Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers

Yesterday I finished reading the very excellent little book 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers by Walt Mueller, founder of the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding. Walt does a tremendous job of offering insights that are not just cute statements but nuggets of truth filled with and grounded on solid theology. It's a MUST-HAVE for every parent (whether your child is already a teenager or not). Click on the 10% Off Coupon at top of this blog to purchase the book at Simply Youth Ministry. Stick it in your bathroom (that's what I do ... seriously!), put it on your nightstand (that's what my wife does), throw it in your car to read while you're sitting waiting for your kids to finish soccer practice, whatever. Invest in yourself as a parent! Below are a few samples from the book.

I will never forget the overwhelming wonder and amazing joy I felt when my first child (and all three since) was born. “I’m not worthy! What did I do to deserve this?” is what I cried out to God in gratitude for this great gift. Shortly thereafter, our daughter became a teenager. During my weaker moments, the challenges, confrontations, and difficulties sometimes left me asking God, “What have I done to deserve this?” Then I was reminded of Solomon’s wise and truthful words: Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior’s f istful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children! (Psalm 127:3-5 The Message). Whether God graces you with easy parenting times or strengthens you during difficult parenting times, those children God gave you were gifts on the day they were born—and that hasn’t changed! They still are.

It helped us to view our teenagers as people stuck in an earthquake—the earthquake known as adolescence. Think about it. The teen years arrive swiftly, pass rather quickly, and radically alter the landscape of a child’s life. And just like real- life earthquakes, the earthquake of adolescence leaves its victims feeling all kinds of stress. They are juggling physical growth, new sexual urges, changing relationships, a host of new pressures, the quest for finding answers to a multitude of questions, and the desire to belong. Next time you’re ready to throw in the parenting towel, picture your teenager struggling to live through the onset and aftermath of an earthquake. They need you now more than ever!

How easy it would be if adolescence were an overnight phenomena. But the process of moving from childhood to adulthood takes time. In today’s world, the assumption that the adolescent years cease and a teenager becomes an adult at the age of 18 is no longer valid. New discoveries regarding the biochemistry and physiology of the human brain, along with a host of cultural forces (later marriage, extended college education, massive debt, living at home, delayed maturity) have fueled things like extended adolescence and emerging adulthood. Both are nice-sounding terms that when translated simply mean that our children are taking longer to grow up. Some are even wondering if adolescence extends to the age of 30! This process can be grueling and frustrating for those parents who desperately want to see their teenagers make good choices on the road to adulthood and arrive at the destination sooner rather than later. The tables turn, and we become the ones asking over and over, “Are we there yet?!?” Remember, God is at work and the process may take some time. Be patient!

A great amount of parental guilt has been fueled by taking the words of Proverbs 22:6 as a promise: Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. The first half of that Proverb includes an imperative that we must follow. The responsibility we have to nurture our children in the faith is non-negotiable. But the result mentioned in the second half isn’t, as we tend to think, a guarantee. Rather, it’s a general statement about the way things may end up. The reality is that history and the world around us—maybe even the world in our own home—is filled with examples of wonderful, committed, diligent God-honoring parents whose first priority in life has been to train up their children in the way they should go, only to see some of those children choose to go in the opposite direction. The first father we read about in the Bible—God, the perfect Father—saw his first two children, Adam and Eve, rebel. There are many families where good parents have raised multiple children, some who have chosen the narrow path that leads to life, and others who have eagerly pursued the wider road that leads to destruction. What we can’t forget is that ultimately, God’s Spirit is the one responsible for bringing about the change in our children’s hearts. We have no clue when that change may come. Our duty is to remain faithful and obedient in our calling as followers of Jesus who have been charged with the task of nurturing our children in the faith—regardless of their response to our efforts at any given point in time. And just as God continues to love his rebellious children, we need to do the same.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reach Out Don't Freak Out!

