The ARK 2013: Fast Forward

This past weekend was our ARK Retreat, which is an event that I have written about before. Once again, it was a weekend that required a lot of planning, and once again, all the planning was worth it. We had teens from six different congregations represented, and it was a great time of studying God’s Word, building relationships, and having a lot of fun.

This year our retreat theme was Fast Forward from Hashtag Media, and on the whole I was a big fan of it. In years past, I felt like we tended to have a bunch of good lessons, but that sometimes they were lacking in practicality: how should the teens use the lessons they had learned to make an impact in their lives? Sometimes we didn’t do a great job of emphasizing this aspect, and as a result, the lessons were less helpful than they could have been.

The Fast Forward theme was different. The entire weekend was based on the concept that there are things Jesus has already done, and as a result of Jesus’ completed work, there are certain things we are called to do as Christians. The four lessons (Jesus Created, I Will Create; Jesus Built, I Will Build; Jesus Forgave, I Will Forgive; Jesus Rose, I Will Rise) were all highly practical, and included specific times for reflection and discussion on how to apply the material to the lives of the students. Hopefully this will lead to effects that are longer-lasting than the retreat weekend itself.

It was a great weekend and a great theme! If you’re looking for material for a retreat or a summer camp, I would definitely recommend it!


People Are Watching You…And That’s A Good Thing

Yesterday I was job shadowed by one of my youth group kids. We had a good time hanging out and I got to show him the random and assorted activities that make up my day as a youth minister/associate minister/graduate student.

It was somewhat of a different experience for me, as I was very consciously aware that there was someone watching to see what I did and to act accordingly (as part of his responsibilities for the day, he was supposed to dress similarly to me and take part in my activities throughout the day). Altogether, our time together served as a helpful reminder: although we are not always aware of it, there are always people watching us, and our behavior and actions will have an influence on people either for good or bad.

A lot of people don’t like the idea that people are watching them or looking up to them. Several years ago basketball star Charles Barkley famously declared that he wasn’t a role model, largely because he  didn’t like the feeling of responsibility that came with having thousands of kids looking up to him. He didn’t want to have to raise the standards of his behavior or refrain from acting in certain ways (a lot of other athletes have since echoed similar ideas).

For Christians though, this shouldn’t be a frightening realization so much as it should serve as motivation. It reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.1: 
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
As Christians, if we are people of integrity and dedication, we should be able to invite people to do the same thing: follow our examples because we are following the example of Christ. People don’t follow our examples because we are so good in and of ourselves, but because our lives help to point them to the One who is good. It is a high standard to live up to, but it is the life we have been called to lead.

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Life’s Busyness and God’s Peace

Yesterday and today have been a couple of particularly busy days in what seems like an unending stream of busy days.

In addition to my regular Friday duties (working on getting the bulletin published, preparing for Bible class on Sunday), there is a lot going on right now which is combining to stress me out:
  • This weekend I have the opportunity to teach and speak at a youth rally. That’s great, but it means preparing two lessons and the accompanying presentations to go with them.
  • Since I’m taking my youth group to the aforementioned youth rally, that also means making all the preparations necessary before leaving on a trip.
  • I have a lot of reading to do for my grad school class. I always seem to have a lot of reading for grad school, and it is one of the first things that gets squeezed out when I have other tasks to accomplish.
  • Next weekend is the Ark Retreat, a combined youth retreat with several area churches, and one of our big spring events. It’s always a lot of fun, but demands a lot of planning ahead of time.
  • The weekend after the Ark is our church’s Day of Service and Friends & Family Day—a great weekend, but a busy one that requires a lot of work beforehand from me.
  • The weekend after that is our youth group Camping & Canoe Trip—more fun, and more planning as well.
  • The weekend after that will be our Graduation Banquet at church for our High School kids. More fun and fellowship, more busyness.
  • Somewhere during the time span I have just referred to, I have two papers due for grad school and a final exam to take as well!
  • What about the stuff going on in our broken world? Bombs and shootouts in Boston? Deadly explosions at fertilizer factories in Texas?
  • And, to be honest, all of this is overshadowed somewhat by the constant concern I have for my little girl, who continues to have seizures and deal with the daily realities of congenital muscular dystrophy. Daily realities which are physically and emotionally draining.

Sometimes, when I’m really, really busy, I remember the benefits of taking a deep breath, slowing down, and remembering that God does not call me to a life of frantic, breathless activity.

I love the words from the hymn penned by Edward H. Bickersteth:

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark word of sin:
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed:
To do the will of Jesus this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round:
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus calls us to heav’n’s perfect peace.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. I am seeking perfect peace today, and wishing it for you as well.

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Historical World Cultures + Christianity

A good quotation on the interaction of Christianity with the dominate cultures of Western Civilization from Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate:

“When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when they Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.”


Don’t Be A Know-It-All!

