Monday, December 30, 2013

My Most Viewed Blog Posts from 2013

Just in case you're wandering, here are the 5 most viewed posts on my blog this year.  As the sun begins to set on 2013, it was fun for me just to review these posts and reflect on the people and events that moved me to write these things.  If you've stopped by this blog, allow me to simply say "thank you."  I enjoy writing and putting down my thoughts.  I hope to do this more and become much better at it.  I'm thankful that you've shown enough interest in my life to stop by here to see what I have to say.  If you're reading this, I just took a moment to pray for you and asked God's favor and blessing upon your life.  God's best to you as we move in to 2014.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Bible Reading

I took some time yesterday to focus on Jesus and the Christmas story.  It was a very worshipful experience for me to remember who Jesus is and why He came.  I think that's what amazes me the most about the whole story of Christmas ... realizing who Jesus is and the fact that He still came!  I am constantly amazed at the fact that nothing was going to stop God in His pursuit of us.  He took the first step toward us and remains committed to pursuing us.

What follows is straight from the Bible.  If you take the time to read it, allow the words of Scripture to fill your heart and your mind with hope.  I trust this will be as worshipful for you as it was for me.  Merry Christmas!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1 – 3)  For in Him all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.  (Colossians 1:16)  In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  (John 1:4)  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world (John 1:9) that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  (Isaiah 49:6)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. (Isaiah 9:6)  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. (Isaiah 53:2) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  (Philippians 2:6 – 7)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”  (Luke 1:26 – 28)  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father Dave, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:27 – 33)

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”  (Luke 1:34 – 37)  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Then the angel left her.  (Luke 1:38)

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  (Matthew 1:18 – 19)

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:20 – 23)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.  (Luke 2:1 – 3)  So Joseph also went us from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:4 – 7)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8 – 12) Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”  (Luke 2:13 – 14) When the angels had left them and gone in to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Lets go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:15 – 18)

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14) He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  (John 1:10 – 11) He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:3 – 5)

For God was please to have all of his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.  (Colossians 1:19 – 20) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9 – 11) And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon!"  Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Everyone In Ministry Should Experience This

Last Wednesday our youth pastor (Dan Cosentino) asked me to be at axis to be a part of an Ugly Christmas Sweater contest.  As you can see above, mine was pretty ugly!  He also asked if I'd be willing to share just a little bit about how things have been going for me since I transitioned from youth pastor here 4 months ago.  I was thrilled about the opportunity and was really looking forward to experiencing a Wednesday night at axis again.

To my TOTAL surprise, though, the night ended up being a time when students and adults thanked me for the 11 years I served as a youth pastor.  I was totally taken off guard by it.  Students and adults lined up, sat down beside me, and then began to share story after story about how ... well ... how I guess I've impacted their life.  For 40 minutes stories were shared.  Some were incredibly serious.  Some were just plain funny  Some were a combination of the two.  But, for 40 minutes people just poured their words of encouragement and thanks in to my life. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.

A few things came to mind as they shared:

First ... if anything good comes from my life it's all because of Jesus.  Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened to me and if anyone has been blessed or encouraged because of something I have done, it's all because Jesus has totally blessed my life.  

Second ... most of what was shared revolved around me spending time with people.  Some shared about late nights I spent at their homes.  Other shared about mission trips.  Others shared about how I would just sit and listen and talk with them.  Others shared about weekend trips together.  Well, I had the time to do things like that only because my wife freed me up to do them.  Carol is an amazing woman and does so much behind the scenes.  I'm constantly floored by the way she serves and helps and no one even knows about it.  With 4 young children in our home, I would not have been able to do anything without her help.  Being married to her really helped make me a much better youth pastor.

Third ... if anything good happened in the lives of kids at axis, it was a team effort.  I had the awesome privilege of working with incredible adult volunteers.  Man, they were truly awesome and I loved serving with them and watching them love on teenagers.  Whatever kind words were said about me on that night would not have been said if it wasn't for our adults.  The adult team I had the privilege of serving with really was an incredible team!  I love those guys.

Fourth ... I wish everyone in ministry would get a chance to experience something like that.  Ministry really is difficult work.  It's easy to wonder if what you're doing is making a difference.  It's easy to let a negative thought creep in or a lie from the enemy steal some joy.  In youth ministry, especially, we often don't get to see the results of the time we put in with students.  There are times when it can get discouraging.  But, hearing story after story of how lives were impacted ... wow ... it just felt so encouraging and I really was able to see that what I wanted to have happen in axis and in the lives of the kids there really was able to happen.  After the night, I was reminded of the many who serve in ministry who really need to hear or experience something like I did on that night.  Some rarely hear it and my heart truly goes out to them.

