Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep It Fresh

To be honest I've never been that great of a bike racer. I raced for 4 years and had a couple top 5 finishes. Our team did very well and won some races. It was great fun to be a part of a successful team but in reality I was pretty mediocre as a cyclist.

Even though I wasn't winning races I was fit. Saturday mornings would consist of a 3 1/2 hour training ride that was about 70 miles. The ride averaged about 22 mph which is actually pretty fast. When I was training I would ride around 175 miles a week.

That was 2 years ago.

Saturday I went on a group ride with some fast riders. At first I thought it wouldn't be a problem to hang on and enjoy the ride. You see, I haven't really been on a serious ride in about 8 months but something in me believed I still had "it" whatever "it" is.

Within 30 minutes or so I was suffering immensely. I couldn't hang on just because I was in good shape 2 years ago.

Here's the deal. It doesn't matter how fit you WERE. All that matters is how fit you ARE. This is true for bike racing and true for ministry.

Are you ever tempted to lean on how God used you in the past? Are you always telling stories of what God did a few years back but don't have stories about what God is doing now?

I'm not saying we should forget God's faithfulness of the past but if ancient history is what you remember most fondly perhaps it's time to do a serious assessment of your life and ministry in the now. It's often an uphill battle to stay fresh and live in the now. God longs to work in you and through you now, not just in the future or in the past.

So here are a couple of suggestions of how to stay fresh. I hope to apply them to my life soon...

Take a 1 day refreshment retreat

Go to your immediate supervisor and ask for permission to get away for a day to reflect and pray. When I do this I take a book, Bible and pen and paper. Sometimes it's great to go with no agenda. Just sit and listen to God. Take a nap, read or just daydream.

Go to a conference

Ok, you may not learn anything new, but being around people who do what you do is almost always energizing. You may not learn anything new but you may be reminded of something you forgot.

Visit another church

Worshiping in another setting where you have no responsibly is awesome. I need to try this a couple times a year.

I know you have some suggestions of what you do to stay current and fresh. Please post them for all to enjoy.

May we be pastors and leaders who experience the presence and work of Jesus NOW. Let's fight to stay fresh.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jesus in a Prom Dress - Update

So proud of our girls. Here's an update. If you missed the original article you can find it here

The Irving Womens Network highlighted the work that the High School girls have done with the prom dresses.

Here’s the latest count on items donated:

  • Dresses: around 150
  • Jewelry: between 30 and 40 necklaces and around 50 pair of earrings
  • Shoes: about 45 pairs of shoes
  • Purses: 25

Also, many people have donated beautiful mirrors and decorations! Thanks to all of you have generously given to the girls of Irving!

Shelley Lee

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Does God Drink Mountain Dew?

Sometimes you have one of those conversations. Just the other night I was hanging out with a student who is absolutely brilliant. She was struggling with the idea that God is always present. In fact she was even using big words like omnipresent. Pretty impressive huh?

For most of us God's constant presence is a comforting thought. Who wouldn't want a loving, caring compassionate God to always be near? But for my friend the reality of God's constant presence is very confusing.

You see, she's a victim of abuse and can't quite understand how a God who is loving could have been present in the middle of her abuse. She understands God's presence intellectually and theologically but struggles tremendously with her feelings. (doesn't that makes sense?)

She asked a great question, "if God is always present was he even there during my abuse?"

My response? "Where do you think God was?"

In an appropriately angry voice she replied,

"I don't know, maybe sitting in a lounge chair drinking a mountain dew or something?"

It's a raw and honest response.

The whole conversation made we wonder. There are many students in our ministries who are hurting and confused. I want to be careful that I don't over simplify and give antiseptic / simple answers to deep difficult questions.

Yes, Jesus does bring restoration. Yes, he is always present. But struggling through the problem of evil is very complex, especially for those who have experience evil first hand.

As a reminder to us all, let's not over simplify complex issues, especially this issue of evil. Statements like, "life hurts God heals" and "Jesus brings healing" and "all things work together for good" are true but typically come in a long process for people who have been hurt deeply. In fact, those promises only become fully true when we go to heaven.

Jesus has a tremendous amount of compassion for us and our students who have been abused and forgotten. There are no quick fixes, let's not give the impression there are.

For the record, I don't think God enjoys Mountain Dew. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Precious is in Your Youth Group

I watched the movie "Precious" the other night. As you probably know the movie is about a teen girl growing up in New York city. Her entire life has been characterized by physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

Now before you rush out and watch the movie please be aware that there are disturbing scenes of physical and sexual abuse. There's nothing erotic about the scenes but to be honest it was difficult for me to watch.