People tend to dislike know-it-alls. It’s bad enough to be around people who are extremely intelligent and knowledgable and arrogantly let you know that all the time—it’s even worse to be around someone who acts like they are extremely knowledgable when in reality they are clueless. Being around people like this is one of my pet peeves.

Four brief stories on this topic:

The first story is youth ministry-related. Going back to my summer interning days, I have now been in youth ministry for over 10 years now (yikes!). In that time I have learned a lot, but I still have a lot left to learn. One time a couple of years ago, I was chatting with a college youth ministry student online, and he asked me to describe how I felt about my job. I remember I was dealing with some frustrating issues at the time, and so I told him that while youth ministry was very rewarding, it was also difficult and challenging at times to watch teens who you had poured yourself into make poor decisions which could potentially derail their entire lives. 

This particular youth ministry student (who I think was a freshman at the time), proceeded to lecture me, basically saying that I should just love my teens rather than being disappointed by their poor decisions (as if these two things were mutually exclusive) and suggesting that I just wasn’t quite committed enough.

It was an annoying conversation, but one which gained a lot of comic value when I learned later on that this youth ministry student ended up changing his major…

The second story centers on an interaction between two guys I knew well in college. One guy was complaining to the other about his classes—how boring they were and how he struggled to make himself sit through class and listen to his teachers. 

“What’s so special about them [his teachers] that I should have to listen to and respect what they say?” he asked. 

The second guy couldn’t believe his ears. “Are you kidding me? Your teachers deserve your respect because they went to school for years and years and studied for hours and hours to accumulate the knowledge they are sharing with you in class! Who are you to think you can’t learn from them?”

As you can probably tell from the interaction, the first guy was pretty full of himself, while the second guy was one of the humblest guys I’ve ever known. As it turned out, the first guy struggled through college, bounced around from job to job, and honestly, I have no idea what he’s doing now. Meanwhile the second guy went on to earn his Ph.D. and is now a college professor.

The third story comes from Monday night, when I had the privilege of hearing Jimmy Allen speak at a gospel meeting. If you are unfamiliar with Jimmy Allen, he is a long-time preacher, teacher and Bible scholar whose life has greatly influenced untold thousands of people. He’s now in his eighties, and on Monday night, he discussed how he needed to study the Bible more because there were some topics he just didn’t understand.

And the fourth story comes from yesterday afternoon. I am in Bethesda, Maryland this week at the National Institutes of Health for consultations and evaluations for my daughter Kinsley, who has a rare form of congenital muscular dystrophy. Yesterday we got to meet with a world-class pediatric neurologist and neurological researcher who is so respected that he was repeatedly referred to as a “rock star” by other doctors we met with. He was able to give us some new information and insight that no one else has had, but he was also very upfront about telling us the things he did not know and could not predict.

Pulling all of these random stories together, here are the summary points of this post:
(1) Know-it-alls drive me crazy (see stories 1 and 2), and because of that, I try hard not to be one myself.
(2) A big part of not being a know-it-all is being upfront about the things you don’t know (3, 4).
(3) Even in those areas where you do know a lot, there’s always more to learn (3).
(4) Humble people tend to be impressive, and impressive people tend to be humble. I think the two are inherently related (2, 3, and 4).


Reading and Walking

I have to read a lot for grad school, and sometimes my reading assignments stack up to the point that I have to spend hours and hours reading in a given day. Sometimes this can be hard to do, because the reading is occasionally not the most interesting material in the world, and if I read while sitting back in my chair or laying down, it’s easy to fall asleep. 

So recently, I have come upon what seems to be a great solution: I walk laps in the church auditorium while doing my reading. So far, I have noticed at least three benefits:
  • Since I’m walking while reading, it’s pretty difficult to fall asleep. Along the same lines, it’s easy for me to read for longer periods of time this way.
  • Spending my reading time in the auditorium rather than the office tends to minimize distractions (the temptation of having my computer nearby, phone interruptions, questions, etc.).
  • I get exercise while being at work!
The last point is perhaps more significant than I originally thought. Yesterday I had quite a bit of reading to do, and ended up walking 190 laps around the church auditorium. I also paced off the distance of one lap, and determined that it comes out to about 74 yards. When I did the math, I was surprised (but pleased) to discover that I had walked almost 8 miles!

I am excited about this and hope to make it a habit, at least for those times when I have a lot of reading to do (not all activities can be done well while walking laps). I need to start wearing better shoes to work though!


Churches and Lifesaving Stations

Pea Island Life-Saving Station crew, 1896. Photographer unknown.
A cautionary parable from Managing the Congregation: Building Effective Systems to Serve People, by Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser, pp. 78-79:
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought of themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew. 
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beatiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. 
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members instisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving stations down the coast. They did. 
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!
Churches would do well to consider what happens when they lose their sense of purpose. Without a purpose and reason for existence, churches become nothing more than social clubs.

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