If you're in ministry or serve other people in any type of way, let me just say ... you're making a difference.  Keep pressing on.  Don't give up.  Stay engaged and encouraged and let God continue His work in you while you work with others.  You may not see results right away, but you're efforts are making a difference.  If you've been blessed by someone, please take the time to let them know how they have impacted your life.

At the end of the night, the students and adults prayed over me.  I was so blessed and so encouraged and so thankful.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

We All Play a Role

I'm typically at all 3 services at Grace on Sundays, but I was able to have this Sunday "off" from church.  My family and I, though, wanted to attend the 1st service and then enjoy the rest of the day with each other.  Anyway, if you have kids now or have raised kids, you may relate to this.  It was one of those mornings where our 6, 4, 3, and 1 1/2 year olds were in rare form.  Nothing was making them happy.  All were upset about something.  Crying, screaming, drama, chaos ... I literally felt like my head was going to explode!  I got in to our van unhappy, frustrated, and really knowing that my heart was not ready to hear from God right then because of such a chaotic morning.  

We pulled in to the church parking lot and the frustration continued as our one daughter nearly refused to get out of our van.  I was nearly tempted to leave her there, but that wouldn't have been very pastoral of me.  :)  Well, after "enticing" her out of the van, we made our way to the church.  I was tense and stressed.  But, as I walked closer to the entrance, I was warmly greeted by someone at the front door holding it open for my family and I.  The host had a huge smile on his face.  He was warm, friendly, and genuinely seem happy to see us.  It's hard to describe it, but receiving this kind of welcome instantly brought some peace to me.  We continued on in to the church where we experienced the same warmness from our Kid City staff that checked us in.  Again, very refreshing and it began a process of calming my spirit.

I share all of that for this reason ... I'm sure I'm not the only one who sometimes pulls in to the church parking lot bringing a little "chaos" with them.  Marriage problems, work problems, family drama, health concerns ... you name it and someone is probably bringing it with them to church on any given Sunday.  Whether or not you're "officially" on the host team doesn't matter.  Your smile, warm handshake, kindness, and sincerity can make a huge difference in a person's life and set the stage for God to move in their hearts.  

It's important to remember, if you're a follower of Jesus, that we all play a role in what God is doing.  I told our host team today that a person's next step in to our building may be their next step closer to Jesus. I'm so thankful that we all can help someone in their journey.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Marathon # 3 Experience

I was able to finish my 3rd marathon a week and a half ago.  Such a great experience for me and there were a few really powerful things I realized while running it ... 

1. My Wife is Amazing!  I've said it each time I've finished a marathon, but she truly is such an incredible woman.  I would not have the opportunity to do these types of things unless she supported me and allowed me the time to do it.  Training for a marathon is a lot of work and her support means so much to me.  Every time I'd get back from a run she'd ask how it went, how do I feel, and, the most powerful thing she would tell me nearly every time was "I'm proud of you.  Good job, babe!"  I love her encouragement and I would not be able to finish a marathon without her!  It was so much fun having her and the kids there to meet me at the half-way point and also at the finish.  

2. There's Power Behind Encouragement.  One of the things I've tried to do during each of my marathons or half-marathons is to be an encourager.  I always try to thank people who are serving at the race.  I thank the workers for their time, the police for their efforts, and the water people for ... well ... their water.  I also try to encourage the runners around me.  If I'm running past someone I always try to tell them "Good job.  Keep it up."  Most likely, though, someone is running past me.  Even then, I'm still trying to say encouraging things to them.  What I've found is that the more I try to encourage someone, the better I actually feel!  I love how God works that way.  

3. Kindness Can Break Down Walls.  I ran with a couple for about 8 miles.  I initially just started to encourage them with a simple "Good job." I started to make some small talk and asked some open ended questions about the two of them.  I found them to be very friendly and open to conversation.  So, we kept running together and kept on talking.  I was eventually able to bring God in to the conversation and started to share my story and my faith in Jesus.  I was talking about how I've learned to trust God when all of the sudden the husband starts to cry.  I thought maybe he was hurt or something happened.  So, he and his wife stopped and I stopped with them.  He apologizes for crying, but goes on to say this:  "It is not an accident that we're talking to you right now."  He then begins to share some of the things that are going on in his life and his wife's life at the moment.  I had no idea that this would happen simply because of trying to be friendly to them.  But, what I'm sure of it this ... it would not have happened if I didn't try to be friendly and interested in them.  Kindness broke down some barriers.  It allowed them to feel open to share with a complete stranger.  It was just a powerful reminder to me of how caring for people and genuinely being interested in them can set the stage for God to move.