As in every movie there were points in the movie I shed a tear or two but "Precious" has impacted me in a more profound way than other movies. For 3 days I haven't been able to get "Precious" off my mind.

I've been wondering, are there students I come in contact with that are in similar situations? Sure it may not be as extreme, but isn't there a good chance that if you are like me and work with students, every week we are making eye contact with students who have been neglected and abused?

1 in 3 girls and 1 and 7 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. This means it's very likely that students we are brushing up against every day have experienced abuse. That statistic doesn't even cover other physical and emotional abuse.

So here's what I've been asking myself. How do I see students? Do I simply look at the exterior? What are they wearing? How are they behaving? Or do I take the time to look beneath the surface?

When we come across a student that is difficult to handle and perhaps not that much fun to be around there's a chance there just acting in a way that makes sense. When we encounter a student who seems to have extreme anger issues maybe they're angry because they should be.

You never know, we may be the only source of hope a student has. As youth workers, we could be the first person who has ever really shown a student compassion. That's a really big deal.

So, tonight or this weekend when you're around students, and THAT kid is there, take some time to look beneath the surface. Let's remember that Jesus is in the business of making all things new and even in the toughest situations he can bring restoration. Jesus loved the unlovely, let's keep doing that but even more.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Feel Guilty

To be honest I feel guilty much of the time. I wake up in the morning thinking, "I did that too much", or "I didn't do that enough" or " I was too selfish" or "My words were a little harsh".

Ok, I know. It doesn't seem very healthy does it? Don't worry, after a while I get over it and refocus my attention. My focus slowly turns from thinking about me and my inadequacy to God and his limitless grace.

Here's the point. God delights in his people.

Psalm 149
For the Lord takes delight in his people.

The word delight kind of blew me away this morning. It doesn't say, "the Lord tolerates his people" or "the Lord is constantly frustrated with his people", it says he delights in his people.

He actually enjoys and cherishes us.

It's important to be sensitive to sin in our lives and there's always freedom to repent and be restored, but even in that whole process God's grace and favor is evident.

So join me today as I focus on God's delight in his people. Yes, we delight in him but the feelings are mutual!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jesus in a Prom Dress

This was written by one of our super star volunteer leaders, Mary Pruitt. Shelley is the associate pastor in our youth ministry at Irving Bible Church. She's an incredible leader. I'm so proud of our girls and their leaders.


Shelley first asked several high school leaders if we thought our girls would like to help set up a store for homeless teens to go and be fitted for prom dresses. Of course, we jumped on the chance, because we are always looking for ways to our girls engage with Jesus and serve others. We have amazing girls who love to serve. As Shelley described the project, I realize, this might be the ultimate girl’s service project ever! They get to donate their old dresses, set up a shop and serve all at the same time! We had a brief meeting with the girls and sent out Facebook messages as reminders. The girls showed up with old prom and banquet dresses, shoes and even a few decorations for the shop.

The shop is located in an old antique shop in downtown Irving. The space is lined with empty individual rooms; the prom dress room is located at the front of the store. When we arrived, the room was empty except for two racks, an empty jewelry case and a chair. When we left, the racks where filled with dresses, we had an area to display shoes, the walls were brightly decorated, and a mannequin in a beautiful gown was set up in the front window.

While we were setting up, we went to the back of the space to locate items for the prom room, and we passed other empty rooms. Shelley explained to me they were going to make one a room for baby clothes, so the homeless teenage mothers could shop for clothes for their children. There was a room that was devoted to young men. Another area would be for the teenage girls to shop for everyday clothes. Passing the empty rooms, Shelley and I discussed bringing the girls back to help set up more rooms.

We didn’t even have to convince the girls that our work there wasn’t done. Before we left, we had all caught a vision for what our roll might be. Several girls were talking about things they had at home to add to the prom room, and all agreed we should return to help again. Not only did our girls set up the room, they prayed for the girls who would be receiving the dresses and entering the shops. They prayed they would feel beautiful and they would feel the love of Jesus. They prayed for hope. I love them! And I love how Jesus works in us and through us, exactly as we are…even if we are 16 year old high school girls who most of the time think about ourselves AND even if we are 30 year old leaders who most the of time think about ourselves…I love Him!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Is Accountability a Dirty Word? Part 2

Most don't naturally run towards accountability, they run away. Think about it, why would anyone want people looking at the deepest areas of life? When you have honest vulnerability you often lose control when you let someone else into the struggle. They may question what you don't want questioned. There can be friction. I believe that's why it's called "iron sharpening iron".

After the last blog someone questioned whether or not accountability was Biblical. I'm not sure the word is in the Bible but the concept is definitely all throughout the scripture. For example, confessing your sins one to another is very Biblical. The Romans 12 description of the body and how we all belong to each other, gives us sense in which not only do we have permission to poke around in each others lives, we have a responsibility to.

