Go.

Two came into my view yesterday, and they were strangely resonant, though from different sources:

It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. 
It severed an umbilical cord... 
In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God... 
Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. 
(Ingmar Bergman)

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get—only what you are expecting to give—which is everything. What you will receive in return varies, but really has no connection with what you give. You give because you love and cannot help giving. If you are very lucky, you may get loved back. That is delicious, but it does not necessarily happen. 
(Katharine Hepburn)

The interesting connection for me was in the sources -- both artists, but speaking deeply spiritual, even theological truths. I will confess mostly unfamiliarity with Bergman's work, but I am aware that he had a father who was a Lutheran pastor, and his films contain profound spiritual questions and themes.

Hepburn's words capture the stunning beauty and difficulty of truly unconditional love. Which I have found is only possible when God's Spirit inhabits my love. As an eternally recovering English major, I am grateful for these gentle reminders of the power of art and how it is a powerful (though often neglected) means of grace.

If you want to receive daily surprises for your devotional and thought life, these are what I turn to each morning (along with scripture):
  • Christian Quotation of the Day: never cheesy, sometimes a little dense, but often surprising. Drawn from Christian history.
  • Common Prayer: An excellent devotional guide that is thought-provoking, occasionally off-putting, always earnest.
  • Henri Nouwen Society: His writings have blessed my life for decades. I read things that I underlined years ago and they still capture me as if I'm reading them for the first time.
  • Inward/Outward: I like this one because it draws from a very wide range of sources. I don't always "get" them, but when I do, I am often rattled to the core.
  • Pray the Hours: I sometimes go to this when I want a guide to prayer during my day. This whole website is an excellent resource for contemplative practices.
New Podcast Addiction. As I have mentioned in an earlier post this month, I've started learning more about Enneagrams. Not only have I read Discovering the Enneagram by Richard Rohr, but I've also happened upon a new podcast that I am enjoying greatly: The Road Back to You. Hosted by two experienced folks who lead retreats and serve as spiritual directors, the first few episodes have been interviews of people who help to describe each one of the nine Enneagram types. Super engaging conversations! So far, I'm seeing that Enneagram could serve as a tremendous tool for those who want to press in further in their quest of ongoing intimacy with God and understanding of self and others.

Resources for Families. In my many years of working with youth and their families, something that came up often was the reality that whatever program or event I was running could never substitute for the deep foundations that needed to be provided at home. Yet when I would meet with parents about how to do that, we would often be boggled together! Not having grown up in a home with "family devotions" or a regular life in the church, I sure had no experience in this arena. Yet when I started digging for resources to recommend, I also found slim pickings. Most stuff was ridiculously cheesy and overly simplistic.

Yet this week I've come across two interesting possibilities:
  • Parents' Major Role in the Religious Lives of Young Adults. This first one is rooted in research, but I feel that it sets the context for the "why" of this conversation. This really made sense to me: "Yet the assumption that parents are irrelevant in the religious lives of teenagers – replaced instead by peers – is a myth, research shows. Several studies have shown that the religious behaviors and attitudes of parents are related to those of their children."
  • 10 Tips for Family Worship Time. I have not test-driven this, but it looks promising. Perhaps gather a few families to do it together for a few weeks and then discuss? 
Final thought. This flew by me at some point this week. I sort of like it!

I must be a Mermaid:
I have no fear of depths
and a great fear of 
shallow living. 

Get some rest this weekend, OK?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration!

Last article being re-posted today. Hope these have been encouraging and helpful. Scroll through this blog and find the other ones. I started re-posting them at the end of Sept 2015.

The original for this one was first posted here. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a 12-part series on spiritual disciplines for youth workers, based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

As I write this I am preparing to head out to the birthday celebration of my favorite one year old in the world, Bryn, who is the daughter of dear friends of mine. She was born on 11/1/11, and we all giggle at that because she is definitely number one in our hearts.

At the same time, I know I will sit back at some point during the day and chuckle at how many adults are there, celebrating an event that Bryn will most certainly not remember! In some ways it is tempting to ask, “What is even the point of having a birthday party for a one year old?!”