4.  You Just Keep Moving.  I really wanted to finish this marathon at 4 hours and 15 minutes.  I was nearly on pace for that at the half-way point and beyond.  Around mile 21, though, I started to cramp ... something that hadn't happened during any of my training.  I continued to cramp about every half mile for the rest of the race.  It was very frustrating, but a powerful reminder to just keep moving forward.  That's what I told myself.  Just keep moving forward.  Every step brings you one step closer to the finish.  To me that's a good reminder for a marathon, but also for life.

5.  Stop Comparing Yourself.  I ended up finishing in 4 hours and 45 minutes.  The marathon I ran earlier this year I did in 4 hours and 24 minutes.  Initially I felt a need to explain why my time was worse ... I was cramping.  I felt I needed to explain to others that I could have done better and it's only because of the cramps that I didn't have a much better time.  Many others ran much faster than me and finished stronger than me.  I found the more I compared myself to the times of others in the race, the less joyful I was becoming about the finishing the race.  It was then that it hit me ... I just finished my 3rd stinkin' marathon!  Stop worrying about other people and really enjoy this accomplishment.  I have so much to learn in this area and continually strive to become the best person I can become and do the best with what I'm given.  If I can look in the mirror and know I gave it may all, that's success.  That's the type of attitude I'm striving to have.  The old attitude of comparisons sneaks itself in every one in a while.  I'm thankful that God is helping me overcome it.

6.  I Really Enjoy Running.  It's really therapeutic for me.  I enjoy it.  It helps me feel alive.  And, it's a commitment that I made to myself after my cancer treatments ... Now that I have my health back, I'm going to enjoy it as best as I can.  Running has provided that for me.   

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's Nice When Someone Believes in You

Two weeks ago my wife and I were at a wedding.  While at the reception, we were sitting at a table with a couple in their 60's.  We didn't know this couple, but were able to have a really good conversation with them.  During our conversation, I found out that the husband will be running the Boston Marathon next year.  At age 61, he qualified for the Boston.  I've run two marathons and will be running my third on November 9th.  Anyone who qualifies for the Boston has my respect.  It was lots of fun talking to this man about running and sharing stories from races we've done in the past.  It was a very inspiring conversation for me.

The next day I went for a 12 mile run.  I came back from that run feeling pretty good and I made a comment to my wife that went something like this:  "It was really inspiring talking to that guy yesterday.  I think I'd like to try to qualify for the Boston sometime."  Now, to put that comment in perspective … I'm a runner, but not a fast runner.  For me to qualify for the Boston at this stage of my life, I'd have to knock over an hour off of my best marathon time!  But, what's really cool is this … after I made that comment to my wife … without even batting an eye she looked at me and said, "That would be just AWESOME!"  Let me tell you what her response did for me:

- It actually made me think I could do it.
- The look of confidence in her eyes when she told me that, put a sense of confidence in me that made me feel incredibly strong.
-  I like it when someone believes in me.
- I'm totally in love with my wife!
- My wife is not a "yes" person.  She tells me when she thinks I'm crazy or when my ideas really stink.  But, her belief in me was incredibly inspiring … like there was no doubt in her mind that I actually could qualify for the Boston.

I share all that for this reason … I don't know if I'll ever get to run the Boston Marathon, but what I do know is that my wife's words to me made me believe that I could.  Is there someone in your life who needs you to believe in them?  Is there someone in your life who needs you to instill a sense of confidence in them with your words?  Are you more prone to squelch a person's dreams or to inspire them?

What I know is that there is at least one person in your life who wants you to believe in them.  There is at least one person in your life who could use your encouragement.  There is at least one person in your life who needs to feel like they can accomplish something they're unsure they can accomplish.  You can be that person.  

"The tongue can bring death or life" Proverbs 18:21a  What will your words bring to another person?  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Wisdom and Folly

The following thoughts are not original to me.  I was at a meeting with other pastors on Tuesday and one of the pastors there shared these thoughts and I was really intrigued by them.  Anyway, Proverbs 9 talks about the invitation of both wisdom and folly.  The idea of the chapter is that both wisdom and folly are calling out to us ... they are both inviting us in to their homes ... both are desiring a relationship with us.  And, what's really interesting is that they both invite us in to a relationship the same way:

"Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.  She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.  She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, 'Let all who are simple come to my house.'  To those who have no sense she says, 'Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.'"  (Proverbs 9:1 - 6)

"Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing.  She sits at the door of her house , on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way,  'Let all who are simple come to my house!' To those who have no sense she says, 'Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!'  But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead."  (Proverbs 9:13 - 18)

Every day we're receiving invitations to be wise or to be fools.  The invitations sound the same.  Both wisdom and folly say to us, "Let all who are simple come to my house."  The difference is that wisdom invites you in to something she has prepared, something she has worked hard at, something that requires effort but the hard work pays off later.  Folly invites you to something she has stolen, something that sacrifices integrity, something that is easy now, but will cause pain later.  

