Reflecting on my First Time at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers (2003!) #NYWC

The Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention took place this past weekend Nashville, will conclude today and this is the second year in many that I have missed it. YS has been a very important place/organization/community for me over the years and here’s why.

Flashback to 2003. I was in my first church burning out. Having been in the ministry for three years then and for a number of reasons that I won’t mention here, I really felt the need to be among other youth workers, hear from Mike Yaconelli and many other speakers that I did not know at the time. 2003 was the year I read New Kind of Christian, Postmodern Youth Ministry,and Dangerous Wonder. (I do want to be careful here and mention it’s not the simple reading of books that is so life-impacting; it’s more the prayerful search for something, not finding it, then finding it. And it is the direction, not so much the answer and it’s not only contained in books, music, art, friendships, it’s everywhere because God is sovereign over all. Just wanted to clarify ;-))

That year, YS gave free registrations to those who had brought their youth groups to DC/LA and as one who did not have an adequate youth ministry budget nor was given the blessing of those in authority over me to attend, (A real quote, “Not only will I not give you the time to go, but I know you won’t like it”). I used my vacation time, Priceline, headed to Charlotte and met up with my friends Joel and Todd. What I didn’t expect was just how much I would like it.

I could list the existential moments like driving down with Switchfoot’s Beautiful Letdown. Hearing Jon Foreman yell, “Are you who you want to be? This is your life …”, hearing the David Crowder Band lead, “You Are My Joy”, and attending an evening “brotherly discussion” and thinking, “Thank God for Tony Jones“. (Duffy Robbins was the other speaker in the discussion and I thank God for him too; I’ve been among the many who have profited from both men. It’s just that people like Tony were not only speaking my language but creating the language that I was trying to verbalize). Then on Monday as it was all ending I ran into Mike Yaconelli after he had finished speaking at the final session (which is still a bit eery because he would be killed in a car accident two days later). I know how this all sounds, cheesy with the Switchfoot reference, emotional with the Crowder sing-along, and fanboyish with the homage to TJ and Yac but it’s what it is.

I was also fortunate enough to take advantage of the free career counseling that YS offered through veteran youth pastors. I’ll spare you from that too but I still consider it to be among the most affirming, life-altering words of advice anyone has ever given me. The entire event was much-needed and all I know is that I drove north with a bit of my mojo back (yep, we were quoting Austin Power’s then).

This weekend I have been thinking and praying for those in attendance in Nashville, especially for the first-time attendees and for those who desperately need to be refreshed (and this may include the speakers/teachers themselves). From the Twitter feeds and blog posts, it sounded great and my hope is that many are getting back into the cars and boarding planes different than when they walked up to the registration tables just days ago.

It also seems fitting to express my gratitude for Youth Specialties and the incredible people who work there. They have been through so much these last few years and from what I can see through the words of people like Tic Long and the web presence of Adam McLane, God is very much at work there.

CHURCH IN THE INVENTIVE AGE PART 3 – “The Evolving Role of the Pastor”

I remember when I first started to understand that the role of the pastor/priest had evolved over the centuries. In fact, I remember when an undergraduate professor had made the claim, “At one time, the pastor was the smartest man in the town and the doctor was second.” I thought it was a joke and I laughed out loud. I remember being scowled at for mocking the honorable vocation of the pastor and so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Come on, the town doctor was second? More like seventh …” ;-)

But back in the good old days, it was the pastor/priest that was among the most educated of society. While we are still fortunate to have the brilliant minds of people like pastor-theologians like NT Wright, Alister McGrath, Tim Keller, and countless others, I think there are some whose names that even the kind-hearted John Calvin would not quite equate with brilliance. Indeed, the role of the pastor and the type of pastor has changed over the years.

Back in January I got to hear Doug explain this in the context of his analysis of the past 200 hundred years of American Christianity. I was sitting in Don Heatley’s church, Vision one Sunday night when Doug chronicled the changing role of the pastor. For obvious reasons, I was intrigued and it made great sense. The other part that made a great deal of sense was how he explained the nature of these ages: They exist simultaneously, build on one another, and have unique rewards systems. I mentioned the ages briefly in post 2 and here’s an outline of the pastor’s role in each age.

