Monday, December 27, 2010

I Was Shoeless... Student's Perspective

A couple weeks ago some students went to "Shiloh", an apartment complex in south Dallas that houses African refuges. Our purpose was pretty simple, distribute 120 pairs of shoes and coats. Here's the perspective of Gavin, a freshman in high school.

"Those white buses to us, may seem like hours of uncomfortable rides, but to those children at Shiloh, it seems more along the lines of fun and joy and of presents. As we passed through those oh so familiar entry gates, it took only a few minutes for the environment to set in. It was one of chaos and screaming and punching, but also of loving and laughing and not caring how stupid we may look. Those quick smiles as the doors were opened to be greeted by people not of their own culture bringing gifts was enough to drive anybody to endure the next few hours of what could be viewed as psychotic entertainment. After the shoes were delivered, it was fun time from then on only to be interrupted by the much apparent rehearsed and prepared for play telling the story of the birth of Jesus. And as we were finally loading up on the buses, there is always one straggler kid to hop onto the bus as well or, more surprising, on fender or roof. It's never easy to go to Shiloh, but that doesn't mean that we don't have an amazing time serving others and laughing all the time."  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

X-Mas - Great Time to Connect with College Students

We actually did something pretty cool at our home last night. It wasn't my idea (most of the cool ideas aren't) it was a team coming together and dreaming about how to better connect with our college students and former students.

It was pretty simple, we called it "Home for the Holidays" and utilized facebook to invite people between the ages of 18 - 23 to join us for a time of reconnecting. We had a lot of food (if you're hungry for something sweet, come on over) 2 fireplaces on the back patio and a great time of connecting and reconnecting.

Here's where it gets really cool, we invited our high school seniors. Like many, we're looking for fresh ways to help our college students know they are still a part of our church family, even when they temporarily move away for education. I told our high school seniors that next Christmas they would be the ones home for Christmas. They're already excited about Christmas break 2011.

The highlight of the night for me was watching a girl who is a sophomore in college connect with a current high school senior who is thinking about attending the same university. I know if she goes to this university she'll have Godly connection immediately.

We don't want students who go away for college feel like their in purgatory when they come home for the holidays or summer. They are a part of our church family. We must help them know they have support and a place where they're loved.

So here's a question, have you seen or experienced some great ideas connecting with college students when they're home? Do share.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I was shoeless...

In a couple of hours I'm joining students and adults from our students ministry to hand out shoes to African refuges. It's exciting to be around students who understand the gospel is not just a story that is spoken, it's a story that's lived out.

To be honest, our students lead the charge when it comes to caring for the needy. Our senior class life group and leaders went above and beyond in this project. They gave over $500 towards shoes and socks for children who are needy.

Why are they so engaged in helping? It goes beyond just good will at Christmas. I genuinely believe God is continually doing a work in their lives and part of living that out is caring and giving the way Jesus would.

It's going to be exciting! Maybe I'll post some pics later.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Surprise

This year would you consider taking a different approach to Christmas? I am. Instead of acting like a scrooge I'm trying to embrace all that Christmas is.

I'm thinking about Christmas as a season instead of a day. Sure, with the commercialization of Christmas you can't help but be bombarded with "stuff" from Thanksgiving to New Years. But what about taking a month long journey of meditating on the birth of Jesus?

For the first time I've taken the idea of celebrating the season of advent seriously. For some of you liturgicals your thinking, "well dugh, of course Christmas is a season and you should have been approaching it this way all along". Please give this recovering "non liturgical" a little grace as I share some thoughts.

Teaching the lectionary passages to students on Sunday nights (Isaiah) and Shawn Small's "The Via Advent" have been the primary tools God has used to take me on this journey. This long term meditation on the coming of Jesus surprised me with some thoughts and emotions I didn't expect.

1. Anticipation for the Second Coming

A common thought through advent season is "Christ has come and Christ is coming again". By teaching key passages out of Isaiah I've been forced to focus on the anticipation of the return of Jesus. To be honest I don't often focus my attention on the Second Coming, but by meditating on these passages it's awakened a longing in me for the broken world in which we live to be restored. Even as I write I can sense a longing for Jesus to return and make me and everything around me right and new.

2. A soft heart towards the Christmas story

My daily meditations have been driven primarily by the book "The Via Advent". Every time I read through the passage and watch the story unfold I shed a tear or two. I'm not sure why I'm emotional about the whole thing. Perhaps this season I'm so immersed in the story that the radical love of God is too overwhelming for me emotionally. I'm not sure I ever want to get over the love of God for his people. Or maybe it's the rawness of the characters in the story that is tugging at my emotions. Whatever the reason I know that the Christmas story is impacting my soul in a deeper way this season. For that I'm grateful.

3. Connection with the larger story

The entire story of the Bible is the story of a holy, righteous, loving and sacrificial God coming to restore and deliver His people. My favorite Christmas verse isn't found in Luke or Matthew but in Galatians.

Gal 4:4-5
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The Christmas story is about God fulfilling his promise at the perfect time in the most unusual way.

It is such a strange way to save the world...isn't it?

Yes, Christmas is only a few days away but it's not too late to jump into the deep end. You can order "The Via Advent" and follow Shawn's thoughts on his web site

May each of us experience the joy, anticipation and mystery that accompanies this season to the glory of God. Oh come Emmanuel.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I think our God does miracles and loves us beyond our comprehension. Should this surprise any of us?"

