Monday, November 14, 2011

That Magic Age

The mother and daughter stood in line waiting their turn. Their fashion modeled each other. If in other settings you'd confuse them for sisters. The mother was anxious. The daughter waited. The mother would often peer around the people in front of them looking at the glass case and donut options. The daughter just waited. When their turn finally came, the mother started pointing out which donuts she wanted in rapid fire, asking her daughter what she wanted. I don't know what was said or done but the employee behind the counter had a look on his face and the daughter said "be nice." Finally, the mother turned to the daughter and asked her if she wanted one more donut. She nodded or said "yes." The employee grabbed the first one on the rack. The mother wanted a specific one. The daughter said, "I'll just take that one." I don't know what else was said but how this drama played out I could tell the daughter has to control her mothers temperament often.

The first week of no shave November I participated in multiple sporting venues from - volleyball, football, soccer and basketball. At some of these venues I couldn't tell if a person was 25 or 16. Considering some of these events where at the local High School I just assumed they were under 18. At a varsity playoff football game some students stood on the sideline with a full to almost full grown beards waiting to be put into the game. Yet, I sat in the stand listening to parents call these fully grown, fully bearded individuals standing on the sidelines "kids."

One on going American complexity is for our young looking older and some of our older population to look younger. It's backed by a media that promotes certain fashions, family models, images and ideas backed by a medical and pharmaceutical companies that tell us we can make you "look" and "act" differently. With the lines constantly blurring I often wonder what is that illusionary "age" or "image" we are pursuing? Whatever that number is I can't define but I can tell you it looks like this, "someone who is sophisticated, smart, parties it up, has it together, never works, but has access to a lot of money, decorated, talented at nothing or specially one thing and has fluid connections to parents who look and act similar if not dumber then them."

In the movie "In Time" the optimal age is 25. Time is the comedy that is sold, traded, bartered and God-forbid "freely given." What one or two individuals were able to accomplish in a 24 hour period was truly astonishing. The movie is well written and in my opinion a slap on our current economic condition. But it did point out one face. When you are out of time. You die. Since you can watch up to the last second you live and die. You don't waste a lot of time sleeping or thinking about the long term. You just think about the now and how you might get more time so you don't die.

The movie speaks volumes to my point. Many American's and Christians have an unhealthy approach to death and aging. I will admit my premillennial eschatological views. But as my mom would often say, "we all get old and die." Thanks mom! She had a great way to encourage my dating life, "don't just look for the pretty girls, we all get old and die." Lots of hope found in those words but a realistic. The fountain of youth has always been a mythical apple that the medical and pharmaceutical companies worship. But it's just a myth. We all get old and die.

Christians need a new model (really its not new it just needs to be reclaimed from our rich Christian History). "Jesus said, `If anyone desires to come after Me, let that person deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow me." Matthew 16:24 "I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I [Paul] who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in flesh I live by faith in the Sone of God who love me and gave Himself for me" Galatians 2:20. "I [Paul] appeal to you brothers and sisters, by the mercies o God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" Romans 12:1-2.

The girl at the donut counter is an 8th Grader who participates in F.C.A. (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at a local Middle School I speak at occasionally. Some of the "kids" standing on the sidelines aren't kids at all but fully cable men able to do incredibly great things like go to Africa and help children dying of malaria. More importantly these "kids" came up with a fundraiser themselves and raised enough money themselves to fund the cost of the trip. Good job "kids." Please note extreme sarcasm.

As Christians we are surrendered servants of God. I truly believe God does not distinguish age but willingness. My interim at Stonebridge UMC I have known 3 "kids" to be the rock and foundation of their messed up, jacked up household. Either their parents were dealing with messy divorces, drug abuse, mental issues, and just flat out irresponsibility. These "kids" had to grow up fast because their parents never wanted to grow up. Yet, with the support of extended family, friends, and Churches they strive as "kids."

