amazing grace.

well at least it hasn't been a WHOLE year since my last post. a lot has happened. but that's for another post. today i experience true, amazing grace.

i was recently brought on full time at my church, and got some health insurance along with that. it's not the greatest coverage, but it gave me the opportunity to get a physical (after about 4 years) and some bloodwork. i also needed to get an ultrasound in order to check on a mass to make sure it was benign.

the insurance covered the physical and bloodwork fully, as preventative coverage. but the ultrasound came back to me at $1500. part of the church insurance (since it's a $2500 deductible) deal is to give us a $1000 flexible spending account. so in the end, i was going to be able to use that $1000, then pay $500 out of pocket. i figured it wasn't a terrible deal.

so today was the day to settle my account. and strangely, for some reason, i decided to go in to their office to settle up -- i think part of it was that i was going to have to use two different methods of payment. but anyway, i walked up to the desk with my statement, and handed it to the woman at the counter -- Ruth. as she walked over to the computer to bring up my account, i took my two credit cards out of my wallet: the flexible-spending-account card, as well as my own. as Ruth looked at my bill, she raised her eyebrow a bit at the $1500 i was about to have to fork over. and with no provocation, she picked up the phone and dialed some internal extension. it was unclear to me at that moment what was happening.

someone at the other end picked up, and Ruth proceeded to ask, "I've got a guy here with a $1500 bill for an ultrasound -- anything we can do for him? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. $750? Ok." and she hangs up. i look at her and say, "Just like that?" she replied, "Just like that." i proceed to thank her extensively, and tell her that this is one of the most encouraging things i have experienced in a long time. so my spending account has some money left in it, and i didn't have to pay a single cent out of my own pocket.

as i walked out of the building, i teared up a bit, realizing that this is what true, unwarranted grace feels like. and i feel truly blessed as a result. and i am going to send Ruth some flowers.


in humility.

great words from ancient spiritual father John Chrysostom. he's talking specifically about the gift of speech/preaching, but this easily applies to any gift/ability...

i have been given the power of speech. there is no intrinsic merit in this; it is not something for which i should be especially admired or respected. to possess this gift, like any other natural ability, is a blessing bestowed by God; admiration and respect should be directed toward him. the challenge facing me is how i use this gift. do i develop it through seeking guidance of accomplished speakers and through practice? more importantly, do i use it in the service of God or myself? of course i may also claim to use it in God's service, and even congratulate myself on the excellent sermons i preach. but how easily pride infects the use of this gift. when i hold the attention of a congregation, when each person is concentrating on my every word, when my eloquence stirs every heart that hears me, how easily my head begins to swell. instead of simply being a mouthpiece of God, i begin to imagine myself divine. the gift of speech, which is truly a blessing, can so easily become a curse, poisoning the soul that possesses it.

>> john chrysostom.


wise words.

i thrive on wise people -- people who share from their humble learnings. thomas merton is one of those people. below is a passage i read the other day in 'no man is an island' -- it pretty much rocked my boat. enjoy if you dare...


the deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what i am. my idea of what i am is falsified by my admiration for what i do. and my illusions about myself are bred by contagion from the illusions of other [people]. we all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness.

if i do not know who i am, it is because i think i am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. perhaps i have never asked myself whether i really wanted to become what everybody else seems to want to become. perhaps if i only realized that i do not admire what everyone seems to admire, i would really begin to live after all. i would be liberated from the painful duty of saying what i really do not think and of acting in a way that betrays God’s truth and the integrity of my own soul.

why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?

we cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves. but self-knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion. in order to know ourselves it is not necessary to cease all activity in order to think about ourselves. that would be useless, and would probably do most of us a great deal of harm. but we have to cut down our activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions. we cannot begin to know ourselves until we can see the real reasons why we do the things we do, and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond to our intentions, and our intentions are appropriate to our own situation. but that is enough. it is not necessary that we succeed in everything. a [person] can be perfect and still reap no fruit from [their] work, and it may happen that a [person] who is able to accomplish very little is much more of a person than another who seems to accomplish very much.

--Thomas Merton.


wise words.

if you've read any of my posts before, you probably remember JURGEN MOLTMANN. he's a german theologian who has helped me to love and understand theology. you may remember that i got a chance to MEET HIM and hear him in person this past fall. i just finished reading his book JESUS CHRIST FOR TODAY'S WORLD, and the final couple paragraphs blew me away. i love this guy. so i wanted to share...

