Friday, April 30, 2010

Life From My Corkboard

I have a "cork board" hung on the wall to the right of my desk. For some reason today, I took a minute to really think about what was up there. Hang with me here, but it really gave me some advice about life:
1. A lot of people will step in and out of your life. The oldest picture I have is from 1996 when me and a group of my closest friends came in 2nd at an Air It Out flag football tournament (I'm still ticked that we came in 2nd.) I have pics from my college days, pics from Hurricane Katrina, and pics that we took last year. A lot of people will walk in and out of my life. How will I impact them positively and point them to Jesus?
2. Remember the "fence posts" in your life. On this board are pictures and notes that bring up really powerful moments from my life: A post-it from my wife shortly before we were to be married. A newspaper article when our church purchased new property for our current location. A picture of a team of guys I served with a week after Hurricane Katrina hit. It's moments like these I want to remember ... things that have built me up in the past and will help me to be stronger for the future. Don't live in the past ... but don't forget it either.
3. Keep the good advice. I have a couple of articles that I will ALWAYS keep in front of me. One by Diane Langberg. One by Doug Fields. One on Youth Ministry vs. Student Ministry. These are things I will look at often in an effort to try to keep me focused. When I get frustrated or discouraged in ministry, I will often glance at these articles to help me remember what is truly important and what I need to be focused on.
4. Remember your roots. I have pictures of Three Rivers Stadium and also PNC Park in Pittsburgh. I have a bumper sticker from Penn State. I have what was read to "commission" me my first Sunday at Grace Community Church. I don't want to forget where I came from. It's all a part of who I am today and will help me to move forward to where God wants me to go.
5. Little things are big things. I have two things that my son made specifically for me. They're certainly something that only a father would look at as a masterpiece, but since he made them for me, that's exactly what they are. And, everytime he walks in to "dad's new office" as he says, he looks at those things and always comments on them. It's something little, but it carries a lot of weight in building in to him and helping me to stay focused on my family.

Axis Wrap Up 4-28-10: You Pick

Topic: Is Porn So Bad?

Fun Stuff: The Impossible Shot in our gym

Attendance: 7 First Time Visitors

Bible Verses: 1 Corinthians 6:12, Matthew 5:27 - 28, Matthew 15:18 - 19

Night Review: We finished out our "You Pick" series with the 3rd most voted for topic: Is Porn So Bad. I tried to address the topic first by letting our kids know that I'm NOT for censorship. I believe people should have the civil right to watch pornography if they so choose. But, I also let them know that, if you're someone trying to embrace Jesus' way of life, just because you can watch it doesn't mean you should (Look at 1 Corinthians 6:12). We are called to a high standard of living and, by definition, pornography exists to stimulate sexual desires. A person doesn't watch porn for the great acting or the great story lines. They look at it to "get off." I then shared 4 reasons why we should stay away from pornography:
1. If you're trying to embrace Jesus' way of life, pornography has nothing good to offer you.
2. It's not a hormone issue, it's a heart issue. Our actions stem from within (Matthew 5:27 - 28, 15:18 - 19). God is in the business of changing hearts. Following Jesus is not about our behavior. It's about our heart. If our heart has been changed, our actions will be changed. BUT, if our actions are not lining up with where we say our heart is, then we have a heart issue. Something is not right on the inside.
3. It degrades women ... and men for that matter. It doesn't honor women (or men). It doesn't respect women (or men). Imagine if an alien crash landed on planet earth and they crashed in to an adult bookstore. If the first impression of people on this planet was what they saw on a pornographic video, what would they think? They'd think women are ready to have sex ANY TIME and ANY WHERE a man wants too. They'd think that the bodies of men or women are perfect ALL the time. They'd also think that sex is purely a physical thing ... it's just about "getting off." That's not God's design for the sexual relationship and it's certainly not God's design for men and women.
4. Pornography will numb and desensitize you the longer you look at it. The people who make and distribute pornography do not care about you. They care about making money. So, they will portray sex and sexual fantasies in the way that will make the most money for them. They don't care if it ruins families or becomes addictive or causes damage in a person's life. They care about making money. It will cause you to believe that sex is only physical when, in reality, the physical part of sex is minute compared to the emotions and the intimacy that comes with a sexual relationship.

