Thursday, December 1, 2016

Time Management Tricks

Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, and so on flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.

I am not time management specialist, I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.

Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, these aren't some magical fix all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.

1. Make time for Jesus 

*This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let's be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say "I study the Word...I prepared my lesson." Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth. Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word our time will be for naught.

2. Be protective of you time

*This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn't do it all. Their response: Why didn't you say so sooner? The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Time to relax, decompress, to process, to enjoy life. If we don't we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.

3. Have regular office hours

*For some this is a no brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wifi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.

4. Be protective of your family

*This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that "It is date night, I am your priority." Its true. Date night is our time. It isn't to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry? A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
~Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
~Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
~Turn off your cellular devices.
~Don't check your email or social media.

5. Find out what helps you to decompress

*This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think. This is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.

6. Create a Google calendar

*This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn't know and further that I hadn't told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening. On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don't miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.

7. Have an unplugged night

*Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you're at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering. My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call "unplugged nights." Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said "enough is enough" and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don't check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!

8. Take a recharge day

*I had never heard of a recharge day until I started working at my current job. What they are is once a month we are allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We aren't supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we are to do whatever we need to be recharged. For different people it will look differently. In my case, I retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people on our team recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books that go over my head. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.

9. Prioritize

*So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important. I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is further out. When it comes to the second list prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.

With all of these suggestions a lot of them can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no! We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have just had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place. The long and short of this post is make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.

What I learned from attending NYWC

The National Youth Workers Convention is always a treat, and always promises and delivers so much to those who attend. Coming away from this year’s conference it did not disappoint, and there are so many takeaways that attempting to cover them all won’t be feasible but I will attempt to hit on some that I personally walked away with, and hope that they will bless those who didn’t attend and hopefully drive you to attend next year’s!

  • In order to be used by God we must submit to His timing. Which means acknowledging that when we ask God why He is waiting, perhaps He is waiting on us. So GO!
  • Our view of heaven is directly reflected in how we live our lives and do ministry. If our view is small our ministry will never grow because we are not letting there be room for God to do great things.
  • Youth ministers come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities, and denominational backgrounds.
  • There are tons of resources out there to help you succeed in youth ministry, and a lot of them are free! 
  • If we can’t imagine how we will spend time in the presence of God in heaven, we will not live on earth like we are spending time in God’s presence.
  • Youth workers totally fangirl over Josh Griffin, Doug Fields, Greg Stier, and many more.
  • Youth workers love free stuff (that’s a given but if you are in desperate need of a new wardrobe, unlimited candy, and tons bracelets then come to NYWC).
  • The church of God is the only plan, and there is no other option! What are we doing to unite the Bride of Christ to reflect what it will be in eternity?
  • God is not done with you or your ministry. As long as He sits on His throne He still has a move left and He will move through you! Be encouraged that this isn’t it and that God will work through you.
  • Sand art is visually stunning.
  • The church of Jesus Christ is “plan A”, there is no “plan B.”
  • God has a long history of using broken people for His honor.
  • Good neighbors don’t drive through, they journey with.
  • Worship is meant to be the force that shoves us outside the church, not the doors that keep us inside of it.
  • By loving students and spending time with them, this is how we will impact our schools and neighborhoods. This will be how we make a transformational difference in the lives of students.
  • Eugene Cho is not Francis Chan.
  • Worship does not need to be and shouldn’t be stagnant but full of vibrancy, joy, and praise.
  • Racial reconciliation is something we must be pursuing in our youth groups and churches.
  • Youth workers love Instagram and Twitter but spelling and grammar can go unheeded…mostly because we type too fast and our thoughts run together.
  • The LGBTQ community needs to know that the church extends love, grace, and reconciliation for past wrongs, future poor choice of comments, and the alienation they have received.
  • Concrete can do lots of damage to your face if you fall and don’t catch yourself.
  • God has a heart for students.
  • Programs don’t change people, Jesus changes people.
  • Youth leaders must do more to engage their schools and neighborhoods.
  • The Download Card from YS is the best offer out there. Most of the sessions are on there with the ability to listen, take notes, and have them at your disposal.
  • The YS Blog is a phenomenal resource for youth leaders.
  • DYM has a lot of fun games for youth groups and youth leaders alike.
  • Youth Specialties will not shy away from talking about the hard topics.

The joking and humor aside, NYWC is something that every youth worker should attend at some point in their career. It provides resources, rejuvenation, lasting friendships, networking opportunities, and invaluable teaching and education. My advice to those who budgets cannot support them in going to the conference is begin saving for the future. A little money put away at varying times will accrue and allow for the funds to develop. Also, ask Youth Specialties if there are any opportunities for a scholarship or volunteering at the conferences that will help to supplement the cost. NYWC is completely worth it, and is life and ministry changing. Hopefully we will see you next year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts

Waking up this morning I was greeted with the headline "President Trump". I wish I had stayed awake last night to watch the turn of events, but my warm and comfy bed was calling my name, plus I am getting older.

To be perfectly honest, I had thought Hillary was going to win the election and I had already prepared myself for that. I had voted not for either of the main candidates because morally I could not align with their views, policies, speech, or denials, so instead for the first time in my life voted third party.

This morning was vastly different from what I expected. I had thought I would see the normal post-election celebrations, the rejoicing among the party's supporters, boisterous parties after the victory speech, but instead there seemed to be two things that stood out. Fear and peace.

Together they seem like an odd coupling because when one normally fears, peace is not in direct sight. But these emotions came from opposite ends of the spectrum. Democrats and Republicans alike expressed both emotions and feelings. Neither party rested upon either one reaction but instead these feelings were expressed by people of all walks of life and political affiliations.

Too often I fear that we allow our political parties to define our faith. We place our faith in politicians. We place our faith in security that political policies will offer. We place our faith in change or hope. We place our faith in something tangible. We place our faith in something fallible...mankind.

My heart broke this morning as I witnessed young women I work with saying they were now scared of what this election meant for them. Scared that a president who advocated for using and assaulting women was now in control. Scared that they would become a victim and a statistic. Scared that they were once again marginalized and forgotten.

I cried as I saw many friends who are first generation immigrants wonder if their families would be torn apart. They questioned if they should move from a land they had fled to for freedom, because they now feared persecution. They feared that what happened to the Japanese Americans in World War Two may happen to them.

I watched in wonder as many people thanked God that "His candidate had won." I saw many pastors proudly post that "God placed the right man, and not the corrupt woman where he belonged." I read rants about how those who voted for Hillary needed to be expelled from the country and how America is once again God's chosen nation.

Is this truly the culture that we have allowed to become reality? My friends, have we allowed the political institution of one country to define how our lives are run? Do not hear me as advocating for some type of uprising or anarchy, but instead please pause for a moment and think about what would happen if we treated the Gospel the same way we treated this election.

Instead of posting constantly about the election on social media perhaps we should post about the Gospel. Instead of proclaiming God's candidate maybe we should proclaim the King of Kings. Instead of lambasting the evil political party that you oppose perhaps extending an olive branch and bringing cookies and coffee to those who differ in opinion and praying together may change something. Instead of stating that the president elect will turn back the dial on change for women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community perhaps we as believers should do better to initiate change within our own churches and congregations.