The Agrarian Age (the Little Church on the Prairie) is what you think it means – the little white church on the hill built my the good-hearted people of the town. For those living in the early 1800’s, much of life was about survival and depending on one another. Most likely, there was one church in the area and theology was secondary to geography. The pastor was the shepherd of the congregation, the “moral compass” and tended to the needs of the flock. Doug mentions that even today there are Agrarian church exists in downtown Parish style churches in many urban centers like Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Then came the Industrial Age and just like the factories were to churn out products with efficiency, the role of the pastor was to teach the congregation the theology of the denomination and to make it compelling enough hat people would come back for more… The pastor’s job was like a factory foreman, to build Lutherans (or Methodists or Episcopalians), to make sure the denominational distinctive were carried on. They were building a denominational brand. ” (p. 20). [Side note – you should read and meditate on the part where denominationalism is born out of the industrial age. They even designed their churches to resemble factories.]

In the Information Age, the educational aspect evolved and Doug lists that churches offered learning centers offering parenting classes, marriage seminars, women’s Bible studies, men’s devotions, youth groups and preschools. “While your denomination still mattered, the real test of a church was what you learned there. If you weren’t learning anything, you left. Non-denominational churches exploded onto the scene, focusing on the soundness of their teaching techniques and the correctness of their content …. The Information Age gave us the pastor as teach and eventually pastor as CEO. his sermon topic was advertised on a sign outside the church – it was the message, the lesson for that day that was important …” (p. 23).

In the Inventive Age, the role of the pastor of course will still teach, preach, lead a church, etc. but the pastor will need to be able “to create and facilitate open source faith experiences” for the people in the faith community. Said another way, the pastor’s role will include facilitating and networking skills. That’s exciting to me and worthy of a separate post later.

Though I think many pastors can understand Doug’s reasoning, I believe it makes a lot of sense to those serving as youth pastors. A huge part of the responsibility is to care, teach tradition and practice, and facilitate. Many of us are quite accustomed to teaching and breaking into discussion groups allowing the listener to not only share what they have learned but also share what they disagree with and/or not like. Doug’s personal ministry takes it a step further as his community is also an active part of the sermon. Sitting in circle of couches, they interact not only with the one giving the message but with the person on the other couch. Indeed, I think many youth pastors are among those that will have an easier time with the ideas of the Inventive Age.


I learned yesterday that Doug’s mother passed away late Wednesday night. I’m not sure I will get over how easy it is to be in touch with people that seemed unaccessible prior to the internet generation. Initially, I thought of not posting about the Inventive Age this week, because I was afraid it seemed trivial and maybe even insensitive. This morning I woke up and thought the opposite. He posted a brief and beautiful thought this morning – thought I’d share it with you. It’s in these days that we ought to never hesitate to share beautiful stories, important truths, and share needs with one another. So to you who read this, I’d like to ask you to pray for Doug and the Pagitt family. May the God of comfort and peace be with them during this time.

Church In the Inventive Age Part 2 – “But There Is Nothing New Under the Sun, Right?”

As mentioned in the last post, I think everyone interested in the future of the Church should read Church in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt. While there are a lot of other great books you could read as well, this one is very brief and in my opinion, provides a clear perspective on why the Church needs to invest itself in change.

A couple early quotes from Doug:

“It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everything in our lives, everything we depend on for basic survival was created in the last two hundred years. Think about your typical day. You wake up in a bed made of materials – internal springs, polymers, anti-microbial fabrics – that didn’t exist 200 years ago. You are awakened by an alarm clock that was invented in 1876 (or maybe an iPod that was invented in 2001). You take a shower (indoor plumbing arrived in the mid-19th century); eat eggs shipped by trucks from a different part of the country, purchased at a grocery store with a credit card, and cooked over an electric stove. You drive a car to work and maybe make a few calls on your cell phone on the way” (p. 3).

10A05E1A-E34E-4D56-AF56-D25DE5924381.jpg“In the last 200 years, American culture has moved through three distinct ages – the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age – and is heavily engaged in a fourth – an era I have dubbed the Inventive Age. With each of these ages has come a shift in what we think, what we value, what we do, and how we do it” (p 4).

“I’m calling us to find our place in a swiftly changing culture, to consider how we need to change what we think, what we value, what we do and how we do it. I’m calling us to be the church in the Inventive Age” (p. 5).

Aside from institutional aspects like marriage and so forth, I cannot think of one aspect of my life that I am using that was around prior to 200 years. From the way I drink coffee to the way I interact with others, indeed everything is different in some way.

Every so often when I am discussing this, someone will be quick to remind me that “There is nothing new under the sun.” In moments like these, I would like to take the literal scroll of Ecclesiastes and hit them over the head in hopes I can beat out the strict literalism in their mind. Unfortunately, no one reads from scrolls anymore – we have been using books and e-readers now and these objects are prone to bruising (Actually during the Davidic/Solomonic Kingdoms, scrolls, papyrus, and codex were used together – Go Egyptians! And I do expect an archeologist to dig up an ancient Egyptian Kindle any day now). Still, the printed book, e-reader, the engine, and countless other inventions would have been new to the “The Teacher” of wisdom and frankly, this is not what Ecclesiastes means when saying there is nothing new.

