Friday, March 30, 2012

Axis Wrap Up - Inside Worship

We wrapped up our Inside Worship series at axis with a student led night talking about the different forms of worship.  Music is a HUGE part of worshipping God and we discussed and applied some of the various aspects of worshipping God through music. Our students talked about what it means to dance before God in worship ... and did so with some of our songs.  They also talked about some of the reasons we lift up our hands to God while singing.  If someone holds a gun to you, as a form or surrender one would "put up their hands."  So, raising our hands to God is a form of surrendering to Him.  Also, think about a toddler who wants to be picked up.  They go to their mom or dad and lift up their hands to them saying, in essence, "Mom, Dad, I need you.  Help me.  I want to be held."  Lifting up our hands to God is also a way of expressing our need for Him and desire for help.  Also, when we cheer for a team or an individual, we often lift our hands up as a way to cheer for them.  It's the same with God.  We can declare His greatness by lifting our hands.  Our kids did a great job explaining all of this.

We also talked about the fact that worship is MORE than just music.  One of our students talked through some of the different Hebrew words for worship in the Bible ... words translated in to English as clapping and kneeling, and sharing a story of praise to simply name a few.  It was a great way to help our students know that worship is more than music.

Another student shared on worship as a lifestyle ... that every time we choose to have a thankful attitude, we are worshipping God.  Every time we choose to say "no" to a temptation, we are worshipping God.  Every time we live our life in such a way that it points to God ... that's worship.

Finally, one of our students shared about the fact that worship is ALL ABOUT God.  He used the example of a team picture.  If you're in the picture, the first person you look for is yourself.  Also, he used the idea of sports statistics.  He shared that he knew exactly how many tackles he made in football this year, how many interceptions, etc ... but he didn't know those same stats for anyone else on the team.  In worship, we often get focused on ourselves, but worship is not about us ... it's about God and focusing ALL of our attention upon Him and who He is.  It was really a great night.  Below are two of our student leaders sharing.

We finished our night by singing the Matt Redman song "Here for You."  And, then, during our senior high time we had a really special moment at the end where I just felt led to give students the opportunity to share a "story of praise."  Several of our students share what God has been doing in their lives.  It was really special.  I then asked that if anyone had a need for prayer ... any need at all where they wanted to see God come through for them, to stand up.  Several of our students stood and, as a group, we took time to place our hands on people and pray over them.  It ended up being a very powerful and moving moment.  

Next Week:  Off for Spring Break but excited that several of our students will be doing work around our church!  Love seeing them get plugged in to the church as a whole.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Only God Does This Sort of Stuff

So, if you have 3 minutes to read an AMAZING story, this is worth your time ...

Got a phone call last week from a guy who I've known for approximately 5 years.  I don't have a close relationship with him, but have counseled his daughter when she was in our youth ministry and have had some other interactions with him.  Anyway, he calls me and says "I made the decision!"  And, I'm like "What are you talking about?"  And then he begins to tell me what happened.  This guy has had his struggles with drugs.  He's battled those demons for many years.  Some years clean.   Some years not.  For the past couple of months he had been "using" and he described himself to me as "miserable."  The drugs weren't doing what they used to do for him.  So, he made a "deal" with God.  He decided that when he got off work Thursday morning at 2:45AM, he was going to try to "find" God.  If nothing happened, he said he was just taking off and blowing the money he had on some more drugs and just going away for a long time.

He decided that if he was going to look for God, he could probably "find" him at Grace Community Church.  So, he ended up in our church parking lot at 3:30AM and decided to stay there and go up to the first person who came up to the doors of the church.  At 6:00am, we open our building to the community to use our work out facilities.  One of our volunteers showed up at 6:00am to open the building and this man came right up to him and said, "I'm not drunk.  I'm not high.  I'm just trying to find God.  Can you help me?"  He began to explain what was going on to our volunteer.  Long story short ... the guy surrendered his life to Jesus that morning!

So, he's telling me this and I'm about jumping out of my chair because of it!  There was a brokenness and a joy in his voice that I had never heard before.  He said he felt truly at peace and he just needed to share it with someone.  I felt incredibly honored to be that someone.  He came to church on Sunday, found me, and gave me the biggest hug I've ever received.  This is a BIG man ... biker type of dude ... former bouncer.  He literally picked me up off the ground and shook me like a rag doll.  After recovering from the brain trauma, I stood there with tears in my eyes looking at the tears in his eyes.  It was priceless.  We are now trying to surround him now with good men to help him in his journey.  If you think of it, please pray for this man.  Only God does this type of stuff and it's so humbling to be able to see many of these stories first hand!