When did it become politics that changed the world? When did politicians begin to instill fear or peace in the hearts of man?

There is only one Man who brings both peace and fear. One Man who will change this world. One Man who died so that you may live, not in fear but in the glorious hope He offers.

Let us not rest in the fear or peace that this election has supposedly brought. Instead let us live in confidence knowing that Christ is alive, Christ died so that we may live, Christ will come back, and Christ most assuredly is in control yesterday, today, and forever.

Do not let this election define you or your mission. Let the Gospel always do that. Let the Gospel not our political stance be our voice. Rest assured that no man or woman, no country, no political stance, no policy will define you. It is the grace and restoration of the Gospel that defines us. Today, and every day, we should stand for the Gospel and its mantra.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Politicis - Get past the temporary and look to the eternal

Politics. Bleh. That very word brings such disdain right now. In case you are reading this and missed it, or maybe this is way past this time and years away in the future (if so I am hopeful it is better than now), but we are in the midst of the 2016 Presidential Elections, and it has been one for the record books.

I cannot adequately summarize the way this election has gone other than to say it has been one filled with anger, deceit, name calling, questioning of one's moral compass, and deep divides within friendships and families. And to think that is just within the church.

"Oh no," we cry out in protest. "It isn't us, it is the candidates who throw out all that verbal hate speech." Is it though? I abhor this time of year because of what it does to the body of Christ. I feel that during this time of year people become brazen, foolish, outspoken critics of one another with little fact or basis for what they do.

Never once do you see Christ champion for a political candidate throughout the entirety of Scripture. Of course Jesus and the Apostles argue for following our government and paying taxes, but never do you see Jesus hitting the streets proclaiming Caesar as the correct leader. Never do you hear Him champion for taxing the rich and giving it to the poor. Never do you hear Him advocate for either small, large, or no government. He simply says "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" and challenges us to think of things eternal.

Our red--and blue--flags go up and we huff and puff because we point to statements Christ made, people He cared for, His calls for social reform and we proclaim loudly, "See! There, that is why I vote..." you fill in the blank. But let me ask you something: Are you simply trying to shape Jesus to fit your political beliefs and ideologies, or are you allowing Jesus to formulate your political beliefs.

I would assert that all too often we fall prey to the former. Whether it be from parental influence, socio-economic status, the state we live in, a disillusionment with a political franchise that has distanced itself from its original stances, we allow our own self-righteousness and desires to shape how we view Christ in order to use that as our platform for change.

How dare we?! How dare we try to contextualize the King of the universe into so small of a box. To truly try to declare God to be a republican, a democrat, an anarchist, a green party member is to say, "God here is where I have contextualized You to be. Step into my confines and fit my mold." My how arrogant we have become.

I would dare to assert that our God, the Creator and the Alpha and Omega, is far greater than any political establishment, and we as Christians have a moral obligation not to any party but to glorify God Himself and proclaim Him crucified, dead, and alive. To proclaim He and He alone will save our country, our world, through His shed blood because no politician, no broken promises, no audio tapes or emails will ever bring salvation, it is only the Son of God who died in our place who will bring social justice, restitution, and healing to a hurt and broken world.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that He cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." I believe the reason we are so frustrated with this election and its candidates is because we are crafted for so much more than a career politician or television star. We are designed to long for eternity. We are formed to long for something past the temporary.

The disillusionment after November will come no matter which party succeeds. Whichever wins the race the other side will protest, and a few years later even the candidate's party will protest certain policies because we are never satisfied with the temporary. We always want more. We have an innate longing for the eternal. We have a desire to see God come and rid this world of its immoralities and failures. To see a kingdom where Hispanics and Caucasians live together without a wall. To see a kingdom where black and white are no longer racial divides but instead a declaration of the craftsmanship and beauty of the Creator. To see a kingdom where sin no longer causes divides and rifts in denominations but instead is wiped clean by the precious blood of the Lamb.

Brothers and Sisters let me implore you to not vote for a party this election. Do not vote simply because you believe in a political scheme. I encourage you to vote out of what will glorify God the most. I cannot tell you who to vote for, but I can ask you to saturate this election in prayer. To call for unity not divide. To treat others as your brothers and sisters not the enemy.

Neither candidate is perfect by far. There is a misogynistic reality star on one end and a habitual liar and cheat on the other. Both are so far removed from the Christian perspective that neither stands for Christ in my opinion. This is not a call to choose the lesser of two evils, because to do so would still allow for evil to win. In this case I do not know who to vote for. In many ways I am considering a third party candidate which many say is a vote against my past political party. But is it entirely wrong to say I am considering writing in the name Jesus Christ as my candidate?

This world is not my home, and praise God for that. This political circus will not define me, my beliefs, or my desire to proclaim Christ. In fact it has created a desire to distance myself from politics and instead seek to see God change hearts that will then change this country. My prayer today is that we unite and build the Body of Christ not our political parties. Keep God in the pulpit, politics out of it, and let us hope Christ returns soon.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Break the Mold

Back in the 90s there was a stereotypical youth pastor. He was a young, hip, 20-something who had just graduated from Bible college or grew up in the church he was now serving. He was loud, played guitar, and had a stellar video game collection. He introduced students to games that today would lead to a lawsuit, drove the church van like it was a hot rod, and only stuck around for 2-4 years. He typically got talked to by the elders at least once a month about the students' and his behavior that the church didn't like.

Fast forward to today and youth pastors look exceptionally different. We come in all different shapes, sizes, personalities, ages, and backgrounds. And not all of us are male either. We live in a very different world where youth ministers have changed and grown into capable leaders and servants who remain in with youth ministry for years, even decades. But the reality is that the perception of a youth pastor has not changed.

There are still those who look at youth pastors as assistant-level staff, who do not function in the same capacity as senior-level staff. They still see a youth pastor as the immature and brazen young person looking to make a name for themselves. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Many of today's youth pastors look exceptionally different and conferences like NYWC, Simply Youth Ministry, and Orange are helping to showcase that.

Yes, many youth pastors will be young and fresh and looking to take the world by storm for Jesus, but that doesn't just describe youth pastors. I became a senior pastor when I was just 23 and I will tell you, that was a challenge. I was seen as the young and rash pastor who was trying to move in on the turf of the veterans in town. But the truth is that there a variety of styles, shapes, and personalities when it comes to being any type of pastor. It isn't an age or maturity issue, it is a calling.

So what makes a youth pastor? The calling and passion that God Himself has instilled in someone's life. I have had the pleasure of learning under, working with, and witnessing youth pastors of all different types lead and care for students. They were loud, soft spoken, energetic, reserved, up front people, the behind the scenes type, gifted in speaking, a counselor, a Disney movie lover, a cat hater, a big kid, a theologian. But most of all, they were men and women who above all else loved Jesus and loved students as He did.

Today, youth pastors are vastly different than they were back in the 90s. They aren't looking to use youth ministry as a stepping stone to being a senior pastor. They aren't looking to break all the church rules and upset the elder board. They aren't looking to be everyone's best friend. They are looking to love students where they are at, to be a beacon of light in a dark world that tells students God doesn't matter or care. They are ministering to students who have been hurt, abused, told they aren't worth anything, forgotten, cast out, and left alone.