Seriously, for those especially who tend to tune out upon hearing the words “new”, “change” and “rethink”, this is an important era in the life of the Church.  And like very era, we need to be faithful with it.  I would like to convince you that it does not undermine our faith in God, the Scriptures or the leading of the Holy Spirit to see the Church and live out our calling in new ways. In fact, we have been doing it throughout the Church’s history. It would be wise for us to search the ancient ways of the Church and to discover new ones. Doug does an excellent job launching from here and I think once we clarify certain assumptions, a bright and hopeful age becomes possible.

Church In the Inventive Age Part 1

Back in August, I read Doug Pagitt’s latest book, Church in the Inventive Age. It’s excellent. And I have been waiting this long to post it for a few reasons. One is that I procrastinate, sometimes on good things. But the other reason is that I wanted to make sure that I posted it as the blog was moving in a “future church” direction and what better time for those in my local context than now as we move forward after celebrating our 50th Anniversary?

It’s true that I am biased towards appreciating Doug’s work (everyone is biased towards something you know). As one who spends a lot of time working on the problem of why our churches are shrinking, Pagitt is among the few that have insights and answers worth pursuing. Perhaps one of my greatest admirations of him is that he is truly not afraid to question. I think I can only say that about a handful of people. That said, this does not mean that every question he asks is a good one, but many of them are. So when Doug asks, What should the Church look like in the future, I’m interested in that conversation.

But before we jump to the present, Pagitt takes the reader on a quick crash-course on the last 200 hundred years of American Christianity. He divides the years into four ages: Idyllic, Industrial, Informational and presently, the Inventive Age. I don’t think that I have ever seen a better and more concise explanation of that material.  I plan on blogging about this a little more tomorrow.

I have some sense of my readership, I thought it may be helpful to cut to the chase and construct a bit of FAQ or FMS (Frequently Made Statements)

Who Should Read It?
Anyone interested in the future of the church, especially those who do not understand how we got to where we are. For those new to Pagitt or these conversations, this is the easiest book to begin with.

Isn’t Pagit one of those “emergent” guys?
One, praise God he is. Two, I’d really like you to sit down wiht me for some coffee so I can introduce you to a library of resources that would likely change your impression of what “emergent” is/isn’t. (Simplest explanation – It’s a conversation). And three, this book never mentions the term. To my traditional-type friends, consider this like you would a tract. It’s a brief and great overview of the recent history of the Western Evangelical Church, the direction our culture is headed and Doug gives some very broad strokes on how the church should respond. Unless you are against that sort of stuff …

“Because “The Gospel” never changes, can’t we just do the same types of things that we were doing 50-60 years ago? The Church was flourishing then …”
It’s true that Jesus is Lord – that will never change and no one is contesting that. However the proclamation of the Gospel is ever-changing. And while we can debate the success-failures of the last 50-60 years, i think we’ll see that the proclamation of the Gospel was faithful to that age. Thus, copy and pasting that proclamation to today’s world is not helpful. It’s like fixing a new Toyota Prius with the parts of a ’56 Bel Air.

You are really hyping this book, are you getting royalties from it?”

I think one of my pastoral, (if not Christian), duties is to lead people in a necessary direction. Among other Christian disciplines, I try to read a lot of books, I like a lot of them and I try to share the knowledge and hopefully the application of them. And like many, I see things like social networks, blogs, etc. as an extension of the ministry so as always, thanks for taking the time to read here and I hope you consider reading The Inventive Age.

“I Don’t Have Time to Read …”
You should change that. Reading is an essential habit for the growing Christian. Read the Scriptures and read this book, it’s an easy 2 hour read and it’s worth it. Order it here through Amazon or here at Augsburg Fortress for a discount on bulk orders.

By the way, Sparkhouse did a fantastic job on this book and I look forward to reading their  other titles. Not only is the book is aesthetically pleasing in its cover, easy readable text and  chapter display, it’s got a great physical feel to it (take that digital version!), and big quotes  in case you missed the good stuff – seriously they did a nice job.  Also, if you are a youth  pastor or involved in vbs, you should check out some of their curriculum here.