Mary speaking of the miracle of Elizabeth's pregnancy.
From the "Via Advent" by Shawn Small

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Pageant

Best reason ever to avoid Christmas pageants at your church.

Quote of the Day

"God is looking for people through whom
He can do the impossible-
what a pity that we plan only the things we can do ourselves"

A. W. Tozer

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Priceless, from my small group leader...

I received this email from one of my life group leaders concerning a conversation she had Sunday night in her lifegroup.

On Sunday nights we're teaching a small portion of the Advent Lectionary passages out of Isaiah. In speaking of the beauty of Christ's second coming I spoke about how the world we live in is broken. One of the girl's didn't like it a whole lot.

When I asked our leader if I said something controversial here's how she responded. It made my heart glad.

"You didn't. One of the girls didn't like that it was said that our
world was a broken place because she chooses to see the beauty in it
and doesn't see why people make such a huge deal about going how
horrible it is.

I said that God created us to be in fellowship with Him, in
heaven...and before I had a chance to continue or clarify she snapped
at me and said something along the lines of, well I thought we were
created for this earth. That just doesn't make any sense.

Everyone was quiet and I said that we were created for this earth, but
because sin entered brought death and destruction and God was
working right now to prepare a place for us and eventually there was
going to be a new earth. I also mentioned that she probably felt that
way because she had a different world view. Maybe she hadn't
experienced third-world hunger or the pain of a divorce, etc. etc.

It just seemed like she was looking for a reason to challenge me. I
don't know why but this particular girl has a lot of attitude with me.
& she's the last person I'd expect it from. Maybe I should talk to her
privately. The week before she answered her phone in the middle of me
praying. She ran out of the room before I could grab her to ask her
about it."

She did awesome responding didn't she? From this point on how would counsel her to lovingly reach out to this teen who is obviously struggling with her faith?

And yes, my adult leaders rock!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Youth Ministry Unconference

Sometimes I wish my brain was larger. Thoughts of more effective student ministry, new relationships and deepening older friendships are flooding my mind.

Yesterday at 12:20 pm the "unconference" officially ended but the conversations were just beginning. After lunch with youth workers and time at the pub I realized what I experienced over the previous 30 hours had profound impact on me. As I'm beginning to unravel what "unconference" means for my ministry and perhaps for student ministry in general I have 3 observations to share...

1. Conversation is almost always better than lecture.

We know this don't we? Conferences and conventions are so much fun and useful, but to be honest the high points of my learning and contribution as it relates to student ministry and life have come from settings where intentional conversations happen.

That's really what this "unconference" was all about. Discussions and topics flowing from the needs, interests and expertise of those who were there. For me valuable learning happens when story, questions and experience come together. In every discussion I had there was pertinent information I learned and hopefully some I contributed.

That's how I (and most people) learn the best.

2. Youth Workers need each other

It's super neat to see the instant camaraderie that happens when people with like hearts come together for problem solving. I'm a big believer in relational networking for youth workers but was reminded of it's importance again. In addition to expertise there were relationships that began and friendships that were deepened.

There are many people on staff at churches who don't feel they have a safe place to be vulnerable. For some, "unconference" gave a glimmer of hope that there are safe people out there who will encourage and walk beside us when we mess up.

3. Experts are everywhere

It was amazing to watch experienced and inexperienced people rub shoulders. I learned from women who have been in student ministry for just a few years and from others who where veterans. Every person who attended added value to the conversation. Sure, some had more experience but sometimes too much experience keeps us from seeing things from a new perspective.

Tomorrow we'll meet as a team to unpack all that God taught us. I'm excited to hear what they heard, experienced and contributed.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


"Lord, there is often a sea of doubt
that rages deep beneath the surface of my life.
Unanswered prayers, pain, and hidden sins
are too easily masked by my shallow spirituality.

Lord, I am ready for the facade to be washed away.
I need an encounter with the Spirit of Truth
to reveal the reality of my heart's condition
that I may be set free to trust Your word and Your will.

Help me, Father, to mute the doubt in my heart.
Help me, Son of God, to release my pain to you.
Lead me, Spirit to a life of freedom and joy,
Blessed Trinity, help me understand Your Advent."

Shawn Small, "Via Advent"

Do you ever doubt what God says?

I'm not talking about intellectual doubt but practical, "how you live" doubt.

This morning I continue my advent meditation by reading Shawn Small's "Via Advent".

The story this morning describes Zachariah's encounter with Gabriele and how Zachariah questioned the validity of the angel's announcement. As the story unfolds I can easily see myself doubting the way Zachariah did. No, doubt for me isn't about believing things angels say to me, it's way more subtle and internal.

Here's is a statement from God that is hard for me to believe...

"In my presence is fullness of joy, in my right hand are pleasures forever"

In simply reading the statement it's easy to believe, it's in living it out that deep doubt is exposed. You see, if I believe this simple statement about the heart of God it changes everything. It changes how I pursue God. It changes how I view lust in my life. It changes how I view prosperity. It changes how I view position and prestige. Believing what God says to be true in the routine of our lives changes everything.

I feel eerily similar to the man in the New Testament who said to Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief". As with any sin the solution isn't to try harder but repentance and to cry out to God saying, "help my unbelief".

So, may we be people who see our own unbelief and take it to God, asking him for the grace to believe the unbelievable, isn't that what the Christmas story is all about?