"evangelism is an invitation, nothing more than that and nothing less. it is not instruction, and not an attempt at conversion either. it is a plea: 'be reconciled with God!' the people who consciously or unconsciously witness to the gospel, and the people who are commissioned to proclaim it, have no authority except the authority of this plea. it is the authority of the pleading Christ, who carries our sins on the cross and with his outstretched arms invites us: 'come, for all is now ready.' the pleading Christ doesn't force us, and he doesn't threaten 'unless you decide today you'll go to hell.' the pleading Christ begs for his invitation to be accepted. he appeals to the people invited, but the appeal is based on their freedom. in Christ, God reconciled the world with himself, so be reconciled with God! reconciliation is possible. so here too we are told: God is going to create everything anew, so seize the opportunities. they are there already, in yourself and close to yourself. peace is possible. justice is possible. liberation is possible.

"God has made the impossible possible, and we are invited to seize our possibilities for living. participate in the renewal of society and nature! we want to invite people in all civilizations to the new creation of all things. we don't want to expand the sphere of influence of the church...the kingdom of God isn't there for the sake of the church. the church is there for the sake of the kingdom. so ... all the church's own concerns and interests must be subordinated to Jesus' concern for God's kingdom. the church's concern is not the church. it is more than that. the church has to do with God and his future for all men and women. it has to do with the new creation of all things for eternal life."



youth ministry.

THIS POST over at STUFF CHRISTIANS LIKE was too good not to post. i took the survey (based on my last youth min. job) and scored an 88. my favorites are #s 72,73, & 82...

Below you will find more than 100 statements about youth ministers. I encourage you to score your youth minister. More than that, I encourage you to email this or tweet this or facebook this to your youth minister. Together, we’ll give the fascinating creature known as the “youth minister” the attention they deserve.

The Youth Minister Scorecard.

1. Has at any point made one of the students cry because they are so competitive in the sports. = +2 points

2. Always stacks the team they are on in any games they play. = +1 point

3. Drives a car a church member sold them for $1. = +1 point

4. They think burping is gross. = – 2 points

5. They can burp the entire five points of Calvinism. = +10 points

6. They are awesome at Frisbee golf = +1 point

7. They are awesome at Ultimate Frisbee. = +2 points

8. Their toddler can throw a Frisbee farther than you can. = +3 points

9. They know how to fix the youth group van when it breaks down on the side of the road. = +2 points

10. They’ve had a “talking to” from the elders. = +2 points per each talking to

11. They have a goatee. = +1 point

12. They are professionals at pulling off epic pranks. = +1 point

13. There are still three counties your youth group is not allowed back into after one of those epic pranks. = +2 points

14. They work at another job because they love the youth but can’t afford to live on the salary the church pays. = +100 points

15. They are just using the youth minister job as a stepping stone to being a senior pastor. = -100 points

16. They have a baldhawk haircut. = -3 points

17. They have rapped at youth group before. = +1 point

18. They have rapped at “big church” before = +2 points

19. They are no longer invited to big church. = +3 points

20. They are known to regularly cheat at youth group games because they want to win. = +2 points

21. They refuse to use “youth slang” like “Phat” because that’s just not how they talk even if the “kids are all doing it.” = +2 points

22. They have been known to wear fanny packs on mission trips. = -3 points

23. They are willing to call “fake” on the camper who always sprains their ankle to get out of helping clean up the cabin. = +3 points

24. They are so hyperactive you think their blood type might be “5 Hour Energy Drink.” = +3 points

25. They refuse to let college kids come back and hang out awkwardly in the senior high youth group, much like that college sophomore that went to the prom. = +4 points

26. They have been known to toilet paper houses. = +1 point

27. In their hands, toilet paper is like a paintbrush in Michaelangelo’s hands. The texture and rhythm of what they can do with two ply is breathtaking. = +3 points

28. They once made someone pee in a Mountain Dew bottle because they didn’t want to stop during a road trip. = +3 points

29. They are the church’s version of a centaur, half youth minister/half worship leader and know how to play acoustic guitar. = +2 points

30. Often tells you that they “married up.” = +1 point

31. Often tells you how “hott” their wife is. = +2 points

32. Is single and often gets set up on awkward dates by church members. = +2 points for each date

33. Once convinced the church to pay for an official youth group event that may have involved going to a U2 concert. = +15 points

34. Justifies iPad purchase as “something I need because a lot of my students have one.” = +3 points

35. Has eaten a live goldfish as part of a sermon illustration. = +2 points

36. Is currently writing me an angry email about “goldfish rights” = – 10 points

37. Dresses 12 years younger than their actual age. = -2 points

38. Willing to fit 10 kids in their 2002 Honda Accord if it means they’re coming to youth group. = +1 point for each kid

39. Named youth group something extreme. = +2 points

40. The extreme name starts with a lowercase “i,” e.g. “iExperience” or “iYouth.” = +3 points.

41. The extreme name contains a capital X, e.g. “Xkids” or “Xfactor.” = +4 points

42. Is regularly offering to shave their head if the students accomplish certain goals. = +2 points.

43. Designed a cool youth group room at church, complete with working traffic light, a booth from a coffee shop and a mural. = +3 points

