A Direct Relationship Between Your Productivity & Your Connection With God

i have noticed this too many times and too consistently to wonder if it’s a coincidence.

the days i start by connecting with God, praying, reading His Word, and nurturing my own soul tend to be way more productive than days that i don’t. on the flipside, the days that i just rush into my to do list without first pausing to connect with God are the ones that i find myself spinning my wheels, struggling to complete tasks and move the ball forward.

just curious, anybody else notice this same thing?

Staying Focused While Criticized

it’s march madness!!!

growing up in syracuse and often watching the orange play in the dome, i have gathered a great deal of respect for jim boeheim.

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i just read an article about some new allegations the NCAA is looking into. not always known for his personality or tact when speaking publicly, boeheim responded in his way that only he can:

“We’re concerned about playing Montana,” he said. “What people write or say, you know, there’s 30,000 people in the Dome yelling at me all the time. People yell at their television sets. I tell them I can’t hear them, but they still yell at them. There’s no distractions for me. And these players, there’s absolutely no distractions for them. They’re here to play Montana, and that’s it.”

if you didn’t hear, they absolutely destroyed montana in the first round.
i wish those of us in ministry had this level of focus, especially when criticized. as a leader, there are always people out there who don’t like a call you made or agree with the direction you’re taking. and rather than stay the course and continue to cast vision, we second-guess.  we pay an inordinate amount of attention to those not on board and steal our emotional energy from those who are.
as a pastor, i probably can’t just tell someone who criticizes me next “i can’t hear you”… but i can control what i focus on and where i put my attention.

sometimes you just have to tune your critics out.

X3Church: I’m Afraid To Tell Anyone About My Sin

this was originally posted at xxxchurch.com, and can be found here.

the image was created by sam jessup and can be downloaded for free here at creationswap.

my secret

 

I just read a confession here on the site, and it gripped my heart.  I posted the first part below, but head there for the rest of the story.
“I am married with 2 small little girls whom I adore. I grew up in church and regularly attend with my family. I’ve know the Lord for some time now and never thought I had a problem. My wife and I used to have the best “intimate” time together. After our 2nd child things pretty much went sour and sex became a major source of arguments in our marriage. I have been visiting porn sites on a daily basis for quite some time now…”
As pastors and shepherds, called by God to teach and lead His people, it should grip our hearts that this man has been struggling in isolation for “quite some time now” while regularly attending church and being a part of his faith community.  It certainly could be that his church has many resources available to help, easy and safe accountability structures to plug into, and teaching from the pulpit that communicates realness and transparency… and he just hasn’t yet made the move towards that help.  But more likely, his church leaders probably haven’t gone enough out of their way to create the kind of environment where this kind of confession can easily come out.
How can we create an environment in our churches where families can get quicker access to help?  Here’s 5 quick ideas – would love to hear some more from you in the comments!

1)      Stop teaching through Leviticus.

I’m not saying it’s not important.  Or that you forever kick books like Obadiah to the curb.  But we have to ask ourselves how our sermons intersect with the raw and messy realities of everyday life for the people sitting in our pews.  For many churches, it’s time to take a risk and bring this pervasive issue to the front of the room and stop beating around the bush.

2)      Publicly share your story. 

Share how you were first exposed to porn.  Talk about the things you have to still do today to keep yourself pure.  Let them know you’re not immune to it just because you are employed by the church.  I still remember reading Craig Groeshel’s book Confessions of a Pastor.  He’s got an entire chapter devoted to this stuff (called “I Have to Work Hard to Stay Sexually Pure”) and he models really well how to openly break the ice with your congregation.

3)      Make plans now for National Porn Sunday on October 13, 2013.

Let xxxchurch do the teaching (via video).  It’s completely free and will certainly move your church to a place where porn can be talked about.  Check out all the details right over here.

4)      Host a Porn & Pancakes event at your church.

This men’s event for junior high boys and up is a great option for many churches.  Imagine a movement of men in your church who are not ashamed to battle this issue and protect their families from its influence!

5)      Let people know that they can’t shock you, and that you won’t think any less of them for sharing.

In fact, the truth of the matter is you’ll respect them more for their honesty and authenticity.  Repeat this line often, and after a while people will actually believe it.

