stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

reflecting back

Last week Monday (October 6), marked my 5th anniversary at KCC.  I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t think I’d make it 5 years.  I doubted that before I even started, and then some things made me doubt I’d even make it a year after I started.  I had a modest goal: I wanted to work here for 2-3 years.  I would be happy if I could at least make it that long, because I hadn’t made it that long at either of my previous stops.

I used to get annoyed about my church job history, and not just annoyed, but a little embarrassed, too.  My first two pastoral jobs lasted one year and 29 days and then one year and 36 days.  And it’s not like I was looking to jump around.  I have actually taken every job with the aspiration of being there a long time and really making a huge impact, but it hasn’t happened that way. But then I look at how each job came about, and I realize that it’s been all God’s doing. Did you know that I never applied for my first youth pastor job? I just told the pastor that I’d like to be the youth pastor when they hired someone, and that’s what happened. I also never applied at my second church. I was at my wit’s end, and I sent my friend Charles an e-mail, asking him to pray for my situation as I was going to look somewhere else. Next thing you know, I was the children’s pastor at New Hope.

But a year passed, and I was looking for a job again. After a little bit of searching and praying, I understood that I still wanted to work with youth and children.  I still understand that about me.  So, knowing the layoff was coming, I applied at KCC.  I was worried they’d look at my record and say, “Well, if we want to hire someone for just one year, he’s our guy, but that’s not what we want.”  I was worried that my short stints in children’s and youth ministry would make me undesirable, not because of what I had done, but for how quickly I seemed to be burning through jobs.  But it turned out that what had frustrated, embarrassed, and worried me made me perfect for this position. People who like working with children and people who like working with teenagers are practically mutually exclusive.  I’m a rare sort, because I really love both, and I had also worked with both professionally.  I believe I was the only person who even applied that had worked full time with both at different times, which made me a perfect fit here, despite many weaknesses and rough patches that God has been working out since then.

I recently found an email between me and a former co-worker at New Hope.  I was scared.  I didn’t know how things would go for us.  I didn’t like the path I was on or had been on, and I wasn’t grateful to God for having me on it.  And if I were being honest, I don’t think I could have made the choice to knowingly go down the path that I’ve been on, no matter how it turned out, because it was dark, emotionally trying, and difficult.  I imagine that’s why God doesn’t lay it all out for us in advance.  Most of us probably wouldn’t follow knowing how hard things would be.  But in the dark, feeling lost on the road, I needed to hold onto and follow Jesus, so I wouldn’t lose site of Him or end up going the wrong way.  Left with two choices – follow or get lost – I gladly chose to follow, and it has turned out pretty well for me.  I’m grateful for the path I’ve walked, dark as it may have been.  I’m grateful the jobs I’ve had and the friends I’ve made, brief as my stints were.  I’m grateful that God used all of it to bring me here to KCC, and I’m grateful that I have been able to call KCC my longterm home.  When I reflect back, I see the things that scared, hurt, and frustrated me the most were preparing me to be where I am today, and there’s no other place I’d ever choose to be than right here.

I remember nearly crashing during motorcycle ride home one Saturday night. The ride was fatal for a raccoon who crossed paths with me. I was coming home from a friend’s house, and I was pretty nervous about deer. We lived in the most rural part of anywhere I have ever lived, and deer were aways on the side of the road, running across the road, or lying dead on the side of the road.  It was pitch black, there were no street lights, and visibility was very limited. I was constantly scanning the area in front of me for deer. Meanwhile, a raccoon sneaked out into the road. I didn’t see it at first, because I was too focused on the possibility of deer, and my eyes were set to a level where I would see deer eyes before they came out in front of me. The raccoon narrowly avoided being run over by my front tire, keeping his and my blood off of me. He wasn’t very smart, though. He doubled back right under my back tire. It caused me to fishtail back and forth a little. I thought I was going to join him, bleeding on the pavement, but I was fortunate to stay upright. All this, because I was focused on not hitting a bigger animal.

Because I am a pastor and constantly looking for new material, illustrations, and anecdotes, I spiritualized the experience. I was thinking about how I have lived my life the same way. I keep my eyes out for the “big sins.” I focus on not doing certain things that would completely derail my life, and take pride in the fact that I haven’t done them. Meanwhile, I slowly start fading away in other areas of my life. I might miss spending time with God one day, but I don’t mind. It wasn’t a big deal. It’s not like I stole anyone’s money.  Next day, I might do it again. Next thing you know, I haven’t really spent good time with God for a month, maybe more. I didn’t do anything else major.  I didn’t steal, kill, or cheat on my wife.  I didn’t do whatever you find to be a major sin, but God hates all sin, anyway. Doesn’t matter. I am a spiritual mess. I’ve crashed and burned, because I ran over something small that caused me to fishtail.  There were no spiritual deer in the road, which I was watching out for all along with didn’t boundaries and failsafes to protect me. But I did run over a spiritual raccoon that I wasn’t even watching for.