I can tell you the answer: Because everyone loves a party! Personally, I can never have enough cupcakes. How about you? We are wired to celebrate with those we love, whether it is a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, and even a life well-lived as we grieve the loss of a loved one.

Even as I type the word “celebrate” I have many fun memories popping into my head: lighting fireworks with students during service trips to Guatemala; a surprise birthday for me put on by friends; hearty laughter, to the point of tears, when hearing a really funny story…These are foretastes of heaven, where we will be free of suffering because God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

In anticipation of such a blessed eternity, as believers we are called to practice for heaven now. The spiritual discipline for this practice is called celebration. Richard Foster, who has guided our discussion for these last twelve months, defines its crucial role:
Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving.
He goes on to say that celebration is an expression of the fruits of the Spirit, especially that of joy. But as we well know, joy is not the same as happiness. Joy comes from living a life of obedience, conforming to the call of God on our lives, seeking to be fulfilled by service to Him and selflessness to others.

What does this look like for us who serve in youth ministry? Sadly, I believe we have erred in thinking our primary job is to show our students that being a Christian can be fun, and proceed to fill our meetings with gross and wacky games and little else. While I have used my share of shaving cream over the years for a pie or two in the face, I know that silly games are going too far when that is what students are talking about at the end of the night, rather than whatever discussion was a part of the evening. I believe that is setting the bar far too low when it comes to serving the young people we know.

Instead, see the spiritual discipline of celebration as an opportunity for us as youthworkers to really make a difference in the lives of the young people we work with. As you already know, “partying” is highly valued by youth culture–they think they already know how to “celebrate.” Rather than letting them settle for shallow expressions of fun, I believe the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians give us an outline of how to do this:


I will be the first to admit that it is so tempting to trivialize the concerns of teens, whose drama every week can tend to focus on the ups and downs of friendships or who’s dating who. Nevertheless, these are the immediate concerns of our young people, and to dismiss them is to ignore what swirls around them. Instead, respect their young and limited perspective, coaching them into sharing their concerns, though seemingly trivial at times, with God. As it says in 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As young people sense they are known and heard, they feel loved.


Verses 4:8-9 are straightforward: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Time and again I have had students thank me for remembering their birthday, attending their performance, or noting one of their achievements in front of the entire group. I had a parent tell me the other day how her children noted the difference between two different youth leaders in the community: one of them only saw their daughter if she attended his activities; the other leader made it a point to go to as many of her games as possible. Not surprisingly, she felt most connected to the latter. Active attendance at students’ events becomes a real challenge as your group grows, but it becomes all the more crucial for us to equip our volunteers to understand how much this means to the teens we know.


We are being dishonest if we pretend that life is always puppies and rainbows with our students. I never fail to be stunned at the gravity of issues that I have experienced with young people over the years: suicide, cancer, deathly car accidents, addiction, eating disorders, abuse, pregnancy, gang violence, sexual affairs with adults…the list goes on and on. To teach our students to celebrate, we also have to show them how willing we are to be with them in the depths. Paul teaches me so much in these few verses (4:10-13): “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

As we walk through all of life with our students, we then “earn the right to be heard” and can teach them how to truly “rejoice in the Lord” (4:4), opening themselves up to true and eternal celebration. What a privilege!

This concludes the year-long series on spiritual disciplines. The goal from here is to seek after deeper intimacy with Christ on your own and in community, teaching the youth around you to do the same.

My challenge to you

Set aside some time soon to review all twelve of the classic spiritual disciplines. Even better, pick up a copy of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and learn more for yourself. As you read, listen for the promptings of the Spirit as to which discipline(s) you need to grow in next.
Remember, for us as followers of Christ, the church year begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Advent, which is coming soon. What if a new goal included the intentional practice of the spiritual disciplines? Take some time to pray over this question and make covenant with God.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tunes, Tragedy, Teaching

Part of me wants to run away and find a big hole to hide from all the agony around... Alton Sterling,
Philando Castile, 5 Dallas police officers, a coup in Turkey, utter devastation in Nice, and now 3 officers murdered in Baton Rouge. Reading Psalm 14 this morning captured much of my malaise:

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.
(Psalm 14:2-3)

Yet if I stay in this empty, hurting place, I am paralyzed. There is so much more to say here, but for now, these lyrics from a new Avett Brothers song wake me up and pull me back in:

I cannot go on with this evil inside me
I step out my front door and I feel it surround me
Just know the kingdom of God is within you
Even though the battle is bound to continue

So I move forward, one day at a time... Here are a few resources I've used in the past couple of weeks. May we prayerfully and persistently press on through these dark days. 