Having A Meaningful Time With God For Your Own Soul

 

a few years ago one of my adult youth leaders handed me a leadership training seminar on CD to listen to.  not thinking it was anything special, i popped it in the car as i drove around town and was immediately drawn in. i’m so thankful for that gift and that i didn’t blow it off. it has been one of the best leadership talks i’ve EVER sat under, and i’ve since listened to the whole thing several times through. totally worth the $35.
just a few weeks ago i had the opportunity to sit in on one of dan webster‘s seminars, and he shared in detail something worth posting here. as the youth pastor at willow creek for years under hybels’ leadership, dan used the following method to personally connect with God and lead his student ministry from an authentic heart.
as youth pastors, we’re often great at telling our teens that they should be doing regular devotions, but terrible at doing our own, for a variety of reasons…
  • the never-ending stress-inducing work load
  • sporadic, inconsistent schedules (it’s just part of the job)
  • we’re already in God’s Word alot as it is prepping for messages & events
  • 84% of us have ADHD and have a hard time focusing on anything for an extended period of time
what i love about this plan is that it address all of these road blocks.

bible-reading

PLAN TO JUST DO IT 2 DAYS A WEEK FOR 2 HOURS EACH TIME

there’s nothing sacred about doing your devotions every day. in fact, it’s probably not even practical for many of us in ministry. 4 hours a week is still > 15 minutes every day of the week. webster said he did it every tuesday and thursday morning when he first got into the office.

GET IN A SETTING FREE FROM DISTRACTIONS

do it during your office hours. tell one of the secretaries where you’ll be in case of an emergency, but don’t tell anybody else. put your phone on airplane mode. be in a place where you’re completely alone and free from distractions.

BRING THE FOLLOWING THINGS WITH YOU:

a pen, your bible, a journal, a blank pad of paper, and some greeting / note cards.

READ THE BIBLE UNTIL SOMETHING SPEAKS TO YOUR SOUL

if you’re reading through a book of the bible or some kind of reading plan, pick up where you left off and just read. there will naturally be verses and phrases that jump out at you to “preach” in upcoming messages – this is ok… it’s what we do and we can’t turn that calling off.  jot them down on the blank pad of paper to come back to later.  as to-do items and other unrelated things pop into your mind as you read that you don’t want to forget, jot them on the paper as well.  once you write them down, your mind is released from thinking about them and you can refocus back on your own soul.
when you finally get to a verse or phrase that is meaningful for you personally, spend time with it.  write it out in your journal. meditate on it. memorize it.  pray about it. worship and praise God with it. argue with God about it.

SPEND TIME PRAYING AND LISTENING

after focusing on scripture, spend time in prayer.  there are always people with big needs on our hearts – take this time to pray for them. there’s the ones we’ve told we’re praying for, and of course there are others we just can’t get off our minds. our families are always on our heart. and we always feel guilty for not praying enough for the teens we’re intentionally discipling and mentoring. use this time to pray for each of them.
one of the most powerful things we can do though happens after we pray for them. simply ask God “what do you want me to know about this person?”. and then stop praying and be silent.  sometimes you won’t hear anything. but there are other times when God’s spirit will whisper a prompting.  a specific verse may come to mind.  or a word of encouragement.  or sometimes a sense of warning and concern may surface.

WRITE A NOTE TO THOSE YOU’RE PRAYING FOR

once you’ve prayed for someone and listened for God’s perspective on them, write them a note to encourage them.  let them know you prayed for them, and include a verse or prompting that God left you with. it can sometimes seem incoherent to us, but it’s amazing how much it’ll connect with the person when they get the note.
dan webster shared the story of a time he did exactly this. he was praying for one of his adult leaders, and when he asked for God to speak up after praying for him, a strong sense of concern overwhelmed him.  he thought of a leadership retreat they and the rest of the team attended recently, and how he seemed to be a little “too friendly” with another leader he wasn’t married to, and a strong sense of darkness came over him in that moment. he proceeded to write a note reminding this leader of the importance of purity and how sin can ruin everything in our lives and ministry.  believe it or not, when the note arrived at this guy’s mailbox, it happened to arrive on the very day that he was planning to initiate sexual contact with this woman. he was on his way out the door when he read the note… stopped dead in his tracks… and turned right around.
kinda freaky… but at the same time not surprising (since the spirit of God in you is the same as in other believers).

let’s get better at connecting with God, caring for our own souls, and leading from that place.

thoughts?

 

Don’t Hold Me Accountable… Hold Me Close

every month i get together with 3 other youth pastors from 3 other churches nearby. these guys are studs.  they are the real deal.  i love doing life with them.  when we get together, we don’t plan events or swap ministry ideas.  we talk about life in all its rawness and ask each other about the condition of our souls.  we talk about our families, our marriages, and our kids.  we talk about the frustrations and stresses of ministry, but we go further into the issues of brokenness underneath and how we can often hide under the pretense that all is well.  i have grown to cherish and look forward to these times more than any other appointment on my calendar.  each time i come away feeling a new wave of refreshment. i’m a mess as it is, but without these guys i’m scared to think where i would be today.