Youth pastors stand together under the banner of Christ to care for the upcoming generations that are hurting and broken. They are old, young, short, tall, black, white, Bible school dropouts and seminary grads. They are dynamic speakers who draw crowds and quiet disciple makers who draw 4-5 students. They are musicians and people who sing poorly and loudly proclaiming the salvation of Jesus. They are fallen people who would do anything to be the hands and feet of Jesus today to the students they serve.

I am proud to say I am a youth pastor. I am not a silicone mold, I am my own person. I do not fit the stereotype. I am broken, I am sinful, I am forgiven, I have a calling, and I love students. To all my fellow youth pastors: you matter more than you know! We may never hear it, but the impact we have on the lives of the students we serve is greater than we will see this side of heaven. Fight the good fight brothers and sisters, and never fit the mold! Be you, be unique, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to students you serve.

I am a youth pastor! What's your story?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fallen Servants

I had just returned home from a mission trip to Central America and I looked at the trending news and saw a headline that read "Megachurch Pastor Perry Noble Removed From Church." My heart sank, and inwardly I cried out "God not again!" As of late it seems too often there are church leaders failing in their leadership.

Darrin Patrick was removed from his position in the Acts 29 organization and from his pastoral position in the Journey Church for running over people and pushing his own image and agenda. Mark Driscoll was forced to resign from Mars Hill Church after allegations of plagiarism, belittling staff, and misappropriation of funds.  Perry Noble was dismissed by his church for his alcohol abuse and issues within his marriage. Tullian Tchividjian was let go for infidelity and dismissed from his ministries.

These are just some of the latest pastors to fall in their positions of leadership, and I must be honest these are only the ones that we hear about because they are the high profile leaders. The statistics for senior pastors failing in or leaving ministry (for moral, ethical, physical, or spiritual reasons) are startling to say the least. But what was even more startling is the amount of pressure that is placed upon these leaders to heed the calling God gave them.

Simply looking at the link above for statistics shows the undue stress these men and women are under and one can only imagine the added pressures of caring for an entire church body. That is not to say that simply because someone is a pastor they will fail, but we must acknowledge that as purveyors of the Gospel of Christ, it is easier for that to happen to those in ministry for these reasons and more:

  • We tend to believe that whatever happens in a ministry is because of our works not God's.
  • We convince ourselves that the ministry is ours not the Father's.
  • We believe that without us the ministry will falter.
  • We take all of the hurts, needs, and desires of our parishioners and place them on ourselves. 
  • We become convinced that we can do all things through me who gives me strength.
  • We become the end-all and be-all because people trust us and give us the room to do what we see fit.
The sad reality is that failing in Christianity is a part of life. We are sinful in nature and because of that we will fall, but too often we say "no not me." I am guilty of that. When I read of Noble's removal not only did I say "God not again," I also inwardly said, "God thanks that I work in youth ministry where this won't happen to me." 

How foolish am I to believe that this is a problem strictly associated with those in senior pastor roles? Sin afflicts us all, and we must take steps to combat sin in our lives! We must look to having the proper safeguards in place no matter if we are a volunteer, an elder, a youth pastor, a children's worker, or the executive pastor. Sin will always look to corrupt what God has necessitated for good, and we must not allow for that to happen. Satan would love nothing more than to see the Bride of Christ falter and fail. So what can we do to safeguard the church of God? First let's look at how to protect the ministries we serve in, and then how to help others - especially senior pastors - in their ministries. 

  • Always cover the ministry you serve in prayer. Jesus constantly prayed for His disciples and the calling God had given Him. We should do likewise.
  • Have accountability within the ministry. Allow for other leaders to speak into your life, your leadership style, and what you do. This helps to keep us humble and focused on the reality that these ministries are not about us but about the Father.
  • Ask yourself if the ministry would succeed without you, and why or why not. A good ministry will carry on without you because it is God-centric not you-centric. 
  • Do you find yourself calling it "your ministry?" Maybe practice calling it God's ministry and yourself the servant.
  • Take regular breaks from your ministry. Our staff team takes a monthly recharge day. It is a paid work day where we do not come into the office but instead make sure our spiritual walks are where they should be. It looks different for each person. For some it includes reading their favorite Christian books, others take prayer walks or some take time away to pray, and others just get the rest they need to recharge. 
  • Be willing to accept change and critiques. One of the hardest things to do is change, but we must be willing to because God calls for us to be vulnerable and eager to hear the Father's direction.
  • Talk to and listen to your spouse and children. Ask them for their honest input. Have you changed since being in ministry? Do you find joy in what you do? Do you spend enough time with them? Are they resentful of the ministry you serve?
These are just some ways we can safeguard the ministries we serve, but what about our senior pastors? These men have such a weight on their shoulders that can be understood by only those who have held these roles. I stepped into such a role at 23 and held it for roughly two years, and it almost made me walk away from ministry. To those men who serve faithfully in this position day in and day out for years on end: THANK YOU! The stress these men face is huge and daunting; we must fight for and with them as they face daily attacks from the evil one. So what can we do for them? Here are a few ways to love and support your pastor:
  • Send them a note of encouragement and thank them for what they do.
  • Take them and their family a meal or dessert and thank them for their sacrifice and love for you and others. 
  • Stop into the senior pastor's office to talk. Ask how they are doing, how you can pray for them, or ways that you can help outside of the ministry you serve. 
  • Ask your senior pastor to go on a prayer walk in the community and pause to pray for them specifically. 
  • Regularly engage with your senior pastor. So often it is easy to revert to our silos and rarely interact with other ministers, but we must engage! Have lunch together, take breaks together, have dinner at your homes, go on double dates. 
  • Ask your senior pastor to be your accountability partner. Go beyond Covenant Eyes, and actually sit down and share life together. Encourage one another and pray together.
  • Pray for them daily. These men of God need our love and support, but also heavenly support. 
To say that we are above failure is foolish and asinine. That is a lie of Satan and must be met with the truth of the Gospel. We are all fallen but we are redeemed in Christ and it is only through His power that we can accomplish anything. We must stand firm and not lambaste or lament these men who have fallen but pray for restoration, reconciliation, and protection for our ministries and those who lead them. Let us rise up in prayer and humility to serve the bride of Christ and honor the Great Shepherd who allows us to tend His flock. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Going to Belize

This Friday Elise and I, along with some other leaders from our church, are taking a team of 28 students and adults to serve in Belize for ten days. While there we will be helping to build a home, lead a VBS program, assist in upkeep at the orphanage we are staying at, and various other projects as they develop. This is my second time going, but for many who are on the team it is their first trip to this South American country.

I am so excited to be a part of this team again because the last time I was there I truly felt God calling us to serve the people of this country. My heart was moved by the generosity of the people living in a third world country, their love for others, and their love for life itself. I was humbled by how blessed I am and I truly saw God work in the lives of our team and the people we served. In the end it was us who were served by the very people we went to serve.

