Monday, August 29, 2011

What Learning How to Swim is Teaching Me

Over the past month I made the decision to learn how to swim.  You can read about that decision here.  It's such an amazing experience for me and what I'm finding out is I'm learning more than simply how to swim.  As I learn to swim I'm actually learning a lot about myself.  Here are 3 of those things:

1. I jumped off the diving board for the first time ever last week.  Well, I didn't really jump.  It was more just stepping off.  As I went to do it a second time, my instructor told me that very thing.  She said, "You're just stepping off the diving board.  Try actually jumping this time."  And, I remember looking at her and saying "You pretty much just summed up my personality in those two sentences."  I definitely move slowly in to things.  I don't think I over analyze, but I definitely "proceed with caution" more than just diving in to something.  It's been a strength and a weakness at various times in my life.  While I never just want to throw caution to the wind, I realize that I really need to work on being more bold and moving more quickly with decisions and dreams/goals I set for myself, my family, and our youth ministry.

2. So much of what holds me back in the water is in my head.  I have jumped in several times, always come back up, tread water, swim, etc., yet there is still a strong sense of anxiety that I feel any time I do those things.  39 years of fear doesn't go away over night.  I'm learning that I need to continually speak truth to myself and not just speak the truth, but believe it.  That simple concept will not only help me with swimming but will help me in life too.  I truly desire to allow God's truth to soak in to my very soul.

3. None of this has come natural for me.  I've really had to be intentional about making the decision to learn how to swim, intentional about taking the lessons, and intentional about practicing.  Most things in life don't just happen.  I've been reminded that hard work is a good thing.  Setting goals and then having a plan to meet them is a good thing.  If I want to get to a certain point in my life, I need to intentionally set myself on a path that will take me there.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Whatever It Takes

 We started a new series at axis Wednesday called Whatever It Takes.  We are teaching about our 4 core values (Know God, Serve Others, Surround Yourself w/ Followers of Jesus, Impact Those Who Don't Know Jesus) and asking the question "Are we willing to do whatever it takes to do those 4 things?"  It was a great start to our series and I'm thinking of taking it a step farther and making it our theme for the rest of the year.    

I started out by showing a video from a Date Line NBC video on Aron Ralston.  This happened a few years ago but his story is incredibly powerful and inspiring and speaks to the idea of being willing to do whatever it takes.  You can watch the Date Line special on You Tube right here.  Or, you can watch the movie 127 Hours or read his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

On this night we looked at Exodus 33:11 - 17.  These verses are incredibly powerful and talk about the type of relationship Moses had with God and that he was willing to do whatever it takes to spend time with God, learn from God, and be known as God's.  I spent some time fleshing that out to our kids and it basically came down to the idea that God doesn't make it complicated for us to know Him.  It comes down to the basics ... read your Bible and pray.  The Bible is God's way to talk to us and prayer is our way to talk to God.  If we're willing to do whatever it takes to know God more we have to read our Bible and pray.

I talked with our students about the different opportunities that we offer as a youth ministry to help them know God better.  I feel like we offer good and simple opportunities to our teenagers and if they are willing to take advantage of them, it will really help them in their walk with God.

It was a good night and a good kickoff to our series.  Lots of fun games, some good testimonies from students, and some good opportunities placed in the hands of our kids to help them know God better.

Next Week:  Do Whatever It Takes to Serve Others

Friday, August 19, 2011

Walking Through Some Fear ... And It's Benefits

For as long as I can remember I've been afraid of water.  Not afraid in the sense of I can't go in the water.  I could go in, wade around, go under, etc, etc.  But, when I got to a point that the water was over my head and my feet could not touch, I'd start to freak out.  So, I guess you could say I have more a fear of drowning than of water.  I'm sure the DSM (the big counseling book with all the clinical diagnoses) has some name for it, but I'll just call it "the thing I've been most afraid of my entire life."

I've spent my whole life in the "shallow" end of the pool.  I've forced myself to avoid water because of the anxiety and fear it stirred up in me.  And, it was fairly easy to avoid it because I don't HAVE to go in the water if I don't want too.  