Sometimes it’s what we consider the little things that keep us away from God. We don’t see much of what we do as too extreme, comparing our menial sins to what someone else does.  But Jesus didn’t just die for adultery, murder, child abuse, etc. He also died for our laziness, our moments of disbelief, our selfishness, our occasional curse words, and everything else we think isn’t that big of a deal. If He cared enough to die for it, maybe we should care enough to keep our eyes out for it. We should be wary everyday of what is going on in our lives, and we should keep constant watch for everything –  the big and the small – that would keep us from fully enjoying and living out our relationship with Christ.

fear has no place

what are you afraid of everyday ghost

Fear is powerful, but it is only as powerful as we make it.  Fear does not rule in everyone’s life.  People overcome fear every day, whether they’re jumping out of planes, sharing their faith, or asking someone on a date.  People also succumb to fear everyday, missing out on whatever lies at the end of the road they were too afraid to travel.  So how do some people overcome fear while others cower to it?  Well, in many instances, it has to do with desire.  I was afraid to ask Sarah to be my girlfriend, but there wasn’t really anything I desired more, so I overcame fear in bumbling fashion.  I have also jumped out of a plane.  I was terrified.  I hardly slept the night before.  I kept thinking about it the whole car ride down to place we were going.  But for some reason, I really wanted to jump out of an airplane, so I overcame it.

We’ll be talking about different fears the next month in youth group and what the Christian perspective should be on those fears: fear of death, fear of sharing one’s faith, fear of being different and not fitting in.  These are all common fears, but despite how common they are, they’re not reasonable fears for the Christian.  Fear has no place in the Christian’s life, because we have Jesus.  2 Timothy 1:7-9 says, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

We’ll also be doing some pretty big promotional things in October.  We’re giving away a lot of music.  We’re heading to Cedar Point at the end of the month.  And one lucky person will be winning two tickets to the Anomaly Tour, featuring Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and DJ Promote.  So if you have a teenager, and they haven’t attended youth group yet or started attending regularly, make sure they’re there this Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, and they’ll find out how they can go home with these great incentives.

Oh, we’re also featuring a new promotional video each week, which we started this past Sunday.  So even if you miss out on all the other stuff that’s going on, you can at least enjoy things like this:

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As it happens, today is National Suicide Prevention Day, being right in the middle of National Suicide Prevention Week.  To me, it is very sad that for many, it takes a national day or week to give awareness to what should be so obvious.  We shouldn’t want friends, family, strangers, enemies, or anyone killing themselves, so we should be vigilant in preventing it.  But we struggle to be vigilant, because effectively preventing suicide requires awkward conversations in advance.  But it’s only an awkward conversation, because we make it taboo through a lack of understanding and turning depression into something it is not.

Clinical depression is not a sin.  It is a serious illness.  It infuriates me to hear Christians talk about how having depression and taking doctor-prescribed depression medicine are sins, because they show a lack of contentment and faith with God respectively.  If, in fact, being treated for a chemical imbalance in one’s brain shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to heal you and lack of contentment with the hand God has dealt you, why isn’t it a sin to wear corrective lenses to adjust eyesight, take antibiotics when sick, take headache medicine, be treated for cancer, remove faulty gull bladders and ill-fitting wisdom teeth, and so on?  By this logic, shouldn’t you joyfully accept bad eyesight, vomiting, fevers, cancer, gull stones, and soreness of the mouth?  Oh, and how about wearing deodorant?  Would you rather we be content with the smell God dealt us?  I doubt it.  I doubt all of it.

Yet depression falls under a stigma, mostly because people do not and care not to understand.  Clinical depression isn’t tantamount to having the blues or being bummed out.  It can consume a person’s life despite circumstances.  Depression can involve dizzying and dark mood swings, feelings of mental paralysis, crippling levels of anxiety, and panic attacks.  Untreated, it can make a person feel sick every day without even knowing why.  It is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which is outside the control of those with depression.  It’s how they were made.  It’s the brain God gave them.   If having depression is a sin, then God is a liar, and since He is not a liar, depression cannot be sin.  God made brains – mine, yours, brains of the depressed – and God doesn’t cause anyone to sin.