Reflecting on the Celebration of MEFC’s 50th Anniversary

As promised, this weekend’s festivities were quite memorable and here are my highlights of the weekend:

Truly I enjoyed attending Friday’s evening Pastor-Elder-Anniversary Committee Meet and Greet (not it’s real name) at the home of our senior pastor. There may have been 50 people in the house and so conversation with everyone was not realistic but I did enjoy the interaction with the former pastors. I especially loved hearing the phrase, “So you’re the guy who …. (laughter, laughter,)” One of the couples I especially enjoyed meeting were the Rodquists. Dave was the first youth pastor of MEFC 35 years ago and also gave a fantastic message at the men’s luncheon Saturday morning. I wish them nothing but the best as they continue serving at their church in Minneapolis.

The Men’s Breakfast was excellent too; loved the table I sat at. I was also blessed by those who continue to serve the breakfasts (Sam, Scott and the many volunteers). Though I wish they’d learn to serve some cappuccinos too :-), it’s always a great meal.

The BIG Reception was extremely well-planned, well-executed and well-received by all. I won’t waste the space talking about the appetizers and the squash soup, entree, etc. but know that it was all good. What I particularly enjoyed was the video presentation telling the history of our church. Very well done and I was grateful they gave a DVD of it as a gift.

There was some solid preaching throughout the weekend. Pastors Doug and John certainly brought Christ-centered, challenging words to us. Still loved by many in throughout our church, it was great for newer people like myself to have this connection with them.

There were moments that revealed the generational differences but that’s what you would expect at a church anniversary. It’s hard to please everyone on a weekend that was to encompass 50 years. Personally, I felt that we could have done a bit of better job telling the story of the last 10 years and I do not mean that as a harsh criticism in any way, simply as one who has been attending for the last 5 years, it was obvious to me and people similar. That said, I did appreciate that our current senior pastor was honored and I was truly grateful for the telling of the rich history of our church.

I was personally moved by the pastors who had served and loved our church over the years. It’s true that they are just men and there is always risk of the over-glorification of mortals but they are good men and I trust they are committed to the Spirit’s leading. Pastor Doug is a special person, the type of guy you could listen to all day. And Pastor John reminded of a professor I had at Liberty. It was also touching to see Pastor Bob Hickman honored throughout the weekend and that was special as there was a lot of question of whether he and his wife Ruth would be able to attend (due to distance and the challenges that age has brought). Though I came after his vocational ministry, it is clear that they have both taught our congregation a great deal including more recently, lessons in aging graciously and having a marriage that cares for the other. These pastoral moments were beautiful reminders for me to never take the calling of pastoral ministry (and all that is connected to it, like marriage and family) for granted, may the Lord keep me and all who serve near.

We were also blessed by our most recent former youth pastor, Joe Hensler who now serves as the senior pastor in Free Church in Allentown. He honored Pastor Bob as well and he also gave special tribute to our beloved Dr. Dave, calling him a pastor to pastors. Doc has met with every youth pastor almost every Wednesday morning for the last 10 years. Joe is right, he is a good, good man and we are all blessed to have him. Joe also encouraged the church to continue investing in young people, as he gave testimony that it was his time at MEFC that was quite pivotal for him, his family and his ministry.

Like I said, not everything and everyone got mentioned. We arrived in 2006 when Pastor Mitch was serving. If you have ever heard me talk about Mitch, you know I regarded him as one I truly admired and wished we could have served longer together. His exegetical messages are among the best I have heard. I have no ill-intentions when I say this but this man does not get the credit he deserves. The Lord worked through him in many profound ways and there were a lot of courageous moments in his ministry that are still reflected at Montvale today. On a personal note, this being my second church (and thus going through the process of healing from the “first church experience”) is something I will never forget and Mitch was a huge part of that for me. I’d say besides my wife, my parents, and those that have known me a while, he and Doc were the first to believe in me and my philosophy of youth ministry (it’s not really that radical, it’s anchored in disciple-making but that s another story). Susan and I miss him and his wife Faith, we’re happy for them and where they are and we are happy for our current pastor, his wife and family. I have always been blessed by the fact that there are so many wonderful people serving in the Kingdom of God.

Sunday’s service was fantastic as well. The choir was brilliant (reminded of Easter ’09); we even had handbells and they sounded great too. Extremely special was our time of communion. We are not a high liturgical church but we take the Lord’s Supper seriously. Aside from an evolving love for it, it’s really the only practice that has not changed in methodology for me and I was honored to help serve the sacraments. As one who enjoys many types of changes, I have always found peace in coming to the Lord’s table.

The “Anniversary Committee” did an amazing job through and through. Further, there were probably over 100 people who helped make this weekend happen as special as it was. I find this especially encouraging because I believe one of the lessons that I think we collectively walked away with was if we can make this as fantastic as it was, we can do anything for the Kingdom … and we better. The future of the Church of Jesus and the future of this church are the topics that occupy my mind quite frequently. This blog is a reflection of that and may my ministry be as well.

