Rally racing to redemption.



I have promoted, chaperoned, cooked for, keynoted and developed youth ministry rallies throughout my limited career as a youth minister.  I have seen profound miracles in the hearts of adolescents and I have been embarrassed by the lack of spiritual focus on the part of ministers to youth.  I have nursed sick teens, led crappy ice breakers, listened to incredible small group discussions and laughed at the freedom of the Holy Spirit where two or more pubescent teens are gathered in his name.

A youth rally is usually a one or two day gathering of youth whereupon folks provide, liturgy,  worship music, witness talks, workshops and some sort of evening celebration.  Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars. This motor sport is distinguished by running not on a circuit, but instead in a point-to-point format in which participants and their co-drivers drive between set control points (special stages), leaving at regular intervals from one or more start points. Rallies may be won by pure speed within the stages or alternatively by driving to a predetermined ideal journey time within the stages.  I love the similarities between these two things!

Many believe that gathering youth for rallies is little more than frivolous fellowship.  A rally is just a fun way to get people together.  There is no real catechesis and no real teaching.  Youth do not really learn much nor do they honor the hard work of the adults.  They come for the “dance” or whatever social gathering that fits into the schedule.  A rally doesn’t help my ministry and it is really just a distraction. Nascar and Indy drivers generally hold rally care racers in contempt because their sport is more disorganized and contains less structure.  To much is left up to the individual car or dimensions of the race.  Sound familiar?

We know from the research of the National Study of Youth and Religion (Dr. Christian Smith) that young people exposed to a dynamic gathering are more than 70% more inclined to read scripture on their own and express an interest in public worship.  We also know that less than 20% of youth are ever exposed to these types of dynamic gatherings.  This is a dumb reality.

Friends, this is not a complicated task.  Young people want to be together in a positive environment.  They want to be gathered in a space that is designed to engage them and invite them to grow.  They are hungry for the tough question and the opportunity to express their unique God given response.  Young people are racing on public and private roads.  They are launching their faith lives at different intervals and pacing at different speeds. There is a deep longing for universal truth. There is an inherent desire to rally.

We rally because we have a cause.  We race uphill with our young people in hopes that the journey leads to a sense of reverence and eternal salvation.The expansion of the kingdom is our mission and the rally is our cry.  We love to sing, dance and express ourselves in the name of faith.  Our encounter with Christ within each other at a social event is as central to the Gospel narrative as the call to evangelization itself.  We grow in faith when we encounter faith in others.  When we hear the words of Christ professed and celebrated by peers, we become enthusiastic about our traditions.  Rally is energy injection.  We do not live for the energy itself, but use its surge to move forward in our journey of faith.  We invite others to come along when we love the path we are on.

Gather young people.  Celebrate the profession of faith.  Empower the joy of the environment to invite the heart of the believer to an enthusiastic encounter of the mystery.  Laugh.  Dance.  Sing.  Rally with youth around the gifts that Christ has sewn in our hearts because he is worthy of our praise.  Send young people forth at different paces acknowledging different terrain. Provide excellence in the encounter by investing your time and energy into the moment.  Invite, invite, invite.  Then celebrate the fact the the tomb is empty and redemption is worth giving up a Saturday afternoon.


Getting fired from church.

redrobinI have only been fired from one job.  I was the Robin at Red Robin.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I dressed in a bird suit and visited you at your table while you tried to eat.  I stood by the road and waved.  The suit was gross and sweaty.  Shut up, the money was good and I was 18.

Once while standing in front of the restaurant a middle aged guy pulled up in a 1980’s Trans Am.  He walked up to me like he was Burt Reynolds and leaned in to tell me something.  I played along, leaning in while cupping my costume ear with my hand.  Then he said while fingering his tooth pick, “Don’t s#@$ on my car.”

I starting laughing so hard that I buckled over.  The head apparatus of the costume fell off and I stumble forward while trying to regain my composure.  The Trans Am owner giggled and then entered the establishment.  I finally gained my balance and reached to put the head back on only to discover a family of small children walking by whereupon two of the little ones broke into tears and lost control.  The parents were upset by the headless bird trying to consult their kids and they proceeded to complain to the manager.  Long story short…fired.  Turns out they were cutting the position anyway.  So disappointing.

Being fired is a bit demoralizing.  Firing somebody is even more so. Yet, there is a reason for it.

In ministry, somehow the language of healthy business practice and management eludes us.  We think that business practices don’t apply to us church folks and that being “pastoral” means not holding people truly accountable for their ability to do their jobs.  This is crap. And I mean the kind of crap on the hood of a Trans Am.