The basis for Christian judgment on this issue is usually that it shows that a person isn’t content with where God has them, misusing Philippians 4:11.  So how do you explain when a person has depression in times when everything in their life is otherwise hunky and dory?  I’ll let you in on a non-secret: my wife Sarah has depression and is being treated for it.  I’ll let you in on another non-secret: her life has been going pretty amazingly.  Even if everything going well, a person with depression – like Sarah – cannot just be happy and enjoy it all the time.  Chemicals in her brain are maladjusted and need fixing.  She has suffered through every symptom listed above over the years, and they were especially bad when she wasn’t treating it.  She felt she couldn’t treat it, because she couldn’t admit she had it, because she had been programmed to believe it was a sin to be denied.  Sure, depression can lead to sinful behaviors, such as self-harm, suicide, self-hatred, being angry with God, etc.  But anger can lead to murder, fighting, gossip, etc, but anger is not a sin.  Just as someone can be angry and sin not, a person can have depression without sinning.

It’s time to do something.  If you are reading this, and you suffer from depression, it’s time to admit it to someone and get help.  It’s time to believe that you are valuable, that you are irreplaceable, that you are loved, and that this world would be an awful place were you to leave it prematurely.  As Christians, it’s time to talk about it.  It’s time to remove the stigma and stop mis-labeling things.  It’s time to love people where they are, to stand fast by their sides, to listen to their hurt, and to tirelessly encourage those we love seek help. Let’s say you disagree with everything I’ve said so far, though. Then it’s time to put the needs of others before your being right, because your being right will never save anyone’s life. You don’t have to believe that depression isn’t a sin to love people with depression, you just have to believe that a person’s sins don’t disqualify them from needing your love.

Maybe you found this, because you’re being crushed and thinking about ending it all.  Don’t.  Get help.  Emergency intervention does work.  You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or just click the link, go to their site, and chat online with someone.  You, my friend, were knit in your mother’s womb and were made just as fearfully and wonderfully as anyone you’ve met.  You are loved, worthy of love, and have a purpose no one else can fulfill.  No one else can play your part.

I’m grateful

It’s been a pretty big Summer for our family.  Big seasons can mean big stress, and this was no exception.  Granted, much of it was good stress, but even too much good stress can wear a guy out.  Summer started in a  big way with Jaxon’s being born just three days into it.  He’s wonderful, and we’re so grateful to have him.  I was sure we’d only have one kid, because Jakob’s pregnancy was very difficult on Sarah, and she was pretty sure she’d only ever have the one.  She decided it would be good to have a second, and as feared, it was a terrible pregnancy once again, but the ends justify the means in this case.

Two weeks after Jaxon’s birth, I got on a bus with 29 awesome students and leaders and headed to Louisville.  It was an amazing trip, even if my heart was half at home, and my mind was occupied with thinking about the next big thing.  We were supposed to close on our house on July 18, which was one week after I would return from this trip.  Of course, as many of you who own homes know, it never goes as planned.  Then we were supposed to close on July 25, but again, it didn’t happen.  Finally, we were to close on July 31, the last day on our lease, but again, it didn’t happen.  The builder/seller was gracious in allowing us to move in that day, anyway, a full week before closing.  We ended up closing on August 7 on a home that was built as though we had given the builder every detail of everything we needed and wanted in a home.  God worked in ways we didn’t expect, including ways that frustrated us greatly.  He worked through the government’s incompetence – apparently even that is redeemable – and a builder who doesn’t know us.  All along he spoke to us through our realtor, who is a good Christian of great faith, that we thought we just happen to get.  We look back now, just a few weeks later, and we see how God was orchestrating everything, and we are grateful for what He did.  We also feel a little sheepish about the times we got frustrated and began to doubt.

If you were in church at KCC on Sunday, then you know something big happened at work for me.  It was announced on Sunday that I am the new associate pastor here, which means additional responsibilities, work, and trust (much of which has been in place for months anyway).  Most of you found out Sunday.  I’ve known for a while and have been excited but haven’t been able to talk to many about it.  But for me it was also a frustrating process, even though it didn’t take too long overall.  I talked to Dave about my frustrations a month ago, and he explained that he sees that I’m a microwave guy.  I want things done in 30 seconds or less, and when they are not, I get frustrated, I begin to doubt and get scared.  I don’t sit quietly in waiting very well for very long.  He’s right.

Now it is the end of Summer as far kids in school and their parents go (that’s us now!).  As I look back over the Summer, I am grateful for Jaxon, our home, and my promotion.  That seems like it should be obvious.  But I’m also grateful for the hiccups, speed bumps, twists and turns.  With the house and the promotion, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn patience and faith at different levels.  I’m glad that the house buying process was so frustrating and strange, because it shows God’s hand clearly.  I’m glad for the testing of my faith there, because it gave me an opportunity to stand tall in my faith and not lose faith in exchange for worry, which I’m glad to say that I did.