The reward of choosing wisdom is "your days will be many, and years will be added to your life." (Proverbs 9:11)  The reward of choosing folly is being found "deep in the realm of the dead."  (Proverbs 9:18).  I'm sure we all have choices that we can look back on and say "Because I listened to that foolish invitation, it left me feeling dead."  A relationship was hurt.  We made a choice that we totally regret.  Our finances suffered.  Our health suffered.  Folly promises so much, but delivers so little.  And, we listen to it so often simply because it's easier to make foolish decisions than wise ones.  But, I'm sure we can also look back on good decisions we made and say "I'm so thankful I did that!  I'm so thankful I decided to work hard because now that hard work is paying off.  I'm so thankful I avoided that mistake because now my life is thriving."  Wisdom rarely offers the easy way but always offers the best way ... the way to life.

Both voices are calling out to you today.  Which invitation will you accept?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shout Out to Pastor's Wives

One of our photographers at Grace Community snapped this pic of my wife and the kids on their way to church this past Sunday.  I love this pic, not just because it's one of my family, but also because it's just a small picture of everything my wife does behind the scenes.  I don't think my wife and I really knew what we were getting in to nearly 11 years ago when I became one of the pastors on staff at Grace.  We have learned so much over the years at Grace Community, but looking back neither of us really knew what being a pastor was going to be all about.  One thing I certainly know for sure, though, is that I could not do what I do if it wasn't for my wife.  She does so much behind the scenes that no one will ever know about.    She's a beautiful picture of grace and patience ... hard work and persistence.   

She talks with people no one knows she's talked too.  She helps people no one knows she's helped.  She makes things and provides things that no one knows she provides.  She has a great ability to focus her efforts on one person or a small group of people and really impact their lives in a powerful way.  She's not "big" on being up front, but has been asked to speak at more places outside the church than I have because of her ability as a counselor.  And, every time she has spoken to a class or a group or at a conference, she has totally nailed it!  My wife is a counselor and her ability to listen beneath the words of others and pour in to their lives, in my opinion, is just incredibly special!  

Her prayers every morning are a powerful way for her to start her day and I know they help empower me and our family and our ministry.  The time she spends in the Bible every morning fills her with truth and nourishes her soul.  Because her soul is full, she is able to give to others.

The life of a pastor's wife is not an easy one.  Please don't get me wrong.  I realize that it's not just pastor's wives who face unique struggles.  A policeman's wife or a fireman's wife or the wife of someone in the armed forces ... wow, what they do and how they do it is simply amazing.  But, I simply just wanted to take a moment and say how amazing my wife is for all she does and how, as a pastor, I'm often the one who gets "thanked" for a message or I get the encouragement notes in the mail and even the occasional gift card.  I'm so grateful for those things, but if it wasn't for my wife, the truth is, I wouldn't be half the pastor ... half the man ... that I am today.  A pastor's wife faces her own unique set of challenges and struggles.  I'm thankful that my wife, and I can say the same of the other pastor's wives here at Grace, face those struggles with courage and grace.  So, if you know the wife of a pastor, take a moment to simply say "thanks."  What they do often goes unseen and unnoticed, but is a driving force behind their husband and the ministry of the church!

I love my wife!

Friday, August 23, 2013

You Never Know What an Invite May Do

That's my son Ezra above.  I could go on and on about the kid, but I'll only mention one thing that happened this week that I just think is totally cool. On Tuesday, he told me that he invited a friend from school to church with him on Wednesday.  This friend lives close to us, so we've gotten to know him and his family just a bit.  Wednesday comes around and I ask Ezra if his friend was able to come with us to church.  Ezra tells me that his friend forgot to ask his mom about it, so we didn't know if he would be able to come with us.  Before our dinner Wednesday, Ezra really wants to have his friend come to church.  So, we decided to walk him to his friend's house and ask if he could join us for church.  As we were walking to the house, I let Ezra know that I want him to do the talking and invite his friend. Ezra tells me "You do the knockin' and I'll do the talkin'!"  That's just a little peek in to his sense of humor.  :)

Anyway, long story short ... the friend is able to with us.  While loading everyone up in our mini-van, Ezra says "Wait.  I forgot my Bible."  So, he gets out of the van, runs in to the house, and gets his Bible.  As he gets back in to the van, his friend asks Ezra "What did you forget?"  Ezra says, "My Bible."  His friend looks at him and again says "Your what?"  Ezra says, "My Bible."  And, his friend has this look on his face like "I have no idea what you're talking about."  Ezra begins to tell him "Yeah, the Bible.  It's so cool!  There are thousands of stories in it and they're ALL true!"  