The reality is that most of our kids have been exposed to pornography. We can either choose not to believe that OR we can address the reality and talk about what God has to say about it. It was a good night of open discussion.

Next Week: One Fun Night

Friday, April 23, 2010

Axis Wrap Up 4-21-10: You Pick

Topic: How to Beat Temptation

Fun Stuff: A "Get to Know You" Game and Let's Make a Deal

Attendance: 2 First Time Visitors

Bible Verses: James 1:13 - 14, Hebrews 4:12, James 4:7, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Psalm 119:9, 2 Timothy 3:16 - 17

Main Thought: You are not helpless when it comes to temptation.

Night Review: We continued our You Pick series with How to Beat Temptation. I simply tried to convey a couple of thoughts about temptation to our kids. First, everyone is tempted. Doesn't matter who you are or how spiritual or unspiritual you are, everyone faces temptation. Second, temptation is Satan's way to keep us from embracing Jesus' way of life. Third, we are not helpless when it comes to temptation. We don't have to give in. There are things we can do to stay strong. I went "old school" and pulled out an acronym to describe what we can do: Recognize your temptations (Know your temptations and set up boundaries against them) ... Use God's Word (God's word combined with the Holy Spirit gives us a winning combination) ... Never go without God's power (God is ready and willing to unleash all of His power against Satan).

We tore in to several verses throughout the night and I tried to help our kids realize that the Bible is full of promises when it comes to temptations ... promises that God will help us through it. The final thought, though, that I tried to convey to our kids was that there are going to be times when we give in. We never have an excuse, but simply being human means we are simply going to cave at times. It's in those times that God always offers us forgiveness.

Next Week: Is Porn So Bad?

TV Interview

This is a link to a TV interview I did with one of our local stations. I received a call Wednesday afternoon from the Goshen Cancer Center and they asked if I'd be open to being interviewed about a new Cancer Center they are starting in the South Bend area.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Miscellaneous

- We kicked off our new series at Grace yesterday called the Bucket List. Great message! Here are a couple of quotes:

"God did not design us to simply watch life go by."
" Many of us go through life deciding what pad to buy for our butt."
"Life isn't measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."

- Met with one of our axis teenagers this morning for breakfast and for a Bible study. We've been meeting at 7am every Monday for the past few weeks simply to talk about the Bible. No specific Bible studies or anything like that. We just pick something to read throughout the week and then get together on Mondays and talk about what we read. We read through Philippians last week. When we talked about Philippians 2:5 "In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had." My teenage friend said, "Yeah, we should have the same attitude as Jesus because ... well, His attitude was pretty awesome." I loved it! No deep theology or anything like that. Just a blanket statement that summed up the whole verse. I love teenagers!

- I took our student leadership team to Granger Community Church last night to observe their youth ministry GSM (Granger Student Ministries). It was really a positive experience for us. I took them for a few reasons: 1) To hang out together. 2) To observe another ministry and get some fresh ideas. 3) To allow our student leaders to understand what it feels like to be the "newbie" somewhere. Seemed like all three purposes were fulfilled. I had our kids not walk in as a group, but walk in as pairs and just mingle around. I wanted them to understand what it feels like to walk in to some place new where they don't know anyone and don't know their way around in order to give them a better understanding of what it's like for the new kids that visit axis every Wednesday. I also asked them to observe and be willing to talk about their experience as a whole. We had a really good conversation afterwards and we all learned a lot!

Here are a few of the take-a-ways for me:

1) GSM did a really good job of making a great first impression. They looked profession. They looked like they were expecting us (as visitors) and that things were well thought out.

2) They did a good job of having their teenagers plugged in to making the service happen.

3) Their media production was just crazy! Here is a short video of their worship time last night. Super cool stage design and set!

4) DC Curry, their youth pastor, was really nice and went out of his way to talk with us. And, his assistant, Katie, was just an incredible help! She totally went out of her way to help us feel welcomed and answer any questions and was willing to stay with us as long as we wanted.

