Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Youth Ministry 3.0 Quotes

I came across a couple great quotes in Youth Ministry 3.0 last night that I wanted to share here:

"One of the most dangerous cul-de-sacs that any human organization can drive into is the belief that our current assumptions will continue to be correct, are evergreen, and never need to change." -Mark Oestreicher

Marko is writing about the historical shifts in youth culture and adolescence and the church's need to respond. (But the thinking applies well outside of the youth ministry realm as well.) Just because something was the right approach at one time, doesn't mean it will be today.

But the church isn't just a "human organization". We certainly are an organization of humans, but we are not only that. It's even more imperative then, as a spiritual body whose head is Jesus that we are allowing our minds to be renewed, our assumptions changed when necessary.

"A church that pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling... We must play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, live by improvisation and experiment." -Hans Kueng

Just because something is the way it is, doesn't mean it should stay that way. We should be consistently studying humanity, the heart of God, and how He's responding to (and dare I say even driving) the cultural shifts we see happening. As we see the world changing all around us, will we have the courage to step from the safety of our tents and venture out into the wildness of God's love. Don't forget that He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son... Since He's already given so much, will we give our assumptions - will we give our comfort?

No Excuses

"'Not called!' did you say?
'Not heard the call,' I think you should say.
Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there.
Then look Christ in the face - whose mercy you have professed to obey - and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.'"

Just came across that quote from William Booth (who founded the Salvation Army) in Dino Rizzo's book Servolution. It's easy to say that we're not gifted in outreach, or we're just not called to evangelism like that, or that's just not my personality type... But the truth is that we are each responsible for sharing with others the mercy and grace that Jesus has shared with us. No excuses. You and I ARE CALLED to reveal God to people who haven't seen Him - in the way we live, in the way we serve, in the way we love.

What are you doing to "publish His mercy" to the people around you?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Annoyed with the Asinine

I try not to rant about pet peeves here too often, but I've been noticing something over and over that just irritates the heck out of me. It's been a long time since a day has gone by without being accosted by this deceptive dispenser of annoyance. I could easily avoid the stupid thing, but I hate seeing so many of my friends giving themselves away to...

the facebook quiz.

I know, I know - it's all just in fun, sort of a game. But is it really? Is it a healthy game to play? I wish people didn't care what kind of kiss they were, or what flavor of ice cream best represents their sex life. Why do grown adults want to know which Twilight character is their soul mate and what body part they should pierce.

Guess what, people? Your life is not an 80's movie, you are not a Michael Jackson song, and a facebook quiz is never going to help you find out who you truly are. You are not a Transformers character and facebook has no idea when you'll get married or what the first letter of the middle name of your true love is.

Maybe I'm just bitter because the ministry quiz said I was made to be a groundskeeper. Or maybe I just hate seeing so many young people (and not so young) looking for their identity in meaningless places. Don't settle for a facebook quiz to tell you who you are - it's a poor substitute for the dreams of God. Seek His heart and live the life He dreams...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thinking Without Thinking

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's blink - The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The book weaves together a whole lot of anecdotal episodes and scientific studies to look at the process of making decisions, not just quickly but instantly. Gladwell presents the notion that our unconscious mind can (and does) make snap decisions through a process he calls 'thin-slicing' (which is essentially eliminating all but the most critical bits of information). If you're interested in how people think, process information, and make decisions this will be an interesting book. (If it doesn't make you think differently, it'll at least make you think about how you think - differently!)

One of the factors of thin slicing that is most interesting to me is the idea that our reactions are 'primed' by a number of factors. He cited a couple studies that were done in which test takers' behaviors were modified simply by the subtle insertion of certain words within the test. Words like Florida, gray, bingo, etc. inserted into the test cause the test takers to walk more slowly after the test. Other test takers became more polite or more intrusively rude when primed with other sets of words.

One implication of all of this is seen in how we process information and shift our behaviors and attitudes without even realizing it. Another study Gladwell mentions was a tool that's been developed called the Implicit Association Test that measures the associations we make between ideas. Many of these associations are not intentional, but we tend to carry them anyway, even if we don't realize it. (You can visit the link above to take some of the tests to see how this works.) These are unconscious attitudes toward other races, classes, situations, etc.