I share this for just a couple of reasons:

1.  I'm proud of my son for doing this!

2. I love that my children get to be in a kid's ministry that they can be proud to invite a friend too!  They love being a part of Kid City and Pastor Jon and the rest of the staff do an amazing with the kids!

3. My son's friend (a fellow first grader) had never heard the word "Bible" before.  A simple invite has now exposed him to a book that is "So cool!  There are thousands of stories in it and they're all true!"  He was able to walk in to a place that was fun, loving, and talked to kids about Jesus.  He would not have had that experience if it wasn't for the invite.

4. We never know who is walking through our church doors.  Some are close to God.  Some are far away.  Regardless, they all need Jesus!  Our role is to point those people to Him.

We never know what an invite may do for someone.  It may be just what they need to take a step closer to Jesus.  It may be the thing needed to help them feel like someone cares enough to invite them to church.  It may be what God uses to bring someone in to a relationship with Him.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body

I have two beautiful little girls.  They bring so much joy to my heart and I love being their dad.  I also realize that, as their dad, I have such a powerful influence in their life.  I am the one who will teach them how a man is to treat a woman by how they watch me interact with Carol.  I am the one who will be their first picture of who God is by how I love them and enjoy them and discipline them and forgive them.  I am the one who will help pour a sense of confidence and security in to their lives.  I realize that how a woman feels about her body is one area that can really cause insecurity or even captivity.  There are so many lies about how a woman "should" look ... so much pressure ... so many expectations.  I pray against those things for my wife and for my daughters and long for them to have a healthy and strong view of themselves.
I came across these thoughts on a blog post and it gave me some really good thoughts on how to help my girls begin to think about their bodies. The author gave some really great thoughts and I copied much of the post below if you'd like to check it out.
How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.
Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.
If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:
“You look so healthy!” is a great one.
Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”
“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”
Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.
Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.
Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.
Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.
Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because being outside is a great way to connect with God. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.
Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.
Teach your daughter how to cook kale.
Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.
Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.
Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Was Smothered in Prayer

I officially ended my 11 years as the youth pastor at Grace Community this past Wednesday.  I'm excited about my new role at the church which will revolve around "care, connections, and discipleship."  But, while I'm very excited about that new role and challenge, I'm also really going to miss my teenagers in axis.  I was the church's first full-time youth pastor.  There were incredible volunteers before me who poured their lives in to teenagers, but I was the first person to come on staff in the role.  I loved being able to build a youth ministry basically from the ground up and I have loved pouring in to the lives of teenagers over these past 11 years and seeing God do some amazing things.   But, I believe "greater things are yet to come."

I was able to share one last time with our kids and I basically shared that my goal in ministry was the same in 2002 as it was in 2013 ... I have always wanted kids to see a clear picture of who Jesus really is.  Psalm 34:8 says "Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him."  I believe that once we really get a taste of God ... who He is, what He wants to accomplish through us ... once we get a taste of Him, we'll want more of Him.  My desire has always been to give kids a clear picture of who Jesus is so that they would walk away from any encounter with me or our youth ministry wanting to know Jesus more.  

At the end of our time I was able to introduce our new youth pastor to our kids.  Dan Cosentino has been in youth ministry for several years.  He has a proven love for teenagers and has done much to pour in to their lives and equip them to reach their friends.  The pic below is me introducing our kids to Dan.  Just as I would not entrust my own to just anyone, I would not entrust the teenagers in my youth ministry to just anyone.  I trust Dan with them.    I know he will serve and lead them well and I can't wait to see what God does through him.

To close out our night, Dan talked a little bit about his vision for axis and then he said that, as a youth ministry, we want to "commission Rich" for the new role.  So, he invited all the kids to come forward and pray over me.  It's a moment I will never forget.  Before I knew it, I was completely surrounded by teenagers.  I started out standing and then as hand after hand after hand began to press down on me, I found myself beginning to lean over.  Soon, I was completely hunched over by the weight of teenagers placing their hands on me in prayer.  I'm somewhere in the middle of those two pictures below.  At first there was some laughter and talking.  But, as the prayer began, the room got quiet and I honestly felt "smothered" in prayer.  It was one of the most special moments I remember in ministry.  Having these teenagers who I've been praying regularly for over the past 11 years pray over me was incredibly humbling and powerful.  I will never forget that moment.  

