I think we survived

It might have been the most awkward night of their lives, but nobody left the room screaming tonight when we talked about pornography.

The female leaders (led by my lovely wife Kim) shared some of their own experiences dealing with body image, acceptance, and lies girls believe/the truth that God wants them to know. These leaders are the real deal, and we are blessed to have them working with your daughters. The big idea is that when we understand and know God’s truth we can discern the lies and live according to the truth. I know that the young ladies were encouraged.

The young men met with me and the other guy leaders. I did most of the teaching, but the other leaders chimed in with some very wise and on-point comments. You could have heard a pin drop when I said the word PORNOGRAPHY. I don’t know if they’d ever heard that word in church before (although some of them pointed out that Pastor Dan mentioned it Sunday in his sermon.) We gave them the opportunity to write down questions, but the bigger opportunity for follow up is going to come in the conversations that will happen in small groups.

One young man came up to me at the end of the evening with a big smile on his face. “That’s the most awkward conversation I’ve had since I was 13. That’s when my dad gave me ‘the talk.'”

I’m ok with awkward as long as it leads to future conversations, hope being born in the hearts of young men and women, and freedom being celebrated.

i’m a sex talker

Yeah, that might get me screened by your internet filter.

There’s an old youth pastor’s joke that goes something like this: Do you know what the top 3 topics teenagers want to discuss in youth groups?

  1. Sex
  2. End Times
  3. Will there be sex in the End Times

At one point in my youth ministry career I felt the nudge from the Lord to be more intentional about teaching and talking about sex, both with students and leaders. Not long after that, Bob and Dannah Gresh invited me to be part of their Pure Freedom team, speaking to hundreds of teenage boys across the country about God’s call to purity.

Each year after that I’ve presented a series about love, sex, and/or dating to the students at XStream. Now we’ve got a house full of teenagers, and it seems like we’re always talking about some aspect of dating relationships, love, or sex.

We’ve been working our way through a series on dating, or the dangers of being OBSESSED with dating/relationships. Tomorrow night the young ladies will be discussing Body Image/Body Issues with the female leaders, while the male leaders will be talking about the lies of pornography with the young men.

As a youth pastor, I look forward to sharing some hope for freedom with the young men.
As a dad, I look forward to my sons and daughters hearing truth and being encouraged.
As a man, I look forward to sharing my story of freedom and trusting God for a breakthrough in the lives of our young men and women.

Here are the outlines we’ll be using tomorrow night. OBSESSED Session 3 Girls outline OBSESSED Session 3 Guys outline

XP3_Obsessed_S3BottomLineGirls XP3_Obsessed_S3BottomLineGuys

If you want more resources, click over to the youth ministry announcements page from the tab at the top of the page.

a break or a breakthrough

Moses can’t seem to catch a break.

I’m working my way through the LifeJournal Bible reading plan, and Moses has just led Israel (650,000 men and their families) out of captivity, out of Egypt, out into the wilderness. He’s faced down Pharaoh, court magicians, and an elite army bent on his destruction. He’s wrestled with fears and doubts, naysayers and obstacles. He’s literally seen God part the Red Sea and deliver Israel, drowning all those Egyptians who tried to follow them through the sea. Just after this God sends quail and manna to sustain the wandering tribes.

Now Israel is on the other side of the Red Sea, still wandering in the desert. People are thirsty. They begin to complain against Moses, calling for his head. Moses reacts by asking, “Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?”

In yet another episode of ridonkulous provision, God gives Moses the authority to smack a big honking rock, and promises to give Israel water from the rock. Sure enough, everybody drinks their fill, and their anger passes.

Just when you think Mo’s going to catch a break, the warriors of Amalek attack Israel. Moses now has to coordinate a national defense strategy, run a feeding program, and navigate through the desert to a destination yet unknown to them.

Moses can’t catch a break.

And do you know what I learn from this? God’s not really interested in me catching a break, either. In fact, he likes to let us wander through deserts of desperation. He knows something we don’t: When I don’t need him, I live like I don’t need him.