You know what else I’m grateful for?  I’m not going anywhere for a long time.  In case you missed the subtle hints, I thought I’d tell you that.  I just bought a house.  I wouldn’t have done that without seeking God and being confident that we’d be here a long time.  My job is changing and expanding in ways that will allow me to grow, recognize that I have grown, and use the gifts I’m passionate about using.  I’m grateful I don’t have to leave a church that I love to experience this.  Most youth pastors have to leave a church to grow into a new position.  I’m grateful that the leaders at KCC see where I can grow, change, and be used here.  I am grateful that I’m not seen as just the goofy youth guy, at least by those leading the church.  Sure, I am the goofy youth guy whenever I can be, but to them I’m also a pastor capable of more than pranks, funny videos, and jokes. But don’t worry.  Just because I’m capable of more doesn’t mean I’ll forsake my roots.  I’ve got a funny video coming you won’t want to miss.

don’t long for Egypt

“4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Numbers 11 begins with the words, “And the people complained…”  About what were they complaining?  Well, they didn’t like how God was miraculously providing a food for them that no other person had tasted and none have tasted since.  They didn’t like it, because it was all they had to eat all of the time.  They wanted to eat meat, which I understand.  They wanted different fruits, vegetables, and spices, because they had had their fill of manna and coriander.  They longed for better days, like when they were in Egypt.  Food was free there, apparently, and there was great variety.  But in their ungratefulness, they forgot that nothing was free in Egypt, and nothing was better. They forgot about oppression, slavery, beatings, and even some being killed.  Because they missed something as insignificant as this food or that food, they forgot the hell in which they lived and from which had been supernaturally set free by a God that loved them.  It’s striking to read and consider, and it seems they were so dumb for missing God’s obvious goodness.

I’ve missed Egypt before, though.  I haven’t missed the country, because I’ve never been there, but I’ve missed times, places, and people from which God has delivered me.  I guess I forget exactly what I’m supposed to be grateful for sometimes, and I miss other times.  I see other speaking in the same way.  Maybe you miss having that boyfriend or girlfriend who was not good for you and overall made you miserable. God set you free, but you long to go back.  Maybe you miss a job that made better money, but you never saw your family or church.  God set you free, but you long to go back.  You miss your buddies, but with them you only ever acted foolishly and sinfully.  God set you free, but you long to go back.  Some just flat out miss their sins, which were destroying them and pulling them further and further from God.  God set you free, but you long to go back.  We’ve all been set free from something if we are in Christ, but some cannot be content with their freedom.

Do not long for Egypt.  We romanticize the good old days.  They’re probably not as good as you remembered.  What may seem free and pleasant now was torturous and terrible for you back then and would be again today.  Live in the freedom God has given. Live where you are now.  Stop looking backwards and plow forward for God, for you family, for your church, and for yourself.

you’re ready to start

I had a professor in seminary named Dr. Butler. On the first day of the first class I had with him, he made a statement that changed the way I looked at being ready to serve God. He said, “If God called you to preach two years ago, and you haven’t started, because you’re waiting till you finish school, you’re already two years late. He didn’t call you to be ready to preach. He called you to preach.” It was an interesting point. I had always thought that one should finish being trained before following God’s call on his life, whether it was vocational or in a volunteer role. But what Dr. Butler said made a lot of sense, especially when you read the Bible. I think God calls a lot of people to do a lot of great things for Him, but often times, we wait till we feel adequately ready. We go to school, conferences, seminars, small groups, etc, trying to prepare ourselves to do what He has called us to do. Sometimes we spend more time getting ready to be obedient than actually being obedient, which could be called delayed obedience.  My mom and dad always said that delayed obedience is disobedience, and now that I’m a parent, I completely agree.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue perfecting your calling, because I think you should. And I’m also not saying that you should start out at the same level you plan to be at when you’ve finished training. But if God calls you to do something, start doing it. I was reminded of this premise when reading Ezra 3. God’s plan was for the people to build a temple in Jerusalem where they could eventually perform sacrifices to Him, but He had already called them to observe the feasts and sacrifices. They started well before the temple was ready, because God expected obedience. They didn’t even start building the temple until the 2nd year of their inhabitation, but they observed God’s ordinances all along. They weren’t going to wait till they were ready to start obeying Him.  You’re ready to start, so start.

If God called you to do something, do it! God called you, He’s equipped you, and He’s waiting to use you.  If you haven’t started, you’re already behind.  Take it from my friend Tim.

 

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