Posted in Discipleship, My Thoughts

Trust and Patience…two things I want to have now

Every morning when I wake up, I start my day by reading Colossians 3:1-17. It’s been the most influential passage of scripture in my life the past couple of years. Verse 12 says “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

During my prayer times, I often seek God about where he is leading and guiding me next in my life. A verse that I often call to memory and recite during my prayer times is Proverbs 3:5-6, which says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

There are 2 main things I want to have in my life right now. 2 things that used to be a part of my life for many years, and I would like them to be a part of my life again. And in moments of brutal honesty, I must admit that I have grown tired of patiently waiting and continuing to learn how to better trust when it comes to these 2 things.

25 years ago God placed a passion in my heart for ministry. Almost 2 years ago I lost my job in ministry, and have been out of it since. For a while I considered not going back into ministry, and explored what my life might be like. That “experiment” didn’t last too long, as it became very obvious to me that the passion God had given me was still as strong as ever in my life. I want to have a job I find joy and satisfaction in, a job I am passionate about and look forward to, and for me that is being in ministry. It’s been a long 2 years of not being able to do what my passion is, and I pray regularly that God would open an opportunity for me to return sooner rather than later. But until then, I have to wait patiently and continue to learn to trust him to lead and guide me…which is hard because I want it now.

14 years ago I said “I do” and married my life partner…at least what I believed at the time would be my life partner. Life, however, has a way of taking left turns that you don’t expect. It’s been nearly 2 years since my marriage came to an end (separation first, then divorce to make it legal), and I truly miss having a serious relationship with someone. I intentionally took a long time and didn’t seek that type of relationship as I needed to heal and learn to be ok on my own first, but if I’m really honest I must also admit that I’m quite lonely and want to have someone in my life again. So I wait patiently and continue to learn to trust God to lead and guide me…which is hard because I want it now.

Trust is not built or strengthened in a moment, it takes time. Learning to trust God in difficult situations requires walking through those difficult situations and figuring out what it means to trust God on a day by day basis. Trust takes time to get to a place where it is strong. If I am to trust God with all my heart, lean not on my own understanding, and allow him to guide my path through life, then that level of trust will take time to build.

Patience is not built or strengthened in a moment either. Learning to be patient requires dealing with situations where I want something immediately, but must learn to wait patiently. Patience takes time to get to a place where it is strong. If I am to wait patiently and let God lead and guide my life in the direction he is taking it, that means I have to learn to be ok in a place I don’t necessarily want to be in the moment. As I learn to be ok in that place, and learn to wait on God, then a deeper level of patience will develop…but that level will take time to build.

This is honestly something we all must learn. Trust and Patience are both very important qualities to possess in life, but neither of them happen right away. They take time. In the end we can look back at our journey through a specific time or situation and see how valuable the lessons were, and how much our trust and patience were developed and strengthened.

The journey to get to that point can be quite difficult. We like the end result of the journey, just not the learning process along the journey. But we can’t have the end result without the learning process.

Do I want to be doing what I’m passionate about again? YES! Do I want to not be lonely anymore? YES! Those are easy questions to answer. But the real question is, do I trust God enough to patiently wait for him to lead and guide me?

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Posted in Discipleship

Creating new Christmas Traditions

Each year families have traditions that they do during the Christmas season. Everything from when they put up the decorations, the kind of food and drink they have on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, how they go about celebrating Christmas, the opening of the presents, to which movies they always watch. There are many traditions that families have during this time of year.

[My Christmas movie list includes: White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Elf, Fred Claus, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation]

This year marks a new beginning in how my family will celebrate Christmas. So I thought I’d start a couple new traditions for how my children and I will celebrate Christmas together.

The first Christmas Tradition of ours that we started this year was to buy Christmas gifts for our sponsor child Yvette, who lives in Burundi. My children and I have been sponsoring her for a little over a year now, but last year we did not buy her any Christmas gifts. This year, as my children and I were all writing Christmas cards to send to Yvette, we decided to get her some gifts to go along with our cards. The organization we support Yvette through is Food for the Hungry, and they had sent a letter with a list of possible gift options that we could purchase to give Yvette and her family for Christmas this year. As I read the list to my children, they seemed a bit confused at first…the list was not like any list my children had written or read before.