In three days I will be back in that amazing country and I am immensely looking forward to it! God has already done so much for our team. We have been praying hard for this trip and it has been awesome seeing the prayers answered. Here are a few of the answered prayers God has provided for us:

  • Our team is fully funded! We met our goal before our deadline and people have been more than generous.
  • Our team is unified and excited about what is in-store for us. Tonight is our last team meeting before we head down and everyone is excited for this.
  • We are preparing for our VBS program and have all the supplies and teaching teams assembled. 
  • The construction team is excited and ready to build a home for a family that deserves it. 
  • Our flights and hotels have all been finalized and we are ready to depart this week.
  • God has continued to alleviate any fears and hesitations that anyone has.
  • Our team need a specific type of bug spray to help prevent against any Zika strain, and we were able to get a great deal through the company. But God further provided as gracious donors provided all the money needed and the team owed nothing out of pocket!

These are but a few of the ways God has answered our prayers, and we believe He will continue to answer more as we go into Belize shortly. I would love to have you pray for us as we head down to serve this week. Here are some requests that we have:
  • Pray for continued unity for our team.
  • Pray that our team adjusts well to the heat and humidity.
  • Pray that we have joy even if there are frustrations.
  • Pray that we serve and love well. We have been learning as a team that we aren't going to fix a country or its people but rather to serve and care for them. Pray that we remember that.
  • Pray for safe travels and our luggage to arrive on time. 
  • Pray that we can be flexible as things change.
This is an amazing opportunity for us to go to Belize and serve God. I am so excited and believe that God can use trips like this to grow our team, and also to help others see the love of Jesus. I cannot wait to see what God does and I hope to update you as soon as I return. I will be posting to our youth's Facebook page throughout the week so feel free to look there for updates. We also have a page on our website that will feature updates, photos, and blogs from the team so feel free to check this out periodically. 

Mission work is near and dear to my heart and I am incredibly privileged to be a part of this team and am hoping that through this trip we can serve God and the people of Belize. This will be a time to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus and I couldn't be more excited!

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always to the end of the age."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Kitchen Floors

It was a conversation I wasn't expecting. He had followed me into the church kitchen in hopes of getting an extra snack from me, but the conversation that followed tore at my heart.

S: Hey, let me get a bag of those chips.
N: If you come to leadership on Wednesday, you will get these snacks and more there.
S: But I'm not on leadership...(voice trails off)
N: Why not?
S: I'm...I'm not sure I am a Christian. I don't always act like it, and people that know me would probably tell you I am not a Christian and that I don't believe in God.

So many thoughts flooded my mind that night. My first was, why is this conversation happening as I am kneeling on the floor in a kitchen frantically stuffing chips into a cabinet where hopefully they will last until Wednesday night? Then my second (after God slapped upside my head) was, thank you Jesus for letting this conversation happen.

Ministry happens in many odd and miraculous ways. This young man is an eighth grade student who has dealt with a lot in his life and knows who Jesus is but hasn't fully committed to letting Him rule His life. I never would have expected this conversation to happen the way it did, but it opened up a door for us to begin meeting weekly together and he agreed to answer the "hard questions" about Christianity honestly. I thank God for days where ministry just "happens" on kitchen floors and across counter tops.

The question we should ask is how do we get there? So often conversations like these happen at times and in ways we would least expect, but they happen because there has been trust built! This student has been someone I have intentionally been plugging into in small but very meaningful ways, and I am convinced that if we do more of this we will indeed start having more kitchen floor conversations about Jesus. From these kitchen floor chats we will see that the next logical step is a mentoring relationship, but first we must get to the kitchen floor. The following are just some helpful and practical tips to begin the framework--the trust factor--that will lead to these conversations and more!
  1. Acknowledge them
    You cannot run an effective ministry if you don't even acknowledge students when they are there. Not just on youth group or leadership nights. Acknowledge them all the time. On Sunday mornings, at the grocery store, where they work, even on date night. My wife and I bump into students all the time on date night and we love to pause and chat with them. Our priority is our time but we also love and acknowledge our students so they know that we care about them.

  2. Know their name
    It doesn't seem like much but there is so much value in being known. When someone calls you by name it means they remember you and care. This is more than many students get on a daily basis. Their teachers don't always remember them, their coaches forget them (especially if they aren't a starter), employers see them as a number, and sometimes in families they feel forgotten.

  3. Invest in their lives
    Go to their activities, and follow up with them! A huge thing with students is caring about what they do. I recently went to an orchestra concert for a few students and the smiles that came across their faces knowing they had an audience filled with supporters who didn't need to be there made my day! They still tell people "my youth pastor cares enough to watch me play the bass." Another student is into knitting (something I am not) but I ask all the time what she knits and who she knits for. She gets so excited sharing what she is passionate about and loves to come and show me gifts she makes for local widows.

  4. Follow through
    If you are going to do something then do it! Do not "forget," do not "find something else to do," but do it. Of course we will all miss things, but tell them you won't be there, don't leave it up to them to figure it out. Students have enough people letting them down, far be it from us to let them down also.

  5. Live a life worthy of imitation
    This is one we should all be doing. If we are going to call students to live like Jesus and to give their lives for Him we should be doing this as well. Students should see this in all aspects of our lives. How we speak to our spouses, how we raise our children, how we respond to frustrations (like when they talk during our messages or overflow the toilet twice in one night), how much time we spend with Jesus, how we care for others, and how we love. 
This list is not exhaustive, but it is the framework for building the relationship that leads to kitchen floor conversations about Jesus. I am excited to see what God is going to do through this mentoring relationship and after that night, I am praying for many more conversations about Jesus in places and ways I would never expect!

Lord Jesus, use us to have conversations about Christianity and salvation in ways we never see coming so that many more students will enter into Your kingdom and experience Your everlasting love!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What students need, not what they want

The old 90's song "What A Girl Wants" from Christina Aguilera says, "What a girl wants, what a girl needs, whatever makes me happy sets me free."

It is interesting because as I have worked within youth ministry I feel like this has become our mindset for our programs. No, we aren't just giving girls what they want (think bigger), we are giving our students what they want in order to make them happy.

Have you ever noticed how we cave to popular culture in our youth programming? How we have to match the trends that are up and coming? Just take a look around your youth room, area, wing, whatever. Do you have a ton of technology? Does your worship team play all the new and upbeat Christian music? Do you have to have tons of sugary snacks to bring students in? Are you always looking for a new game, gimmick, or outreach program to bring in more kids?

Please hear me out. I am not trying to guilt trip any of us. We all use these tools and I believe most of us use them effectively, but is this what youth ministry was meant to be? Were we meant to be the popular place, the place students automatically want to go, the "it" place in town? Or were we meant to be Gospel-centered places of refuge, revitalization, and freedom?

Many of you, like I first did, will cry afoul. We teach the Gospel, we help make disciples, we minister to broken youth. Yes we do. But my argument, my mindset, is that we need to have the proper foundation upon which to do these programs. It shouldn't be bringing in kids with lights, loud music, sweets, froyo, inflatables, and activities no one else is doing. It should be with the Gospel. The Gospel is what should be bringing students into our youth groups, our churches. We can argue all day that we need to make the Gospel relevant to our culture, but the reality we fail to realize all the time is that the Gospel will transcend all time, all cultures, all demographics, all age groups. Jesus knew this and to be frank He understood youth ministry.

