I Love You Just the Way You Are

I love you just the way you are
-Walt Mueller

I experienced pains of “anticipatory agony” the night before my seventh grade gym class assembled on the cinder quarter-mile track for the annual mile run for time. I remember praying two prayers as I lay fitfully awake on that eve of aerobic despair: “God, please help me finish!” and “Please don’t let me finish last!” Both prayers were answered.

Unfortunately, I remember something else about that day. After the run, I joined my peers in that all-too-common junior high ritual that leaves many kids feeling like a heap of trash: we laughed at the overweight and out-of-breath kid who, once again, crossed the finish line last and all alone.

The early adolescent years combine fast-paced change and the confusion of wondering, “Am I normal?” Add to these insecurities the desire to fit in and a peer group that knows little or nothing about sensitivity, and you’ve got a volatile mix. Remember what it was like to walk the junior high halls and feel like every eye was focused on you and how you didn’t seem to measure up? It’s the same today. There are insecure kids who find themselves labeled as “popular,” and the remaining insecure lot who get crushed under the weight of serving as stepping stones in the struggle to build up one’s self by putting others down.

The standards of today’s acceptance game have been raised. The new emphasis on physical beauty and body shape established by media icons have left changing girls and boys wondering, “Will I ever be good enough for somebody to love?” Thin is not only in, but sexually desirable. Consequently, many kids are spending more time in front of the mirror and more time lying awake anticipating another day of nasty junior high ridicule.

Twelve-year-old Sammy Graham had one of those nights back in August of 1996. With the first day of school scheduled the next morning, this outstanding student from a solid loving family had gone to bed after praying with his father and two young brothers. The next day, before anyone else was awake, Sammy took a flashlight, rope and step stool into the backyard. Later, his father found Sammy’s dead body hanging from a tree.

Sammy was apprehensive about the teasing he’d have to endure because his 5’4″ body carried 174 pounds. The pain of death was more bearable than the pain of a ridiculed life. The pressure was just too much.

We can learn many lessons from Sammy. First, we must constantly remind our kids of their uniqueness as God’s handiwork, knitted together and formed according to His purpose and plan. No matter how much worldly standards change, their Heavenly Father sees each one as beautiful.

Of course, transferring this truth from mere words to reality requires a second step: We must point out the appearance lies of the world and emphasize the truth of their standing in God’s eyes by giving them a show-and-tell shower of time, love, acceptance and affection.

This battle with our culture’s horribly skewed standards doesn’t look to get easier any time soon. But we do know that junior high kids who are confident in themselves and sensitive to others typically have something special happening in their relationships with dad and mom.

Several times a week I run at our local school track. Recently, I have shared the track with a number of physical education students as they run the mile for time (poor kids!). During one recent jog I watched as the teacher blew his whistle signaling the start of the run. Naturally, the most athletic members of the class took off at a fast pace. The rest of the class lagged behind but kept moving ahead (I did hear a few moans and complaints as even I was able to pass them).

Then I watched in wonder as a beautiful sight unfolded. There on the track, far behind the pack and even further behind the athletes, walked two figures side by side. One was a girl, terribly overweight. For her, running a mile was probably impossible. But walking next to her, voicing words of encouragement, was a slender and athletic-looking peer who looked as if she could have run and perhaps even finished first.

Four laps together … from start to finish. One person was saved from humiliation. The other, well, her parents should be proud. I was reminded of the simple command of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.” I’m in the midst of watching two of my own children struggle with those junior high pressures and expectations. I’m convinced that living out these words of Jesus at home is one of the best gifts we can give our young adolescents.

The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding grants permission for this article to be copied in its entirety, provided the copies are distributed free of charge and the copies indicate the source as the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.

For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.

©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

Ropes Course at Gordon College

Team, below is the form I need filled out for the ropes course tomorrow morning.  Please download the form and bring it with you tomorrow morning to the church.

Meet up: 7:15am
Get back: 5:15pm

What you need to bring:

What to Wear:
Participants should dress modestly and wear loose-fitting clothing that can get a little sweaty and dirty.  Clothing should be weather appropriate and include rain jackets during all seasons.