Usually when we think of a Christmas list, it includes things like toys or gadgets or games or other personal items. But the list for Yvette and her family didn’t have any toys or gadgets or games. Rather, it had items such as goats, chickens, vegetable seeds, and buckets for storing clean drinking water.

Reading that list to my children sparked a good conversation. We spent time talking about how in many places around the world, people are so poor that they can barely afford food and clean water, much less extra things like toys to play with. Buying a goat or vegetable seeds or something similar gives them the ability to have food to eat. It was a good discussion and lesson for my children, because it can be easy for them to get caught up in their own little world and not think about what is going on in the rest of the world.

So we spent some time discussing what we’d like to give Yvette and her family for Christmas. My children decided that we would give them 2 chickens, a pack of vegetable seeds, and a Bible in their language. It was a very cool thing to be able to give someone in need some practical gifts for Christmas, and to help my children remember that we are are very blessed as well as to understand the importance of helping those in need.

The second Christmas Tradition of ours that we started this year was to make a list. Not the usual list of gift ideas, but rather a very different kind of list. I posed this question to my children: “if you didn’t get any gifts this year for Christmas, what 10 things do you already have that you are thankful for?” Below are the lists they came up with:

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[My list: God, House, Car, Bible, Job, Family, Friends, Phone, Food, Music]

On the day we open our Christmas gifts together, we will first go over these lists and be reminded again of all that we already have and are blessed with. We will take time thank God for all he has given us, both the possessions we have as well as for giving us Jesus, since that is ultimately why we are celebrating Christmas. That way we can keep our focus on what the true meaning of Christmas and have a mindset of thankfulness and contentment before we open our gifts.

These are 2 things that I plan to make a regular part of when my children and I celebrate Christmas, making them 2 of our new Christmas Traditions. My hope and prayer is that doing these things each year will continue to remind us to be thankful and content, to be thankful for what we are blessed with, that we are to help others who are in need, and that Christmas is much more than the gifts we receive.

As my children grow up, these are truths I want them to know and live by. And not just at Christmas, but all year long.

Posted in Bible Study, Discipleship, Helpful Passages of Scripture

Extremely challenging reminder of what it really means to love God

This morning as I was spending time in prayer and reading God’s Word, I was reminded of a truth. A truth that I knew… honestly it’s a truth that most of us who claim to be Followers of Christ know. However, it’s a truth that is easily overlooked in our daily life.

I’m not saying we forget it, or that we blatantly say to our self “I am choosing to not care about this truth” (if we are saying that to our self, our heart is very hard). Rather, I believe it’s a truth that we know of and have in our minds, but we overlook how to live it out in our daily lives. We have the knowledge of this truth, but unfortunately it is easy to skip or overlook the application of this truth.

That truth is simply this…

To love God means to obey what God says

That’s it. Nothing overly fancy or full of theological words that many of us don’t understand (or are even able to pronounce). It’s a simple truth really. To love God means to obey what he says to us.

It’s a simple statement. Simple formula. Simple truth to know and be aware of. Simple.

Loving God = Obeying God

Question is, do we act upon that truth? Are we applying that truth? Or, have we allowed ourselves to place that truth in our mind where we have knowledge of it, but we overlook the importance of living according to that truth with our actions?

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Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” (John 14:23-24)

…everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments… (1 John 5:1-3)

To love God means to obey what God says. It’s a simple truth. Unfortunately, it’s also simple to overlook in our daily actions and choices and decisions. Simple to remember and know, simple to skip and overlook.

What is really scary to me about this simple truth is that there is an opposite truth that is just as simple…

If loving God means obeying God, then not obeying God means not loving God.

If loving God = obeying God, then not obeying God = not loving God.