True Sadness by the Avett Brothers. Here is the full song on YouTube. I want to be the kind of friend described in this song. It's also got some deeply scriptural lyrics. Allow them to dig deep into your soul.

Spiritual by Jay-Z. So much of what we each need to do is to listen to the stories of people's lives. We must seek after understanding, and not build fences around our own experiences and demand that they are the "right" and "normal" way. The lines, "I am not poison / No I am not poison / Just a boy from the hood that / Got my hands in the air in despair / Don't shoot / I just wanna do good" are haunting, and grieve my spirit. 

5 Ways to Process Tragedy with Teenagers. In 2005, a student from our youth group took his own life. Despite having over 25 years of youth ministry experience at that point, I had NO idea what to do, and fumbled through that first week (monthly?) blindly. While one article cannot solve it all, this one is a good start.

Revisionist History ~ a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. A lifetime of working with students makes me continuously fascinated by all aspects of education: how are the best ways to teach and engage, what resources are available, what are others doing, etc. There is a current series on education in America in this podcast that is spell-binding. It starts with the episode titled, "Carlos Doesn't Remember." I nearly missed a turnoff on the freeway last week because I was so riveted by it. The entire series is excellent.

What I'm Reading I just started The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard. With all the bad news rolling out this summer, I needed something to help me take a step back to breathe and reflect. As an ever-recovering English major, good writing just slays me. You have to concentrate when reading Dillard -- she is incredibly precise in her language, and miniscule in her observations. But it is lyrical, amazing writing.

I will end with this simple thought from Dillard. In the midst of our huge struggles and pain, we need to pace ourselves for a long journey. We must keep Sabbath, and seek after refreshment from the Lord. Dillard instructs us with a simple reminder:

Opening up a summer cottage is like being born in this way: 
at the moment you enter, you have all the time you are ever going to have.

May we each get to "open up a summer cottage" and receive deep, restorative rest this summer. We desperately need it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Screens, Skills, Spaces - a resource guide

As usual, I let myself get buried in the day-to-day, and neglect this dear blog. All 21 of my fans are disappointed yet again!

I also took 5 days to see my nephew graduate from high school, so there's that! Finally, after 30+ years of attending graduation ceremonies, I get to be a proud relative and not just a loving fan! Like the rest of my family, he is much taller than I am. Sigh...

Meanwhile, regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, I never stop gathering pertinent links and resources. Lucky you. Enjoy!

Screen Usage and Productivity. My mouth hangs agape... this is a thoughtful article from a productivity app (one of my favorites - Trello) on how to slow down and embrace mono-tasking. What?! Take a few moments to consider how to regulate your (OUR) addiction to checking your phone and notifications. This is a good one.

Our Schools Should Teach Basic Life Skills Again. OK, this captures my reality a bit too much. My work life is focused a lot on millennials, and this humorous video hits a little close to home. Have a good laugh. Or cry.

3 Ways to Stay Calm When Conversations Get Intense. I recently went off-site for a project where many of those with whom I worked wanted some help with addressing the elephant in the room. I include this article because it is both concise but also truly substantive. Whenever I see "6 best ways" or "7 successful tips" articles I usually flip right past them, but somehow this one caught my attention and I bookmarked it. Read it. Conflict is a normal part of LIFE (both at home and work) and most of us are conflict-averse. Let's bring safety and sustainability to wherever we are by offering honest conversation and a willingness to stay at the table and work things through.

We Reclaim Abandoned Spaces - an interview with Shane Claiborne. Only 10 minutes, this little gem still packs a lot of punch. Give yourself the time and attention to listen closely, and  you will be refreshed. And while you're at it, subscribe to the weekly episodes where it's contained -- "Becoming Wise" by Krista Tippett.