Joshua is only in 6th grade, but he already gets it. He understands that the good news of Jesus is not something to be selfishly hoarded, but generously shared with others. A few weeks ago he arrived at our middle school program with three of his friends from school. The next week he invited those three back and more. His dad was so excited and supportive of his passion that he crammed Joshua and six other kids into the car and got them all here where they have been having a blast and hearing the gospel.

Joshua's passion for the lost is exciting. Wanting to encourage and equip him, a few weeks ago I gave him Greg Stier's new book Reach Out Don't Freak Out - a 30-Day devotional for students to motivate them with practical tips for sharing their faith. As he was reading it, God really deepened his understanding and gave him the boldness to do what he did. When I asked him how the book has helped him, Joshua replied, "I learned how to start spiritual conversations with my friends and ask them questions about God."

If you are looking for simple, practical way to help your students be more effective in reaching their friends for Christ, use the 10% Off Coupon on the top of my page to purchase the book at Simply Youth Ministry. It's listed under "Books for Students" or you can search for it by title: "Reach Out Student Devotional."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Abbot's Tooth

Here's how my best friend Ryan Swain helps his kid pull his tooth out. By the way, did I mention he's a real dentist? LOL

The Future of Evangelicalism: A Twenty-Something’s Perspective

An interesting and well articulated summary of the tension many young people in the church are feeling today; their aching desire for a respectful, honest, gracious conversation involving members from all parts of God's big family pursuing truth and a spirit of love. Is their desire a utopian fantasy or a hopeful possibility? The Future of Evangelicalism: A Twenty-Something’s Perspective

Simply Youth Ministry Podcast

If you want a youth ministry resource that you can watch weekly, the Simply Youth Ministry Podcast with Doug Fields is super fun with some good tips along the way. If you work with Jr. High, also check out Kurt Johnston's Simply Jr. High Podcast Subscribe to their Podcast on iTunes and you can download right onto your iPod and watch or listen any time. Have fun!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Small Groups ARE Making a Big Difference

Received this hopeful and exciting message from one of our middle school small group leaders yesterday:

"So one of the kids in my small group shared the gospel with one of his friends at school. His friend is now thinking of accepting the Lord and supposedly coming Sunday for service. Pleased that the message is getting through as crazy and as loud as my group may be at times."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Poll: When do you have a regular devotional time with God?

Church: Why Bother?

Today was my day off and I enjoyed finishing up Surrendered and Untamed by Jason Clark and also read the short little book Church: Why Bother? by Philip Yancey. A very good book. Highly recommended. Here's Yancey's description of the book:

This short book addresses a question that seems more and more widespread. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m spiritual but not religious”? Churches are morphing into new forms–emergent churches, shopping mall churches, megachurches–yet surveys show that an increasing number of believers are opting out altogether. Is involvement with a local church really that important?

I describe my own checkered history with the church (I sometimes joke that I’m “in recovery” from my childhood church), toy with some images of the ideal church, and ponder why the New Testament seems to place so much value on such a motley assembly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Surrendered & Untamed

Eighteen years ago, in August 1993, I opened the door and walked into my first college dorm room and embarked on my Bible college experience. The number one memory of that first day was meeting the most beautiful woman I had ever seen who would 3-years later become my wife (and, yep, she's still married to me). A distant second was meeting my two roommates Doug Cowburn and Jason Clark.

In addition to our studies, each of us had to work our way through school. Having no transportation I got the prized job as Lead Dish-Washer in the cafeteria. Actually, it was just plain old Dish Washer. The "Lead" part just sounded so much cooler.

Doug had a car and consequently the sweetest gig. He worked at Pizza Hut. When I say a sweet gig, I mean it was a sweet gig for Jason and me because each night Doug would bring us leftovers. When you're living on a steady diet of Ramen Noodles, leftover Pizza Hut is like filet mignon. When Doug got home from work, our room would fill with the aroma of pizza and breadsticks.