Indeed there was much to receive as we looked back and now let us move forward. May the Spirit lead each of us as build the Kingdom of Christ in our homes, our community and in our world.

Anticipating Our Church’s 50th Anniversary

Twofold Primary Audience – The Church specifically my local Church (but I’m writing the post for those unfamiliar with our names and history).

This weekend kicks off our 50th Church Anniversary and there’s a lot going on for everyone from Fellowship breakfasts, to a time for previous and current pastors and elders to meet one another, a church-wide dinner at an offsite reception hall and of course, our Sunday morning worship service. Without any exaggeration this has been in the works for a over a year. Many meetings, numerous discussions, financial commitments, sacrificial efforts, and so many other things are culminating this weekend.

Many miles are being driven and flights taken by many who have moved away will be coming back for this. Pastors who have served MEFC will be in the same room for the first time and people who are fairly new to our church will trade stories with those who had been here for years (and used to be here for years) listening to their stories. It will be the greatest fellowship dinner this church has ever known (insert the booming echo here).

In last week’s sermon, our senior pastor, Sam, spoke highly of this reunion, celebration, corporate worship extravaganza. But being a wise pastor, he also mentioned many of our collective concerns. Using the comparison of the church being a family, he reminded us of the complexities surrounding such a day. He even went so far to say that some are dreading this day due to many factors. He talked about how heavily congested highways see their share of accidents and in our 50 years of traffic, we’ve had a few accidents too. Ripples of awkward laughter ensued.

If you know me, you know I love a pastor that isn’t afraid to mention the realities (and talking about the Church’s hardships and disunity is among what I appreciate most about the New Testament and Israel in the Old). There have been a few things that have surprised me in good ways and some, in not good ways. There are some critical comments that have been made, more will be made, and perhaps even should be made. They are likely similar to every mission trip taken, wedding, holiday celebration and anything extravagant and/or sacrificial that we do. May we not be angered, disappointed, or further jaded.

I have been to numerous celebrations of birthdays, weddings, and other remembrances, it will be refreshing to celebrate a church anniversary. Why not? In some sense, we are breaking the expensive perfume and honoring the feet of Jesus. I am excited, here’s why: First, a 50 year old Protestant church is a special thing here in North Jersey. Further, in the 50 years, we as a church have made some colossal mistakes and some incredible sacrifices. And because we are human and the Lord is good, MEFC has kept moving. In the stories I hear, it’s treaded at times, backslid at times, soared at times, and sojourned through. That’s a pretty accurate portrait of the Christian journey if you ask me. Second, i have always enjoyed many elements of a multigenerational church (it’s complicated too and I would love to see us become more multi-cultural but that’s another post for another day). For me and others, it will be a blessing to me to see others blessed throughout the weekend, I know many agree and I hope these words remain true.

And lastly, I am expecting for me as an individual and for us a church, to remember some really important lessons that we may have missed recently. I am eager to see what we will do in response to our special anniversary. I have joined many in praying for this. What will we do in the next season of our congregation’s life? Will we take seriously our anniversary theme of “Remembering the Past and Embracing the Future”? Will this be seen merely as an event or will it be a pivotal moment, a catalyst where we as a Body trust the Holy Spirit as follow Jesus to honor the Father as we labor forward in the Kingdom? We’ll see and may we believe that Emmanuel is near and remember that in truth, this is His church.

Reflecting on This Weekend’s Violence in Iraq and My Poor Fantasy Football Teams’ Peformance

Primary Audience – Those who play fantasy sports and enjoy other trivialities
Secondary Audience – Those interested in missional living

By now most have heard about the horrific violence in Iraq that occurred in the past few days. On Sunday there was a standoff between police and what is believed to be Al Qaeda militants inside the Our Lady Of Salvation Catholic Church.

Here’s a clip from a NRO post – “While this has been little-noticed in the West, it is an explosive issue in Egypt, where threats against the Copts, about 10 percent of the population, have increased in a year that began with a massacre of Copts in Nag Hamadi on Christmas Eve.” Part of the background is the increasing abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women. On April 19, 2010 … (more)

Today CNN posted this story … “All Christians in the Middle East are now “legitimate targets,” al Qaeda in Iraq announced Wednesday …”

And of course yesterday, (Tuesday), 64 more were killed in a series of explosions in Baghdad.

It’s pretty overwhelming.