I know, that seems like a bold statement when you first read it. But the more you consider it, the more it makes sense. It is simply the opposite of the first truth.

Now, I’m not saying that every single time we make a mistake and don’t obey God that we have stopped loving God. Not at all. We are sinners, so we will disobey God in this life. That is the struggle we will be dealing with until Christ returns are we are done with this sinful world.

But, when we read what God’s Word says, it comes right out and tells us that if we love God then we will obey him. We can’t explain that away simple because we are sinners and still struggle at times in this life.

What we need to understand is that when we choose to sin, in that moment we are choosing to do the opposite of what God tells us to do. In those sinful moments, we are loving our self and what we want to do more than loving God and what he tells us to do. It may only be a moment, and then we are sorry and we repent of that sin because we love God…but it still shows that we have moments where we don’t love God like we should.

The other thing we need to understand is that we can choose to live in sin for a period of time in our life. That choice is a drawn out version of that momentary sin like I just talked about. It’s a time period in our life where we are choosing to love our self and what we want more than loving God and what he tells us. We might never get to the point where we hate God…but hate is different from the act of not loving.

I know that these truths can be difficult to grasp, and we might struggle to fully comprehend them as well as all the implications that come from them. I do myself. But that does not change the fact that these are still true. It’s what God’s Word says, so as Followers of Christ we must accept it as truth…even if we can’t grasp it or struggle with it.

To love God means to obey what God says

May we as Followers of Christ daily seek to show we love God through acts of obedience to God. May we obey God even when it’s tough, because we love God that much!

Posted in Discipleship, Student Ministries

An open letter to Youth Pastors and Adult Leaders…from a former Youth Pastor

To every Youth Pastor and Adult Leader serving in Student Ministry…

For nearly 14 years I was in full-time ministry as a Youth Pastor. Being a Youth Pastor was my passion and calling…still is actually. I can still remember when God placed in my heart a passion to minister to teens.

Anyway, that is not really the reason for this letter. I could go on forever sharing about my passion and what I love about Student Ministry, as well as my ideas and goals and dreams for students and Student Ministry, but I will refrain from that. The reason I am writing this letter is to remind you of what really matters the most in Student Ministry.

Students. Students matter the most. Not the programs, the big events, the games, the coolness factor of the Youth Center, or even how great the lessons and small group discussions are.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all part of Student Ministry, and they all need to be done well. There is nothing wrong with programs, events, games, lessons and small group discussions, or even creating a cool Youth Center where students can feel comfortable. But ultimately, the students are what truly matter.

You can have a successful Student Ministry without a cool Youth Center, crazy fun games, big events, or fancy and well-organized programs. Lesson and small groups I will say are a must at some level…but remember that even those are only successful if the students know that you care about them and really do want to help them grow, as well as are willing to listen to them.

The students are by far what matter most

Make sure you are willing to listen to students. Listen to them as they share their dreams, ideas, struggles, and fears. Listen to and talk with them about their doubts and questions about faith and this life.

Find ways to be involved in their lives in little and big ways. Show up at their games and activities to cheer them on and show them support. Grab a bite to eat with them so you can build a relationship with them. Let them know you are there for them if and when they need you to be.

Don’t just preach at them, but rather invest in their lives and disciple them. Show them what scripture teaches, but also help them apply what scripture teaches in their everyday life. Be transparent (appropriate transparency obviously) with them about what you’re learning in your life.

Make the Student Ministry about them. Let them know in tangible ways that they are what is most important in the ministry, that you truly care for them. Tell them you are proud of them. Show them you care about them. Treat them with respect. Pay attention to them.

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Here is why I’m sharing this with you and reminding you of this…

Because I’m now on the other side, for the first time since High School. I’ve been working in Student Ministry since I was a freshman in college, and I’ve been full-time since graduating college 14 years ago (18 years total of ministry). But life has brought changes, and I am currently not the guy planning the events and seeking to invest in students lives. I am now the parent praying and desiring that you will care for and invest in my own children’s lives.