When  Jason got home from work our room - check that, the entire building would be taken over by a different smell - the smell of gas. No, I'm not talking about the gas smells that fill typical male college dorm halls. Jason got a smelly gig as a gas station attendant in town. It only took about a week before there was an official petition and poor Jason had to start taking off his clothes outside and get hosed down before coming into the dorm. Did I mention this was in the winter; in the typical 10-feet of lake-effect snow of western New York? OK, I'm exaggerating - about the hosing down, not the snow.

On to the point. I recently found out through the beauty of Facebook that Jason had written a book called Surrendered and Untamed and he asked if I would give it a read and review it. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I was thinking of some killer payback for the pranks he played on me that freshman year. Oh, wait, I was the one playing the pranks. Never mind.

The book was a great read with even better content. Jason is a man who has devoted his life to passionately pursuing Jesus with reckless abandon. Anyone who has received a promise from God knows that there are days, seasons, years when you wonder if you heard God correctly. Why? Because we look around and don't see the promises being fulfilled; at least they don't appear to be. Jason opens the book talking about his experience as a gas station attendant (thus my opening reminiscing) along with other experiences during which He was questioning God. He doesn't use this language, but I would say he describes what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.

An incredible story-teller with a real gift for creating word-pictures, Jason takes us on a fascinating journey through his years of personally questioning and discovering God, and shares the life-changing insights into the heart of God that he has learned, and is learning, along the way. As I was reading I kept thinking, Man, Jason sounds like one of my favorite authors, Erwin McManus - they are singing songs on the same album which our generation needs to be listening to. (My suspicions were finally confirmed on p. 101.) His call to a lifestyle of surrendered and untamed worship to God is one that our generation is desperate to hear. Jason's voice is added to the call of those of us who want to see a generation rise up and see the world as God sees it and respond in ways that honor Him. The apathy is dissipating and passion is rising because people like Clark are setting forth God's vision and sounding the alarm that it's time for the sleeping giant of the Church to start living in the promises of God, not for selfish gain, but to see the values of the Kingdom of God experientially lived out on earth as they are in heaven.

I also got to see a preview of the DVD which follows South African explorer Alex Harris to the South Pole and hosted by Mark Batterson. Fantastic! Totally worth obtaining for personal or group study with the accompanying Participant's Guide by the same title.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baby Scared by Mom Blowing Her Nose

How People Change

"Nothing is more obvious than the need for change. Nothing is less obvious than what needs to change and how that change happens," say Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp in their book How People Change which I have just finished reading. I came upon the book at the recommendation of a friend as I was searching for a resource to help someone who is trying to work through some issues in her life. After selecting the book, browsing through it, and giving it to the person who was seeking guidance, I also decided to pick up a copy and read it myself.

It was a good book offering a biblical foundation and approach to life change. It would be a very beneficial for anyone who desires to understand and apply principles for godly change in their life. It would also be good content if you need something to walk a person through any kind of restorative process. My only real critique is that it felt a bit long at times, and my biggest desire is that they would offer it in more of a workbook format. There are chapters filled with good questions and it makes sense that there would be space provided to interact with the material.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grew the Hair Back Out!

After a year of being bald, I decided it was time to grow my hair back out, so I went all the way to the mullet! Hey, it worked for Samson. LOL!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Student Leadership Conference 2011

A tremendous student leadership conference hosted by Doug Fields at Azusa Pacific University featuring UFC fighter Mark Munoz, Jim Burns, Megan Hutchinson, Josh Griffin, Matt McGill, Neely McQueen, Kenny Luck (author of the Every Man Series)…and many others!. Click here for details.

"Heaven" by Gungor


I don't know what you've been told
But heaven is comin' down to the world
Oh, I don't know what you've been told
But heaven is comin' down to the world

Oh, heaven, heaven is comin' down

Heaven, heaven is all around

One Word: AMEN!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Virginia Trip Pics

Bob & Maxine (Grandma & Grandpa) with their five children: Susan, Kevin, Mary, Patty & Darren.