I go through different seasons of how much I want to be informed on the affairs of the world. They take a toll on the human heart after a while. For instance, as much as I am grieved by the evils of human trafficking, I find it extremely difficult to read all the emails and RSS Feeds that I have subscribed to on a daily basis. This goes for other causes as well like clean water, hunger the AIDS crisis, etc. How does one respond to all of the pain in the world?

I got back to doing my church office work and it occurred to me thatI had not check how my fantasy football teams faired over the weekend. It takes me a little while because I’m in three leagues which is about what I need to balance all the reality of my life. (The truth is, it’s a great way to stay connected to friends. It’s funny that something so trivial has brought out some incredible life moments. In fact, last year, one of our leagues grieved a loss of a loved one. This league happens to be filled with believers and I have to say, it was an absolutely touching experience that brought us all closer. But I will be the first to admit, that a lot of fantasy sports is much game-oriented.)

Anyway, two of my teams ended up doing very poorly. I lamented (even tweeted), looked ahead to next week, deliberated some decisions and realized, “Wow, an hour ago I read about the loss of 100 people and now I am thinking about which RB to start”. In an act of guilt, I closed the browser and spent some time reflecting about this.

Life is filled with so many trivialities that consume us and so many tragedies that grieve us, again how does one respond? Further, for many of us, our lives are structured in a such a way that it becomes very difficult to make a consistent, profound change to the pain around us. Even further, some of us are in too much pain to offer any substantial help to others who hurt.

What does one do?

That said, here’s a little of what I do (feel free to contribute yours):
I keep myself connected to the pain because it keeps my heart broken and that’s a good place to be. I cannot read every email or RSS Update, nor can I remember the details of every story but I can remain broken because when I do, not only am I less egotistical and self-absorbed but it keeps me focused on some really important themes of life like mercy, justice, and love. I of course approach these from the Christian perspective.

I pray for my enemies, for the angry, for the hurting, for the apathetic, for the strangers, and for my loved ones.

I pray for the strength to resist the urge of saying, “What’s the use?” and when I am overwhelmed, I remind myself that I only add to the pain when I stop caring.

And among other things, I try maintain some balance in my life by spending time with my family, being diligent in my ministry responsibilities, trying to be a good steward of relationships and opportunities, exercising, and participating in silly hobbies like fantasy football.

Reflecting on Community, Celebration, and Corporate Confession (Warning – Alliterated Title May Be More Interesting Than the Post ;-)

Primary Audience – Not really sure, this is a kinda of a boring life post but it’s what on my mind so …
Secondary Audience – Still not sure, this is a … lol

Reflecting on Community, Celebration, and Corporate Confession

(Warning: Alliterated Title May Be More Interesting Than the Post ;-)

As an amateur blogger, I try to avoid certain things such as how terrible everything is or how wonderful my life is. Aside from posts entitled “Encouraged and Discouraged”, “The Bad, the Good, and Dylan’s 1 Year”, I have no idea on how I am actually doing on that .

That said, it was a pretty eventful weekend and I cannot stop thinking about it.

On Friday night, we enjoyed dinner with dear friends. There were 3 couples and all of us find ourselves in a time of blessing and a time of uncertainty. We all have beautiful, healthy children but we all also have needs and uncertainties that we share with each other and with others in our church community. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are extremely grateful for this in the midst of the stress and the frustration of particular circumstances.

I leave these types of evenings very grateful for the Church. I know there are millions of couples that get together with no/little religious context and there may be a different bond that brings them together. Whether it be work or a sports team or the arts or any other reason, many times there is this wonderful moment of unity from the commonality of living life together.

I know I have enjoyed this moment with some of my non-believing friends as well. For some, it may mean that just like that sports team or that art is the hobby/interest/passion that brings them together, “God” is the same/similar hobby/interest/passion. I used to wonder if there was any truth to that. Now I think it’s a reflection of God’s natural grace that is extended to all. If we are all created in the image of God it stands to reason that we have this divine capacity within all of us. People like CS Lewis would go further and argue that this is where our sense of morality comes from (Read Mere Christianity for more on that).

Pardon the rabbit trail. Like I was saying, we had a great time with our friends on Friday night. Saturday was fantastic as well. We had Dylan’s first birthday party with some dear family and friends. People keep saying it’s flown by and in some sense it’s true, but in a lot of ways it’s felt like a year should have. I may regret thinking this and in a few mornings, I may be waking up to the day of his high school graduation but I think my reflective nature slows some things down for me.