Current favorite read... Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey by Richard Rohr. I'm not entirely sure how I picked this book up, but it's been really interesting and thought-provoking. It was written in 1990, and some of his cultural references feel a bit outdated, but the spiritual formation insights are A+.

Wise Words....

I sent this quote by Frederick Buechner to a dear friend this past weekend for her birthday. Listen for the Spirit as these words pour over you. May your soul be fed!

Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reading, Listening, Adjusting

It's been about a month since I posted some of the resources I've used recently... as school years end and summer approaches, my calendar has been packed with events and celebrations and planning.

Nevertheless, as life plows along, I have used the long Memorial Day weekend for the last several years to step back and take stock in how the first half of the year has gone so far. I reflect on what has happened, look at my goals and schedule, and revisit some of my plans before the second half gets going. What's working? What isn't? Do I need to shift and change some things? Do I need to reboot and start over in some ways?

I have found some of these resources valuable in kick-starting this process for my 2016 Memorial Day weekend... hope yours goes well!

Listening is an Overlooked Leadership Tool. I just read this one today, but am kicking off my post with it. I've already forwarded it to two friends who are managing teams. I liked it for multiple reasons, the main one being that for many years I have found that one of the greatest gifts I can give someone is to just shut up and truly listen. As this article says, "Listening is an overlooked tool that creates an environment of safety when done well." In a world where distractions proliferate more than ever, and many of us only offer "continuous partial attention," it can be significant to put away our phones, close our laptops, and be truly present. What a concept.

Westmont Chapel Message, March 14, 2016. Shameless self-promotion here. My chapel message at Westmont this spring. 

The Growing Allure of the Gap Year. Much of my calendar in May has been occupied with kicking off the sixth year of our Free Methodist intern program. I continue to love working with young adults, and will confirm that after some 30+ years of doing so, I find that the landscape is continuously shifting and changing. I hung onto every word of this podcast. The options for young people when they graduate from high school and college are really going in some fascinating directions. We cannot layer our own template of experience on top of theirs. Open your eyes and ears and give a listen.

Whoever Loses His Network: Beyond Fear and Anxiety in Networked Individualism. Yep, weird title, I know. But well worth the time to read it. There is some major Chicken Little fear-mongering going on in regard to the effects of technology on "kids these days." This article delves far deeper, past the superficial sound bytes, and examines bigger issues. This link is an excerpt from Dr. Andrew Zirschky's book on screen usage and teens. Zirschky is generally known as "the" expert on this topic in the field of youth ministry. It seems long, but in part it is because it has extensive (and helpful) footnotes. Read and discuss with parents and volunteer leaders: this article explains how students in 2016 create their networks of friends... Back in the day I measured that by how many people could sign my yearbook! Learn more here about how youth work on having as many "followers" as possible on Instagram or Snapchat. "Youth ages 12 to 17 lead the way as creators of content on the Internet with nearly all of them sharing content in some form, whether pictures, videos, blog posts, tweets, or status updates."

Helpful link for board and committee work and strategic planning. I wear many hats, and one of them is serving as a consultant to churches, non-profits and businesses on how to guide staff and key leaders through strategic planning, implementation and evaluation. Currently I'm working with eight different organizations, and repeatedly I've used some good stuff from Board Source. Getting their newsletter is free, and they offer occasional articles, graphics and slide shows that are useful. I just downloaded clear and compelling slides on the 9 characteristics of a mission statement and the definition of a vision statement that I'll be using in the future, I'm sure.

What am I reading?
I've rededicated myself to daily reading for at least 30 minutes a day. I want to avoid getting easily Fixer Upper or Chopped (though I absolutely love both of these shows!) Here is what I'm currently reading:
sucked in to Facebook and Twitter, or yet another episode of

Liberating the Church: The Ecology of Church and Kingdom by Howard Snyder. I'm a Howard Snyder groupie. His book The Radical Wesley changed my life. This one is proving to be equally challenging, all the more because it was written 20 years ago (1996) yet proves to be remarkably prophetic in regard to what I see on America's church landscape today.

Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes by Justo González. A short book by not a shallow read. Also written in 1996, but utterly relevant. It is opening my mind and heart in powerful ways.