But, what I started to realize this year is that I don't want to pass this fear on in my family.  As a dad I'm the "gatekeeper" of my home and I take a personal responsibility for what comes through our doors.  I don't want fear to be one of the things I pass on to my kids.  So, I decided to walk through some of my intense fears and take some swim lessons.  I'll only be able to take my family as far as I've gone myself and I just don't want my fears to hinder my family.  So, last week I took my first swim lesson.  Yesterday I took my second swim lesson and thankfully my teacher doesn't "baby" me.  She's like "OK, just do it."  So, for the first time yesterday I jumped in to water that was over my head ... and I came up!  I treaded water for the very first time in my life!  And, it was AWESOME!  Don't get me wrong, I still have some fear.  I need to re-train my mind.  40 years of fear doesn't leave easily.  But, now I know I can do it.

Ironically enough, the very next day, my son jumped in the deep end without a life jacket and swam ... and then jumped in again and swam some more ... and again, again, again ... probably like 50 times!  Now, I'm not taking credit for that.  My wife is the one who's been working with him all summer and he's been to the same swim instructor I'm going to now, but he's never jumped in without the life jacket before and it's "ironic" that he did it after I was willing to do it.

As dads, we'll only take our families as far as we are willing to go ourselves.  I don't want my fears to hinder where my kids go in life ... and there are many that I need to walk through.  But, it's so worth it!  My son jumps in at 4 and I jump in at 40.  I'm glad that both of us don't need to stay in the shallow end any more.

Ezra jumping off the diving board!  

Swimming to mom.  Seriously, the kid swam the entire length of the pool from shallow end to deep end.  I have no idea how he did it!

The Axis Fall Kickoff

We had our youth ministry's fall kickoff on Wednesday.  Honestly since the first of this month, I have had, as my son calls them ... the "shivers" ... because I've been so excited about kicking off our fall.  In youth ministry the fall always brings with it a fresh group of students, a new excitement, and new opportunities.  We had an awesome summer and we took just a bit of time to reflect on it during our night, but the focus was moving forward in our youth ministry and really seeking to follow God's lead.

We talked about walking through our fears and being willing to take a stand.  We showed the clip of "The Tank Man" of Tiananmen Square in China and how this one man with two shopping bags said enough was enough and he took a stand.  That stand stopped a regiment of tanks.  We looked at the life of Jesus' disciples from the moment Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:43 - 50) up to the Day of Pentecost.  What's amazing is that the disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested.  They were so afraid and they deserted their leader and friend.  They watched Jesus be beaten and killed and even denied knowing who Jesus was.  And, after Jesus died, the disciples were still so afraid that they locked themselves in a room and hid because they thought they would be next.  But, these same disciples who were so afraid were the ones who God used to literally change the world.  And, the difference was the Holy Spirit.  God's very presence indwelt these men and when they finally realized whose they were and who was on their side, it changed their lives from the inside out.  And, from that moment on "people took note that these men had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13).  

My challenge to our kids was to take a stand and live differently.  There should be a distinct difference between how someone with the Holy Spirit and someone without the Holy Spirit lives their lives.  Do people "take note" and see that we have been with Jesus.  We ended our night with a challenge for kids to come forward and respond to Jesus ... if they needed Him and His help in their lives ... if there was something they needed to get right with Him.  It was awesome to see kids respond and I believe this night really helped set the tone for our fall.

Our response at the end of the night

Some of our girls enjoying time with each other.

A new game we tried called "I Love Planking"

An interview with some of the kids who were on mission trips over the summer.

The band.

Next week we begin focusing on the 4 core values we have as a youth ministry and helping our kids know how they can get plugged in to each one.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Really Love My Church

I really love our church.  I really do.  We spent time yesterday simply celebrating the opportunities we had this summer to be Jesus to people.  Here are just a few of the things "Gracies" were involved in:

Mission Trips to Ethiopia, Thailand/Cambodia, Urban Hope, and Nicaragua
A summer-long mission team called Operation Barnabas
Hi-Five Sports Camp
Summer Soak 
Momentum Youth Conference
20/20 Vision Conference
One Name Worship Event
Elkhart County Fair Parade
Community Hope
Those are just a few of the things that we had opportunities to do simply in June, July, and August.  And, the list could go on.  I'm just thrilled to be a part of a group of people who, not only desire to learn about God and passionately pursue Him, but also to go out and do the things that allow us simply be Jesus to other people.  The church truly is the "hope of the world" and I'm thrilled that our church is trying to offer hope to people in our community and around the world.