Jesus led the greatest band of youth in the New Testament when he took eleven young men and one adult, who didn't know how to keep his mouth shut, and turned them into the greatest revival in history. Jesus worked with troubled kids, bullies, liars and thieves, rebels, and many others and He didn't bring them in with sugary treats, technology, and bold outreaches. Instead, He brought them in with honest teaching, interpersonal relationships, a multiplication model, constant prayer, and ultimately let them go. Are we ready for that? Are we modelling that? I know I haven't been willing to let go, but I believe we need to model the programming Christ set forth. Will you step out with me and let the revival come?

So what should we do? I am not saying rid your youth group of candy, games, outreach events, and craziness because these are all good things, but instead I believe we should rethink our purpose and how we do things. I would suggest four things to do:

Preach the Gospel unabashedly
This should be a no-brainer but the reality is the Gospel isn't always as prevalent as it should be. Think about it: how much time do you devote to games, snacks, hangout time, movies, etc. Now think about how much time you take preaching the Word of God and proclaiming salvation. Does the obvious one outweigh the other? Our priorities can be noted by the time we spend there. Please do not hear this as being critical of youth pastors and their programs. I am in that place as well. It is something that even as I write this I am strongly convicted and questioning how we do ministry. This is meant to be more of a rallying cry for us to stand upon our convictions and push them home. Let us put the Gospel back in the central point it deserves!

Become a safe place
Again, we probably all assume that our youth programs are safe areas for students, but I think we miss things. Bullying is a hot topic and I think most of us could say we keep bullying out of our programs, but what about gossip, sarcasm, judging others, disrespect? These things can drastically alter the DNA of a youth group and cause it to become a place where students do not want to be. We need to be a place that builds its foundation on the Gospel, and then seeks to promote love, peace, forgiveness, and grace. We need to start educating our students on the dangers and problems associated with these attitudes and heart issues.

Another way to be a safe place is to constantly push home that students can be themselves here, that there is no judgement, that there are people they can talk to, and they can trust us. I have written before on trust, and I cannot over emphasize this point. We need to keep our word and our confidences with students (of course there are always extenuating circumstances, but the short version is keep your word). We as pastors, as leaders, as volunteers, must be a source of trust, advice, and direction in a student's life and we need to be a place that students know they can come for help. Bring in volunteers who are gifted in counseling, make connections with licensed counselors inside and outside your church, have crisis care information at the ready, and talk about these issues! The one thing I cannot express enough is we need to be leaders who do not brush the issues under the carpet or do not talk about them because they are messy and difficult. We must talk about them and we must educate our students on how to walk through these times, all the while advocating our support, love, and care for them.

Start from the ground up
We need to be a praying generation. Maybe it is just something that God has been stirring within my heart, convicting me in areas I fall short, but I believe we need to be praying more for our volunteers, our students, our ministries, our churches, and our world. If we are not falling on our knees to ask God to change our world, our towns, our students, we are missing the mark. If you study the early church in Acts you see that everything they did was covered in prayer. It was prayer and seeking God in Acts 2 that caused thousands to be added to their numbers. When the believers prayed for boldness in Acts 4, God gave fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and the uneducated the ability to proclaim God's Word, and they grew again! Going further into Acts we see countless times that prayer brought about salvationsending out of disciples, and discipleship!

Prayer can and will transform our programs! Are we praying enough? I am sure many, if not all of us are praying during our personal study times, we pray during staff meetings, at home for meals, with our spouses and children, but when was the last time you prayed over the church, your youth room, where you do counseling? When was the last time you brought your volunteers, student leaders, and/or parents in to pray for that week's meeting? I believe that prayer must be part of our foundation or we will never experience the growth that the early church did. So often I have wondered why a program not growing more? Why has it remained stagnate? Why are we just existing? And then the Holy Spirit grabs my heart and says, "Get on your knees you foolish man. You cannot do this. Only I, the God who placed you here, can!" My question is, are we praying enough? I know I am not. Perhaps if we all prayed, if we rallied our volunteers, students, parents, church staff and prayed fervently and constantly sought the face of God, we would see an explosion happen once again in the Bride of Christ.

Be prepared for a revival
Coming off of the last point, I think we need to ask ourselves, are we truly ready for revival to come like we sing about in our songs? Truly, if we cry out in prayer God is inclined to move through His people and are we ready for that? Can you see youth groups and churches bursting from the seams as God fills the church? Can you see schools and towns changing? Can you see the world changing? This is the vision John has in Revelation when he sees people from every tongue and nation singing and worshiping God! Guys this is an amazing picture of what is coming, and we need to ask ourselves, are we ready for this? Are we doing our part to share the Gospel with those we minister to?Are we content to be where we are and just exist? May it never be! Let us be ever willing to cry out for this!

So what should we do to prepare for this?
  • Have leadership ready - Get a team of volunteers, student leaders, and parents in place to help disciple, pray for, and walk with people who come to the church.
  • Put the priority on God - Always preach the Gospel, always give God glory, and always direct others to Him.
  • Be prepared to make changes on faith - Look to grow the church and not be tied down to a location, facility, program, or way of doing things. God sent the disciples out with no place to lay their heads or any understanding of the world outside of their country and look what happened. The church, the Bride of Christ, came into existence! 
  • Be in prayer - Be in constant prayer for what God is going to be doing. Always look to Him for guidance, direction, and understanding.
  • Get other youth groups and churches in on this - Don't be an island; look to be ecumenical and inclusive with other Gospel-believing churches. God is going to do great things not through one program or church but through all of His people. Bring others in!

I know this was a lot tied into one post, but we need to be willing to let go of our programming and let God run the show without trying to do it our way. Let us love unabashedly, serve without hesitation, give God the glory and control always, and reach our students, families, and the world with the amazing truth that is the Gospel.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cynical much?

Have you ever found yourself to just be in a complaining rut? Do you come home and just talk about how poor your day was, or how horrible your co-workers are? Are you noticing you are overly pessimistic? Do you ever feel like you're overly cynical? Or maybe do you just feel like everything around you is just horrible?

Maybe its just me who feels this way, but I don't think I am alone. Recently I have been feeling very cynical toward life and people. I find that sometimes I hit this rut due to stress, work, or just life in general and I tend to have a pessimistic attitude toward life. Usually I am fairly happy and jovial but sometimes I just hit a point where, for a little while, I just think, act, and talk like life is horrible and the people around me aren't where they should be. I just have a dismal attitude toward life in general, but unfortunately people become my target and I complain about them a lot.

Perhaps it is because people are there. They are always around, and in constantly interacting with them, my perfectionist side sees it and can easily recognize their faults and then my sinful nature tears them apart. I am a messed up person, I will be the first to admit that, but I don't think that I or we should simply chalk up shortcomings to our sinful nature. Yes we are sinful, but that cannot be our cop out. We cannot allow it!

Within the past week I have felt God crying out to me saying, "Stop! Stop talking about people. Stop seeing their faults. Stop believing you are better then they are. Stop complaining. Just stop." But then I heard Him say something else...Start. "Start loving people again. Start seeing people as I see them again. Start serving again as I serve. Start being my hands and feet again. Start!"