Monday, March 26, 2012

5 Years Ago Today

While lying on the operating table with my wife looking on and only having received local anesthesia, a doctor spent 30 minutes cutting out a lymph node on the left side of my lower neck.  When he finally pulled it out, he looked at it and said "Yep, it's cancer."  Those words are forever etched in my mind, as well as everything going on around me the moment the words were spoken.

There's no way to prepare yourself for hearing those words.  My first response was one of disbelief and, while the doctor stitched me up, he spoke to me briefly about my type of cancer.  I was trying to be "strong" while he and his assistant were in the room, but as soon as he left and it was just my wife an I, I remember sitting up on the operating table, looking at my wife and saying "That (the procedure) hurt."  And, then we both started to cry.  

We were 8 months pregnant at the time expecting our first child.  So many questions were swirling around in both of our minds, but in the midst of the chaos, there was a peace and a strength that came over both of us that only God can provide (Philippians 4:6 - 7).  I will never forget that day.  Even though much of it seems to be simply a blur, there are many strange details that I so vividly remember.

The following Sunday was one of the most special experiences I've had in my life.  I was leading a discussion panel on marriage that day.  After we had finished all of the questions and discussion, Chuck Cheek, who was on the panel, stopped everything and said something along the lines of "We need to pray for you, Rich."  And, so they did ... the whole panel ... the whole congregation ... everyone in the building stopped and prayed for Carol and I.  The above picture captured one of the most meaningful moments of support I have ever felt in my life. 

I'm thankful to say that 5 years later I'm living in health and freedom.  And, even though I didn't see it at the time, God had a plan for it all.  He knew that this piece of the puzzle would somehow fit in to the picture of my life and He was going to use it for good.  I've had countless opportunities to talk with people who have been diagnosed ... countless opportunities to pray for people.  I had the opportunity to do a commercial for our local hospital and, while filming, speak the name of Jesus to everyone there.  Even today, I'm meeting with someone who has just recently been diagnosed to simply talk through what she may be feeling.  I can't honestly say the 7 months of treatments were "fun," but what I do know is that I've come out on the other side of it all a stronger person and, for that, I am grateful.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Day in the Life ...

Each day as a pastor is different.  It makes what I do fun and challenging at the same time.  I've come to learn in my 10 years at Grace Community that it's good to have a plan for the day, but to be OK with throwing that plan out the window.  Anyway, here's a sample of my day today:

- Video shoot
- Recap of Wednesday night's axis
- Check and return messages and emails
- Prep for pre-marital counseling appointment Saturday morning
- Helping Pastor Jon find some funny videos for his 56th Street Sleepover tonight. (For some reason I'm often chosen as the guy who can find funny/stupid videos to entertain people ... it's a gift.)

- 3 mile run over lunch
- Long phone conversation with a man who turned his life over to Jesus!  What an awesome phone call!
- Planning our student leadership night and connecting with the kids who are leading and giving them my thoughts for teaching
- Impromptu meeting with someone who just needed to talk
- Shopping for elder meeting breakfast tomorrow morning

Every day is different.  Some things take longer than others.  Some things are more enjoyable than others.  Some days are nothing but pure fun.  Some days are more stressful and hectic and challenging.  But, I seriously feel incredibly blessed to be a pastor and am incredibly humbled to be chosen as one who cares for Jesus's bride ... the Church.

Axis Wrap Up - Inside Worship

We had another stellar night at axis on Wednesday.  We started a new two-week series before spring break called Inside Worship.  On this night we looked at the idea that we are all created with a "nagging void" in our lives.  That void will DEMAND our attention.  Ultimately, it's a void that can only truly be filled with a relationship with God, but many will spend their whole life searching, going from one thing to another, in an effort to find peace and contentment.  The "void" does not go away and once we think we find something that will fill the void, our natural tendency is to devote ourselves to it.

I started the night talking briefly about the 10 Commandments and how the first 2 of the 10 Commandments deal with our worship of God:  1) Do not have any other gods before Me  2) Do not make an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  The next verse in Exodus 20 then says, "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." It's the idea that anything, no matter how big or how small that we allow to compete with our devotion to God, can be considered an idol in our lives.

I found the last part of that verse really interesting because God describes Himself as a "jealous God."  I had always thought of jealousy as something negative ... and it can be.  But, the more I thought about it, there is a jealousy that would be right and just.  For instance, if I come home and find my wife with another man and she is giving him the affection that she promised only to me nearly 10 years ago when we were married, I'm going to be angry and jealous.  Not only would it be OK, but it would be right!  If I was simply like "It's OK. As long as you're happy.  That's all I'm concerned about ... your happiness." Well, that would just express that I really didn't care much about our relationship.  And, it wouldn't matter if it was a "big" man or a "small" man.  If it was a "small" man, I wouldn't be like "He's a cute, tiny man.  It's OK that you're with him.  Now, if he was a "big" man, it would be different!  But, I just want you to be happy."  No!  big or small, she's my wife and you keep your hands off of her!