We celebrated that yesterday by hearing testimonies of what people were involved in and how God moved in their lives.  There really is power in our stories and hearing the stories of what God did through people was so encouraging.  It really was great to celebrate that.

We also sent out teams of people with $50 each and asked them to creatively bless someone in our community.  It was so fun to see the pictures and hear the stories when they came back toward the end of the service.

But, we also tried to keep the mission in front of us.  So, we did a little "under-cover" operation.  We strategically placed a few people around our community and in our church.  

He posed as someone needing help with food at a busy intersection near our church.

She posed as a lady who car was broken down only 1/2 mile from our church.

She posed as a lady in our church cafe sitting alone, looking very sad and crying.

When we showed the pictures of these people in the service, there was a bit of surprise in people's eyes.  It was incredibly encouraging to hear these people share that, yes, some people truly did stop to offer help, but also very challenging to hear them say that most did not.  Most just walked past or drove past.  The idea behind that was to NEVER rest in the past.  We can celebrate the past, yes, but always move forward, always stay on mission, always look for the opportunities that God will provide every single day. 

It was a great service that was wrapped up by "commissioning" students and teachers as they start school this week and then by commissioning each of us because we are all on mission to be Jesus to people no matter where we are.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gaining a Heart for God

I received a really good email reminder today from Simply Youth Ministry about the importance of connecting with God.  Thought it would be good to share.

I (Josh) did a survey on my blog not too long ago asking youth workers to share about their Bible reading and personal time with God. The results from the more than 400 votes were staggering – almost 10% of youth workers hadn’t cracked their Bibles in a week and only 18% considered their Bible reading “solid”.

Here’s the deal – we get it…there are certainly seasons where you are closer to God than others. Certain times of the year or patterns that lend themselves to spending time with God, or that make it tough to do. But if we were honest …it’s fair to say that if youth workers aren’t reading their Bibles, the whole thing is going to collapse sooner rather than later. And if we’re being really honest … we would admit to you that from time to time we’ve been caught up in the pace of youth ministry and not connected significantly to Christ either. And if we’re being really, really honest…we would admit it happens more often than it should.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing …”
John 15:5

Youth pastors are great fakers. That’s pretty harsh, but honestly – most Christians are good fakers. We pretend that we’re walking with God by using the correct Christian subculture language. We count listening to Gungor on our 4-minute commute to the church office as our devotions for the day. We subscribe to the Verse of the Day on Twitter (@abibleverse) and every once in a while even look at it.

You can fake it for a while … but not forever. Too often we hide behind charisma, talents, gifts and abilities when the real us is dying in a spiritual pile. This type of shallow spirituality makes us an easy target for the Enemy and prime candidates for a sudden stumble or fall. God has gifted you, but don’t arrogantly think you can lead without him. Follow THE leader!

Recommit to a genuine, ongoing relationship with Christ as you minister in His Name. Good youth ministry starts with a leader whose heart is sold-out to Christ. Good youth ministry is done by youth workers connected to the vine. Let today be the first day when we start to change the statistic and t is rare the youth worker who isn’t connected to Christ daily.

Here’s some practical advice from youth workers in the trenches who are finding creative ways to spend time with God:

• Before you look at any screen, spend time with God.
• Take the first few minutes of your office hours in prayer
• Pray with your spouse before bed each night - Is it okay for me (Kurt) to admit that this one is tough for me?
• Block out one afternoon a month to reconnect with God
• Use one of’s reading plans on your Evo

May God bless your ministry this week as you serve and stay connected to Him!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Mess Fest

One of the funnest ... and messiest ... things we do in our youth ministry is the Middle School Mess Fest.  It's called "Mess Fest" for a reason.  With games like "The Table of Doom", the "Slopstacle Course", "Human Hotdogs", and "Get to Know My Fish" it's pretty much impossible to stay clean.  

Here are a couple of pictures from our night.

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