If I had to be perfectly honest, I don't like conviction. I already said I am a perfectionist so when I hear "stop" or feel in the wrong it hurts because I know I didn't meet the requirements. I didn't meet the standard that was set. I fell short. But then that is when I look to Scripture. Scripture tells us we all fall short, but that it is God who does the work within us and helps us to change!

Now I say all this and I know there has to be practicality. It is one thing to say "I will stop being cynical" or "I will stop complaining" but we all know that isn't how it works. We must have some ways to combat this. So after some prayer and searching Scripture, these are some ways I found that can be very helpful in overcoming our cynical mentality.
  1. Pray for those you complain about. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that prayer is important, but it also tells that we are to pray for our enemies. This doesn't just mean someone who is your mortal enemy, but anyone who rubs you the wrong way. If you find you come home and you complain about your boss, your professor, the other company, a friend, random drivers on the road, try stopping and praying for them. Not that God would change them and their heart, but that He would change yours. Pray that God shows you their good qualities. Thank God for them. List three things that they do well.
  2. Be mindful of what you say. This is a big one for me. I don't always think before I speak. I am from the Northeast originally and I tend to blame it on growing up in a fast paced lifestyle, but let's be honest: sometimes I don't care about what I say or I just want to say something for the sake of saying it. The Bible tells us that we need to be slow to speak but also quick to listen. So often I believe the source of conflict and a cynical attitude comes from a misunderstanding of a situation that, when we see it our way, we are quick to criticize or complain about. For instance: the person you are scheduled to meet weekly with has been consistently late and is always distracted during your meeting leaving you feeling undervalued, frustrated, and unaccomplished. You hear them talking about issues at home but you tell yourself when they are at work they should be focused on work and on their co-workers, otherwise what separates work from home? But what you missed was that their mother was seriously injured and they are caring for her at their home, their car died and they have to walk to work, and their spouse lost their job. And all we could do was complain about how they were distracted or late or left us feeling unfulfilled. When we begin to listen and care about people more we begin to be more mindful of what we say because we become invested in their life.
  3. Check your heart. Sometimes I have found that it isn't the people around me who have changed, it is me. Usually I am getting overwhelmed and because I hold myself to a very high standard, I impart that onto other people without telling them. That isn't right at all because who am I to tell them that they need to match my way of doing things? But it gets worse because then when they fail, I hold it against them and they have no idea why I seem angry, or frustrated, or annoyed. That is a heart issue. It is pride. We cannot allow ourselves to transfer our sin issues onto others. Instead, ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to make you a better servant. Ask Him to show you where you need to grow. Ask Him for people who can honestly and openly speak into your life and challenge you.
  4. Start a service jar. This is along the lines of a swear jar, but you aren't adding money to it, you are adding acts of service. There are a couple different ways to go about this. One is you could make up a bunch of service acts beforehand and stick them in a jar. Then whenever you complain, have a bad attitude, or are cynical you need to take one act of service out and complete it within 24 hours. The second way is that whenever you are critical about someone or something (like your job) you need to complete an act of service toward whomever and whatever that may be within 24 hours and place a piece of paper describing what you did in your service jar. How can you serve your job you ask? Maybe you bring in donuts for your team. Perhaps you show up early and empty the trash cans. Maybe you take some people out to lunch. Or maybe you find ways to thank everyone for what they do.
  5. Serve those you are cynical about for thirty days. This is a big challenge, and not one for the faint of heart. This takes the service jar thought process, caters it specifically toward people, and magnifies it. If there is someone you find yourself complaining about all the time, commit to serving that person for 30 days straight. Now I know myself and I know I will still probably find something to complain about while serving them, so I would say the service jar rules still apply as well. Kind of a double whammy, but let's be real: a lot of us need that! So my challenge would be find a way to serve them that isn't self-serving, or out of contempt. Don't give them a watch to help them be on time. Instead ask how you can help them with their workload. Inevitably this will lead to you actually caring about and getting to know that person. And what you will come to realize is that through this you have started to change. 
I know this isn't easy. It is a lot easier to wallow in our own self-pity and frustrations. To give in to complaining and bad mouthing others. But is the easiest way truly the right way? Is it even the best way? No it isn't. We cannot give in to this mentality. We are called to be different. We are set apart for something greater. So who will stand with me as we stand above reproach and given toward honoring others and Christ through our words, actions, and thoughts? God help us to be different and more like you!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What to do when you are frustrated by your employment and/or ministry

**Disclaimer: The following has nothing to do with my current employment or my current feelings toward it. This is simply a piece designed to help those who are struggling in their work and ministry contexts as I know there are times we all question why we are doing what we are doing. With that said, I have been there, I have had feelings of inadequacy, wanting to walk away, and feeling like I needed a change of scenery. I am hoping that offering some advice, encouragement, and personal insight may help those around me.**

Your boss walks into your office Tuesday morning, sits down and tells you that your department met your quota and beat out every other department, but he is downsizing yours due to budgetary reasons. Oh and by the way he expects you to maintain your quota in the same time frame you just met.

Your senior pastor meets you as you are setting up for programming and seemingly off the cuff states "You and I don't appear to be on the same mission together...we need to fix that. Oh and how did last night go?"

You just successfully ran your organization's biggest fundraiser and netted them the largest amount of donations they have ever had. Some of your fellow employees walk over after the evening has ended and all they can do is complain about the service, food, pleading for money, and how you should have chosen a different career path.

You work in a male-dominated office where you are never taken seriously. Jokes are constantly made about how you should handle all the office parties because you're a woman and know about cooking and decorating. Every time you suggest something that could improve your work environment or the entire company you are given the proverbial pat on the head and told to let the men handle the real work.

The elder board calls you in for an emergency meeting. You show up thinking you are ready for anything, but then they look at you and say, "Well, you have done a good job here. But your ministry costs a lot of money, money we don't we are going to have to let you go." What are you going to tell your wife and kids?

Many of us have had experiences just like these or very similar to them. Some of you reading this may be walking through these circumstances right now, and perhaps you found yourself yelling in affirmation, "That's me!" I get it. Work or ministry is hard at times and it drains you. I totally get it.

My ministry is my career. I love what I do. I am passionate about it. And to be frank: I have been hurt a lot in ministry. I have also been hurt in careers outside of ministry. I have been let go, I have been criticized for how I ran my team, I have had to fire people because I was told to, I have been told maybe ministry isn't my calling, I have been told I work for Satan. I don't offer these as a way of saying, "Look, I have weathered the storm why can't you?" I offer this to say, "I get it." I understand. I have walked through garbage in my jobs and career as well. I simply want to offer you some reflective reasons for why this happens, and some means to cope. Neither will be exhaustive, but my hope is to encourage you, any of you, who are reading this and feeling spent, hurt, forgotten, or marginalized.

So why does this happen? Before we get into this I would ask that we lay aside all default defenses. Yes, your boss could be the reason. They could just be a horrible person who hates life, teddy bears, and small children. Yes, your work environment could be dismal. The roof leaks, the trash is never emptied, and your co-worker smells. And yes, your job is just a job. You don't want to be there, they don't want you there, and to be honest you are looking elsewhere. I get it. There a lot of circumstances, but I want to look inward, at ourselves. Often times we tend to blame the problem and refuse to look at ourselves. I am not looking to blame, I am simply saying let's take a look at our own hearts and motivations before we do.