My Pre-Trip Visit to Toronto

I had the opportunity to visit CSM: Toronto on Tuesday.  I flew in early Tuesday morning and came home on Wednesday morning, but despite the brevity of the trip I had a GREAT experience getting a taste of both CSM and Toronto.  Here are some of my reflections and thoughts:

After getting picked up from the airport I was brought to Church of the Redeemer to serve lunch to those in need.  This ministry grew out of the church secretary’s desire to practically help those in need who were coming to the office asking for assistance.  I joined a group from Ohio who was serving with CSM at this site, and since I was a visitor I got to simply eat with the people and talk with them.  One thing that struck me was my attempt to start a conversation with a name while standing in line for food: he made a comment about my Boston Red Sox hat, so I asked for his name.  He then turned around and completely ignored me until I introduced myself, and after I told him my name then he told me his.  I don’t think I’m reading into it too much to say that this was a reminder to me of the “walls” so many build in order to protect themselves from others.

I saw this really cool museum across the street from Church of the Redeemer (pictured above).  In the afternoon I filled out paperwork, learned more about CSM’s ministry in the city and talked about goals for our week serving in Toronto.  Then I took a much needed nap (I woke up at 2:30am since my flight left Logan Airport at 5:30!).  The rooms are definitely full, but everyone gets a mattress on the floor to sleep on and I ended up sleeping pretty well.

For dinner we had Poutin (French fries with cheese curds and gravy), and it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds… I actually liked it (but it did sit like a rock in my stomach for the rest of the night.  Here’s a picture of the Poutin for your viewing pleasure:

After dinner I joined a great group of junior highers from Nebraska in distributing “bag lunches.”  We were told to make sure we ask people if they want a “bag lunch” and not “food” because in street lingo “food = drugs.”  After receiving further instructions on what and what not to do we were divided into three groups and went out.  My group made its way to the Salvation Army site where people can spend the night if they don’t have anywhere else to stay.  There were about 10-12 guys outside, and a few of them went in after receiving their bag lunches… and then it seemed like a flood of guys came out after hearing that we were out there.  This reminded me that problems like homelessness and hunger are much bigger than they appear to be on the surface.  If you just drove by you might have not even noticed the guys who were out there since most of them were sitting alone or in groups of 2-3, but there were a bunch of other people who were out of sight but still in need.  That really struck me.

I am so excited to be joining CSM for our summer missions trip!

Teaching Respect to Your Children

The following is taken from Alistair Begg’s sermon “Respect for Children,” which I strongly recommend all parents to listen to.  Follow the link above to listen to the sermon online or to download an audio copy (only 25 minutes long, and he has a wonderful Brittish accent!).

I Took a Piece of Plastic Clay:
(Author Unknown)

I took a piece of plastic clay
And idly fashioned it one day-
And as my fingers pressed it, still
It bent and yielded to my will.

I came again when days were past
The bit of clay was hard at last.
The form I gave it, still it bore,
But I could change that form no more!

I took a piece of living clay,
And gently formed it day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young child’s soft and yielding heart.

I came again when years were gone:
He was a man I looked upon.
The early imprint still he bore,
But I could change him then no more.

Alistair Begg also emphasizes, “By and large the average church has the child 1% of the time, the family has the child 83% of the time, the school for the remainder.  The sad fact is that we are trying to do in our churches on a 1% basis what we can’t accomplish; and we’re neglecting the 83% percent period when children are exposed to us on a dynamic, interpersonal level.  The home marks the child for life.   Failure to understand this will find us scurrying all around apportioning blame in ever department while failing to recognize the privilege and challenge which is given to us.”

RESPECT: An Acronym for Parents in Teaching Godly Respect to their Childre

  • R – Reverence towards God, His Truth, and those in authority.
  • E – Enthusiasm in fulfilling the responsibilities that are given to them.  Some will naturally be more enthusiastic than others, but we need to encourage them towards enthusiastically fulfilling their godly callings.  If we tolerate reluctance when they are young, then when they are teenagers and adults they will carry that reluctance with them.
  • S – Sympathetic towards the needs of others.  They won’t learn this by a seminar, they will learn it by their parents’ example.  If we do not model this to them, we should not expect them to be sympathetic towards those who are less fortunate.
  • P – Prompt in all aspects of life.  We try to leave things to the last minute.  Promptness is a measure of our sincere respect of others.
  • E – Economical.  We live in such a wasteful environment that we will never teach this to our children if we do not practice it ourselves.
  • C – Courageous in standing for what’s right.  “Even if everyone does it, but not me” mentality.
  • T – Truthful in all aspects of life.  Positive commitment towards thirsting for God’s truth and submitting to those in authority.

LWAYG: “We Believe: In the Holy Spirit”

The Nicene Creed states, “And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.”