As a parent I know and take seriously my role as father; I am not looking to pawn off my responsibility to raise my kids or disciple them to follow Christ in their own life. I know that is my God-given responsibility, and I take it seriously. But I also know that my children need more than just me to invest in their life.

I know that being their father as God intended is crucial in their development…but having other solid Christian adults in their life who care about them is crucial as well.

So I want to remind you and encourage you to make sure that the students are what matter most in your Student Ministry. Keep your eyes open, so you can see what is going on in their life and thus can care for them accordingly. Train yourself and your leaders how to properly and effectively connect with and invest in students. Make that the priority…because students need you to.

As I said, I was in full-time ministry for nearly 14 years. I knew all of what I’m reminding you. I knew the importance of it, and did all I could to invest in students lives. And I’m not suggesting you don’t know or seek to do all that I’m reminding you of. But now that I’m on the other side, I see the importance of it in a whole new light. So I’m reminding you again.

Sincerely,

A parent first, and former Youth Pastor second

 

P.S. – these principles can be true in all area’s of ministry. The application might change, but the principles remain. So feel free to share with those in Children’s Ministry, College Ministry, and all various forms of Adult Ministry.

Posted in Discipleship

Effective discipleship is relational

This past week I was part of a discussion between several men of varying ages and life experiences. We were talking about the idea of discipling other men, both in our church as well as the sphere’s of influence we have in our lives.

Men should be discipling men. Men should be helping each other grow as Followers of Christ in our faith, knowledge, and application. None of us have it all together, we all have struggles and make mistakes. But if we have other men with whom we can be honest, and who we can both learn from as well as encourage, that will go a very long way in helping men grow up and become godly men.

Everyone in the conversation I was apart of agreed that was important, and we need to make sure we are intentional in living that way as men. However, there were varying ideas on how to go about actually accomplishing that.

Many of the ideas shared were interesting to me. None of the ideas were necessarily wrong, but I felt like most were incomplete. The ideas being passed around focused on getting other men to come to different men’s ministry gatherings, or to be willing to sit and listen to us as we teach them in some formal setting. Again, not necessarily wrong. We’ve all experienced gatherings which included some formal teaching in our life.

Yet there seemed to be a relational aspect missing in these ideas. Men’s Ministry gatherings and formal teaching settings have their place, but the reality is that most often when men are willing to attend a gathering or be a part of some formal teaching setting, it’s because they first have a relationship with those who invited them.

The key is relationships. Discipleship needs to include relationship building. Effective discipleship is relational.

In my own life, those who have had the biggest impact on my life have been those who didn’t just seek to teach me something, but rather built relationships with me. They would spend time with me, invite me over for a meal, watch a game on TV, and do other relational activities. No agenda, no ‘we have to talk about this’ time. They were my friend.

And because of that, it was easy to have deep conversations with them about things in my life that I was questioning or struggling with. I trusted them because they had shown me that they really cared about me as a friend. I was not just someone they had to talk to in order to be able to check it off their list.

Effective discipleship is relational.

This is the Biblical model. Jesus spent 3 years with his Disciples, both teaching them as well as doing life with them. His Disciples grew to love him because they got to know him, and he spent time getting to know them. When you spend 3 years with someone, you get to know them well.

Paul built into the lives of young leaders; Timothy and Titus were two of them. Paul would begin and end his letters to them in a very personal way. He referred to Timothy as “my dear son” in the beginning of 2 Timothy. He called Titus “my true son in our common faith” at the beginning of his letter to him.

Yes, Paul taught them plenty, giving them many instructions in his letters. But he had first spent time with them, building a relationship with them. Then, when there was a need for instruction, he could give it and they’d receive it because they had a relationship.

As men, we often want to just get things done. We are work driven, seeking to accomplish a task. That’s not a bad thing…in fact it is how God wired men. However we must not see discipleship as a job or task we must accomplish. Rather, we need to understand that discipleship is a relational activity.