Looking inward is more often than not a frustrating and discouraging activity as we see faults, inconsistencies, and sin. It is when we do this that too often we beat ourselves up because we see glaring areas that must be fixed, but my hope is that as we work through these areas we do not become self-deprecating but instead look at this with hope, resiliency, and a desire for change. Again, there are many areas in which we could struggle but I believe these four are the key areas for many of us.
  • Selfishness
    • Often times we place value on our job, our desk, our way of doing things, our methodology, our teaching, our skill set, our ministry...our, our, our! Now here is the thing: what gives you the right to have ownership over anything you do? Your desk was probably there before you started working. That ministry can and will continue without you. Your skills are yours but other people have skills and knowledge as well. The problem is we are told that we deserve something, actually everything, that we want and so we pursue everything as if it is already ours. But the crazy thing is nothing is yours. The Bible says in Psalm 24 that the entire earth is the Lord's. Not ours. When we continue with the notion that the items of this world are ours we become selfish, resentful, and indigent with change and new ideas or systems. That is our problem. That is our heart, our sinful nature, grasping and pulling at us telling us that we deserve everything when the truth is we deserve nothing but are given everything
  • Pride
    • Pride is a natural progression from selfishness, but I believe that it is more dangerous. Pride is coupled with arrogance, a critical attitude, and a judgmental spirit that can be disastrous to the workplace, co-workers, relationships, families, and yourself. Now some may jump up and champion that they take pride in their work because they were raised to work hard and this is America! We are proud of our work ethic. And to that I would say good, be proud of it. But where is that pride truly rooted? Is it in yourself, your accomplishments, your work ethic, your neat desk area, your ministry, the growth you brought to your program, the way you lead and teach? Or is it rooted in Christ? When you are proud of your work do you say, "I am proud because God has given me this work ethic, this job, this paycheck, this team, this ministry"? Do you call everything yours or do you thank God that He and He alone has allowed you to step into this career and work for Him, to give Him glory? These are hard questions and I would encourage you to ask them of yourself. 
  • Lack of direction and communication
    • I am not talking about direction given from a superior. I am talking about how we sometimes show up to just get our job done and do not offer to do anything more, we are content to just meander along without any desire to grow, we simply maintain. This is not okay. Doing this does a disservice to others because it shows a lack of accountability. We are saying that we do not have the capability to think for ourselves and instead pass the blame to someone else. He/she never told me to do this. I never knew I couldn't put staples in the coffee maker. How was I supposed to know metal in the microwave would cause it to blow up? This is our mentality because we are rooted in sin. We started doing this at the beginning of time! We pass the blame and hope for the best because we are too stubborn and selfish to ask for direction! If we simply communicated and asked for help so many problems would cease to exist and we could potentially thrive in our careers and ministries.
Now I know this post is getting long but please bear with me. I would love to offer some ways to help you cope with your work environment if it is truly a struggle to be there. Because let's be honest, sometimes the workplace won't get better. You may be doing everything you can to please God and your boss (no they aren't the same regardless of what they tell you) and it still is a horrible place to be. So let me offer these thoughts:
  • Pray
    • Do this a lot! Sometimes in hard times and dismal work environments we forget to do that. If you have a nasty boss pray for them. Pray for that "lazy" co-worker. Pray for the janitor who never empties your trash. Pray. You do not know what is going on in that person's life that could make them the way they are. So ask God to help you see them as He does: His child that He lovingly created and hopes to have a relationship with.
  • Talk to someone
    • Go and find someone who is older and wiser than you and seek direction. One of the greatest benefits in my life is having mentors speak into it. These people have helped me grow, called me on my inconsistencies and shortcomings, and have challenge me to be a better man, employee, and servant of God. They also listen and will have your back. If you need help finding someone, ask me and I will give some clarifying ways to do so.
  • Communicate with your boss
    • If your work sucks, have you talked to your boss? Have you expressed your dissatisfaction? Have you done so respectfully, without having your frustrations come through, your blood boil, or going with preconceived notions? All of those will contribute to poor communication and lack of results. Go honestly and with a clear head. Share what is going on, ask for change, and be willing to meet halfway or even two-thirds. 
  • Take a break
    • Sometimes you need a vacation. Time to recharge your batteries. Take it! If you are frustrated and upset, now is the time.
  • Ask yourself some questions
    • Is this the right job for you? What makes this place difficult for you? Why do you stay? Are you contributing to your own frustrations? What would your ideal job look like? Does that job exist? Being honest with yourself and asking hard questions will hopefully bring about some resolve to the situation.
  • Do not take your anger and frustration home
    • If you are married, have a family, have roommates, trust me they know when you have had a bad day. They know when work is bad, your boss yelled at you, etc. But you do not have to treat them like they are part of the problem. They care about you and only want the best. We need to learn to share our hurts, problems, and issues without getting on them for what happened at work. 
  • Look to how Jesus handled conflict
    • Jesus spoke into the situations calmly, with authority, and with respect. If things got heated (like when they tried to kill Him), He moved on. When people were obnoxious (disciples and Pharisees), He spoke to them in a way to teach them and make them better. Maybe Jesus knew a thing or two about leadership?
  • Write a verbatim
    • Most of you probably have no idea what this is, which is fine, I didn't either until a year or so ago. A verbatim is a paper that you write about a conflict you are in. You write down everything that happened verbatim in a script form (Nick: blah blah, Tom: blab blab, etc.). Then you ask probing questions afterward and answer them. What could I have done differently, how did this make me feel, what did I do to contribute to the situation, how did I help the other person, what were all potential outcomes of the situation, how did I respond, how did the other people respond, what could I have done better, how can I fix the situation?
I am no workplace specialist. I do not claim to have all the answers. My desire is that this offers you some hope and encouragement.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

29 going on 30

Wow! I cannot believe I am going to be 30 this Friday. It is crazy to think that I am already done with 29 years, and entering into the middle portion of my life. I know for many of you reading this you may say "Nick, you aren't that old" or "you have the best years ahead of you," but for some reason I can't help but reflect on what has occurred in my life these past years. So I wanted to share just some momentous years from this past decade with you. So sit back and check out some of the high points in the last ten years!
  • I enrolled at Moody Bible Institute in 2006.
  • I graduated college in 2009.
  • I began a temporary career in security in 2009 that resulted in learning some pretty cool stuff and meeting some incredible people.
  • I bought my first new car in 2011. Wrecked it, and bought another.
  • I began working as a senior pastor at a church in New Egypt, New Jersey in 2011.
  • I got my own place for the first time ever in 2011. It wasn't the prettiest but I struck out on my own!
  • Elise and I began dating in 2012.
  • I moved to Iowa in 2012.
  • Elise and I became engaged in 2012 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
  • Elise and I got married on July 13, 2013!!!
  • Elise and I took our first trip together outside of the country to Jamaica in 2013.
  • I accepted a position at Parkview Church in Iowa City working with their Student Ministry Program.
  • Elise and I relocated to Iowa City in 2013.
  • I helped to orchestrate the biggest high school outreach for Parkview that is now entering its third year.
  • I took my first missions trip since college to Belize in 2014.
  • Elise and I celebrated our one year anniversary.
  • Elise and I began sponsoring our Compassion Child, Subhashree, in 2015.
  • Elise and I went on vacation to Mackinaw.
  • Elise and I celebrated two years of marriag.
  • I began my pursuing a dream of obtaining my Masters in Biblical Counseling with a Youth and Family emphasis.
  • I started formulating the outline for a book proposal on holistic counseling for those who have walked through abuse, the abuser, and their families.
Call it a bit of nostalgia or reminiscing or Facebook flooding me with memories or whatever, but these past ten years have been pretty good to me, and because of that I think I do not want to let go. I think that is the way many of us lead our lives. We stay focused on the past. Things worked this way in the past so we must continue to do them this way, even if a newer way may be more effective. We had our best years behind us, and fear the future. We are getting older and weaker and our bodies don't work like they used to. As I sat here reflecting on my past, as amazing as it was, I realized that this mentality was rooted in something: fear. Fear of the future. Fear of aging. Fear of becoming irrelevant. Fear of the end. Fear of not meeting goals. Fear of failing. You name it, fear has become the master of our lives. But why is that? Why is this rooted there?