“God” and “Jesus” are both fairly well understood by most Christians, but I’m afraid the “Holy Spirit” remains something of a mystery to many of us.  After all, we can’t even decide whether or not we should call Him the “Holy Spirit” or the “Holy Ghost!”  We talk enough about God that we generally are pretty comfortable with Him.  Jesus is clearly pretty well understood (although most people have given very little thought to what God the Son was doing BEFORE Christmas day).  But the Holy Spirit remains somewhat mysterious.

When Jesus was telling his disciples that he would be leaving them he said, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7–8).

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Paraclete,” which is translated “Counselor” (other translations say “Helper,” “Comforter,” and “Advocate”).  This word Paraclete literally means “One who is called alongside.”  I like to think about the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete) as my sherpa.  A sherpa is a guide who helps a hiker navigate difficult terrain: he directs, advises, and generally aids the climber to the top of the mountain.  The sherpa is “called alongside” the climber in a similar way to how the Holy Spirit functions in our lives as Christians.

Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would convict the world (not only generally, but each of us individually too, which is clearly seen through Pentecost) of “guilt, righteousness, and judgment.”  This means that the Holy Spirit guides us from danger (sin/guilt), towards godliness (righteousness), and leads us to our heavenly destination (judgment, where we will receive the crown of life because of our faith in Jesus Christ).

But here’s the thing: All Christians receive the Holy Spirit upon repentance from sin and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord… but that doesn’t mean that we’re always filled up to the brim with godliness and wisdom and “warm fuzzies.”  We still sin.  We will neglect godliness.  We still fear judgment because we know it’s what we really deserve.  So what’s the deal!?

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14,“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I living in submission to the Holy Spirit’s teaching?”  So often we fall into old habits of listening to what the world considers wisdom, and then we complain that our relationship with God is broken (and, obviously, it’s not OUR fault!).

Imagine you have a cup filled with dirt: you’re the cup, and the dirt represents sin.  When we’re forgiven our sin (justified) our dirt/sin is dumped out and we’re filled with the Holy Spirit (mentally picture water in the cup representing the Holy Spirit).  As you go about your business and stray from Christ and sin, you notice Coke mixed into your cup, making it dark and polluted.  No one would say, “Yeah, give me a cup of that!”  It’s no good, but it’s not filled with dirt anymore, so it can’t be that bad, right!  Well… God wants more for you, He wants you to be pure.  So you repent and begin to listen to the Holy Spirit guiding you in walking with him (remember the Paraclete), and the Holy Spirit fills you up again and makes your cup filled with water again.

The Christian life isn’t perfect and none of us perfectly walk in step with the Holy Spirit.  But He is our Guide (notice that we do not refer to the Holy Spirit as an “it”… the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Trinity, not a “thing” of the Trinity!).

Galatians 5:25“Since we are filled with the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Teen Spirituality & Culture

Student Life has recently produced this video on Teen Spirituality & Culture.  Yes, some of the acting during the dramatic pieces are overdone, but I think the content here is really solid.  Take a look:

Don’t Build Your Faith on a Sinkhole

Don’t build your house here:

Does your faith look like this house?

Obviously no one would intentionally build their house on top of a sinkhole (which, technically, would be impossible anyway, since there would be nowhere to build on…).

In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Jesus is cautioning us against building our house on unstable ground.  Basically, how a sinkhole forms is from the earth being eroded away by water deep under the ground.  No one knows it’s happening, but little by little the water is cutting a cave into the earth.  As that underground cave (or hole) grows larger, it’s less capable of supporting whatever is built above it.  If you want a fuller explanation of how sinkholes work, go here.

We might seem to be in good spiritual health to others, but if we are not consistently taking in God’s Word and obeying it, then the ground beneath us will slowly erode away until the foundations of our faith are shaken.

Jesus does not say that those who ignore him are like those who build their house on the sand… he says this about those who listen but are disobedient.

As you look at these pictures, consider that it took a very long time for these sinkholes to form… but they formed silently.

  • What habits have formed in your heart and your behavior that you need to repent of?
  • Have you developed a consistent practice of the Spiritual Disciplines?

A Lesson on Church Hopping… from Mike Ditka?