Gladwell states, "The disturbing thing about the test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values." In other words, the test reveals a gap between what we say we think/feel/believe and what we truly think/feel believe. So where did these attitudes come from? How did they form in our thinking? Our environment (all our prior experiences, family, friends, media, etc.) has primed us to certain dispositions.

This got me thinking about the impact of of God's Word as it relates to cognitive development. Right now on my desk, I have within my reach hundreds of books (yes, youth ministers can read), an Internet full of information, videos, music, messages on discs, (and a stapler and a rhino)... There's a phone on my desk with 3 lines and another in my pocket with which I can call anywhere in the world with a question... At my home, all these same conduits of information are there with a couple TVs promising to help me learn to live better, thinner, wiser...

But there is nothing more important to soak my mind in than the Bible. After reading Blink, I'm noticing my first inclinations and thinking about where they're coming from. I'm seeing how I make snap judgments and understanding why my gut instinct is what it is. I've been primed for 33 years to think and react a certain way. If I really want to think and act like Jesus, then I need to make sure that the environment in which my mind is developed is full of Him.

I know that wasn't necessarily Gladwell's intention for "blink" - but I'm thankful for the reminder.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Find Some Suffering

We typically want to avoid suffering don't we? I mean, on a personal level, most of us don't want to suffer. We often even take that another step and avoid others who are suffering. Jesus was definitely counter to this part of our culture.

He expected to suffer. He even promised his disciples that they would suffer. (Which begs the question: If disciples suffer, and we avoid suffering at all costs - are we really disciples?) But not only that, Jesus sought out those who were suffering. He left his Father's side (where He was not suffering) to enter a world full of suffering. He noticed the suffering in the crowds that gathered around him.

In our nation, today, do we seek out the suffering? Or do we avoid those parts of town? Do we drive around the "bad neighborhoods" where we know we'll see someone "less fortunate" than ourselves? Compassion recently partnered with Nooma to make a short film called Corner that hits on this issue. In the video, there is a line that suggests that we "find some suffering and do something about it."

I want to suggest the same. I need to give up my American dreams of comfort and ease and "seek first the kingdom of God". Maybe you do to. Maybe we need to recognize that as some of the most wealthy people in the world (yes, even in this economy that is supposedly in the tank, the lower middle class of America is more wealthy than about 95% of the rest of the world), we can do something about much of the suffering we see (if we will indeed see it).
Like many people I can tend to point out problems much more quickly than offer solutions. But here are a few links and ideas to help us "find some suffering and do something about it":

The coldwater mission later this summer is all about revealing the Kingdom by serving people that have needs our group can meet. Join us...

Compassion - sponsor a child

Kiva - micro loans you give to help someone escape poverty

Help with a soup kitchen

Donate some clothes

TOMS shoes - for every pair of shoes bought, a pair are given free to someone who needs them

Get a couple friends and clean up someone else's yard

Visit people in the hospital and nursing homes - give them the gift of being there

Use your imagination - share some more ideas in the comments section - how could you find some suffering and do something about it?


This morning Emily was playing with a rollie-pollie, which she informed me later she liked to call a pill bug. She liked how it climbed around on her hand and through her fingers like a little piece of mobile jewelry. As she showed Liz and Siah her new little friend, Josiah got all excited.

"A rollie-pollie! Me and Dakota like to throw those!"

Don't tell me girls and boys are the same.

Only anecdotal, I know, but still...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Self-destructive Tragedy

Forcing the somber beyond the macabre,
the mob beyond the insanity,
is an imp whose name is Poe.
I owe what could be called a mild fascination with Edgar Allen Poe to a red haired raven known as Mrs. Washenfelder. My first introduction to the man was through her voice, as she read and recited The Bells and The Raven and led our sophomore American lit class in discussions of Amontillado and Usher. The Poe unit with Mrs. Washenfelder was legendary in our school.

Despite the spark of interest, I haven't really dug into Poe's life in the many years since my high school days. But recently, I came across Ackroyd's biography Poe: A Life Cut Short at the library. Having read the biography, I really want to read more of Edgar Allen Poe's writings.

It seems like Poe always felt that he was alone in this world. His literary vision bordered on insanity. He seemed to some a decent enough man, but to others he was ever under the control of his inherited demons - his mother's early death, alcohol, and at least an occasionally loose grasp on reality. His writing wasn't always welcomed with other writers and editors of the day, but that seems to have been as much a result of a caustic and self destructive personality than of literary merit. He felt himself rejected, orphaned, abandoned, and alone most of his life.