The Gospel of John. This one never gets old, and just this morning I noticed something brand new, despite having read through this gospel multiple times. Several commentators quote this about John's Gospel, and I find it true: It is “a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim."

I finish with Psalm 119:57-58,

The Lord is my portion;
I promise to keep your words;
I implore your favor with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Learning, Risking, Listening

Though it takes a bit more effort, I find it is helpful to maintain fresh awareness of current resources that help me do my job(s). So I keep a running list of articles I hear about, books that get recommended, links I want to explore, and try to chip away at the list each day for about 30 minutes.

I know, I know, that might sound crazy-making to you, but I have found it immensely valuable to keep "stirring the pot," even after three decades of vocational ministry work. I want to keep learning
(without papers and grades!), keep taking risks (though thoughtfully and carefully), and keep listening to the voices of culture and conversation (even when I do not agree).

So here are some of the latest things I've read or listened to...

This American Life: Middle School. First aired in 2011, it was rebroadcast earlier this month. As someone who worked directly with this age for so many years, I found this entire podcast so spot on. It starts with an outstanding first act describing the physical and developmental changes going on during these years, which are the most formative other than the toddler years. If you have children this age, or work with them, or successfully survived them yourself, take a listen. Then pass along to others you know -- it's a fantastic training/preparation tool and conversation starter.

How People Learn to Become Resilient. "Grit" and "perseverance" and "resilience" are buzzwords in education right now. I have found the research of Dr. Angela Duckworth valuable in this regard. In an age of easy Google and Wikipedia searches and an environment where everything from music to coffee to your sandwich order can be completely personalized, I am finding it more challenging to get young people to stick with something over time and not get bored. Skills of problem-solving and "outside-the-box" thinking develop when focus is sustained, and I find the concept of resilience important to consider. But of course, the conversation has already become overwrought and simplistic. This article even quotes New York Times Magazine, which stated recently that "the word [resilience] is now used everywhere, often in ways that drain it of meaning and link it to vague concepts like 'character.'” Nevertheless, the article holds out hope for the study of resilience, and adds some solid insights.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Whoa Nelly. This one is an engaging read, though I had to put it down at times too. Some of the stories are devastating. But ultimately it is a must-read. I recently saw Bryan Stevenson speak, and I believe I was in the presence of true greatness. This is a leader of stunning compassion and justice. I thought I was aware of many of the world's injustices, but this book called me out.

Coupled with this book, listen to this 50 minute interview of Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I was deeply moved that both Stevenson and Alexander talk about the recognition of their own brokenness, especially in light of being people of faith.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Dr. Soong Chan Rah. Yes, you might be seeing a theme here. This year I decided to really go after reading by authors of color, realizing I needed to work hard to keep my vision broad and well beyond my own areas of experience and training. This book is an excellent commentary on the Book of Lamentations in the Bible, and then takes us into current applications of its themes. If you care deeply about the future of the Kingdom of God, I recommend this one highly.

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. This one is a re-read and truly, it is breathtaking. I read and listen to many, many discussions on the current spiritual malaise in America, but this book has some unique things to say, expressed in words heavy with meaning and imagery. Quoting it does not do the book justice, but I will give one little taste:

Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal, because it is usually wholly illusory.

Do not be in a hurry if you pick up this book. But it is well worth the space and energy to read.

Somewhere recently I came along this quote by Wendell Berry, and I will end with this. In the flurry of never-ending pressure, anxiety and "must-do's," I pray these words settle in your soul:

The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines Series: Confession

I just read this, and it seems an appropriate way to start this post:

"Spiritual disciplines are not ways to eradicate all our desires but ways to order them so that they can serve one another and together serve God." 
(Henri Nouwen)

A great reminder: spiritual disciplines are not some magic bullet to make us super holy. Rather, they are critical tools that can help us stay focused on Christ more than on the many distractions around us. In other words, we cannot grow in holiness and intimacy with God without daily "exercises" to keep our souls responsive and hungry for more.

With that in mind, here is the eleventh article in a series first released in 2012. As always, I remind you that these were initially written for those working in youth ministry, but they apply to all of us.