This past weekend we drove down to Virginia to surprise my Grandpa Mahaffy for his 80th birthday and my Grandma who was celebrating her 78th. All five of their children were there, and most of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What a joy for them to be surrounded by all of their family - all of whom are serving the Lord. It was a wonderful time of celebration. On our way back home to New York we met up with my sister April and Ady's brother Lalo (April & Lalo are married to one another. If you're reading this for the first time, take a minute - it's NOT incest! lol) in Baltimore. They were on their way home to Virginia after going on a cruise out of New York City. Good to see them briefly as well. We thank God for a safe trip and the joy of being with family.

Grandma & Grandpa with a majority of their grands and great-grands.

Me - Grandma Grandpa's oldest grandchild (almost 35) and Emma - their youngest (6-years-old).

Our family - my daughters with their great-grandparents.

Me with my younger brother Ben and my dad Kevin Sr.

My daughters with my parents. Yes, she's really MY mom. lol!

Ady & the girls with April & Lalo.

Ady & her brother Lalo. Me my sister April. 
Ady was the match-maker who got them together. Interestingly, they walked down the aisle together in our wedding in 1996 when they were teenagers - 7+ years before they began dating and eventually married.

See the full album here.

Abolish Youth Groups?

In his documentary “Divided,” young filmmaker Phillip LeClerc asks a question that is prompting theological controversy across the board: “Is age-segregated ministry multiplying or dividing the Church?”

Divided from NCFIC on Vimeo.

Bothered by his generation’s tendency to leave the Church in adolescence, LeClerc interviews teens, theologians, pastors and youth ministers throughout the country to find answers.

He concludes that, because there is no direct example of age-segregated church practices found in Scripture, youth groups and Sunday school should ultimately be abolished. Some find this ... Read the full article by Katie Skero here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Issues in Youth Ministry

Hey youth workers! I am working with some youth pastor friends to come up with a list of a wide variety of youth ministry topics that we wrestle with that have two distinct approaches. For example:
  • Should we keep Jr. & Sr. High together or separate them?
  • Should we have separate worship services for students, or should they worship with their families?
  • Should our main approach be small groups or large groups?
  • Should we shut down our programs in the summer or not?
  • Should graduates be allowed to stick around and become leaders, or should they disconnect for a few years?
Would you be willing to throw some topics on the table that you struggle with, think about, have experimented with? I would so appreciate your input! Thanks!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

God's Story ... A Painting & Narrative

Scotty Smith’s Narrative about God’s Story (September 2007)

Four years ago, in October 2003, David Arms and I met at the Green Hills Starbucks to collaborate over coffee. I had a gnawing longing, and I was convinced David had the art and the heart to make this longing a reality. I had just one not-so-simple request. I ached for someone to capture on canvas the Story from which all stories come… God’s Story, as it progressively unfolds in the Bible, history and in broken hearts.

To say I was stunned when I walked into David’s studio and saw the completed piece for the first time would not do justice to what I felt. Overwhelmed by beauty, I rejoiced in David’s capacity to capture the glory of the most wonder-full story in the world. But as I continue to study the painting as a whole, and every little detail prayed and brushed onto the canvas, I experience the full range of emotions God’s Story calls forth in the hearts of those who enter it. Both David and I hope this will be your experience as well.

God’s Story comes to us as a redemptive drama in four parts.

  1. Creation—when everything was as God meant it to be.
  2. Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.
  3. Redemption—God’s astonishing promise to redeem his fallen image-bearers and creation through the grace-full work of his Son, Jesus Christ.
  4. Consummation—the magnificent fulfillment of God’s plan to gather and cherish a people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth.”