As far as one year old parties go, it was a pretty fun time. Good food, hot  cider, Charlie Brown Halloween Special (Susan is a big fan), pumpkin  and cookie decorating and gift bags filled with candy (which no one took  enough). In addition to being the proud father, we were honored to have  so many loved ones with us. Some dear friends made a pretty long drive to  make it – we are very grateful for all of them. And as if life could not have  gotten any better, Fox and Cablevision decided to settle their dispute (I’m  just kidding about this – it did not really add to the joy of the night but it  was nice cleaning up while finally watching the World Series.). It was  also cool that my dad and brother spent the night while my mom went over to her sister’s (“Girls Night” never ends).   (We missed you Lina! umm, and you too, Kim and Tony ;-)

Then there was Sunday. A quick bit of context here – Our church is undergoing a time of vision discovery as we celebrate and move through our 50th Anniversary. Sunday was supposed to be the pastor’s “proclamation” of the grand vision. Sam opened the sermon with the Mel Brooks illustration of Moses coming down the mountain and saying, “Hear me, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you 15 Commandme … (dropping one of the tablets and watching it shatter) 10, 10 Commandments for all to obey!” I laugh every time I think of that – could be one of my favorite movie moments ever.

Anyway as Sam shared more of his take on the process, he wisely said that although he has a vision that the he and the elders (the pastoral staff, and many throughout the congregation) have confirmed in broad strokes, we have too many unresolved issues as a congregation that we need to confess before we can move forward. By the end of the message, we had written our personal unresolved issue that has hindered us from God’s will, brought it to the front, and at the end of the service, the elders came forward carried the baskets of paper outside, where we gathered and watched them burn them in a fire.

We’re not an altar call type of church, and most our drama is conducted subtly (until it’s not), so this was a quite the expressive corporate gesture for us and it was beautiful. For those outside our church community, Sam isn’t a showman at all. And if anyone had any doubt, once the “corporate confession” burning was over, the final benediction he offered was, “Have a good week.” (I would have yelled something more Braveheartesque, like “Are you ready for a spiritual war???” or “Freeeeeeedooooooo ……mmm” then quickly inserting “in Christ” while the masses raised their King James’ and Hymnals. (yes, I capitalized the “H” in hymnals intentionally).

Getting back to seriousness for a moment, I really was proud of us as a Church in this moment. Depending on where we go from here, it could all be just an emotional go through the motions, campy throwback or it could be something greater. It could be a turning point that reflected something that many of us had already done individually but finally got to do together. May the Lord lead us.

I could go on and on about pictures, and opening presents, eating and giving away the left-overs, Susan and I taking the boys trick or treating but it was such a great weekend for me personally, for us as a family, and for us a church.

Happy First Dylan!

Reflecting On Bad News, Good News and Dylan Turning One

Earlier this week I had prepared a post about our second son, Dylan turning one and had planned on posting it by now but for a number of reasons, that post didn’t seem appropriate.

Monday morning I read news of friends who had a miscarriage and a church member’s aunt had died at her own daughter’s wedding reception. Add the news of another friend’s recent miscarriage, a number of people going through various treatments and losses, and many friends going through financial and career challenges and decisions, I just couldn’t hit the “publish” button.

I have been thinking about this and have come to a few realizations. One, we have some great friends. I know that all of our friends (yea, all) are extremely happy for us and would never want their sufferings to affect our joy – like I said, we have good friends.

Two, I have been an longtime advocate that the internet is a great place. Truth be told, I pray more for the needs of others because of things like Facebook and Twitter. Further, in today’s hectic place of life, things like Facebook keep us better connected. Like I said on friend’s blog recently, I am beginning to think that the internet was God’s idea.

Third, bad news travels too fast and good news too slow. Bad news finds a broader audience and good news is sometimes too awkward to share and to receive. Though I’ve always know that to some extent, I feel convicted in a sense to share more good news more regularly. As one who talks about the good news of the Gospel regularly, I’m encouraged that we Christians will always have genuine good news to share.

Other good news is that dear friends of mine – the Turners have had a beautiful baby girl and they have named her Delancey Sophia. She is now almost two weeks old and has already read Moby Dick, watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy and composed a series of sonnets that aid her parents in going to sleep. She’s pretty cool.

Fourth, despite my or anyone else’s Facebook profiles, pictures, real life amenities, and blessings, I do not know anyone who is living a perfectly happy, pain-free, stress-free life – Not a one. I know people who are in good seasons of life, tough seasons but I do not know anyone who does not have any problems. I know people who handle life’s challenges better than others but obviously, still have challenges. To that, let’s not ever let our envy and hurt consume us and allow it to create and harbor bitterness towards others.