Ackroyd's final paragraph details a few accolades and tips of hats from literary giants like Tennyson, Yeats, Arthur Conan Doyle, James Joyce, and even Nietzsche and Kafka. "The orphan, in the end, found his true family."

Shouldn't there be something better for today's orphans than the recognition of tomorrow's voices - voices they'll never know?

There is...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Locals...

A couple more friends have recently jumped into the blogwaters. Here are their links.

Matt is blogging at Snyder's Space as he's working as a youth ministry intern in Cheyenne.

Michele has started One of the Remnant with some great thoughts regarding one of my recent favorite verses.

I remember my first post. It was about hope - and was very short. It seemed weird to be putting my thoughts out where everyone could see them. Seemed strange to say "I blog" or should it be "I have a blog"? "I'm a blogger..."? Will it matter? Who will see it? Do I really want people to see it?

Like Michele says in her post, I found I had something to say. Sometimes, I've said it well. Other times, not so much. But blogging has been an interesting exercise (though if I'm going to call it that, I should probably do it much more regularly) that has stretched my thinking and connected me with people I'd never contact otherwise.

I hope my blogging friends will find their own online ventures as fruitful.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Evidence that God has a sense of humor...

After posting yesterday about the ineffictiveness of cold-call evangelism - this morning at a garage sale I was given a tract by a nice elderly gentleman asking "where will you go if you die tonight" and quoting Joseph Stalin to tell me why I should honor my country. (Though I suspect something's been lost in translation because some of the language was very un-Stalin-esque.)

Later this morning, some a kind group of ladies from the Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on my door and gave me a sheet of paper telling me how I can be ready for the end of the world - and to invite me to a JW conference in Loveland. It's held at the Budweiser Arena... umm... yeah.

Heading out now for the Gering Arts Festival. Lots of crowds, so I'm hoping for the stranger danger trifecta!.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Outreaching Discipleship

Yesterday, I read an article by Greg Stier of Dare to Share ("Does Street Evangelism Work?"). I have never been a proponent of striking up a conversation with random strangers by smacking them around with the fact that they're heading to hell if they don't change their ways. This kind of drive-by evangelism seems to have very little lasting impact, except to often leave a bad taste in the mouth of the "target" (who really wants to be a target?) and a sense of rejection and perceived slight (which may be pridefully seen as a badge of honor) for the "witness".

D2S always seemed to be driven by this kind of approach to outreach - so I've never taken a group to their conferences. What I'm seeing in this article, however, makes me think that either my perception was wrong or their approach is shifting. Here is what Stier is saying about evangelism in the article (I'll put his statements in bold, with my comments mixed in):

"Street evangelism can be effective in making converts, but is rarely effective in making disciples."
This has been my criticism of unrelational evangelism. What good have I done if I get someone to convert, then leave him with no relational support? There has been too much of a distinction between evangelism and discipleship in the church. We have been called to make disciples (which is a lifelong endeavor) not to go out trying to get another notch in our Bible. A conversion can be manipulated or coerced (or even faked) - but there's no shortcut to discipleship. Can we see evangelism and discipleship as 2 parts of one relationship?

"Evangelism should start with our immediate circle of influence, our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors."
This is an echo of Jesus' own words. He told the disciples to start in Jerusalem (where they were) and then move out from there, making disciples.

"As God allows, we should share the gospel with the strangers we encounter and do our best to disciple them if they accept Christ."
God works in ways that we don't always understand. While I don't make it a normal practice to go door to door and ask people if they are saved or not, I also need to make sure that I'm paying attention to the Holy Spirit when He's wanting me to engage a stranger. They may be unknown to me, but He knows them intimately and on occasion He gives me the words to say exactly what they need to hear.

"Our evangelistic efforts should be done relationally and relentlessly."
This is the center of this issue. It's not a matter of whether or not we should boldly tell people about God and His love for humanity and how His Son is our only hope. We should. There's no question that we should enter into life-giving relationships which draw people deeper into the heart of God. We must. But we can't afford to do one or the other. Discipleship requires both, and it's going to take some work to learn how to fuse the two into words and action that are led and fueled by the Spirit to build His kingdom.