Each panel of the painting presents one of the four interrelated parts of God’s Story, and each is replete with well chosen symbols. First you notice that a tree is the predominant image in each panel; each tree is tagged with an identifying word: life, loss, love, and again, life. Why was a tree chosen as the best symbol to tell God’s Story? When God first created mankind, he placed Adam and Eve in a garden paradise, called Eden. In the middle of the Garden was the tree of life, a clear statement and celebration of the fact that God is so very good and generous. It is from God that we receive life and it is from him that all blessings flow. However, the tree of life wasn’t placed in the center of the Garden just as a reminder of the goodness of God, but also of the “godness” of God. God is God, and we are not! The tree of life calls us to great gratitude and great humility.

Panel 1
Thus, in the first panel, depicting Creation, we see the tree of life standing tall and verdant. To the left David has painted three Black-capped Chickadees, whose cheerful disposition and life-giving call represent Adam and Eve, and all of creation, singing God’s praise. The pristine wonder of the beauty, truth and goodness of the first heaven and first earth compelled such a full-hearted full-voiced response. The prominent bright red apple in the upper right corner represents both God’s gracious provision and the loving prohibition he placed on Adam and Eve. As his trusted stewards and beloved image bearers, the first man and first woman were free to eat from the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Though the Bible never says the fruit of this tree was an apple, this notion became well-established legend. Whatever the fruit, death was the promised consequence for violating God’s boundary and clear warning. Listening to the enticing lies of the serpent, Eve and Adam chose to disregard God’s will, and the result was catastrophic. Sin and death entered their hearts and every sphere of God’s creation. As a result of the Fall, nothing remained as it was meant to be. Everything and everyone was broken. The first couple, who lived in shameless nakedness before God and one another, was now filled with fearful brokenness, perpetual hiddenness and blaming spitefulness.

Panel 2
In the second panel, the haunting ashen hues underscore the polluting, alienating and destructive effects of sin. To depict the tragedy of the Fall, David placed a starkly barren “tree of loss” (note the tag) beneath the level of the tree of life in the first panel. Creation’s clear sky is gone, and now the heavens are heavy with dark clouds. The grating screech of two ravens, perched on the horizon, overtakes the invigorating song of the Chickadees. One of these “life-swallowing” scavengers looks back at the Creation glory lost in the Fall. The other looks ahead, suggesting that the Fall will not be the final chapter in God’s story.

Ravens appear in the Biblical narrative, and the history of literature, in two distinct ways. These ominous black birds are often used as a symbol of death and God’s judgment (Isaiah 34), but ravens also appear in God’s Story as a sign of provision in times of need. The prophet Elijah was miraculously fed by ravens in the wilderness (I Kings 17:1-6). Jesus called his anxious followers to see in ravens an example of God’s faithfulness to care for them, for they are of much greater worth than birds (Luke 12:22-24). The raven looking to the right draws our attention to the third frame.

Panel 3
The same God who brings great judgment also promised to bring an even greater Redemption to the world. In the third panel we see the foundation and first-fruits of this Redemption. Higher in elevation than the tree of loss, the “tree of love” emerges in the visual narrative. This tree is a compelling declaration of God’s irreversible commitment to make all things new through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ. God will not leave his beloved creation and creatures enslaved to sin and death and the comprehensive damage of the Fall. He took upon himself the hard and heart work of Redemption.
This incomparable act of mercy and grace explains the presence of an empty cross at the center of the tree of love. God loved the world so much he gave his only begotten Son, and the Son willingly paid with the currency of his life. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” (Gal. 3:13). Jesus willingly took the judgment we deserve for not loving God and our neighbors as the Law demands. The cross is empty because Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile unloving and lawless people, like me, to God. His death, so grand in its implications, also secured the ultimate renewal of all things.

God did not send Jesus to die on the cross as our substitute as an afterthought; Genesis 3:15 tells us that he planned this Redemption from the beginning. As God’s Story unfolds in the Bible it becomes more clear that the Messiah, the promised deliverer, would bring salvation, not as a great political leader, nor as a powerful king, neither as a religious revolutionary. Rather, he would be revealed as God’s suffering Servant, who would lay down his own life as a sacrifice for the sins of those he came to deliver. Isaiah, one of Israel’s prophets, foretold the Messiah’s great humility and unparalleled sacrifice in these words:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6).

