Baja 2010

In two weeks I will be driving several high school students en route to Ensenada on our spring break mission trip that will combine The Core (our HS ministry) and The Source (our college ministry). We have about 22 people going, 6 leaders, 13 college kids, and 4 high school students. It is going to be a great trip and I cannot wait to see what God is going to do in and through us!
Your kingdom come in us and by us, Lord – on earth in Fort Collins, in Ensenada, and in our hearts.
Amen.

Spiritual Disciplines: Silence

It has been too long since my original post on spiritual disciplines. Because it is the first discipline in Tony Jones’ The Sacred Way, the book I am reading to guide myself through some disciplines, I have been practicing silence. Let me say that this has been a struggle to say the least.
When I was a kid, my mom used to tell other adults that I could “talk the hind legs off of a donkey.” No joke. I have yet to hear this turn of phrase from another human being besides my mother, but it hasn’t happened. My family is weird. Regardless of the oddity of family phrasing, it’s definitely true. This is why I should never talk to a donkey. PETA would be all over me! I am a talker. I also have ADD-like thought process and attention span in that my brain is always grinding quickly and never on the same thought for more than a few minutes. This is why I am in youth ministry. I have the natural attention span of a seventh grader!
Thus, silence is a difficulty for me. It is not my natural posture. That is also why it is a discipline and not something that is done lightly.
Over the last month or six weeks or however long I have been working on silence, I have had three successful times of silence. One lasted a few hours, the other two were less than 30min. All three give me hope that I can be silent before God, to listen to his word in scripture and to apply what I hear to my life. I am not quite ready to move on to another discipline, but this one is definitely hit or miss for me.
Part of this is that it takes me such a long time to quiet myself that silence is not a discipline I am able to drop it into a spare half-hour. My longer-timed success came when I had an afternoon off from the office and was able to settle in, read John’s Gospel, pray out my questions and concerns, and then sit quietly before the Lord. May I receive mercies from the Lord to be able to do that again soon.

Prayer for and Reflection on Deer Creek Middle School

Great God in heaven. I do not know why our sinfulness and brokenness as fallen human beings leads some to lust and steal while it leads others to rape, kill, and destroy. My heart breaks for the students, parents, faculty, and neighborhood at Deer Creek Middle School. Thank you so much that no one was killed. Thank you for the actions of the teacher who stopped the man with the gun from hurting your children any further. God, I have so few words, but so much emotion… Lord, you read from the prophet Isaiah while you were incarnate on earth. You said that you had come to bind up the broken hearted, to comfort those who mourn, to restore ruins. DCMS is broken, they are hurting, they are scared, they are grieving this violence, they are angry, and they are in ruins. May your peace and your mercy reign in that place. I just listened, with my own middle schoolers this weekend to how your grace is sufficient. May your grace be sufficient for DCMS and all those who have fears and questions and hurts who are not part of their community. May your Church step in and bring comfort and anything and everything else this community needs. Be with Rachel, Lord. Be with the Malinky’s daughter. Be with Bri. Thank you Lord. 

I was sitting in my 6th grade history class when Euclid Middle School went under lock-down on April 20, 1999. My world changed that day – the day of the worst school shooting in US history happened at Columbine High School. Almost eleven years later, the Littleton community is rocked again.
Last night I had two long phone conversations, with my girlfriend and with my mom. Rachel alerted me to what happened and shared her feelings. My mom offered comfort and perspective as well as a personal connection to one of the teachers there. And for me, as a youth worker, this sort of thing is one of my greatest fears for my students. May God indeed be gracious and merciful to us all.

Amen.

What’s in a name?