Let's roll up our sleeves...

Thursday, June 11, 2009


When I was 17, my girlfriend was a better saver than I was. I worked at Subway and spent my money on gas and food and her. She had some babysitting jobs and spent her money on... on, uh... basically, she didn't spend anything. Since she had money and I didn't, I borrowed some money from her to pay for a set of rings - yes, THOSE kind of rings! (I know... that sounds so romantic doesn't it?!)

There was no great proposal story - no skywriting or scoreboard watching - not even a down-on-one-knee-in-a-painfully-publicly-awkward moment... just 2 kids that loved each other and knew that they were better together than they ever would be apart.

We got married as soon as we graduated high school (and spent the next couple months in 'thank you' note purgatory) and went to spend the summer alone where we'd be going to college. Thank you God and NCC for on campus married student housing! Lots of jobs were available and we scraped by the first couple months 'til the grants and scholarships came in when the semester started.

That was 15 years ago today. I've doubted and re-doubted almost every decision I've ever made. But the decision to marry LuAnn is one I've never second guessed. I thank God for bringing us together and giving us the courage to embark on a life lived together. It has not always been what we may have envisioned. But it is definitely better together.

15 years.

It's been a great start.

Can't wait to see what's next...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Did God Use up all His 'Stuff'?

I've been thinking about a question I read on twitter from Perry Noble last night: "WHAT IF this past 2,000 years of the church was merely the foundation to set up what God REALLY wants to do?" At first glance, this question got my imagination going. It reminds me that God is still at work. I RT'd the statement and some concerns have been raised... thought this would be a good time to unpack the question a little bit.

I don't think this question is meant to diminish the importance of what God has already done, but to make us realize the potential of the things to come. Sometimes we live as if God has used up all his "best stuff" already. Like he used up all his mojo on raising the dead and healing lepers and Pentecost...

But what if He didn't? What if He's still powerful enough to do things that we can't explain? What if He's still invading reality to do what He wants to do - whether it's "possible" or not? What might we be missing by living as if the "good part" is over and now we're just waiting for the finale? (The finale IS pretty awesome by the way!)

I wonder if this was, at least in part, the mentality of many Jews when Jesus invaded their reality? "Well, God did some awesome things back at Creation and causing that giant flood and parting the Sea to get our people out of Egypt and the Jordon to get them into Canaan... He was pretty awesome back in the day, but we haven't heard from Him for a few hundred years, so He must be resting now." I wonder if that mentality was part of what caused them to miss Jesus.

Moses even had this kind of thinking on at least one occasion. In Numbers 11, the people were grumbling about the manna. They'd had enough of the desert and were taking it out on Moses. God assured him that meat was coming - more meat than they could stand. Moses looked around at all the people and wondered aloud to God how on earth he was supposed to feed all these people meat.

"Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?"

The Lord answered Moses, "Is the Lord's arm too short?" Moses, don't you think I'm powerful enough to do what I said I will do?

So back to the question, then: "WHAT IF this past 2,000 years of the church was merely the foundation to set up what God REALLY wants to do?" Isn't the church of 2009 more than just a holding tank until God decides to be awesome again? Are we living our lives in a way that allows us to see God at work? Do we expect Him to be active in our world today?

When I started this blog several years ago, I chose the name 'theoquest' to call to mind the continual journey toward God that I want my life to be. I added the tagline "because God is still writing history". I don't think God's done yet - I don't think we're in some perpetual Day 7 where God is just resting. I don't think the church is a fixed entity, fully functional and completely mature.

Jesus said that He was building a church over which even the gates of hell wouldn't stand. As I look at the world today, mabye it's just the negativity of the news, but it's easier to see a whole lot more hell than heaven. Maybe what God really wants is to see His church bringing His Kingdom into the world instead of waiting for Him to end it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Some Local Linkage...

A few new blogs of local friends... (that means they live nearby, not that they're low in calories - just for clarification)

Karissa in Japan! Karissa is also a student at SCC and is doing an internship this summer in Japan.

isaiah's blog Isaiah is the director of admissions at SCC

And an old blog renewed???

Joe's Jabbers Joe is the children's minister here at WestWay (and also a perpetual student at SCC!)