44. Has more toys in their office than Michael Scott of the Office. = +1 point for each toy.

45. 80% of their wardrobe consists of free t-shirts from camps and conferences. = +1 point

46. Had to explain to church elders that a summer mission trip is not the same thing as a vacation. = +2 points

47. Is on a first-name basis with the people at the laser tag arena or local skate park = +2 points

48. Has popped and repaired a “jumpy thing” before. = +3 points

49. Has been known to take students off-roading in knee deep mud in a church van on the way to camp = +3 points

50. Was in a hardcore band that caused no small degree of musical ruckus before “settling down” in the ministry. = +2 points

51. Has a tattoo and explains that if you look at it in the right light, it has deeper meaning as a witnessing tool. = +3 points

52. Tells youth group that the Psalms are kind of emo. = +1 point

53. Has referred to our Lord and Savior as “This Jesus guy” or “Big Dude” on multiple occasions. = +2 points

54. Their refrigerator at home is full of leftovers from youth group events. = +1 point

55. Can easily distinguish Dr. Pepper from Dr. Thunder in a blind taste test. = +1 point

56. Has full knowledge of all the names of Target and Sams Club knock off sodas. = +2 points

57. Has ever purchased “sandwich cremes” instead of Oreos. = +3 points

58. Regularly rocks an oversize backpack or satchel bag with sewn-on patches. = +2 points

59. Proactively shaved his head to hide the fact that he is going bald. = +2 points

60. Convinces the kids in his youth group that children’s shows like veggie tales or 3,2,1, penguins are actually cool so he can simultaneously hold a youth event and entertain his own children. = +3 points

61. Has ever placed a slip n’ slide inside the church building. = +3 points

62. Believes that most of life’s problems can be solved with a well run car wash fundraising event. = +3 points

63. Staged a successful, “Get this church a Wii” campaign. = +1 point

64. Has been known to keep tabs on the students by spying on their facebook statuses. = Not sure about this one.

65. Often confused for a student since they look so young. = +2 points

66. Was ever at a restaurant having a beer with his family when he saw a student, felt incredibly awkward and then slid the beer toward his wife as if it were her’s. = +3 points

67. Still making Chuck Norris jokes. = – 2 points

68. Devotes an entire month to talking about sex and abstinence. +2

69. Also uses luggage to demonstrate sexual “baggage” in this same lesson. = +7 points

70. Had to hold a serious conversation with his students during which he explained why they had to retire the phrase, “that’s what she said.” = +2 points

71. Is a girl and constantly rages against the perception that only boys can be youth ministers. = +2 points

72. Has some sort of other worldly sense that alerts them whenever someone sneaks out and breaks curfew during a retreat. = +3 points

73. Believes no youth retreat is complete without a “fear factor” session, complete with habanero peppers and beef & peas baby food. = +3 points

74. Requires that all movies watched on youth group van be motivational sports movies, like Rudy, Remember the Titans, and the Sandlot. = +1 point

75. Wakes up at 4:30 am on youth retreats and runs down the halls singing “Rise and shine, and Give God the glory glory” at the top of his lungs while banging on doors to wake everyone up: = +10 points

76. Has a sense, like Spiderman, whenever two kids are “making purple” at camp. = +1 point

77. Will interrupt kids making purple with a rain of water balloons. = +2 points

78. Bought every student a copy of the Stuff Christians Like book. = +100 points

79. Will kill you at Guitar Hero. = +2 points

80. Owns Justin Bieber CD because it helps them relate to students, but secretly loves it. = +2 points

81. Owns their own megaphone. = +2 points

82. Is no longer allowed to hold “Youth Sunday” after that unfortunate “mongoose incident.” = +3 points

83. Considers any game that does not end with at least one person vomiting to be a personal failure. = +2 points

84. Knows the value and importance of the liability forms they make kids sign before any event. = +2 points

85. Often has the fire department involved whenever they hold a lock in event at the church. = +3 points

86. Has the teenagers volunteer in the screaming baby nursery as a way to encourage abstinence. = +3 points

87. Is willing to sew your stitches for you. Seriously, I’ll do it dude. = +3 points

88. Regularly holds some sort of mustache growing event. = +2 points

89. Happens to be a girl, but still insists on participating in the mustache event. = +weird

90. Has a “parents voice” that is about three octaves lower and slower whenever he has to talk to adults.

91. Tries, unsuccessfully, to turn cleaning up the youth room into a fun game! = -2 points

92. Has a map, much like the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, of all the popular makeout spots that kids try to hide at camp = +3 points