And he knows that my life is better when I am connected to him. So he lets me (us) go through difficult days to make us grow, to make us lean into him, to develop a trust and a dependence and a hope that endures.

God doesn’t want me to have it easy. But difficult days can still be good days.

Maybe it turns out that I don’t need a break; I need a breakthrough.

the best part of the game

Tonight we watched Ohio State whup up on Oregon. I didn’t really have a favorite in the game. I like to see Big 10 teams play well and represent the conference with dignity. So while I didn’t think that OSU would pull it off, I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

But the BEST part of the game for me was having a full house for the viewing. Team XStream was in the house! Not everyone showed up, but we had a blast catching up, being silly, telling stories, and building relationships. There were conversations happening all over the place.

This was a night of community being built, and I love what God is doing here.

Team XStream is the name we give our adult leadership team for youth ministry at Calvary. They are the folks who invest in middle school and high school students, who model what it means to live for Jesus, who invite students to walk with them. Kim and I have been praying and keeping our eyes open for young men and women with leadership potential. We’re looking for folks who display the following characteristics:
Faithful–to Jesus, to his teachings, to his call
Available–not too busy doing other things to make a difference
Responsible–they understand commitment and are growing in maturity
Teachable–They want to learn, are hungry to grow

If that sounds like you or someone you know, drop me a line. I’d love to talk to you about joining one of the best teams ever!

best foot forward

Tonight while the students of XStream were meeting, talking about what it means to FLOW with Jesus in what he calls you to do, Kim and I were meeting with lots of the parents of those students.

We chatted about the vision and values of our student ministry, how things are going, and how they can get involved. Some of the parents had great questions, and it was fun answering them. A few of the parents wanted to know what they could do to be more involved, which is stinkin’ awesome!

It’s my hope to meet with parents on a regular basis. I think we’re gaining momentum, seeing some good things happen with students, leaders, and parents. I believe that our best days are yet to come, and that we’re moving in the right direction. I’m excited about the way the school year has started! Best foot forward, indeed…

photo courtesy of Josh Cone
XStream feet

finishing well

I’ve been the chaplain for the State College Spikes since they moved to town in 2006. It’s been a source of great joy and entertainment over the years. We’ve seen a lot of baseball, met a lot of great guys, and made some good friends.

This year they did something new: they won it all!
Spikes 2014 NY:PL champsSpikes Champs

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these young men. We only had 4 regular season home Sunday games, which meant we only had 4 chapels. But we made up for things by getting together often for breakfasts at the Waffle Shop.

If the statistics hold true, some of these guys will be out of baseball within the next few years. They know that. But for a good many of them, they have a faith that will outlast their baseball career. They are men of character and integrity. They play this game that we love with a burning passion, but it doesn’t define them. They find their identity in Jesus, not in the box score.

They are bringing a great big trophy back to Happy Valley, and they deserve to celebrate their accomplishment. But some of them have discovered that there is more to finishing well than the box score can report.

ponds aren’t just for swimmin’

We’ve been meeting at Harvest Fields all summer for XStream (Calvary’s youth group.) We meet behind the Barn, beside the pond. There’s a fire pit, and we hang around there most nights until well-past dark. And almost every week there are folks who take a swim in one of the ponds out there.

But this week–our last at the Barn, btw–2 students wanted to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, to tell their friends and families that they’ve made a decision to follow Christ, to give their lives to him, to ask him to forgive their sins and give them new life. Tonight we used that little outdoor amphitheater to baptize Isaac (my son!) and Melissa. The act of immersing them in water represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s our faith in Christ that gives us new life, and our baptism is a public declaration of our faith and hope in Christ, our love for him.
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As their youth pastor, I celebrate young men and women who want to live for Jesus, who have reached a point in their faith where they want to declare that publicly. As his dad, I am so proud of Isaac and his decision to follow Jesus that I could just about burst!

I believe that God is doing great things in our community, and that this could be a breakthrough year for Kingdom life in Happy Valley.

highlight of the day

Today was pretty stellar on all counts.