I came to Christ at the beginning of my sophomore year in high school. That first year of faith was a whirlwind…I was blown away by the New Testament and could not read it fast enough. I was discovering the relief and power of prayer. I was talking to many friends about what I was learning, and some were coming to faith. It was an exciting time, and I still smile as I think about it.
Within a year or so I was encouraged by my Young Life leaders to try out for the “work crew” summer program, where students who have already been to camp are invited to contribute a month of their time to working at one of the summer camps, learning about service and discipleship at the same time. Part of the application process included attendance at several training meetings and scripture memorization. This is the verse I remember the most clearly, some 35 years later:
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9, NRSV)
While there were several other verses, some of which I remember in bits and pieces, this one is burned into my memory verbatim. Why is that?

In a brief article like this one it will be impossible to take on gargantuan topics like sin, forgiveness, resentment, redemption and confession. We are close to finishing up a year-long series of articles (we only have one more month) on the classic spiritual disciplines of church history (as listed by Richard Foster in The Celebration of Discipline). Nevertheless, even in the limited space here I can tell you that my own understanding and experience of sin, confession, and forgiveness is still a work in progress all these years after “praying the prayer” and becoming a Christian. As Foster wisely says, “The Bible views salvation as both an event and a process.” I do not write here as an expert on confession, but simply as a person like you, in desperate need of God’s grace, healing and transforming power every day.

In 2004, a man named Frank Warren had an idea for a community art project. He began handing out postcards to strangers and leaving them in public places—asking people to write down a secret they had never told anyone and mail it to him, anonymously. Since then he has received more than 150,000 anonymous postcards, and millions have viewed his website, PostSecret.com. Apart from revealing our strange, “National Enquirer” tendencies to enjoy reading about someone else’s problems (after all, it distracts attention away from our own, right?), this project also exposes a unique dynamic related to confession: we often do not feel released from our sins until we unburden ourselves to another person. (Though I would argue that doing so anonymously does not accomplish that release.) Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes our need well:
A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light. (Life Together)
While Protestant Christians believe that a priest is no longer needed to mediate our confessions, it is acceptable to recognize that it is often through the words and support of trusted friends and colleagues that God’s forgiveness can truly take hold in our lives.

So what does this look like for us as youthworkers? To begin with, this conversation goes in two opposite directions. On the one hand, we need to be followers of Christ who confess our sins, willing to have our lives regularly examined by those who know us best. On the other hand, we also need to be ready to know what to do with the many confessions we will receive as well.


Giving Confession

In last month’s post on the spiritual discipline of Guidance, I suggested that in order to know how to make wise decisions that one needs to “understand the power of accountable relationships.” Every Christian, and especially every Christian leader, needs to surround him or herself with people who both know and love them well AND who will level with them honestly, regardless of the issue. When I need an opinion on something, I am still amazed at how easy it is to find someone who will tell me what I want to hear! But no matter how tempting that is (and I have given in to that temptation more than a time or two), I have come to realize that I have to be willing to work closely with wise counselors who know where I need to be challenged. Just today, a few hours before I wrote this, I had such a person remind me of an area of life where I can tend to fall short of what God would want of me. At the same time, keep in mind that it is not the sole job of these others in our lives to hold us accountable; part of why my trusted mentor was able to call me out was because I have laid my life and frailties open before him.


Receiving Confession

Part of the great privilege of youth ministry is that you are actively participating in some of the most dynamic years of development in a person’s entire life! For example, as human beings there is no other time where we grow more quickly (other than the toddler years) than during junior high and early high school. It is a time of explosive growth intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually. Our students will face many intense situations for the first time, and not know how to respond. If we (and our adult volunteers) remain consistently involved, we will inevitably have students who confess significant things to us. What do we do when that happens? Syler Thomas wrote an outstanding article several years ago that I still use with youthworkers to help them understand how to manage confidentiality–make sure you read it. But apart from the delicacies of follow up, Richard Foster reminds us (in The Celebration of Discipline) of several key things to remember as you receive confession:
  • Live “beneath the Cross.” In other words, be utterly aware of the wickedness and sinfulness of humans and also the dreadfulness of your own sin. If you do this, you will know that there is nothing that anyone can say that will disturb us.
  • Convey a spirit of humility to others. They will then feel safe enough to come to us.
  • Pray regularly for the light of Christ’s Spirit within you. You will be approachable when you radiate his life and light to others.
  • Be quiet. When others open up their grief, do not be distracting or destructive. As I like to say, Job’s friends got it right for the first seven days, when they simply sat with Job in his grief. It’s when they opened their mouths that things got ugly.
  • Figuratively (and prayerfully) set the cross between you and the person who is confessing. They will then receive divine love and not just human emotion.
  • Pray for the person. Do not just counsel them. Pray for healing of wounds.