93. Believes that when it comes to youth group events, it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission from the Senior Pastor. = +3 points

94. Overuses the fog machine, turning every event into a smoky, pineapple flavored haunted moor. = -3 points

95. Has ever said the phrase, “If it was illegal, there’d be a sign telling us not to do it.” = +3 points

96. Found a way to get the youth group room outfitted with a better sound system than the sanctuary. = +2 points

97. Tweets more than Jon Acuff. = +3 points

98. Owns a skateboard or snowboard. = +2 points

99. Had to sign a legally binding document with the church administration that they would not go near the baptismal again. = +3 points

100. Turns any youth group trip to a restaurant into an eating contest. = +3 points

101. Knows how to multiply cheap pizza almost as well as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. = +3 points

102. Buys shaving cream and marshmallows in bulk at Costco. = +3 points

103. Is often asked by parents, “What do you do all week?” = +3 points

104. Once sustained a wrist sprain during a foosball game. = +3 points

105. Ruined their cellphone when they were throw into a pool/lake/crick by the students. = +3 points

106. Prior to joining the church staff, the office they have was called by it’s correct name, “Closet.” = +3 points

107. Does more things with Duct tape than McGuyver. = +2 points

108. Has ever accidentally left a youth at a rest stop while on a road trip. = +1 point

109. Had someone in the church ask, “Do you think someday you’ll want to be a ‘real’ minister?” = +10 points

110. Insists on regularly doing a Song of Solomon/True Love Waits medley message. = +2 points

111. Often reminds girls in the group that, “the butt is not a billboard.” = +2 points

112. Has swam in the church fountain. = +2 points

113. Owns all the Nooma videos. = +3 points

114. Owns a Nerf gun that is so big they had to register it with the state. = +3 points

Did you add up your score? What does your total mean? Here is the breakdown:

0-10 Points: Temporary Help

You’re not a youth minister. You’re a random person at church that was temporarily asked to help out with the students. You actually kind of don’t like teenagers and are counting the days until they hire someone full time.

11 – 30 Points: Amateur Hour

You wouldn’t know how to lob a roll of toilet paper in a perfect tree covering arc if it came up and bit you. You think Lady Gaga is the sister of Lady Antebellum and your car is way to nice to be owned by a youth minister.

31 – 50 Points: Minor Leagues

Now we’re talking. You’ve been to a Skillet concert or two. This isn’t your first goatee (unless you’re a lady.) You know the joys of discount pizza and off brand sodas. Congrats, you’re in the minor leagues of youth ministry.

51+ Points: Legend

Seminaries have classes dedicated to your escapades. Your work on the Johnson house in 2008 is still discussed at the Charmin factory headquarters. You’ve put so many kids in your car it made Circus clown cars seem lazy. You are a legend my friend. You will go down in the Youth Minister Hall of Fame. (Which I made up for this post but would probably be in Ohio if I had to guess.)

How did your youth minister score? How did you score? Hopefully high. (Only time that sentence can be said about youth ministers and be positive.) Big shout out to all the readers who contributed to this list. There were dozens of folks.

What was your final score?



so i'd like to press each and every one of you with this post. lately, i've grown increasingly tired of liberal and conservative 'wars'. and by 'wars', i mean the lumping together of these two camps and pitting them opposed to each other, throwing nothing but cynicism, criticism and degradation back and forth. it's pretty pathetic on both sides. and i truly hope that everyone knows that as long as 'liberals' and 'conservatives' place themselves as vehemently opposed, nothing will ever get better. as long as one side sees the need to 'win' a majority over the other, we will never accomplish anything.

a couple thoughts:
-an 'open-mind' does not mean the foundation one stands on is shaky.
-caution and restraint are necessary components in decision making.
-change must be preceded by thoughtful reasoning
-generosity is a noble characteristic.
-all people desire to be loved and respected for who they are and what they offer.

so i'd like to press you, for a moment at least, to not think of yourself as a 'label' (read: 'conservative' or 'liberal'), and to jot down a list of 5 things that you stand for -- they can be both general or more specific. and once you've sat with that a bit, think about how that describes you as a person. i simply encourage you to think about who you are and what you stand on -- and not the label or stereotype you ascribe to.

and out of curiosity, i googled some web definitions for both 'conservative' and 'liberal'. some of the results follow:

-resistant to change
-Traditional or restrained in style
-Moderate; cautious
-a person who is reluctant to change or consider new ideas; conformist
-tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions

-showing or characterized by broad-mindedness
-generous and broad sympathies
-tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
-favors a philosophy of progress and reform
-free from bigotry
-open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others
-Tending to give freely
-characterized by generosity and willingness to give
-from Latin liberalis, from liber, free