- We are trying to plug people in to small groups at Grace tonight. Small groups is another area of responsibility for me at the church. Tonight we have 36 families looking to be plugged in to small groups. Should be a fun night!

- Saddened ... just completely saddened by the Ben Rothlesberger stuff going on. I know charges are not being pressed, but man, talk about someone just putting themself in a stupid, stupid position. I'm an unashamed Steeler fan and am also a Big Ben fan, but after reading the police report, it's going to be really difficult to watch him play this year. I'm just hoping he gets his life in order and begins to make some better decisions.

- Another episode of 24 tonight. There have been two weeks in a row with the "silent" countdown at the end ... not sure if I can handle 3 weeks in a row.

-My experience making the commercial for the Goshen Cancer Center went really well. I had no idea how much went in to making a commercial! There was a 10 person production staff, lights EVERYWHERE, cameras EVERYWHERE ... I have to admit I was a little intimidated at first. But, I took time to pray and just asked God to be honored through the whole experience. I believe He was. I was able to talk about how my faith in Jesus got me through my battle and how supportive so many people were of me and my family. Whether that all will make the final "cut" I'm not sure, but at least 10 people were able to hear it.

- Since making the commercial, I keep joking with my wife that I've become a male "diva." She's having nothing to do with it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Am Free Video from axis

I took a short video of our most recent worship time at axis. Here's "I Am Free"

Just Dance Video from axis

Here's a short video of a game we did at axis recently. We played Wii's "Just Dance" game over our big screen. Our kids had a lot of fun!

Axis Wrap Up 4-14-10: You Pick

Topic: How Far is Too Far?

Fun Stuff: A "Top 5" List and Wii's Just Dance

Attendance: 9 First Time Visitors
Bible Verses: 1 Corinthians 6:18 - 20 and 10:24
Main Thought: "How Far is Too Far" is the wrong question. A better thing to ask is "What honors God and what honors the other person."
Night Review: We started our "You Pick" series tonight. We gave our teenagers the opportunity to vote online and pick the next 3 weeks worth of topics. "How Far is Too Far" was the top vote getter, so we started out with this one. I tried to convey the idea that if I were to draw a "line" and let kids know that "Well, touching below the belt is too far" or "Passionately kissing is too far" or "Holding hands is too far" ... our natural tendency as people (with sinful natures) is to see how close to the line we can get. If touching below the belt is too far, then how close to the belt can I get? If passionately kissing is too far, then what is passionate for you may not be passionate for me. If holding hands is too far, then you're just plain crazy!
I talked about what dating is about. Dating is about honoring the other person. Will they be better because they spent time with us. Dating is not something we do because we feel like we need a guy or girl. It's not something to do to get our physical needs met. It's an opportunity to honor another person and hopefully see them become better for having spent time with us. 1 Corinthians 10:24 is a good principle to apply to dating.
Dating is also about honoring God. 1 Corinthians 6:18 - 20 are very good principles to apply to our dating lives. So, we are to honor the other person and honor God in dating AND in a physical relationship. I tried to describe what that looks like by telling our kids to imagine a 3rd person on a date with them ... someone they didn't know what there, but their role was to take pictures of you and your date the entire night and then show them to your dates parents at the end of the evening. If there was ANY picture that you would be ashamed of or ANY picture you would not want your date's parents to see, then you didn't honor God and you didn't honor the other person.
Physically, the further we go or the longer we kiss or rub or whatever it may be, our bodies are NOT preparing to stop. They are preparing to GO! That's God's design. But, to honor God and the other person, we need to first live within the clear boudaries God has set up for us (1 Corinthians 6:18 - 20) and keep ourselves from being prepared to "go."
Next Week: How to Beat Temptation

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And Who Said I'd Never Make a Commercial

I was asked last week by the Goshen Cancer Center to do a TV commercial for them. I knew it was only a matter of time before my chisled good looks got me on TV. :) I believe the time slot for the commercial will be the 2am time slot ... right between the info-mercial for Sham-Wow and re-runs of The Dukes of Hazzard. That's prime time, baby!