Last night, my small group was down two men, so the remaining three of us met at a coffee shop in Old Town (Fort Collins’ downtown area) and quickly gave up our weekly study in Romans for the stories of Chris’ recent trip to Liberia. You can read about his trip at their blog here: http://peanutbutterhouse.org/.
One thing that really stuck out to me as Chris recalled the challenges and triumphs of the team was a question that one of Luther’s Boys (orphans they worked with and for) asked him: “Are you a Christian or are you a follower of Christ?”
Another of the boys explained the meaning of the question, distinguishing between the claim of following the Christian faith and ongoing action which would showcase a person’s dedication and seriousness to their faith claims. In short, the question becomes, “do you claim to follow Christ or are you actually doing the things he commanded his followers to do?”
I am struck by this question. It seems that it is a much simpler question in a place like Liberia, a simplicity that I somewhat envy. For in my life, these options exist on a continuum, within a color gradient that allows for little in the way of absolutes. From my own perspective, I would say that I act in accordance with my claims, that I walk my talk some of the time, but not all the time. I attribute this to the paradox of that Christ has already justified me by his grace through my faith, but as a fallen person the new creation in me continually struggles against the latent desires of a sinful person. At times I choose to give into sin, while others I do the good works that God has prepared for me.
I see this privately (mostly), publicly, and in my ministry (yes, I don’t always follow Jesus, even in as I am getting paid to…). I think of my life experience and of Scripture such as Romans 7 and how true it is that my sinful nature continually rebels against God and what I know is right. But I also know that I am a new creation in Christ (2Cor 5, Gal 6)! These two truths wrestle with one another, even as the paradoxal knowledge of each in my mind and heart.
May I choose to be a follower of Christ much more than I choose to be called a Christian, may the same be said of each of my sisters and brothers in the Lord.

Spiritual Disciplines: Intro

About a month ago, I picked up Tony Jones’ book: The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life. I read through Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline a couple times in college and I found it invigorating. With Jones’ book, though, I decided that I would practice each discipline for at least a week.
I have since been engaging in the discipline of silence and I will detail my experience with that in a another post.
The point of disciplines is to bring us closer to God, not necessarily in feeling, but in actuality. This is what I seek, to deepen and strengthen my own relationship with God and hopefully some of these will prove very useful for years to come.

Here goes nothing!

Looking Forward to Snowbound!

This weekend we head up to the mountains with our middle school students to Snowbound. This is our annnual middle school winter retreat that mirrors our High Altitude camp for high school students. The theme this year is “Enough.” Not being on the design team, I do not know much more than that, other than our speaker is Larry Lindquist.

Last I saw, we had 14 kids signed up. If we get 20, Joe and the kids get to shave my head. I doubt we’ll reach that number, but there is always hope! If we do, I’ll include a picture with my follow-up post.
Beyond the music, the games, the crud war, and the general shenanigans and tom foolery, I am most looking forward to what God will do in our group. At High Altitude, we enjoyed some poignant sharing and I saw our group begin to draw together in a way it has not been. I hope that continues and I hope for something similar for our middle schoolers. Pray with me for God’s work through us leaders, the speaker, the weekend program, and in the kids themselves.

Incarnational Ministry: Intro

Years ago, Young Life began referring to the sort contact work they did with teens as incarnational ministry. Using the biblical metaphor of Christ’s incarnation, they sought to be present in the flesh in the natural environments and home turf of the kids they sought to minister to. It has worked well for them and many other parachurch organizations from elementary school age (North Littleton Promise, Don Miller’s Mentoring Project) to college (i.e. The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, et al).

These organizations and others have proven that this sort of ministry works well and seems to be timeless. While parachurch organizations have known this for a long time, churches mostly either ignore it or leave it to those organizations. What we need to be doing is two-fold. First, we should establish relationships with those already engaged in this sort of ministry and then do some of it ourselves! I’ll write about my philosophy as to how these two things should be done in a later post.
So what does this mean for those of us engaged in church youth ministry? It ideally means that we are either connected to those who are in the schools, sports clubs, etc or are present there ourselves. So volunteer for the prom at the local high school, become an assistant coach for a sport, teach guitar lessons after school, bring your kids and their friends pizza for lunch at their school or near it. BE on their turf. Engage them where they are natural and most comfortable. It will speak volumes about you and your church. It will open doors and create possibilities. You most often won’t get the opportunity to preach the gospel here, but that’s not the point. On their turf you start by being, then you observe and you most importantly listen. There will be much more on this topic to come.
Know that I am trying to practice what I preach. I recently got into the Poudre School District as a classroom volunteer at one of the middle schools where I am assisting in a wood shop class. The teacher, district, and students know I am a Christian, they know I am employed at a church as a youth worker, and they know that is part of why I am there. They also know and trust that I will not proselytize the students, but am present there to support the students’ education. As I help out with projects and make sure kids don’t hurt themselves, I am also hearing students’ stories and challenging their minds and hands and skills. Hopefully they will benefit from my presence. I know I am and my ministry is already benefiting from this work.