Distracted from Worship

I really enjoyed leading worship Sunday. It really is a joy and an honor to be able to meet with people who genuinely want to worship God. But I am saddened a little at how easily Satan can distract us from giving ourselves wholly to God. Petty thoughts or even physical discomforts come and steal our attention from the One who matters.

It's a mystery that no climate change theorist can explain, that on Sunday morning nearly every worship room in every church building is both too hot and too cold. Music is simultaneously too mellow and 'making-my-ears-bleed loud'. Church leaders are at once too human and so spiritual that they're out of touch with reality.

Satan is crafty. And I'm reminded this week that he'll do anything he can to steal our attention from God. That happened Sunday. Someone was distracted from the holiness and grace of God.

I still hope to be in touch with the anonymous commenter I mentioned earlier, but until that time, I wanted to offer a few comments here. The commenter was distracted by what she felt was some behavior that morally disqualified another believer from serving in the praise band. "Why are some leading in worship who also have alcohol in their grocery carts. How sad for this. Should we hear more teaching on this?"

Yes, I think maybe we should.

Certainly, the irresponsible consumption of alcohol has lead to many problems and a great deal of heartache for a lot of people. We need to be aware of the dangers associated with alcohol. Millions of people also consume alcohol responsibly, without it being a problem. To say that buying alcohol disqualifies a person from helping to lead worship is a leap that I'm not sure we can make. (This seems like a good time to remind everyone that what I write here in this blog is a representation of my own thoughts and studies - not any official proclamation or policy.)

I have yet to find a scriptural basis for absolute prohibition that really holds water. Without a Biblical mandate, who are we to say "You may not drink."? Can we really prohibit what God does not explicitly prohibit?

What do you think?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Anonymous Comment comments

Each week, our elders ask for prayer requests through a little white card that can be left here on Sunday morning. Sometimes those cards are used for comments, suggestions, etc.

Yesterday, someone left an anonymous comment on one of the cards, bringing up an item with which there was an issue. If this was you and you happen to read this, please contact me as soon as you can. I'd really like to talk...

Friday, June 05, 2009

Grace & Holiness

Marshall's preaching this week about our response to homosexuality and I am leading music this Sunday. I am usually pretty careful to choose songs that meaningfully connect with the message (at least in my mind there's a connection) so this was a little bit of a challenge. (There aren't a whole lot of songs that treat homosexuality in the context of worship!) But I've been thinking lately about how hosed we'd all be without God's grace. He's holy and he can't stand sin - any of it! We may have a kind of gag reflex to some sins that seem particularly heinous to us, but it all causes God to wretch. It's easy for us to be judgmental about sins that we might not struggle with, but the truth is that without God's grace, we're in the same position as those we condemn.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Faking a Living?

Is God at work in your life?
Do you really depend on God?
Are you living the life God knows you can live?

These are questions we may not wrestle with enough. We've settled into lesser lives, in which we are sufficient and we don't really need God. Think about the last six hours... What have you done that required you to depend on God? What are you working on that is doomed to fail without Him? Have you settled for a mundane 5 day work week that you must slog through until the next weekend comes around?

I know in a climate of uncertainty, the most plentiful advice may be to take any job that comes along and hold on tight. There may be times when that is true, but if the overall trajectory of your life is merely a 5 on, 2 off pattern of faking a living, I wonder if you're really living at all... If you can make it day after day after day without the Creator - you've missed the life He created you to live.

But this isn't really about jobs. There are times when I can approach my job in ministry in the same way that masses of humanity approach theirs - punch the time clock, meet my quota of widgets, and collect the check. Though I don't actually have a time clock, the widgets are NEVER done, and I'm told the check leaves something to be desired (though it's been 10 years and I haven't missed a meal yet). The job isn't the issue.
It's about living life that is really life. God created us for life with Him, Jesus died so we could live life with Him, the Holy Spirit is here so we can live with Him - so wouldn't it make sense if we actually lived WITH HIM? In the little world where I pretend I'm in control, God's not needed. The problem is that world is not real, it's boring, and when I stuff myself away in my little safe room I am doing nothing good for anybody else. Life isn't supposed to be boring. It's not supposed to be well managed and balanced. The day to day business of living isn't supposed to suck the very life from your soul. Life should be a mission straight into the heart of God - a rescue mission where former captives become rescuers.

Father forgive our dim vision and reveal to us a task with such enormity that it drives us to our knees begging for your help.

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