I got home later that night and was reflecting on that time with my wife.  I used the term "smothered in prayer" with her and remember saying to her that it gave me a whole new view of prayer.  I hope to "smother" people with my prayers, to believe in the power of prayer so much that I don't just cover my wife, my kids, our team at Grace, my small group, the people who come to our church, my friends, whoever it may be ... that I don't just cover them in prayer ... I smother them in it.   

It was an absolutely amazing night for me personally, and I believe a powerful way for our youth ministry to launch in to the fall under Dan's leadership.  I look forward to smothering axis in prayer.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Get One Under Your Belt

I enjoy running.  I set the goal of running 500 miles this year.  Right now I'm at 384 miles.  If all goes according to plan, I should surpass my goal by the end of the year.  But, it's been about 3 weeks since my last run.  My last run was at the Momentum youth conference. I went for a fun run with some of our teenagers. (Side Note:  Nothing will humble you like running with teenagers).  Anyway, I got back from the conference and life got busy ... working at the church, a week's vacation, dealing with 3 out of our 4 kids being sick ... before I knew it, 3 weeks had gone by and I had been without a run.  What I noticed was I kept telling myself that I was going to run "today" but something would come up or I'd lose track of time and I would just not want to do it.  Before long I started to feel tired and lacking energy and I found it harder and harder to find the motivation for that run.  Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion not only applied to physics but they also applied to my life:  "A body at rest will stay at rest.  A body in motion will stay in motion."  

Today, I put my body in motion.  I had my first run in 3 weeks and it felt great to be able to do it!  It wasn't my best run, by any means.  I felt the effects of three weeks off.  But, it was a run.  And, sometimes, just getting one under your belt is all it takes to set the wheels of momentum in motion.  I don't plan on missing three weeks again.

What's something in your life that you need to "get under your belt?"  What's that something you need to start?  Maybe it's exercise.  Maybe it's a healthy diet.  Maybe it's a decision in ministry you've been putting off for some reason.  Maybe it's that project at home.  Maybe it's a fun activity with the kids.  Maybe it's planning a date night with your wife or husband.  What's that thing you need to just do?  Momentum is a powerful force but momentum in your life will only start when you start. Don't wait any longer.  Before you know it, weeks will go by and it will just get harder and harder to make that thing happen.  Why not make it happen today.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Dilemma of Parenting

I love my kids.  I simply cannot imagine life without them.  But, anyone who tells you that parenting is all butterflies and rainbows is probably smoking something causing them to see butterflies and rainbows.  Parenting can be exhausting!  There isn't a week that goes by that we do not have someone see us with our kids and say something like, "Wow, you guys must be busy.  But, they grow up so fast.  Enjoy it while it lasts."  Depending on the day, my reaction could range from "Thanks.  We are enjoying it."  Or, "Here you go.  Why don't you enjoy them for a while.  Judah just pooped himself for the fifth time today!"  Or, on the really bad days, "Where's my taser? I don't want to deal with your happy wisdom right now!"  

My wife and I have four kids all under six.  Parenting them is the most rewarding and the most exhausting thing that we do.  Therein lies the dilemma.  The most rewarding thing we do is also the most physically and emotionally tiring thing we do.  And, I guess I believe that's the way it's supposed to be.  Too many times we want the rewards without the effort.  This will just make us lazy and entitled.  The reverse is also true. Too many times we focus on the effort without keeping our eyes on the reward.  This will just make us frustrated and bitter.  

Reward and effort cannot be separated.  I'm definitely a "gifts" person.  I have been given many gifts throughout my life that have overwhelmed me with gratitude and thankfulness.  But, it's the things I've worked hard for that I've most appreciated.  John Wooden said, "Great results come only with great effort."  This is something I constantly try to keep in front of me while parenting.  Of all the tasks given to me by God, raising my kids is the most vital. It's my greatest mission. I am charged with the task of preparing them for the future, driving out "foolishness" in their lives as the book of Proverbs teaches, helping develop in them a heart that considers others before themselves, teaching them about responsibility and contentment and generosity and, to top it all of, trying to give them a clear picture of who God really is.   This is incredibly humbling to me.  I'm still amazed that God believes in my wife and I enough to give us this responsibility.  But, I firmly believe that what God has called us to do He will equip us to do.  