A word of advice to all people that work for church (volunteers and staff)… Pastoral care does not mean tolerance for incompetency. There are some people that are called to ministry and some that are not.  Consider the ramifications of using the language, “I was called to do this…”  Here is an evaluative tool to flesh out the depth of a call.

Sent ones respond to the Lord’s command out of worship and obedience. Look at Isaiah 6:1-8. What is Isaiah’s response to being in the presence of God and forgiven of his sins? Note that Isaiah does not say “I will go” but “Send me.” What difference might there be in simply “going” versus “being sent”?

Sent ones go in the power, authority and presence of Christ. Look at Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 6:20. Where do the strength, ability and confidence come from to share the gospel, to “declare it fearlessly”? How should this affect your willingness to be sent?  How does this affect your ministry?

Sent ones carry the message of the sender. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:16-20. What is the message God has committed to us? Who are we to be? What does this mean? What might sidetrack you from sharing Christ’s message?  What are the distractions in your life that will limit your ability to do your job?

Sent ones are empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book of Acts we read of how the Spirit sent by Jesus enabled those He sent to accomplish his purposes. This means it is not about your agenda, but His. The Spirit often guided believers to specific cities, peoples or nations so that the gospel would be proclaimed. Are you comfortable praying for the Spirit to reveal places or people groups in your community that He desires to send you now as His ambassador?  Do you want to be with sinners?  He did.

We are all sent by the nature of our baptism.  This does not mean that we are all called to work in ministry.  There is a difference.  I don’t want to be fired from my job, but I hope and pray that I am always held accountable to the Gospel and the mission of my position.  Stay rooted in the vision of both your job and the Gospel narrative.  Acknowledge who your boss is and keep in close touch with their mission for you.  This applies to both employees and volunteers.  Accountability, accountability accountability!

Oh and don’t where a costume only to have it fail you in the midst of doing your job.  This is a definite “no” in the field of ministry.  For the record, I did not s#$% on that guys car.


A mouse in the house of the Lord

Misiune_2520imposibila_thumbWe have a mouse in our house.  This is not the first time this has happened.  Mice come running in from a nearby field.  I leave the garage door open all the time and they find their way into our home.    We have a lot of children and thus, most meals are a bit messy in our kitchen.  Food is constantly falling to the floor.

Mice are pests that carry disease.  They are also annoying.  Last night, the mouse ran across our living room, behind the piano, the couch, in and out of the girls bedrooms, etc.  We are not talking about Reepicheep or Despereaux here. This a rodent with teeth and virus. Last sraw.

In the midst of the chaos my five years old starting crying.  She was genuinely scared.  My other girls were annoyed and a little grossed out.  I was a bit pissed.  How can something so small and so insignificant disrupt our home?  How do we let little things get under our skin and derail our fears and anxieties.  Happens all the time doesn’t it?

Yeah, yeah, I know you want me to say all creatures are created by God and they all have a place and blah blah blah.  This mouse made my little girls cry.  Enough said.

I found myself in kill mode.  I found myself in a place of absolute intensity regarding a plan and the execution of said plan via death to mouse.  Then I discerned the moment.

How do we let the little things bug us so much?  It was by our messiness and general bad habits that an environment was created for the mouse to dwell.  We are the ones that essentially invited the mouse in and then we get upset by the disruption.  We get scared and angry.  Our routine is thwarted.  Our lives interrupted.  Sound familiar.

My house will not be another Tom and Jerry episode.  I will not allow us to be in a tail spin of chaos because of the simple things. Traps have been set, De-Con trays are out.  Its on.  Floors have been swept, mopped and scrubbed.  Carpets have been vacuumed.  Kids have been informed about dangers and the silliness of it all.  Time to move on.

This is good advice for daily spiritual life.  Keep your house clean and the little things won’t derail you.  Keep your heart open and pure and sin will not destroy relationship. I want my body to be a hostile environment for sin. To the mouse I say, “You may be in my home, but you are not welcome.  Your demise is inevitable and your presence doomed to extinction.” To which the mouse will reply, “Squeeeek.” Enough said.


The Village People and my family dynamic.

MIFYHp2V7edI_mThe concept of the “father/daughter” dance, as you can imagine in my household, is quite the galla event.  Every year the girl scouts host a dance whereupon fathers are the dates for their daughters.  The dance usually has a costume theme and a meal is served.  At its conclusion I usually fill my kids with ice cream and then bring them home for their mother to put them to bed.  Always entertaining.