I feel that describes God's jealousy.  God created us.  He longs for relationship with us.  And, when we go to other things to seek out what only God can ultimately provide, it's just for Him to have a Godly jealousy.

We wrapped up the night talking about how Satan is God's "adversary" and as an adversary he competes with God.  What does he compete for?  Power? No way.  Satan has no power, no authority compared to God.  So, what does Satan compete for?  I believe it's worship ... devotion ... because he knows if he can lie to us and get us to believe that something else will provide what we ALL desperately long for ... fulfillment ... if he can get us to believe that something else other than God can provide that, then he has won the battle for worship and devotion in our lives.

We then broke up in to our "Chat Groups" and spent the rest of the night talking about our devotion to God going over questions like:  On a scale from 1 to 10, where would you describe your worship/devotion to God right now?  How can you tell if something is important to someone...what would they do to demonstrate its importance?  Have you ever devoted yourself to something more than you devoted yourself to God?  Afterwards, I had several talks with our leaders and they mentioned how honest and open kids were with their answers and that it seemed to really get our students thinking about several areas of their life.

Next Week:  A student led night looking at different forms of worship.  Can't wait!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Axis Wrap Up - Respect, Respect, Respect

We had just an amazing night at axis on Wednesday.  It was our annual Beach Bash.  We usually have it this time of year because it's cold and snowy and we try to lift up everyone's spirits by doing some summer-type stuff.  But, this year it actually FELT like we were at the beach.  It was 75 degrees and sunny!  

It was one of those nights that had everything that makes youth ministry fun and exciting ... fun atmosphere, students leading everything, amazing worship, great teaching ... God really moved.

Our student leaders planned the night and three of them spoke ... 3 middle schoolers during our middle school time and 3 high schoolers during our senior high time.  Above are our 3 high school students speaking.  Every week at axis we tell our students our 3 "expectations" of them during the night:  1) Respect God  2) Respect Each Other  3) Respect the Building (what God has given us).  So, on this night we decided to actually explain the importance of those 3 expectations.  Our students spoke first on what it means to respect God and why we should do it.  Respect is "esteem for a sense of worth or excellence of a person."  Our students spoke on respecting God because of His worth and position AS God, but also because of His character and qualities.  We respect people for who they are.  We can respect God for who He is.  If we respect God, we will respect others and we'll also respect what God has given us.  Secondly they spoke on respecting each other.  It's the idea of treating the other person better than we would want to be treated ourselves and, when we do that, we're putting God on display in our lives and our youth ministry.  Finally, they spoke on respecting what God has given us.  Psalm 24:1 says "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it."  God is the owner.  We are the managers.  Let's manage what He has given us well.  Our students did a great job of speaking, sharing Bible stories and personal stories that effectively got the point across.  I was very proud of them.

We had a fun "limbo" contest.  The winner got some pink flamingo yard ornaments!


Our worship time was powerful ... Like a Lion, Awakening, and Forever Reign.

We took time to simply blow bubbles.  No point.  Just something fun to the song Fireflies by Owl City.

Couldn't be a beach bash without hot dogs.  We gave out free hot dogs and lemonade.

Kids volunteering for the limbo contest.

We also did a fun dance to kick off the night.  You can watch the video right here.

Our kids did great sharing from the Bible.  I was seriously impressed with them and the effort they put in to it. Definitely a great night at axis.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Axis Wrap Up

It was fun for me to provide the opportunity for one of our wonderful volunteers to share with our students this past Wednesday at axis.  Rusty shared on what it means to be Jesus to people.  He did a great job of sharing some of his successes and some of his failures at this, but strongly encouraged us to keep our eyes open every day for people we can encourage and to remember that often times the ones who need the most encouragement are ones that we may think do not.  In other words, don't judge someone simply based on their outward appearance.

It was a great night with lots of really good stuff for our kids to think about.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What I'm Learning From "Stop Joseph Kony"

Wednesday I saw the above picture for the first time and was curious about what it was, but simply did not have the time to look in to it.  Then, that night at our youth ministry, one of our girls came up to me and began talking to me about a movement to "Stop Joseph Kony."  She told me that I HAD to watch this video about the movement.  I promised her that I would ... and I did.  The video already has over 52 million hits on You Tube and is worth the 30 minutes it takes to watch it.  The idea is simple:   Let's work together to stop a war-lord from continuing to commit atrocities in Africa.  The video has gone "viral" and this is what I've learned from that ...

- If a person catches the "fire" to do something, they simply cannot be happy doing anything else ... a "Holy Discontent" as Bill Hybels has written on ... look out.  Passion is a fuel that burns hot in the soul ... but you only have so much of it.  I do not want to waste the fuel of my passion on things that do not matter.  If I'm only given so much passion to burn, I want to use it on what matters most.

