the kids from my first youth group are old

Out of the blue, he shot me an email. “Hey, I’m in your town for a conference.” I was totally surprised. He followed that with an invitation to revisit our glory days–He wanted to find a church van and renew a timeless tradition. Back in the days before seat belt laws (and common sense) every youth group trip to Norwin’s Skateland featured a no-holds barred steel cage match, with me and Jason each looking to drop the elbow of death or force a submission from the other. He’s a middle school principal now, and I’m not as spry as I used to be, so we opted for wings.

I was only his youth pastor for about 2 years and 9 months, but those were magic days. I was green and thought I had all the answers. I tried so hard to be the cool youth pastor. I couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time, so I had to have some of the kids sing while I hacked away at G-C-D-Em on a beater acoustic. We played the lamest games. My teaching was clunky, awkward, and centered around CCM lyrics. I didn’t know a thing about leadership development or the purpose-driven youth ministry or much anything else.

But something worked.

Jason and I shared 2 meals over the course of the past few days. He reminded me that God has been gracious to use me to shape the lives of many teenagers over the past 25 years. It’s not about flash or style or cool or polished preaching. It’s not about fabulous facilities or great games.

God will always use people who are desperate for him, depending on him to move, committed to helping others connect to the Kingdom life.

So whether you’re 22 or 47, if you know what God has called you to do, do it with everything you’ve got. Get after it, and trust God for the fruit of your prayer, desperation, and hard work.

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this one rides in my guitar case

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we got better, I promise

And maybe, some day when you’re old, your old youth group kids will show up and remind you of how blessed you are. And how they grow up to be real men and women.

best day of the week

Thursday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days of the week.

Around noon every Thursday a bunch of us youth worker types get together to pray, plan, eat, or work on our youth ministry skills. I love the community that I find there, and always come away feeling refreshed, renewed, and challenged to keep gettin’ after it. The conversations that flow are real, vulnerable, encouraging, and deep. And I’m blessed to call these crazy folks my friends.

Then to top the day off, I get to meet with a bunch of the leaders who work with Calvary’s teenagers. Most Thursdays it’s our lifegroup, which is mostly comprised of Team XStreamers. But once a month all of Team XStream gathers for prayer and planning, with a side of Kim’s mac ‘n cheese. Tonight was that night, and it was solid. These men and women are the real deal. They love Jesus, love teenagers, and are committed to leading teenagers to love Jesus.

Kevin and Brandon

Kevin and Brandon are twinsies in their new Team XStream shirts.

I’m amazed at the growth that I have seen in our team, and in the unity that is developing in our town. I have to believe that God is doing good things, and that the best is yet to come.

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.

happy beevday

Hard to believe that it’s been 19 years since Kim and I became parents. Kim was at Back to School night (she was an elementary school teacher) when her water broke. Her sister had to change out of the Clifford the Big Red Dog costume to drive her to the hospital! I was coaching JV soccer for Derry, and didn’t have a cell phone back in them days. I came home to an empty house, all the lights on, and a cryptic/hilarious message on the answering machine from Kim’s mom: “Stacy, don’t leave the house. I’ll be right there!”

Levi, you’ve been a blessing to our family. We hoped and prayed and waited 5 long years before you arrived. You’ve had to bear the brunt of our parenting gaffes and mistakes, walk through all the lessons that a first-born learns with new parents. You’ve made us laugh and cry and pray and dream.

Your sensitive heart and outgoing disposition make you a favorite with little kids. Your ability to converse intelligently draws adults to you. You’re comfortable on the stage in front of crowds and in the basement hanging with the guys.

Most importantly, You love Jesus, and you love people. And we love you! Happy birthday Beev!
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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.

oh I’m positive alright

My positivity was tested today. We got a sunny afternoon, and the grass was in need of a trim. I like cutting the grass. Because so much of my job is difficult to measure (how do you gauge discipleship and spiritual growth?) I find that I enjoy things that give me immediate feedback and allow me to track my progress. So I find that cutting grass and even painting (rooms, not portraits) are great forms of occupational therapy for me. I know how long I’ve been working, can see how much remains to be done, and can even get a feel for how much longer I’ll have to work before I’m done.

But today didn’t turn out like I expected. I figured the mower would give me troubles. My neighbor Mike had to help me get it running last week. He thinks I need a new battery. But I thought I might be able to use that battery charger and sneak one last mow out of that battery. So while I let the battery get a little extra juice I thought I’d run the string trimmer around the edges of the house and yard.

Nope.

The little engine that couldn’t wouldn’t cooperate. It would cough and start, but any time I gave it any gas the engine would sputter and die. 0 for 1 in the engine department. So I turned my attention to the riding mower.

Nada.

I went back and forth between the 2 non-compliant yard machines for about an hour. I tugged and pulled and cajoled and coaxed and prayed and finally walked away positive.

Positively mad. Positive that I need a class in small engine maintenance. Positive that I wanted to throw a string trimmer at a riding mower today.

I did make the most of it, however. Isaac and I headed to the backyard to play a little catch in the afternoon sun.