  • I slept in a little, which was nice.
  • I met a new youth pastor for lunch. He’s in his first full-time youth ministry job, and I love his heart for his family, his students, and the Lord.
  • I met with one of my long-time youth pastor buddies to chat about how we can partner together more. I love that, too!
  • Annabelle, Josie, and I went for a run around Harvest Fields, then cooled off in the pond before XStream. I love the fact that my kids and I get to workout together.
  • Jake “the Intern” Nold taught at XStream tonight, and did a great job. He walked us through Psalm 32 before he handed students off to the small group leaders. Then we brought everyone back to worship around the campfire. It was a good night. I love XStream, Jake, and our leaders (Team XStream).

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But do you know what the highlight was? About 20 minutes ago there was a squirmy, squawky little boy in the crib next to my bed. Kim thought he might want another ounce of formula to help him sleep. Turns out he had other plans. He’s a poop-making machine, and when I opened the diaper to change him, he decided to shift into high-production mode! I was scrambling to catch what he was making, like a one-armed soft-serve ice cream worker! After I got the little guy all cleaned up, he was wide awake and hungry.

So I snuggled him and set him up with a little bottle. Watching his eyelids get heavy as he worked on that bottle…that was my highlight of the day. Well, that and the poop machine.

sports camp makes me cry

Our church wrapped up our yearly sports camp Thursday evening, and I got to invite the 5th graders to join me and the other youth leaders for a few events this summer designed just for them. The parents of all the children were gathered all around the watched the various teams step to the front to show some of the songs they had learned. They were wildly enthusiastic and loved sharing with the parents, but something else caught my eye.

As our youth pastor, I am all too familiar with the fact that 60-70% of high school grads will walk away from church and faith. That fact is driving me to re-examine a lot of our practices in our church, and in my family. I want to know what we can do to help students develop a faith that lasts a lifetime.

As I watched the coaches (volunteers who led the sports camp) gather for their final huddle, I realized that almost half of the leaders were either students from our youth ministry or former students who are now in college. A huge wave of emotion rolled over me as I began to think about the links in the chain of influence. The leaders in our student ministry have shaped the lives of the young men and women who were now leading this sports camp. And they, in turn, are speaking into the lives of the next generation of boys and girls, modeling what it means to live for Jesus.

I hugged and high-fived as many of those leaders as I could tonight as they exited the building. I don’t know if they see what they’re doing, if they sense the importance and feel the weight of their influence. It’s likely that most of them think they were simply volunteering for a fun sports camp. But the truth is that they were cementing their own faith, and leaving a legacy for those elementary kids to follow.

I don’t know if there are guaranteed ways to help students stay connected to Jesus and the Church as they graduate. But I do know that finding ways for them to share in the story, to be part of the life of the Church, to speak into the life of those following behind them is about as good as it gets.

a pile of married years

A few of the Calvary pastors went away for a day-long meeting Tuesday, working on some big-picture things.  I love these men, and love being part of a team with them. We are a diverse bunch in terms of theological backgrounds, church experience, and even geographical homes! We’re wired differently, approach problems differently, and blow off steam differently. But we’re all united around our love for Jesus, his church, and the call to lead here at Calvary.

We started the morning by taking a few minutes to review, to catch up, to see how things are going in our particular arenas of ministry, to share places we see God at work, and to give thanks for growth in those areas.

That’s when Dan Nold reminded us that today is his wedding anniversary. He’s been married to Lynn for 30 years. Vic and Kay have been married for a whopping 40!  The Dorseys just celebrated their 27th, Kim and I are closing in on 24 years, and Steve married Jess 15 years ago.

That’s 136 years of married life…that hit me with a wave of emotion.

I have learned many and varied lessons from each of these men about life and leadership, ministry and marriage, raising kids and being a man. I am incredibly grateful for these men, blessed beyond belief, and definitely feel challenged to keep up with them!

Mentors are all around us if we’re willing to be teachable.