God in the mundane



Good evening friends!

I'm trying to write a sermon, but it's not going so well. So of course, I turn to the blog for distraction and/or inspiration. 

I've actually been meaning to write this post for a while now, but my week has gotten away from me. Tuesday, I had to get the packing lists for this year's Alive festival mailed out to all the students. This is typically a tedious project. First, I have to open up the file from last year and change all the dates and times and what have you. Then I proof read it, which was hard this year because Ed was in class, and so I had to proof read it all by my lonesome. And if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that proof reading is not my style. At all. So if you're going to Alive this year with us, and you got your packing list, please add "lawn chair." Completely slipped my mind. 

Then I had to wage war with the paper folding machine. It's this device that lives in the print room at Westminster, and claims to make life easier on all of us. Wrong. It's sole purpose is to taste human blood. That thing is insane. There are way too many buttons for a machine that is supposed to in essence be a faster pair of opposable thumbs. Luckily, Mariela who runs the print room was there that morning. She commands respect from the machines. They obey her. But that didn't stop the dreaded paper folding machine from scowling at me while neatly creasing the letters in question. It was a scowl, I tell ya!

From there I returned to my desk, and set up an assembly line. A stack of packing lists, a equal sized stack of Veritas envelopes, and a sheet with mailing labels for everyone who is signed up for the trip. I had 15 minutes to get the labels on and the letters stamped before our weekly staff meeting, so I was in go mode. 

But then I thought about something that Dr. Sunquist said during class one evening last term. Every morning, he wakes up and walks to the seminary from his house, and as he passes the dorms, he takes a moment to pray for the students that are just waking up and getting ready to start their day. Because why would you waste an opportunity to pray for someone, even in a mundane moment of life? 

And so I took those words to heart, and spent a little bit of extra time praying while I stuck labels on envelopes. Some of the students I've known for all 6 years we've been going to Alive. Some of them I know, but not incredibly well, maybe because they just moved up into 9th grade. Some of the students I don't know at all, because they're friends of some of the other kids and this will be their first entry into youth group with us. And so I prayed for each one of them. I prayed for this trip, even though it's mostly a fun trip, meant to be an enjoyable start to summer, I prayed that these students would have a profound experience with Jesus along the way. I've been praying the same thing ever since. 

This isn't meant to be bragging. My prayer life is nothing to be bragged about. It is however (hopefully) an awakening, a return to a prayer life consistently for the students and for the ministry that we've been called to at Westminster. Too often I get caught up in the little things, the details, the how and why and when and where that I forget the Who that's behind it all. And that's not right at all.

So take a few moments this week and pray for your kids. Even if you've wrapped things up for the summer, take just a few moments in your office and pray for the students who God has graciously placed in your life, and pray that they would experience Jesus in a new and radical way. Because I'm quite sure that's a prayer that God never tires of hearing.

Ok, sermon time!


Beginnings and Endings


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Hello again friends,

Last night was a great night, and deserving of some reflection. I love my job, but if there's anything about it I don't like, or at least have difficulty with, it's the end of the year. Last night was our last Veritas meeting of the 2011-2012 year, and our students showed up big time for the party. We played the first (annual?) Veritas Olympics, which contained elements of all the best Veritas games. We had worship out in the courtyard, and I'll admit that it did seem as though the floor was shaking even though it was firmly attached to the earth. 

As we often do, our last Veritas ended with an open microphone. The sharing came mostly from what turns out to be our largest ever senior class to graduate out of the group. If those sharing weren't seniors themselves, they seemed to talk a lot about the seniors. Their impact on this group was immense. Their weekly presence will surely be missed. Last night was, in a sense, an ending. 

But while that's difficult, and there are moments where my "allergies" were getting to me a bit, last night was also one of my favorite nights of the year. Because watching younger students listen to these seniors share how much this ministry impacted them, you could tell that they were being invited to dive into something with all they had. The mantle is ready to be picked up by a new generation. Last night wasn't just an ending. It was, in a lot of ways, a beginning. 

In 2 Kings, before all the awesome stuff about she-bears, Elijah is about to be taken up into heaven, and he's having a conversation with his student Elisha. When asked what Elisha wanted before Elijah went to be with God, his young student asked for a double portion of his grace, a double awareness of God, and a double ability to bring God to the people. As I was watching the younger students last night, I realize that it happens in our midst every year. As a group of seniors leaves us, each a little harder to say goodbye to as we've gotten to know each other, they leave behind a legacy of wanting to serve God more than those who have gone before them. And younger students see that, and younger students want to serve God even more. I got chills thinking about what things will be like in 6 years, when this team of 7th graders leaves us. Imagine all that God will do in our midsts in that time. 

Youth ministry never stops. Exactly 13 hours after Veritas ended, I was in a planning meeting for next year, getting ready to do it all again. There is no rest for the weary. But there are moments, in my ministry and I'm sure in yours, that need a moment or two of pause, reflection, and celebration. Last night was surely one of those. A time of endings, and a time of beginnings. 

Book Review: This Beautiful Mess



Hello again everybody!

A book a week is a very fast pace for me, and yet here we are two weeks into the summer and that seems to be what I'm up to! Don't forget, I've got this Goodreads account now, so you can follow along with all my reading pleasures. 

One of the things Goodreads makes me do is to finally give stars to books. 5 stars is great, 1 star is I hated it. I'll admit that after I finished Rick McKinley's This Beautiful Mess last night, my mouse had a hard time choosing how many stars to give it. Here's why: 

I think it's a great book. I think all of the information it provides is relevant, and I think the angles McKinley writes from are angles that I appreciate and agree with. But while there were a few new thoughts posed to me in this book, it felt like something I had read before. I think a lot of people are talking about the breaking in of the Kingdom of God into the world we find ourselves living. I think people have written about how our money management and creation care matter a great deal to the King, and how we should approach those decisions with the Kingdom of God. All of that is true, and all of that is needed in this American culture. 

But as I kept reading, and as I kept realizing that I have read countless other books just like this one, I became more and more frustrated both at myself and at the Church. If so many people are aware of how the American Empire and the Kingdom of God are at odds with each other, and books sales on this topic are lucrative, then why hasn't anything changed? If so many in the pews could read McKinley's book and sound their silent "amen", then where's the radical action that is prescribed? 

This may be why this is one of a few books where I actually appreciated a pastor sharing what his church is doing. At least someone gets it. At least someone is making progress in opening the eyes of the community to the Kingdom. 

I think if I was in a different mindset, I would have LOVED this book. As it was, I was looking for something that would challenge me and my way of thinking, and at the end of the day McKinley and I see the world far too similarly for me to be challenged. 

And so at the moment, I've given this book THREE STARS, but with the understanding that I'm going to read it again later sometime this year, and that my mindset being different, it might earn itself more. But for McKinley's part, the writing is solid, and the points made are brilliant. I think I'm just in the mood to read someone who makes me want to punch them!

More reviews to come!