Seriously, I'm excited for the opportunity. It came from me being asked (along with a number of other cancer survivors) to make a brief video for an upcoming Cancer Survivor's Dinner put on by the Goshen Cancer Center. Gale Sayers will be the guest speaker at the dinner. Anyway, I just shared my story. The marketing director for the hospital was there, heard it, and then asked if I'd be willing to do a TV slot for them. Exciting stuff and I'm glad to do it. I will always be in debt to the Cancer Center and the people there ... and if you understand how much chemotherapy treatments cost, you'll realize that I will ALWAYS be in debt to the Cancer Center. :) (Praise God for insurance!)

Anyway, if you think of it, I'd appreciate your prayers. I really want to honor God in this opportunity and give credit to Him. I realize that the commercial is to give "credit" to the cancer center, but I really want my faith in Jesus to be the over-arching theme while I'm talking tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Counseling in Youth Ministry Part 2

Our role as youth pastors will often be different from the role of a professional counselor. Will we counsel? Yes. Will we at times do what a professional counselor does? Yes. But, we as youth pastors don't necessarily have the same boundaries as a professional counselor. We rub shoulders with our kids all the time. We have them over the our home. We throw dodgeballs at them ... probably won't see many professional counselors doing that with their clients. That just makes our role different. That said, here are a few things to keep in mind as youth pastors:

1. One of our main roles is simply to show unconditional acceptance. It's the idea of always thinking positively of a student ... maybe not what they are doing ... maybe not their actions ... but always thinking positively of them. Example: We had a student stay in our home for nearly a year. This guy came from a very, very difficult home life and needed a place to stay so my wife and I opened up our home to him. The first few months were fine, but as time went on we began to have some serious problems with him. He wouldn't come home at night. He would never let us know where he was. He would not do the things he committed to doing when we first agreed to let him stay with us. As we tightened our boundaries, he simply disconnected from us ... physically and emotionally. One day he left and never came back. He left all of his stuff in our home, never let us know where he was or what was going on. He simply vanished. We knew he was alive because of people seeing him around and he was still in school, but all efforts to try to contact him were never returned. A year later he came to our home ... just showed up out of the blue and apologized. He apologized for how he treated us and for everything he had done. Our response was to be honest ... yes, we were hurt, but we were and are still totally in love with this kid. We let him know that and told him that no matter what he did, we were still going to love him. Unconditional acceptance ... down right HARD, but what Jesus calls us too.

2. Treat kids the way the "should" have been treated. Sometimes we may be the only one that shows up at their sporting event. Sometimes we may be the only one to give them a ride home. Sometimes we may be the only one that talks to them about drugs or sex or alcohol, whatever it may be. Many of our kids come from really good homes, but the unfortunate reality is that many also do not. We have the opportunity to treat kids the way they SHOULD have always been treated.

3. Don't worry about being liked. We have to be willing to point out the hard stuff sometimes. We can't necessarily worry about what a teenager may think of us if what we have to say is going to be a difficult truth to express to them. Don't get our needs met through them. The overall theme of the book of Proverbs is that we all have foolishness in our hearts. Part of our role as youth pastors is to help drive out the foolishness.

4. Take advantage of "Drive-Thru" Counseling. What I mean by that is there are several times when we'll have opportunities to talk with kids when we aren't in our office for an "official" time of counseling. Take advantage of the times when kids talk to us at our weekly meetings or on mission trips or wherever it may be. Many times I'll have kids come to me after one of our Wednesday night axis and just need to talk briefly or just need to share something briefly or just ask me to pray for them. My role is to take the time to listen, give my complete attention, and try to insert nuggets of truth in our short time. I'll often pray with them and will often follow up with them as well.

5. Realize there are times to network and refer. Sometimes stuff is just going to be out of our league. If and when that's the case, refer to a trusted professional counselor. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to humble ourselves, recognize when it's better to get someone else involved, and then do our best to make it happen.