I read an article by Jeff Pearlman on Sports Illustrated’s website entitled “Ditka symbol of old-school loyalty that no longer exists in sports.” Pearlman had previously interviewed Mike Ditka, the long-time coach of the Chicago Bears from 1982-1992 and was reflecting on the marked difference between Mike Ditka and Lane Kiffin (who has jumped ship from University of Tennessee after only one season to coach at University of Southern California).  When I finished reading the article, I couldn’t help thinking about Pastors and Christians who church-hop.

It’s just in our nature to always think that the grass is always greener on the other side.  As the cliche goes, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it… you’ll ruin it!”  There are no perfect Christians; there are no perfect churches.  But there are faithful Christians, and faithful Churches who are seeking to honor Christ Jesus the best they can.

Pastors are often tempted in seasons of discouragement to consider another church: “I’m not appreciated here,” “The people don’t want to change,” “This other church seems like such a perfect fit.”

Congregation members (this also includes teenagers!) are often tempted to think similarly: “The worship is boring,” “I don’t understand the sermons,” “The youth group at this other church is bigger and cooler.”

As I reflect on the article on Mike Ditka a few lessons stick out to me:

  1. In difficult times, both faithfulness and “jumping ship” speak very loudly.  Faithfulness rallies the troops and builds unity; Jumping ship communicates that all is lost and not worth fighting for.  Sure, there are times when a move is the right decision, but I think too often Christians say that “God has opened this door” as an excuse to avoid adversity.
  2. Respect (for both “coaches” and “players”) is earned and solidified by fighting through rough times together.  We need each other – coaches need their players; pastors need their congregation members.  We need to be committed to each other as we pursue faithfulness to Christ’s calling in the midst of hardship.

Jeff Pearlman’s article ends with these two paragraphs:

“The very idea of Ditka uttering words akin to “It’s why they put buyouts in contracts” is beyond ludicrous. But, then again, so is the moral code of the modern college and professional coach. When Ditka roamed the sidelines of Soldier Field, he considered himself to be a Bear and only a Bear. He wasn’t looking for the next job, for the next offer; for the next sweet gig. Neither, for that matter, were old professionals like Don Shula and Tom Landry, Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer, John Gagliardi and Tubby Raymond. The sweater you wore during games meant something, because the colors and team logo were emblematic of what you were trying to build. To leave, especially without fulfilling many goals, was unheard of.

“But now, in the Era of Me, Kiffin has followed the hackneyed lead of his 21st Century coaching role models — the John Caliparis and Larry Browns and Bill Parcellses of the sporting world. Yes, the kids matter. But not nearly as much as the coach matters. His word is his bond, until words like “guaranteed money” and “merchandising deal” and “your own TV show” woo from elsewhere. He can justify his decisions not because they were righteous, but because they were right …

“… for him.”

MTV Movie Awards are Total Filth

A short post today, but I couldn’t leave the office before getting just SOME of my thoughts out there about the Movie Awards:

  1. I didn’t watch them (I watched maybe 5 minutes, but that was 4 minutes too long!).  That being said, much of what I have to say here is based off the short amount I did watch and off of what others have written about it that I’ve read.
  2. Many “Youth Culture Experts” encourage Youth Pastors and Parents to only watch MTV twice a year: to watch the MTV Movie Awards and the MTV Music Awards.  The reasoning is that these two “award shows” set the stage for much of the media-consumption that our teenagers are constantly gorging on.  This year, I’ve decided that I’m respectfully not taking these experts’ advice anymore because I don’t need to put that garbage in my mind.  Why watch what I’m telling my students not to watch… there are other ways of keeping in touch with youth culture that I’ll take advantage of that won’t expose me to that garbage
  3. You should know you’ve gone too far when one of the people accepting an award comments and the insane amount of “F-Bombs” being dropped during the show

For a very thorough (perhaps a bit TOO thorough) evaluation on the 2010 MTV Movie Awards click this link here, but be warned there are some images and quotes from the night that might be deemed “inappropriate” by some more conservative Christians (I feel the need to warn you about a Christian critique of the show, consider how raunchy the show itself must’ve been!).

I’m an Author! “A Youth Pastor’s Parable of the Four Soils”

As some of you may know, an article I wrote and submitted to YouthWorker Journal has been approved for their upcoming issue on “Spiritual Growth.”  I just found out that it was published on their website a while ago even though the print issue it will be published in hasn’t yet been sent out.  Here’s the link:

“A Youth Pastor’s Parable of the Four Soils.”

Please keep in mind that what I have to write in the article is not a judgment on anyone in my current or former ministry, but rather is meant as an observation that I believe is really important for those involved in youth ministry to remember.