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a group like this doesn’t just happen. and there’s a good chance another youth worker in your area is praying for someone like you to reach out to them right now.  who knows what God will do with it over time… they could become some of your best friends as you journey together!
after today’s meetup, one of the guys tweeted out to the rest of us a spot-on blogpost they had come across. be sure to head there for the full post.  here’s an excerpt to get you started:

DON’T HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE…HOLD ME CLOSE

Bob Goff said that. I wish I had.

Who is close enough to you to know when you’re off the rails? Who can you call for advice with the ‘stickiest’ of questions? Which of your friends will challenge you on the hours you’re working? Who will ask you how much you’re drinking? Who’ll call you out on your attitude toward your wife? Who knows your heart?

For most of the guys I know, the answer is nobody!

You can’t hire someone to be this kind of friend. You can’t ‘will’ it. You can’t manufacture it. You have to work for it.

A few years ago, I was challenged to find some friends. Not guys to ‘save’ and certainly not guys to mentor or “fix.” Guys to ‘do life with’… to draw close to and allow them to draw close to me. As usual, I wrote this down as a ‘thing to do.’ I drew a little square by it, anticipating the day I could put a big, black checkmark in the box. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

The answer (at least the starting point for the answer) came in one word…

Group.

I wormed my way into a group of guys who were meeting once a month. They knew each other, went to the same church (not mine) and had a lot of ‘road miles’ together, having met for a few years before I came along. They’d all told each other their stories. They knew each other’s junk. And now, years later, they know my junk, I know theirs, and we’re still friends. Actually we’re now real friends.

continue reading…

The Girl That Never Stopped Smiling

we were out doing some shopping a few weeks ago, and while shanna tried on a MILLION different things, i grabbed this picture of my daughter adelina with a new friend she just met.
the two of them got along so well with each other.
no fights.
no arguments.
no complaining.

something about this girl was remarkable.  she NEVER stopped smiling.  

even after hanging out together for about 45 minutes, and not once being offered adi’s balloon, the girl still showed signs of admiration and friendship.
without fail.

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some days i wish my relationships with others could be like this.
and then i think about it a little deeper.
i tell the teens this often: when God made us, he COULD have made us like this little girl. he could have crafted us with a plasic-never-changing-never-frowning smile.  no matter what he did to us, we would never be disappointed. or like my favorite movie, he could have made us with a pull-string that always repeats “you’re my favorite deputy” everytime it’s released. God could have programmed us to ONLY give him love and admiration, like robots with all the circuits lined up properly.

but he wanted something more authentic.

and with that pivotal want comes the potential for evil, and disease, and war, and hatred, and sickness, and STD’s, and car accidents, and cancer, and drunk driving, and murder, and poverty, and sex-trafficking, and pestilence, and thorns on rose bushes.

in God’s mind, this whole authentic thing must have been pretty important.

to have one of his created humans walk up to him, and out of the blue – volitionally – with no sense of obligation – and while being surrounded by so many other temptations and opportunities and things to chase – to be able to say “i love you” and mean it… to God… that was worth it all.
he doesn’t want our fake allegiance.  with all the other options available to us, there’s a God out there who’s craving your life’s greatest commitment.
i don’t know where you’re at… but i can tell you from my own experience: it’s worth it!

Video: Hotel Hotel 2

for the last few years, several team members and i have really enjoyed the hotel hotel video.  one of them actually has it as his ring tone when i call him!  last night at the simply youth ministry conference, they released a second version. so fun!

be sure to head over to morethandodgeball.com for more videos they showed at the conference!

Fresh Perspective From An Old Hymn

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This weekend is one of the highlights of my ministry year: spending a few days with some of our youth leaders at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Indianapolis.  It’s always such a refreshing and challenging time as God recharges us for the year ahead.
In one of the general sessions today, the Jordan Howerton Band was leading us in a powerful worship set, and then broke out in singing the old hymn, “Victory In Jesus”.  I know that song well.  The church I grew up in would sing it EVERY SUNDAY at the end of service.  Every Sunday.  Without fail.  I remember hating the song by the time I was in high school.  But hearing it today with fresh ears brought a wave of gratefulness over me.  I’m so grateful for the ministry of Second Baptist Church and how God used the community of believers there to breathe life into a stuck-up, self-righteous kid like me.  For any blog readers who happen to stumble upon this blog from time to time from my roots back at Second, thank you for caring about teenagers and not assuming that the church kids have it all together or are any less broken than the ones outside the walls.