6. Don't feel like you need to be the hero. Our role is not to "fix" things. We are NOT responsible for making someone "better" and we cannot allow ourselves to be pulled in to that trap. Only frustration will follow. We are in great danger if we put the emphasis on the results we see in the lives of our students. Diane Langberg has said, "the work of the Spirit in our lives is not evidenced in the number of people we fix, but in the character we manifest whether people are fixed or not. What happens in the lives He brings across our path is under His jurisdiction, not ours."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Counseling in Youth Ministry Part 1

My wife and I recently had a cool opportunity to present a "break out" session on counseling in youth ministry at a conference for youth pastors and volunteers called CELS. We talked about some of the "basics" of counseling and then discussed the role of a youth pastor or volunteer when it comes to counseling our kids. Here's the first part of what we discussed:

Counseling Skills

1. Listen Beneath the Words - If you can understand how to do this, it will take you a long way when talking with people. The Bible says in Proverbs 18:4 that "The words of the mouth are deep waters ..." expressing the idea that there is often hidden meaning or content in our words. Words are a window that help us see what is going on inside of a person. For example, if one of our kids talks to you about how they wish they were more like one of their friends, often times the deeper meaning is that they are unhappy with themselves and may feel as if they don't have much to offer. Instead of simply saying "Oh, but you're OK and God made you just how He wants you to be" ... all true, but be willing to explore what they are truly longing for first. Listen intently and aggressively.

2. Connect Emotionally - This is where we have to realize that we will not be able to take a person farther than we've gone ourselves. If we have not done personal "work" emotionally in specific areas, we can't expect to be able to guide a student down a path that we personally haven't taken. For example, if one of our kids comes to us and talks to us about the difficulty they are having forgiving their dad and we ourselves have forgiveness issues or are prone to harbor bitterness, it's going to be really difficult to guide that student to a place of healing if we haven't been willing to do some healing ourselves.

3. Ask Good Questions - Asking good questions sounds simple, but it takes work. Good questions puts people at ease. Questions can do one of two things ... they can put the responsibility on the counselor (meaning the counselor chooses to carry the conversation for a bit in order to build repore with a student and gain trust) or they can put the responsibility on the student to answer questions that will require more than a simple yes or no or short answer. Be willing to probe all areas and a VERY good question to ask is "Are there exceptions?" For example, if a student says that they feel depressed, ask if there are times when they don't feel depressed or when was the last time they didn't feel this way. Explore what the differences are between then and now.

4. Determine a Goal - Determine what the student wants to see happen. What do they want to be different in their life as a result of meeting together. Help them recognize what they can change and what is out of their control. Help them determine the difference in order to minimize frustration and anger. When you allow them to determine the goal, it puts the power in their hands and does not keep them relying on you personally for answers and help. It's also important for us to check our own personal goals. Are we trying to make ourselves look good, get our needs met by feeling competent about our skills and abilities. We need to clear that out of the way so we can focus on the student and the role that God wants us to play in their lives.

5. Understand Your Students - Students often feel misunderstood by the adults in their lives. They often feel this way because their experiences were not validated or responded to by key people in their lives. One of the most effective ways that we can help students to change is to validate and confirm their experiences. This does not mean we agree with their decisions to hold grudges or not to forgive, but what we are doing is letting them know we can understand what has made it so hard to want to forgive. We are letting them know we can understand how difficult it is for them at home, etc. Once we convey validation, we now have an opportunity to present truth, the kind of truth that heals and gives hope beyond just sitting in the midst of pain.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Miscellaneous

- We had simply amazing services at Grace yesterday. We moved to 3 services and will be doing so from this point on. Each service was full of people ready to celebrate and ready to respond. Above our some pics I pulled from Pastor Jim's blog after people made a decision to follow Jesus. There were 150 people who responded! Woot Woot! Lots of hugs, lots of tears, and lots of celebration. When people responded, Jim had them come and walk across the stage. We shot off a confetti machine and shouted out the song "Happy Day" by Steve Fee! What a way to celebrate. Each person who made a decision received a little magnet to help them mark the day. The magnets said, "I was found on 4/4/10."