Indeed, what wondrous love is this?

The New Testament unambiguously declares that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. His death on the cross fulfills the promise and hope of Isaiah, and all the prophets. Jesus is the main character in the entire story God is telling, and it is by the sacrifice of his blood that we are made whole and creation will be healed one Day. Notice that David has painted a scarlet thread which binds each of the four panels to one another, emphasizing that the unparalleled sacrifice Jesus made for us is central to the whole story. The scarlet-thread binding also reminds us that God is telling one big story, not four different stories. WE cannot possibly understand any one aspect of God’s Story apart from engaging with the whole glorious drama. Many distortions of the Christian faith result from a failure to do so.

In playful orbit around the tree of love we see three butterflies. These beautiful creatures represent the emergence of new life from death. Through Jesus’ resurrection from death, new-creation life is emerging in the lives of those who know him and in every sphere where he brings his kingdom reign to bear. Those whom Jesus sets free are free indeed, but none of his followers are as free as they will be one Day. This reality is captured by the other central image in the third panel. Positioned above the tree of life is a single egg. As a symbol, the egg holds forth the promise of present life and of greater life to come.

Resurrection life in Jesus is a life of “the already and not yet.” The clouds filling the fallen sky are now lifting in the third panel, but they are not completely gone. Believers already enjoy a measureless trove of treasure in Christ, but not yet do they savor the fullness. As God’s image bearers, echoes of the glory of Eden reverberate in our hearts. We know there was a time when everything was right and nothing was broken.

And as those who enjoy the first-fruits of Redemption, our yearning for what is ahead intensifies. A growing tension between sadness and hope is a mark of our journey home. We “groan inwardly and wait expectantly” because we are pregnant with glory, and birth pains abound. David captures this gradual and groaning ascent home by positioning the tree of love higher in elevation than the tree of loss, but not as high as the tree in the last panel, where once again, we meet the tree of life.

Panel 4
The fourth panel attempts and approaches the impossible – to visually capture Consummation—the completion and eternal wonder of God’s Story, the full beauty and radical implications of the Redemption promised and provided in Jesus Christ. This is why David had to allow the elements in this final panel to spill over beyond its borders. The consummate fulfillment of all of God’s promises cannot be contained in one frame! “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, neither has it even entered into the imagination of man… the things that God has prepared for those who love him!” (1 Cor. 2:9)
In this last panel, David has painted the tree of life much larger than in the first panel and has placed it noticeably higher as well. This powerful image refers to a deep and profound biblical reality. In the last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, we encounter the reappearance of the tree of life, but it’s hardly recognizable as the same tree described in Genesis 2. The message is clear. The Consummation of God’s Story is much grander than its beginning in Creation! In God’s Story, the movement is not back toward the Garden of Eden but forward and toward the new heaven and new earth. The Garden of Eden was just a preview of coming attractions! The beauty of the sky in the new creation world will far surpass that of the first Creation world. This is why the placid blue of the first panel has become a deeper and richer blue in the fourth panel.

A cornucopia of lush fruit also seizes our attention in this panel. Why so much and such grand fruit? The Scriptures promise that the tree of life will offer citizens of the new heaven and new earth a different crop of fruit each month, and the leaves of this life-giving tree won’t just provide shade, but “healing of the nations.” Indeed, the tree of life, as described in Revelation 22, represents the fulfillment of God’s covenant to redeem a people for himself and to restore his broken creation. The sheer enormity and diversity of fruit in the fourth panel invite us to consider the abundance, beauty and adventure God’s people will enjoy forever and ever in the new heaven and new earth.