As I noted earlier, this formative verse on confession reached me early in my spiritual life:
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NRSV)
We cannot lead others spiritually unless we follow the model of our Lord, who laid his life before His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Mark 15).  As Foster says, “The discipline of confession brings an end to pretense.” May we be honest with our sins and shortcomings, and be living witnesses of confession, healing, forgiveness, transformation and wholeness. When the work of the Cross is made manifest, you are then free to truly shepherd others.


Additional resources

To get started on the journey of confession and healing for yourself, a few books I would recommend are:
Originally posted here, October 2012

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines Series: Guidance

Not too many more of these left... here's the tenth article in my series, first published in 2012. There is a reference near the end of the articles that references the upcoming presidential election. Here we are again!

These articles were targeted initially to those who work with youth, but spiritual disciplines are necessary for everyone.

Whenever I am interviewing potential volunteers for youth ministry, I tell them a story from my early years as a way to illustrate how their decision-making processes affect their involvement in youth ministry. It goes like this:

In my second year of vocational youth ministry, I was interviewing a student at a local college who had expressed interest in volunteering. I’ll call her Kristin (not her real name.) She was a pre-med student, very earnest and energetic. One of my first questions in my interviews was some form of “What prompted you to contact us?” and she launched into an enthusiastic description of how God clearly revealed to her that serving with us was His will for her life! I didn’t need to hear any more. I believed that anyone with such conviction would be an outstanding addition to our team. She agreed to the year-long commitment with no qualms whatsoever.

After I accepted Kristin as a volunteer, I gave her our schedule of training and meetings for the year. She dove right in to relationships with students, and brought a lot of fun and energy to our weekly meetings with youth. This worked great for about six months; then Kristin started missing a meeting here and there. She was still involved, but I felt her initial urgency had waned. So I scheduled an appointment with her to see how she was doing, assuming her studies were proving to be more challenging than she anticipated.

After hearing about the “amazing” things she was learning in her classes, the conversation turned to her wavering interest with us. 

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” she said, with no real hesitation. She looked me straight in the eye and went on to describe to me that God had revealed to her that His will for her had changed, and that she needed to quit volunteering with us! The look on my face said it all.
When I recovered slightly I said, “But I thought it was ‘God’s will’ for you to serve with us?” She nodded and said simply that things had changed. I asked her how she had discerned this. She said she had been praying about it, and when she asked her friends for their opinion, they all agreed with her that God had told her His will for her had changed. I replied bluntly, “Well, my God would not tell you do to that.”

I said this mostly to get her attention. What I meant was that God wants us to be covenant people who do not flippantly agree to anything without intending to follow through. I went on to ask her to not try to spiritualize her way out of this by saying she prayed about it.

Harsh, I know! But perhaps you can sympathize. My point was (and still is) not that people are not allowed to change their minds. But to throw God under the bus and blame it on Him was just too much to take! I use the story to emphasize to volunteers that this decision is a significant one and to not make it lightly.

I pray I do not sound too cynical. I would not be writing these monthly articles on the spiritual disciplines if I did not believe with my entire being that God created us for intimacy with Himself; I do not doubt that we can hear God’s leading in our lives and gain confirmation in His calling.
In Richard Foster’s study guide written to accompany The Celebration of Discipline, he writes these powerful words regarding this month’s spiritual discipline, that of Guidance:
Guidance is the most radical of the Disciplines because it goes to the heart of this matter of walking with God. Guidance means the glorious life of hearing God’s voice and obeying His word.
That brings me to huge questions that I encounter every day with students, leaders – heck, myself!
  • How can I know God’s will for my life?
  • How will I know if I am called to do this?
  • What is the “right” decision?
  • Can I ever say that God “told” me something?