- Some ways we tried to engage people at Grace while the Word of God was being spoken: We used an incredible story of survival, a couple of video clips, and a dramatic resuce scene in our auditorium that included loud helecopter effects, a rescue boat being lowered from the ceiling, people repelling from the track, a stage design that was one of our best, and lots of flashing lights. People were engaged the entire time they were with us.
- One thing we tried to do on Easter was have our teenagers involved a bit more. Several of them were in our Stomp set, several were serving as ushers or on the worship team, and we also had several teenagers being "tour guides" for any new families who came to Kid City. Here's one of our axis girls helping out.
- I wonder how many times the Steve Fee songs "Happy Day" and "God is Alive" were sung across the country?
- Tis the season for allergies and mine kicked in full swing on Wednesday. My head unfortunately understands what a balloon feels like just before it's ready to explode.
- Big two hour 24 special tonight. Bummed to learn that this is the last season for 24, but excited that it may be brought to the big screen. My wife likes to say I have a "man crush" on Jack Bauer. :)
- Amazed that baseball season is among us and hoping my Pirates at least get out of the cellar this year. Go Buccos!

Easter Egg Hunt at Grace Community

There was a WHOLE LOTTA STUFF going on at Grace yesterday. One of the things we did was an Easter Egg Hunt. It's one of the largest things we do as a church and there were literally thousands of people from all over our community on our property yesterday afternoon. Here are a few pics.

Easter Stomp at Grace Community

Here's a video of how we opened our services at Grace on Easter Sunday. What a fun way to start things. They did an AWESOME job!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Axis Wrap Up 3-31-10 Did Jesus REALLY Come Back from the Dead?

Topic: The Resurrection

Fun Stuff: Dodgeball

Attendance: 179 with 7 first time visitors

Bible Verses: 1 Corinthians 15:13 - 15, Matthew 28:11 - 15, 1 Corinthians 15:3 - 7, Acts 4:19 - 20, Ephesians 1:19 - 20

Main Thought: The resurrection changes everything.

Night Review: I tried to tackle this night from the standpoint of a lawyer and show the evidence of why I believe Jesus actually and literally came back from the dead. If this DIDN'T happen, then honestly, if we embrace Jesus' way of life, we're idiots. (1 Cor. 15:13 - 15). The Bible actually says our faith is "useless" if the resurrection didn't happen. So, I talked to our kids about why I believe Jesus came back to life.

1) He actually died (not just passed out from exhaustion or was near death ... but literally died. You just don't survive what the Romans did to people when the crucified them.) 2) Jesus' body has never been found. (The best way to disprove everything would simply be to produce the body. You would think that the most influential person in history ... you'd think somebody would at least know where his body was. But stories were made up to cover the miracle of the resurrection (Matthew 28:11 - 15). 3) Jesus Appeared to over 500 people after his death. (He didn't appear to some crazy person in the middle of the desert. He appeared to several people after his death and there were many eyewitnesses to the fact as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3 - 7). 4) People's lives were changed. (Just a few days earlier, the disciples deserted Jesus when the soldiers came to arrest him. They ran away b/c they were afraid to die. Even after Jesus was buried, John 20 tells us that the disciples hid in a room for fear of the Jewish leaders. But, after the resurrection, the disciples were fearless! They went everywhere telling people about Jesus coming back to life, even when they were threatened (Acts 4:19 - 20) These same men who were afraid a few days earlier were now bold and confident. Some people will die for what they believe to be true, but who would die for what they know to be false. Most of the disciples were martyred for what they were saying. If the resurrection didn't happen, they died for something the absolutely knew to be a lie.)

We wrapped up the night talking about how the resurrection is the "deal breaker." It changes everything! And, the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the same power available to everyone who believes (Ephesians 1:19 - 20). Praise God!

Catalyst One Day Mind Dump PART 3

Here are my final thoughts from the Catalyst One Day Conference in Chicago last week.

- Every program in a ministry was originally designed to answer a question or fill a need. BUT, we must always evaluate our programs to be sure the are currently answering a question or filling a need.

- Don't fall in love with a tactic. Churches are empty because some have learned to love a "program" more than lost people.

- As culture changes, many of the questions remain the same, but the answers do not.

- If our assumptions don't line up with reality, we'll make decisions that don't work.

- People don't stick to a production ... they stick to a relationship.

- To reach people nobody else is reaching we have to do things nobody else is doing and QUIT doing the things that aren't working.

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