But who are the people God so graciously redeems? Who will eternally enjoy full access to the presence and presents of the tree of life, and life in the never-to-be-broken-again world? According to the promises of Redemption, God is reconciling to himself, and to one another, a family from every single race, tribe, tongue and people group… from every period of history. War, tribalism, racism, and pettiness will be gone forever, along with death, mourning, crying and pain!

Can you imagine such a rich tapestry of redeemed lives loving each other perfectly and living in unbroken community forever? David has done so by painting three birds you’ve never seen perching or flying together… a Painted Bunting, a Hummingbird and a Goldfinch. The utter brilliance of their feathers signifies the glory each of God’s sons and daughters will manifest when we are finally and fully freed from every semblance of sin, and every effect of the Fall.

This is God’s Story. Even as Jesus is the main character in God’s Story, each of us is freely invited to find our place in this grand narrative of hope. What a privilege, what an honor, what a calling… to live as a character in and a carrier of God’s Story.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gungor on Rob Bell, Dualities, and Meanies

Male/Female. Republican/Democrat. Smoker/Non-smoker. Christian/Non-Christian. Catholic/Protestant. Calvinist/Arminian.

There are so many dualities that we often feel like we have to categorize ourselves into. I wonder if it’s because choosing between two options is, well, simple. If you don’t want women to have abortions, well then you must be a Republican. If you really care about taking care of poor people or the environment, well then you must be a Democrat.

The thing is that there are deeper ways of thinking that don’t get stuck in certain types of either/or dualities. You can be a pro-life person that votes democrat, and you can be a pro-environment person that votes republican. You can love some things that John Calvin taught and not be a Calvinist. You can have problems with the traditional views taught about hell and not be a Universalist. Mature, thinking adults should ... Read the full article here.

Simply Youth Ministry Conference 20-Twelve!

SYMC Louisville Promo from Matthew Wheatley on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Undersized Dunker's Awesome Video

"Hey guys I'm Jacob Tucker and I just finished up my senior year of basketball at Illinois College. This video was made in an attempt to get in the 2011 NCAA dunk contest. I'm 5'11" with a 50 inch running vertical.... I want to send a special thanks to everyone that has helped this grow! This has been incredible!"

Simply Youth Ministry 2011 Pics

The Skit Guys
Josh Griffin & Jake Reutenbar
Doug Fields. 
(Other speakers included Louie Giglio, Rick Lawrence, Ruth Haley Barton, & Glenn Packiam)
Looking down from my floor.
The incredible Gungor "Beautiful Experience (a huge highlight of the weekend!)
My second-cousin Molly & her husband Craig, a youth pastor in New Castle, PA. 
Molly & I hadn't seen each other in 17 years until the conference!
Shane & Shane
My Dad and me. He got to come over for a couple of general sessions. He and Mom live just 2 miles from the conference location in Chicago.
OC Supertones baby! 3 of these guys are youth pastors!
Jason Carson - OC Supertones drummer and fellow-youth pastor
Our Insider Team (I.T.) praying over one of our own who received difficult news from home. That's what it's all about!

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Stay Classy" Music Video

Another hilarious video by my buddy Jake Rutenbar, made for the Simply Youth Ministry Conference 2011.

Stay Classy from arielamaro video on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Impacting Generations of Youth Workers

On Friday night I invited my dad (who lives just 2 miles from our conference location here in Chicago) to come by and enjoy a bit of the conference. I knew Dad, having been a youth pastor in the 1980's, would enjoy meeting several of the youth ministry icons present, many of whom I have come to know as friends. It was so fun introducing him to some of the new faces in youth ministry like Josh Griffin, Matt McGill, Jake Rutenbar, Andy Brazelton - people he's come to know through their YouTube videos, as well as people like Kami Gilmour and the Skit Guys. My favorite was introducing him to people like Doug & Cathy Fields, Duffy Robbins, Rich Van Pelt, Tic Long, and Walt Mueller - people who were pouring into my him when he was a youth pastor in the 1980's.