- The goal and vision of "Stop Joseph Kony" is clear and simple ... stop Joseph Kony. It reminds me that "clear and simple" is good.  Any vision I have for my ministry will be most effective if it's clear and easily understood by those I have the opportunity to serve.  Don't make the steps too big or the directions unclear when striving to get somewhere ... in my case ... how can a person thrive and their relationship with Jesus and reach others for Him?  

- A group of people working together on a common goal and vision are a force to be reckoned with.  I've seen this at work in our church and our youth ministry.  When we've all been on mission ... together ... united to reach a common goal ... POWERFUL things has always happened.    

This has been a good reminder for me personally to continue to use my passions and the force that the local church can be to bring about good in our society and to point people to Jesus.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Peyton Manning ... What I'm Learning

Football is a tough and often thankless business.  Successful teams get the most out of their players and the moment they can no longer "get anything" out of them, the right move is to part ways.  It stinks.  It's not fair. But, it's the right thing to do for the best of a team.

In the past two weeks I have seen several of my favorite players cut from their teams.  My Steelers cut their all-time leading receiver, Hines Ward.  He caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than any other Steeler in history.  But, he's at the end of his career and his numbers have dropped off dramatically and the Steelers need salary cap room.  Aaron Smith, regarded as the best 3-4 defensive end in Steeler history (and one of the best in NFL history) has suffered season ending injuries the past 3 years and, because of that, the Steelers cut him last week to save money.  And now, Peyton Manning ... 4 time league MVP ... Super Bowl champion ... Super Bowl MVP ... one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the history of the NFL ... gone from the Indianapolis Colts.  It's harsh.  It's cold. It's reality.

What I'm learning from these types of decisions is this:

- Being the one who makes the tough decisions is a hard job.  If you care too much about being liked, you'll never make those types of decisions.  I'm trying to become that type of person.  Sometimes I do well.  Sometimes I don't do so well.  But, I strive to be that type of person.
- You can honor the past well ... but when it's time to move on be willing to move on.  In the church setting, just because you move on from a "program" or an event (or get rid of the organ), it doesn't mean you don't appreciate the past.  It doesn't mean you don't honor those who have set the foundation for ministry happening today.  It doesn't mean you are arrogant and only think of what you want.  It means you're evaluating what you're doing and making decisions on what works and what doesn't work any more.  The goal is to reach people for Jesus.  If something you do (a program or event) doesn't DO that any longer ... it's time to part ways and move on and stop wasting time, energy, and finances on something that no longer produces results.
- Emotions factor in to all of this.  I'm about as sentimental as they come.  It's hard for me to not do something because of all the great memories it's brought about.  The reason "fans" have trouble with teams letting go of long time players is because they are "fanatics."  Fans are irrational and that's the beauty of being a fan.  But, a leader needs to be fanatical about the ultimate goal, whatever that may be.  In the church, it's helping people come to know Jesus and see them thriving in a life with Him.  
- If you're on the way out, go out with honor and class.  Each of the three players I mentioned handled themselves with such dignity and respect.  They burned no bridges.  They were humble and grateful.  

I heard Andy Stanley talk about this one time and he described a program, ministry, or event that no longer works as the "old, ugly couch in your parents living room."  When it was purchased in 1965 it was in style.  It was fashionable.  People enjoyed it.  But, 50 years later, if that couch is still in the living room ... well ... it's a bit out of style, to say the least.  Truth and purpose remain the same.  Methods can change and should.  

I'm certainly no expert in any of this, but am striving to learn from these types of situations.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Axis Wrap Up - Leap Out of Your Comfort Zone

This past Wednesday was "Leap Day" so we decided to theme our night at axis along those lines.  We passed out some fun "Leap Wear" that went over really well with our kids.  We also had 3 of our student leaders teaching on "Leaping Out of Your Comfort Zone."  They spoke on 3 things that we're often afraid of doing, but are so important to do ... 1) Sharing Jesus  2) Going on a mission trip  3) Branching out from our group of friends and meeting others.  Our kids did a good job of leading the entire night and it was great to see them succeed and struggle a little bit through different aspects of the night.  (Note:  It's not that I want to see them struggle, but it was great to see them work through a few 'rough' spots throughout the evening.)  

Below are a few pictures from the night

A sample of the "Leap Wear" we passed out ... t-shirts and underwear!

One of our student leaders teaching on going on a mission trip

Love this picture!  One of our amazing volunteers praying with a student whose mom just had surgery earlier that day.

Our kids listening to another one of our students teaching on sharing Jesus.

It was a "free hug" night at axis!

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