So, if you're in a similar stage of life and feeling ... well ... exhausted ... you're probably doing it right.  The days can be long, but the years are short.  Remember, "they grow up so fast."  Now, let me get outta here before you get your taser!  :)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wedding Lessons

This has been a busy summer of weddings for me.  Since May 25th, I've done four weddings and I have another coming up in October.  It's really been a great experience and each wedding has helped remind me of a few different things:

First, God makes a big deal out of weddings!  The Bible uses wedding terminology in many different ways.  Jesus is described as a "Groom" awaiting His bride.  The Church is described as the "Bride of Christ" ... the one He loves.  There is a specific "event" to be held in heaven called the "Wedding Feast of the Lamb."  Jesus performed His first recorded miracle at a wedding.  There's even a story in the Bible about a prophet named Hosea who was instructed by God to marry a woman he knew would be unfaithful to him ... but he was to remain faithful to her simply to show us God's faithfulness.  God makes a big deal of people getting married and the commitment the bride and groom make is not only to each other, but before the God of the Universe.

Second, I'm reminded that a great marriage doesn't just happen.  You have to work for it.  You have to fight for it.  You have to give all you have to make it work. If great marriages could be achieved easily, more people would have great marriages.   There would certainly be less divorce and families would be thriving.  All to often we're unwilling to put the hard work in required to build an intimate relationship with each other.  What I've found is that it's easy for me to live with my wife.  We could be great roommates with no problem.  We'd get along just fine and probably not bother each other at all.  But, that's not what a thriving marriage is about.  A thriving marriage is about pursuing the other person ... knowing them like you know no one else ... allowing them to know you unlike anyone else.  You confront.  You forgive.  You serve.  You sacrifice.  You study each other.  You have to pursue each other ... even when you're not liking the other person very much.   Intimacy can be hard work, but it pays off in the end.  John Wooden once said that "Great results only come with great effort."  Too many couples forget that.  But, that hard work is so satisfying in the end.

Finally, there are only certain things that longevity will provide for you.  Each wedding that I've done this year is tied to our youth ministry.  I've been at axis for 11 years.  I've seen each of these young men and women be a part of our youth ministry.  It's so exciting to have stayed on this journey and now see things that I would never have seen if I would have left after 2 or 3 years ... the average tenure of a youth pastor.  There are only certain things you get to experience when you stick something out.  How true that is of marriage as well.  Most divorces that occur in the United States happen 8 years in to marriage.  I've heard it said that it takes approximately 9 to 10 years before that true, undeniable intimacy is developed in marriage.  If that's true, what that tells me is most marriages end before the true intimacy has started.  And, this often creates a vicious cycle because the divorce rate of 2nd marriages is even higher than first!  Sowing commitment and loyalty in to each other's lives will allow you to reap so much over time.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hero Adventure

This past Wednesday we had our 2nd Hero Adventure night.  Hero Adventure is an outreach we do specifically for moms and their young sons.  We wanted to provide an opportunity for moms to spend time with their sons in an environment that their sons would just love.  So, we designed a night full of stuff little boys love ... fire trucks, super heroes, bounce houses, a K9 policeman, target shooting, tractors, Legos, coloring and, of course, popcorn and lollipops.  We wanted to let "boys be boys" and also to help moms have an unforgettable night with their sons and to try our best to support our community in this way.

It was really a great night!  I love the fact that we had teenagers and adults serving at this event together.  Each of our volunteers did an amazing job being friendly and fun and just making the night a blast!  Our intern Josh, also did an amazing job lining up all of the firetrucks and policeman and just making sure everything was running smoothly.  He put a lot of time in to this event and it totally paid off!

It was also great to see God come through for us as well.  It was raining most of the day ... and not just a drizzle.  It was raining really hard.  It stopped for a bit in the afternoon but started back up again about 2 hours before the event.  If it was raining we would not have been able to have all of the firetrucks and ambulances and tractors because all of those things would have been outside.  But, the rain stopped about an hour before the event started and I'm incredibly grateful for God just showing us His favor in that way.  

My wife was able to bring our 6-year-old son to Hero Adventure and he just absolutely loved it!  Here's some of what we did below ... 

Nerf Gun Target Shooting ... we set up action figures and let the kids shoot 'em down.

We have 5 different inflatable games.  Below is a baseball game we had set up.  This was a lot of fun! 