I just want to extend a huge thank you to those people in particular who have been faithful to God's call for all of these years, and who have reached multiple generations of youth leaders. It was a tremendous privilege to stand there looking at these guys with my own father and to realize that they influenced my dad who influenced me in terms of understanding the value of, importance of, and call to youth ministry. Thank you for decades of faithfulness to the calling!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

An Excellent Book On Revelation

This book title will no doubt turn some heads. I just finished reading the very excellent book called The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. It is a very helpful understanding of the often misunderstood book, addressing the many misconceptions about the end times and the dangerous conclusions that are wrongly formed when the book is misinterpreted. It then offers an interpretation which is seeks to be true to the genre and context of the book and a clearer picture of the deeper, fuller, biblical meaning offered therein. I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated it!

Friday, March 4, 2011

3,000 Youth Workers

3,000 Youth Workers in one location can only mean one thing ... Simply Youth Ministry Conference 2011 in Chicago, IL. I arrived in Chicago yesterday, took the train downtown where I met up with my dad at his office at Moody Bible Institute. We had a nice lunch together, then after he finished work, he drove me to my hotel where I got checked in, caught a brief nap, then joined about 200 people for our conference leadership dinner. Every time I come to these gatherings I know more and more faces and names, and it's so great to be reunited with wonderful youth ministry friends. I've already had several great conversations, and I am glad to be moving beyond just attending to serving. Back in October I was in Colorado for a week of conference dreaming and planning, and arriving yesterday to see so many of our ideas being implemented was invigorating! I had the privilege of writing the pre-conference devotions, and already several people have said how much they appreciated them. I am also serving on several panels during breakout sessions during the next few days. Excited for what God is going to do!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ankle Sprain 2 Days Later

Pretty, ain't it?

The Accidental Anglican

Last week I read a neat little book called The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church by Todd D. Hunter. Hunter is Bishop of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, is the founding pastor of Holy Trinity Church, an Anglican church in Costa Mesa, California, and an adjunct professor of evangelism and postmodern ministry at George Fox University, Fuller Seminary, Western Seminary and Wheaton College. Earlier in his career Todd was President of Alpha USA, Church Planting coach for Allelon Ministries and the National Director for the Association of Vineyard Churches. I was also intrigued to discover that, like me, he holds an M.A. from Regent University.

Hunter's subtitle: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church is what really caught my attention. I have many friends who were raised either Catholic or in liturgical protestant churches and are quite happy to have moved away from such a style of worship, opting for more modern forms. I, however, was raised in typical evangelical churches my entire life, and in the last few years have had the opportunity to discover a bit of liturgy, finding much of it to be very rich. As my friends who came out of liturgical backgrounds to discover the richness of more modern forms of worship, so has been my experience in the other direction.

I believe that this should not be an "either/or" scenario, pitting one style against the other, but a "both/and" one in which the best of both worlds can be experienced and celebrated. The phrase "ancient future" comes to mind - finding roots in the ancient biblical roots and connecting it with our present day practices for a fuller experience. Richard Foster's book Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith does a great job of exploring the best of the various traditions of the Christian faith.

The book is autobiographical and was comprised of Hunt's journey out of evangelicalism per se and into Anglicanism. If you're interested to reading books of people's spiritual pilgrimages, it's a quick and easy read.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nick Young Ridiculous 360 Layup!

A Middle School Top 10

Monday night at PI-678 (our middle school program), I had the students get together in small groups and come up with their Top 10 Characteristics of a Good Friend. After having them share their thoughts I gave a talk on friendships.

The Big Idea was: "I have to be the kind of friend I want."

When I got home I compiled their lists. Here are the Top 10 overall qualities they look for in a friend (in order):

  1. Kind
  2. Respectful
  3. Honest/Truthful
  4. Caring
  5. Trustworthy
  6. Loyal
  7. Encouraging
  8. Common Interests
  9. Helpful
  10. Good Listener