Over the years I have found many of us Christians to be far too sloppy with proclamations about what God has “told” us, or how a particular crisis was “God’s will.” Nevertheless, the appropriate response to clumsy theology is not to avoid the issues of His calling and will entirely. Rather, we can practice the spiritual disciplines I’ve written about in these past several months in order to cultivate a sense of the Spirit’s leading. Foster coaches us further in telling us that it is through collective practice with fellow believers in these disciplines that guidance proves to be the most relevant and present in our daily lives.

What does it mean to see for God’s guidance collectively? Isn’t that what Kristin did in my illustration? After all, she prayed about her decision and then consulted her friends. Foster’s book has outstanding insights on this process of discernment, and is emphatic about the corporate dimensions of this spiritual practice.

Foster references several wonderful passages from both the Old and New Testaments of believers learning to be led by God’s Spirit. He especially gives some crucial elements from Acts 13, where the early believers had been together for an extended period of time and used the disciplines of prayer, worship, and fasting to determine that Paul and Barnabas were to be sent out as missionaries. Other examples that he uses from scripture and church history are equally powerful.

My goal in these columns is to specifically address how these classic spiritual disciplines can be applied in youth ministry. Looking back, I am rather shocked at the level and amount of decisions regarding ministry that I was given at a young age. I lacked the insight and experience to discern what to do in so many situations, and I am grateful that I survived most of them rather unscathed, though not without significant impacts at times.

What I wish I had known in these early years was where to go when I needed to make some of these big decisions. Sadly, often I just told myself that I should already “know what to do,” and after a quick prayer and perhaps a scan over a few verses I found through using my concordance, I would fumble through and make a decision.

Over the years I have discovered much better ways to pursue the guidance needed to live out a soul-filled life of faith, fulfilling my calling to leadership and spiritual formation. Here are two things to think about.

My default answer has become “I don’t know” rather than “yes.”

As we are told by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding our vows,  But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” (Matthew 5:37) As I attempted to describe in my opening illustration, I have come to recognize the importance of commitments in many new ways since embarking on the path of vocational youth ministry. In other words, I must see every decision as a “vow,” and weigh my options seriously. Rather than readily say yes to everything out of enthusiasm and a desire to not “miss out” on every opportunity that comes my way, I have learned to wait as long as it takes before saying yes or no. And when I do say "yes" to something, I better have said "no" to several other things in order to fulfill my commitment.

This has been especially important as my roles have enlarged. I can tend to be overly responsible and feel I have to make a lot of decisions, often when I’m not ready. I also can measure the success of my day by how many things I have checked off my never-ending to-do lists. I have learned the hard way to not give in to my need to achieve, and be at peace about the decisions I make. I have learned how to seek the wise counsel of supervisors, pastors, spiritual directors, counselors, and experienced practitioners in youth ministry. In other words, learn how to ask for help quickly, and often.

Understand the power of accountable relationships.

In my church tradition (the Free Methodist Church) we spend a great deal of time and energy learning from John Wesley. He and his brother Charles, along with George Whitefield, gave leadership to the remarkable revivals through England in the 18th century. While they were renowned for their revolutionary open-air preaching style, many would say that true transformation came through their serious approach to accountability through small groups. There is not room to explore that fully here, but this is the context in which I believe the spiritual discipline of guidance is experienced most powerfully with others. Their small groups (known as “bands”) started with one simple question each week: “How is it with your soul?” From there, as trust grew among members, they explored other profound accountability questions. (Go here for ideas on how to build small groups like these.) It is imperative that you have this sort of support and accountability if you are to live a sustainable life of faith and service.

As we approach this presidential election, pundits are expecting the race to be close. Amazingly, the winner may emerge (as has been the case in previous years) with only a 51% majority. This should not be the case with believers when it comes to the decisions and commitments of our lives. To paraphrase Richard Foster,
Believers have dared to live on the basis of Spirit-rule; no 51% vote, no compromises, but Spirit-directed unity. It works.
May we learn to not go it alone in our service and leadership. Pray to God for direction on how to lead out of Spirit-filled guidance.

The original article was published here.