Again, because of the seduction of my flesh I'm not sure how I would do without having space in my life for others to honestly help me in my struggle and failure.

Here are few lessons I've learned along the way in regards to my accountability relationships. I hope this will challenge and motivate you to find people with which you can be totally transparent.

Make sure you're ready to be vulnerable.

My experience has been that most are not ready to let people into their lives. We may say we're ready and we may let people in part way but for these relationships to have greatest impact we have to be totally vulnerable. That means no secrets. Are you ready?

To be really honest sometimes I'm ready and sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I'm totally honest and vulnerable, sometimes I share just enough to get off the hook. If you're afraid to share struggle with others ask God to give you the courage you need. He'll give you what you need but you will continually need his help in this area.

Choose Wisely

This can be a long process. When I first moved to Dallas I began to pray that God would raise up a couple of guys with whom I could be vulnerable. For the first time in my life I'm hanging with a couple of guys who are a little younger than I am. (At least I look younger than them) When thinking through who I would invite to be in my group here's some questions I asked.

1. When I share sin with this person will they be shocked and think less of me?
2. Is this person self aware enough to realize they have struggles in their own life?
3. Is this a person I enjoy hanging out with?
4. Are they somehow involved in my daily life?
5. Is this a person who will listen and be teachable?
6. Will this person love me enough to ask the hard questions?
7. Are they too busy to spend time?

Again, this can take a while. Some of you are not naturally in places where vulnerability is valued. In fact the opposite is true. Unfortunately you may have to work to find a couple of guys or women. Pray, look and don't give up. You may be amazed what God may do.

Don't limit accountability relationships to a meeting

Accountability isn't a meeting it's a relationship. Sure, it's important to have a time when you sit down and have intentional conversation, but it's kind of weird and nonorganic when all you have is a meeting. Here's how my group works. We try to meet weekly and each of us shares how things are going in our walk with Jesus, our marriages and anything else happening in our lives. But we also talk to each other on the phone at least every couple of days. If Bryan is in a place of struggle he texts us and asks us to pray and check on him later. If I'm traveling and may have a more intense time of temptation my guys know what's going on and pray for me and check on me. Accountability relationship is a lifestyle not a meeting. Sure the meeting is important but it's just small part of the relationship.

Make accountability more than sharing failure

Confession is an important part of the relationship but what if we shared with our friends before a failure. I go through times in my life when I know I'm going to have a more intense time of struggle. For example, if I'm up in front of people in a teaching situation I may be more susceptible to arrogance and pride. My partners know that and may pray specifically for my humility. Learn your own struggle patterns and share with people who are in the game with you when you feel you might be in for a time of greater struggle.

So, are you an island or do you have people in your life who know the good the bad and the ugly? May we be men and women who not only talk Jesus but live it out. I desperately want my words to reflect what's going on in my heart. I long for what happens in public to be consistent with what happens in private.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Is Accountability a Dirty Word? Part 1

Do you like to be held accountable? Many people don't. When I think of accountability it reminds me of an exam at school. When taking an exam you are being held accountable for the information your professor has given. To be honest it doesn't really bring back too many happy feelings.

In Christian circles accountability has become synonymous with having a person or persons in your life with whom you share your sin. Somehow the pain of having to tell your "accountability partners" is motivation to stop doing whatever is bad.

I have a friend who is pretty vulnerable in her life but says, "I don't believe in accountability". To be honest I'm tempted to side with her. Most of time these groups are inconsistent and there isn't enough depth of relationship for true intimacy and vulnerability. Maybe there's a list of questions asked of each person that may or may not be answered honestly. At the end of the day there's not movement towards loving Jesus and others more. And isn't that the goal?

I'm a life long struggler with sin. Pride, lust, selfishness are all part of my daily walk. By God's grace sometimes I walk in holiness and these struggles seem distant. Other times they're as close as my shadow.

The other day I was struggling in one of these areas. I called a friend (an accountability partner) and shared what was going on in my life. I know, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but after we spoke and he encouraged me, my whole perspective changed. It reminded me that God never intended for us to take this journey alone.

So, to my friend who doesn't believe in accountability groups I want to say that maybe she's never seen accountability done well. Over the next couple of days I want to share some lessons I've learned from experience and others on this topic. There is no telling where I might be if I hadn't had Matt, Joe, David, Rick August, David, Tony, Bryan and Jason and others in my life at different times.

It's important. If you have input or concern I would love for you to share. It would be great to have the collective wisdom and experience of others chime in to this discussion.