Lastly, when Susan and I were going through our years of infertility, we genuinely were happy for those that were going through beautiful seasons of life and like I mentioned in post shortly after Dylan’s birth, we were relieved that no one we knew was going through the same thing. Sadly, we now know numerous couples but fortunately, we have heard and seen numerous great stories as well.

So to those that grieve for whatever reason, to those that are overwhelmed by the stresses of life, to those that do not see any hope, I pray you will lean on the grace of Jesus that offers to carry our burdens and sojourn together with us in this life. There was a time that I stopped believing in a number of things, and among them was seeing my wife holding our own children. This week, the second one turned a year old and I praise the Lord for His persistent faithfulness to the doubting and hurting. May the Lord give you joy as you seek His presence.  In the meantime, I deeply thank the Lord for these times and pray others would receive even better.

Reflecting on Being at the Grapevine Project This Weekend

This past weekend I was one of the workshop speakers at the Grapevine Project. Their mission “is to glorify God by equipping the Second Generation to develop true identity, spiritual maturity, and the skills for discipleship so that they are strengthened forministry in their local churches and communities.”

I first became aware of GP after speaking at a Middle Eastern Church Conference for their College and Career age back in 2007. Between seminary and then kids (praise the Lord for both!), I could never make it out. This year worked out differently and with the blessing of my local community, I was set to go and was asked two give two workshops – one on purity and the other on missional living which was framed by the question, “With all the stress in our everyday lives, how can we live out the mandates of Scripture like worship and serving others?”

Things like Grapevine are important to me because I really wish there was something like this when I was growing up. By focusing specifically on the first and second generation middle-eastern students – a lot can happen potentially.   As any immigrant family knows, there is a great deal of cultural identity searching in addition to the other identity searching that adolescence and adulthood bring. I am so grateful for people like Khalaf, Ash, Maya, Tala, Mark, their families, and the many others including all the small group leaders that have served this need for the last 5 years.

There was a lot I found at Grapevine regarding their hopes and dreams and wonderful moments and conversations I had over the weekend and I’d like to post more but here’s a little bit of what I found:

The value of relationships. This is not new of course, but rather encouraging. It’s always a big thing to me when I hear people say, “It’s all about relationships here.” Of course some people flippantly use that in the same way selfish people say, “I like to help people” but when you see a place that thrives on relationships, you believe it. This weekend I saw so many that gathered to reconnect, share the stories of their recent past and further their relationship with God. As an outsider, this was pretty obvious.

However, even though I was an outsider, I was so encouraged by the unity I found in the body of Christ. Three things struck me. One was our worship. Led by a young twenty something named Mark (who led worship at the conference I spoke at back in 2007) and his friends from Taylor University, I felt that unity of the Body. Second was in Khalaf’s teaching. Khalaf is a fantastic speaker, a recent MDIV grad, and has a full-time career in Microsoft Training. He’s a couple years older than me and we connected on the “stuck between two generations” thing, as well as of course the middle-eastern connection. It was helpful to me that he said a number of things that I normally say and my workshops seemed to reemphasize his main session points. That’s a cool thing when you don’t know each other and haven’t planned that.  And third, I got to meet some great people. Though you cannot maintain great relationships with everyone, in the Facebook age, you can still keep in some type of touch. There were a couple other things that I wrote down in my journal – I was reminded by the importance of inter-generational ministry and inter-cultural ministry which deserve their own posts.

Lastly though I was motivated further to work in my local context to which the Lord has called me to. It’s here in my local church in Montvale (and to a certain extent, the youth group at my first church) that many thoughts and ideas are birthed. It’s our students that have to hear the illustrations that don’t work before the ones that do take some shape. It’s through them and our leaders here that have provided countless stories and other thoughts and ideas and I find myself grateful for that. it’s always nice to get away, speak, and hope to be a blessing to others, but it’s so good to be rooted some place where you can come back, share life together, and hopefully be a blessing (and be blessed as well).

I hope to get back to Grapevine and would be great to either organize an event here or bring a couple church groups out there. We’ll see what happens.

More from the Grapevine Project’s Mission:  Over the years many families have moved from the Middle East to North America, seeking opportunities and a better way of life. These immigrants brought their faith and their traditions, and began to establish churches similar in form to what they had left behind. These First Generation believers worship the Lord with all sincerity of heart, and continue to do so to this day.

The children of these immigrants, the Second Generation, have much in common with their parents. Yet being born here and growing up in a world unlike that of their parents has shaped them differently. … Over the past ten years the Lord as laid a burden on the hearts of many people to effectively reach the Second Generation and nurture them to spiritual maturity in Christ, in effect “reconnecting” them to the True Vine.

Check out their site here.