We all want to have friends. We all need someone who we can be honest with and talk with. But we won’t do it with just anyone, we have to trust them first. Trust takes time to build, and it is built best through relationships.

Who can you be a friend to? Who can you begin to do life with? Who is around you, looking for a solid and authentic relationship? Don’t just look for someone to teach, look for someone to befriend and get to know. Then as the relationship grows, discipleship will happen naturally.

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Check out these other blogs on discipleship:

Discipleship part 1: the misconceptions

Discipleship part 2: the 3 Basic keys

Discipleship part 3: Living it

Posted in Bible Study, Discipleship

John 17:17 in the words of my daughter

In the mornings my children do a devotion on a Bible Verse. Part of that process is that they write in their journals 2 things about the Bible Verses they read; what the verse means (what the verse is saying in their own words) and an application from that verse (either what they can do or what it teaches them to remember).

Today I received a call from my 8-year-old daughter, who had a question about the Bible Verse that she had picked…generally I tell them which verse(s) to read, but today she wanted to pick it. She had chosen John 17:17, and she was stuck on a word. Sanctify.

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This is one of my favorite things to do…help others go through the process of being able to correctly understand God’s Word. I do it regularly in my Student Ministry…I even created a ministry that trains students how to study the Bible called CRAVE Student Discipleship Ministries…but there is something extra special about getting to do it as a father. This is what I as a father am called to do; teach and train my children in the way of the Lord.

So the first thing we did was define the word Sanctify. I had my daughter look it up, and she told me that it meant “to make holy; to set apart as holy”. Step one of understanding this verse was complete.

Next, I asked her who was talking and who was being talked about in this verse. She wasn’t sure, so I told her to begin looking at the verses before it to find out. Context is so key to properly understanding scripture, and I want her to understand that even at her age. After she spent some time looking at the verses in John 17 that come before verse 17 but not finding what she was looking for, I helped her out by telling her she needed to look at chapter 16 verse 29. She then said to me “Jesus is talking, and he’s talking about his disciples”. Step two complete.

So then I had her tell me what the first part of the verse said in her own words, using the definition in place of the word sanctify. We spent a few minutes talking back and forth as she tried to piece it together. She finally was able to say something like “Jesus is saying to set apart my followers as holy in the truth.” Step three done…we were almost there.

She had a hard time understanding how the second half of the verse and the first half went together. I asked her what the verse was saying is truth. She replied “God’s Word”. I then explained to her that the context of this verse is that Jesus is praying. Then I asked her what this verse is saying. She stumbled around with her words a few times, but eventually landed on something like “Jesus is praying that his disciples would be set apart as holy in the truth, and God’s Word is that truth.” So what does that mean, I asked. “The Bible is truth, and it helps us be set apart as holy like Jesus wants us to be.” Bingo!

Such a cool moment as a dad, to be able to help my child understand how to figure out what God’s Word says, and to realize that God’s Word is so crucial to living as God calls us to live.

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According to a 2014 Barna Group research study, 88% of American households own a Bible, but only 37% read it at least once a week (https://barna-barnagroup.netdna-ssl.com/images/BU-040814-Slice_2.jpg).

According to John 17:17, those who are Followers of Christ are called to be set apart as Holy. We are set apart as Holy by the truth, and that truth is God’s Word. So if we follow the logic, our ability to live as God has called us to live and to be set apart from this world as Holy is directly connected to how much we know the truth of God’s Word.

Only 37% read it at least once a week.

If the Followers of Christ are not reading the Word of God, they won’t know the truth of God’s Word and therefore will not be able to live the life of Holiness that God is calling them to. To be set apart as Holy…to be sanctified…we must be in God’s Word so we know what God says, and we must obey God’s Word because it is the truth.

Only 37% read God’s Word at least once a week.

In the words of my 8-year-old daughter, whom I am trying to raise to understand the importance of living for God in a world where she will be inundated with messages that say everything else is more important, “The Bible is truth, and it helps us be set apart as holy like Jesus wants us to be.”