Have you ever noticed fear being used in the Bible? Have you also noticed that it is usually used within the context of "fear not"? God knows that we as humans fear. We fear disease, famine, wars, ISIS, terrorism, cancer, death, the afterlife, school, tests, tomorrow, interactions, loss, being told no, our mirror, our true selves. But the crazy thing is that in the midst of all this fear God tells us to fear not.

Fear not. It is a funny phrase. Fear not. Literally do not fear. But why shouldn't we fear? Isaiah 41:10 says this: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. We don't have to fear because the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, I am, Jehovah, the Creator, the Everlasting God will always protect us and see us through things.

Thirty is a new milestone for me. It symbolizes the unknown, a new road to follow, getting older and hopefully wiser, more life changes. In the midst of it all I am vowing to FEAR NOT! And because of that I decided to make a list, not a bucket list, but a list of things that in faith I believe God will accomplish in this next decade of my life. So here ya go:
  • Elise and I will celebrate ten years of being married and many more after that!
  • I will graduate with my masters.
  • I will begin actually writing and potentially publishing one of my books.
  • I will continue to allow God to use me as a minister for His kingdom.
  • Elise and I will see God grow our family.
  • Elise and I will get a dog.
  • I will pay off my debt.
  • Elise and I can sponsor more Compassion Children.
  • Elise and I will travel more.
  • The ministry I serve in will grow and impact people with the Gospel.
  • I will grow in my knowledge of God.
  • I will grow in my knowledge of counseling.
  • I will help family members come to know Jesus.
So here is to turning thirty! Not just another year older. Not just more gray hairs. Not feeling aged. But trusting God to continue to work in my life and use me as His hands and feet to bring this world to know the saving power of grace. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A new type of politics

Change! Hope! I want to be that champion! Heal! Inspire! New Possibilities! New! Defeat! Higher Ground! No these are not posts for an inspiration cat poster that should adorn someone's office wall, but rather slogans, or snippets of slogans, that are being thrown around in our current political climate.

In case you haven't seen or heard, it is an election year and as such the perpetual mudslinging, political ads, and flyers are being relentlessly pushed into our faces. Surf the internet and the ads that target you are political. Open your mailbox and there are the candidates' faces plastered across endless postcards. Turn on the tv and watch the ads that support candidates and ones that tear apart all the others. The radio airs one political parties' advertisement and then immediately after the opponents. When does it end? Maybe I am just sensitive to this now that I live in a state that hosts a Caucasus and political candidates flock to. But when is enough, enough?

Now please hear me out. I love politics. I truly do. I believe every citizen has an inherent duty to vote in elections as this is how our country functions. It is how laws are passed as the candidates we support help to push laws forward. It is how we demonstrate our moral fortitude and resolve. I even love debating about politics. I may not be good at it, I don't always have the answers, and I know not everyone agrees with me, but I enjoy talking about it.

What I hate is how this time of year dictates almost everything that happens. We are fed constant spoonfuls of hate, name calling, mudslinging, and trivial backbiting, and that is only among the political candidates in the party we support. We are only in the primaries. But even more I hate what it does to the common people. To all of us.

Grab a handful of people and put them in a room. Challenge them to talk politics and their candidates without getting angry, walking out, or breaking into fisticuffs. It probably won't happen. Or better yet, scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and attempt to do so without becoming frustrated by the hundreds of political posts you see. This time of year turns people against each other and that's a problem.

I have seen families refuse to have conversations, friendships fractured, churches refrain from talking about anything dealing with politics, and countless people hurt from this time of year. Maybe instead of allowing our support of politicians to change us into someone who no one else wants to deal with, we should instead look to bring Jesus into the conversation? Instead of getting angry maybe we should look back on one of the best "campaign slogans" ever produced: WWJD. Instead of criticizing other candidates or those who support them maybe productive and calm dialogue would be better.

Oh and perhaps I should take this time to point out that Jesus wasn't a Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Libertarian, or whatever else! Jesus didn't allow politics to sway Him. He didn't align with a political party. In fact Jesus brought people into His team of 12 whose politics were drastically different! He brought a Zealot who wanted to overthrow Rome. He had a tax-collector who worked for the Romans and robbed the poor. He had a poor fisherman who was part of the working class. He brought in people with religious backgrounds that were opposed to one another. You tell me what political party Jesus fell into? You can't!

One of the few times we see Jesus reference politics is when He tells those around Him to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Jesus was responding to a political question that was an attempt to trap Him so He could be arrested, but He did something radical within the moment, as only Jesus truly can. He flipped the coin on it's head and challenged common thinking by saying honor your government by obeying them (paying taxes) but also honor God by giving Him what is His (your life and everything you have). This may seem a little odd because if we give our government something how then can we give everything to God? The answer is that by obeying God's command and doing what He tells us, we are giving God everything! We have obeyed Him and as such have given Him our lives!

So what does this have to do with the political climate today? I simply want to challenge you to think about a few things:
  1. Who are you voting for and why?
  2. Does your candidate align with what Scripture is saying? 
    • Truly no one will ever perfectly align with God's Word because we are all broken and sinful, but have we chosen the best fit?
  3. Are you treating others (yes even those in the party that you cannot stand) the way Jesus would?
  4. Realize that our state, our country, our world will never truly know peace, love, and mercy until the Lord Himself returns and establishes it. Our words, actions, Facebook posts, memes, and whatever else we come up with will not change this world. God and God alone will change this world. The question is are you ready and willing to accept that?
To all my politically active friends: I love you. Know I hear your heart and passion for this, and I know that you fight so hard for this because you believe it to be right. But look to Christ's example and see if you align with it. Are you doing this in love? I know I haven't been. Will you join me in pursuing this part of our year in a manner that Jesus would? Will you maybe pause from declaring your candidate's prowess, your party's smarts, and your political knowledge and instead get on your knees and ask God to allow for us to be His disciples in this world? Maybe, just maybe, what we need is less politics and more Christ. 

Just some thoughts from someone who may or may not be a part of a political party, who supports a particular candidate, but is someone who loves Jesus and will do all he can to spread God's love this and every season of his life.