As mentioned, we had 7 different fire stations bring equipment out to this event.  I'm so grateful for the fireman in our community and how they serve.  They're so willing to give back to the community and it was fun to watch them with all of the kids.  They let them climb all over the trucks, put on the equipment, honk the horns ... the kids loved it!

We also provided an opportunity for kids to "fight" Darth Vader.  This was a blast!  Our Darth did such a great job and the kids loved using light sabers to fight him.  And, total props to our Darth Vader.  That suit is really hot!  He was drenched in sweat by the end and pretty tired.  But, he never once complained and had a great attitude the entire time.  He made it so much fun for the kids to fight him.

We also had several of our volunteers roaming around doing some fun stuff.  This is Laramie with one of our bubble guns.  We also had volunteers roaming around greeting people, passing out lollipops and popcorn.  We also had a couple volunteers randomly passing out Target gift cards to moms.  One of our regular attendees talked to me and said that she invited one of her friends who does not have a relationship with Jesus to come.  She came for the last 20 minutes of Hero Adventure and during that time received a gift card.  She simply could not understand why we would give a gift card away but felt incredibly blessed because she received one.  That pretty much answers why we gave a few of them away.

We also had a Lego station set up and a coloring station set up.  Even with all of the very active things we had going on, these stations were very full most of the night.  

We wanted to give moms the opportunity to remember the night so we provided a photo booth for them to take pictures with their kids.  We had "super hero" stuff that they could wear, if they wanted, while they got their pictures taken.  Below is one of our volunteers, Hannah, helping a little boy in to a Super Man outfit.

 One of the 5 inflatable games we had during the night.

Kids love tractors.  We had some very generous people from our church bring their tractors in and allow kids to sit in them.  It was lots of fun.

I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity we had as a church to do Hero Adventure.  It really was a memorable night for moms and their sons.  Our volunteers did awesome and it was so fun watching them serve and have fun doing it!  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Haiti Trip Day 5

We finished up our last day in Haiti today.  What an incredible blessing to be here.  I have been so impressed with our team and the team at CPR-3.  It's been great serving with them.  Our team from Grace has just been amazing!  I have loved watching our teenagers and adults serve side by side.  I think it's so valuable to have adults and teenagers serving together and learning from each other.  I have watched our teenagers this week and have been challenged by them and have learned so much from them.  It's been great to see them just jump in to things.  They have showed such compassion toward everyone here.  Clothing, much of the time, is optional in Haiti.  It's nothing to see naked kids ... and sometimes naked adults ... walking around.  But, our kids have thought nothing of picking up tiny kids with no pants and just holding them and loving on them.  One of our girls was pee'd on and just brushed it off like it happens all the time.  They have given stuff away, given more hugs than I can count, had kids all over them all week, and have worked so incredibly hard with various projects.  I have loved watching them serve.  And, our adults have done the very same thing.  They have used their gifts in so many different ways and have given so much.  Our adults are here on their own time.  They have taken their own vacations to spend a week serving in Haiti.  That inspires me so very much and, even though I knew each of them reasonably well, there's nothing like spending a week in a 3rd world country that will help you get to know people even more!  I have loved watching them work hard and love on kids and just be as flexible as anybody could be.  Didn't matter what they were asked to do ... they did it with all their heart!  I have learned so much from the people on our team!

Some of us spent our morning in a town called "Laberdee" ... not really sure how to spell it, so I spelled it "fo-netically."  :) While there we played with kids, walked around and tried to talk with families, and just had so much fun being there.  Others stayed behind and worked at the CPR-3 site.  The picture above is of a little boy I just grew to adore.  He was so cute and so gentle.  He would just reach out and grab my hand in the sweetest way.  I loved it!  

The picture below is of Ryan getting his hair done by some of the kids.  As you can tell, he loved every minute of it!  

On our walk back to CPR-3, we stopped to say "hi" to some people and I saw the little girl above.  She was playing with a water jug.  It's really amazing how kids can entertain themselves and how they can use their imagination with anything.  It was fun watching her play.

The picture below is of a girl who came out to walk with us.  Yesterday, I gave her one of the My Little Ponies my 4-year-old daughter donated from the trip.  She was still holding it and playing with it.  That really did my heart good!

During the afternoon, we actually had some time off, so our team was able to go to a local beach and spend some time in the Caribbean.  Wow, it was beautiful!  Very relaxing.  We wrapped up our time at the beach in a circle encouraging each other and praying for each other.  I'm looking forward to how God is going to use this trip in each of our lives and how He will continue to break our hearts for people.  For those of you that have prayed for us ... thank you so much.  We'd appreciate you prayers tomorrow as we make the trip home.

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