May we as adults be challenged by that simply yet profound truth that my daughter discovered today. May we read God’s Word regularly, and seek to obey what it says…because it is truth, and it is what we need to live for God as God calls us to live.

Posted in Discipleship, Student Ministries

Discipleship part 3: Living it

In part 1 of this Discipleship blog series, I said that “every Follower of Christ CAN and SHOULD be in a discipleship relationship with someone else, from teens on up.” In part 2 I shared the 3 Basic Keys for having a discipleship relationship with others.

In the final part of this Discipleship blog series, I want to share some specific and practical ways to go about living those 3 Basic Keys out in our daily lives, so that we can make sure we have those discipleship relationships in our lives. And I think that the most natural way to go about doing that is to simply share what I do in my own life. Being in a discipleship relationship begins with us sharing our life with others, so me sharing what I do in my life fits perfectly.

There are 4 main ways I personally go about being in different types of discipleship relationships with other people.

The first way is in my job. I am a Student Ministry Pastor, so it’s a very natural place for me to begin. As a Pastor to students, I should be seeking to be in discipleship relationships with them in different ways. A few different ways I do that are:

1. Student Leadership – My ministry is a Student Led ministry, so Student Leadership is a crucial part of my ministry. I meet with Student Leaders, both for planning and discussion of the ministry, but also for the purpose of developing and growing those students. We all read through a book together, and then in our meetings we discuss what we can apply to our lives individually as well as corporately as a Leadership Team. I also stay in regular contact with them individually, making sure all is good and meeting with them as needed. This is discipleship in both a small group setting as well as an individual setting, both in formal and informal ways.

2. Teaching – I am very intentional in my teaching to challenge the students toward specific action steps that will help them grow in their faith. We also incorporate a lot of Small Group discussions in the lessons, getting them to not just listen but also to talk and discuss. This is discipleship that is in a formal large group setting, but it is discipleship non-the-less.

3. Relational Ministry Actions (RMA’s) – I am a relational person, and I also know that building relationships with students is key in Student Ministry. So I try to be very intentional in meeting with students either one on one (if a male student) or in a small group setting (either to connect with a few at a time, as well as to be able to have this connection with female students…I do not meet one on one with female students as a male leader, that is not smart). This develops discipleship relationships in both individual and small group settings.

The second way is in my personal life. I am very passionate about seeing students grow up to become men and women who are falling in love with God more every day, and living a Godly life no matter what career or life path they choose. Because I am a male, this again leads me to spending more one on one time with guys. I try to meet with a few guys who are out of high school, doing studies and just sharing life together. Recently I was meeting with 3 guys weekly and going through the book “The Measure of a Man”. Right now, 2 moved away for college, so I am still meeting with 1 on a weekly basis. I also keep my eyes open for any other guys I can begin a discipleship relationship with. This is discipleship in a more formal setting, and is usually one on one.

The third way is my neighborhood. My wife and I try to be very intentional about connecting with and building relationships with some of the families around us in our neighborhood and community. This is for the purpose of being there for them, developing good relationships with our neighbors, and hopefully creating a discipleship relationship with them on some level. This requires my wife and I to make sure we are out in our neighborhood and community with these neighbors, in order to build relationships that could lead to an opportunity to invite them to something at church, help them if they are in need, or developing deeper relationships with them. This leads to the type of discipleship that is in a very informal setting, and is generally one on one.

The fourth way is in my own family. I see my children and wife as people I have a responsibility to disciple as they grow up. This is something that is command throughout scripture, and is extremely important. In fact, I believe that if I’m not doing discipleship with my own family, I should not be doing discipleship with others outside of my family…because I should be practicing this idea of discipleship at home first. I recently wrote a blog specifically about this called We must spend time In God’s Word as a family that shares much more detail.

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There are many ways we can be intentional about being a part of discipleship relationships with the people around us. My prayer is that you would find different ways to go about it in your own life. All who are Followers of Christ are called to be in discipleship relationships, so I encourage you to look for those discipleship relationship opportunities that are around you.