The activity of dancing in my house is a daily reality.  I have written about this a bit in the past, but feel the need to delve deeper into the subject matter here.  Every day, and this is no exaggeration,  I will dj music for them in the living room and they will dance.   Its exercise.  Its some kind of physical interaction.  Its hilarious.

Their dancing is usually accompanied by costumes and extravagant attempts at gymnastics.  We all end of laughing.  Sometimes we play “Just Dance” on the Wii and the activity is followed by crying after one of the little ones get whacked in the face by one of the older ones that was “just trying to get their groove on.”  The funny thing here is that most injuries, or “wiinjuries” as they are called,  occur when my wife plays Just Dance.  I think its her sense of competition. I wonder if she reads my blog?

Dancing is a part of our family.  Attending a dance, however is only a once a year event.  So, back to the story.

Myself and my three dates enter the 4H building at the fairgrounds.  It is a western theme and we are all dressed like cowboys.  We are literally aching to shake it when we come to find out that they are teaching line dancing instead.

The thing about line dancing is that no cowboy in their right mind would ever consider doing this in public. At least in square dancing you get a partner.  In line dancing you strain your ears to hear instructions and when you mess up you generally collide with other people, in the line, who are simply better listeners than you.

About half way into the second line dance/instruction session, all three of my daughters come up to me and say, “when are they going to play music so we can dance.” To which I reply,”I was wondering that very same thing.”

Finally, YMCA comes blaring over the speakers and my kids all find each other, and me, and we laughingly practice are best retr0-disco moves.  The four of us are having a ball laughing and milking every groovy note out the tune.  Dad’s are staring.  Kids are joining our little circle. Its a riot. At its conclusion, another country song comes on and we all go get a soda.

My willingness to be silly in public with my kids has a powerful effect on their perception of me and others. Sharing in an activity they love with and around a community that they resonate with is a remarkable gift.  It is one thing to stand on the side line of children’s games, but it is something entirely different to enter into the activity with them and yield to the sheer joy of the moment.

When being engaged in joy can bring my girls joy, I always want the ability to do so.  For me, this is part of our spirituality. John !0:10 “He came that we might have life and have it to the full.” Fullness comes from fully encountering what life has to offer.  As parents and guides to our children, fullness becomes a reality when we become fully engaged in their activity.  Joy abounds.

A few more songs pass and the girls and I find each other.  “Is it time for ice cream yet?” “You bet,” I reply.  “After ice cream, can we go home and dance,” they ask. “Absolutely,” I say, “Then your mother can put you to bed.” hahaha.


Tolkien, Cussler and the Author of Life

Frodo-gandalfI read a wonderful tweet the other day…”Frodo meeting Gandalf is not like a person having an encounter with God.  This would be like Frodo meeting Tolkien.”

I dig this.

There is a short TED video called “Letting go of Godliness” I watched recently.  It was kind of funny.  I certainly got a chuckle out of the way many of us rely on our understanding of a God as a scapegoat or a mystical excuse.  For some, this is as close to personal spirituality as they will ever get.  This is a bit sad.

Over Christmas break I threw myself into a number of fantastic adventure novels.  I discovered the character Dirk Pitt created by Clive Cussler.  Cussler’s novels are a bit repetitive yet wonderfully adventurous.   Dirk is a tall dark curly haired man without any superpowers that seems to always find himself in the right place at the right time.  He generally injures himself in the process of saving the day and the lovely lady.  In his later novels he is married with children but still reckless and the boss.  Can you see why I like this guy!  I read seven of these books in two weeks.  Addictive.

Cussler has a tradition of writing himself into his books.  For some this is annoying.  Personally I love it.  He will appear at an opportune or inopportune moment as a bit of a sage.  Dirk always feels like he knows the character, but cannot quite place when or where they have met.  Cussler offers resources, a personal interest in Pitt’s life and usually a saving grace then disappears from the story.

Both Tolkien and Cussler are master story tellers. Both love their craft.  Neither invented consciousness or the very nature of storytelling itself.  To claim a life of godlessness or to ignore the work of the author is to allow the nature of the story to pass us by.  There is only one God and he is one heck of a story teller.

Being an insignificant character or dismissing the creativity of creation is a path of apathy and ignorance. I’m sorry, there is just no other way to put it.  For Frodo to deny Tolkien or for Pitt to deny Cussler is for either to deny their very being.  This is literally senseless jargon.

I understand that it is hard to really get to know the author.  We must have an open heart and believe the impossible.  Don’t worry, it is in our nature to do so.  Let faith reign down on you this late winter and spring.  Trust in the hand that guides your story.  Encounter a deeper truth.  Let him introduce himself into your story as a master and not a distraction.  I promise there will be familiarity and…grace.