Here is my point. God looks for the willing not their age. Christendom has to stop being "conformed to this world." But "present ourselves to God." Some of the greatest servants of God can carry the Kingdom of God on their shoulder at the age of 12 (King David cough cough!). We have to stop blurring the lines that maturity comes in ages and stages but recognize that God is looking for the willing now. It was a 13 year old kid who said, "I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He [God] wants. May everything you have said come true" Luke 1:38. Nine months later Jesus, the Son of God was born.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sidewalk



When I was in college there was this sidewalk that was never completed. It was probably built the same time the dorms were designed in the mid 60's. It stopped and opened into a field. First, I am never one to really obey sidewalks but this one totally entertained me. Second, every time I had an opportunity to introduce someone to this sidewalk, I did. When we got to the edge of the sidewalk I would always ask, "so where do you think it goes?" Those who know my playful personality would always come up with some playful imaginary land. My favorite always included anything that included Dwarfs, Zombies, Pixies, or animals that can chase, destroy or eat us. My literal friends would hardly pay any attention to it and say, "the grass" or "field." No matter the answer I wouldn't let people just step from the sidewalk to the grass. You had to make an adventure of it. You either had to jump, run, skip, or whatever but you absolutely couldn't just step from world of sidewalks into the world of your imagination.

Maybe I was just bored. Maybe it was a feeble attempt to connect to an inner child. Maybe it was a way to get to know people. Maybe it was a way to discover how creative or boring people can truly be. Whatever psychologist may call it, I discovered something about myself and my calling on that sidewalk that I didn't realize until today.

Matthew 13:1-9
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Large crowds gathered around him, so he got into a boat and sat down, while the people stood on the shore. 3 Then Jesus used stories to teach them many things. He said: "A farmer went out to plant his seed. 4 While he was planting, some seed fell by the road, and the birds came and ate it all up. 5 Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn't much dirt. That seed grew very fast, because the ground was not deep. 6 But when the sun rose, the plants dried up, because they did not have deep roots. 7 Some other seed fell among thorny weeds, which grew and choked the good plants. 8 Some other seed fell on good ground where it grew and produced a crop. Some plants made a hundred times more, some made sixty times more, and some made thirty times more. 9 You people who can hear me, listen."

On my hunting trips I've gotten to know a lot of farmers. In the past two and a half years I've truly gotten to know one particular farmer named Roger. Experienced and aged farmers have this thing about them, something I call an "it is what it is" attitude and view on life. They have a cyclical understanding of life probably due to being in touch with the season of the year. This seasonal understanding means they are completely at the mercy of nature or in Roger's case "God's abundance." Whatever God gives God gives. Whatever God takes God takes. Again that "it is what it is" attitude. No matter the case you plant in due season. You maintain the earth and your livestock. You harvest in due season.

When reading the parable of the seeds. The parable is obviously about the seeds but its also about the farmer. Just as the farmer cast seeds into the soil. I introduced people to a sidewalk that ends. Where they go from that point onward is really their calling. My role as the front man has been so apparent as I look back on my life with Jesus. Just like the farmer has no idea what the harvest will look like come the following fall. I have no idea what a person's soul will be like at the end of their life. Like the farmer I hope for a good crop. I hope I have been diligent enough during the time of maintenance. But in the end God is in charge.

I know I have an overly creative brain that sometimes even scares me. It is so easy for me to take the common things of life and resurrect them for God purpose - a sidewalk, a old Macintosh Computer, a rope, a candle, sandals, its endless. All these things have been used to show the God (the original creator, planter, sustainer and harvester) behind all things. The God that cries for a relationship with us. Maybe I am just bored. Maybe its a feeble attempt to connect to an inner child. Maybe it's just way to get to know people. Maybe its how God just works. As Jesus says in many of His parables. "If you have the ears to hear and the eyes to see."

Life does have its cycles. I was reminded this week that is what Worship is truly about. A place to begin and a place to end. Some view Worship as an end point surrendering all the junk from the past week. Some view Worship as a beginning where you can start new. Some view Worship as no time at all but just an opportunity to be with God. Some of us it might be a cycle of all these things depending on what we are facing now. We need a constant reminder to be born again, to be resurrected, to be restored, to be nourished, to just be with God. Maybe the parable of the sower has nothing to do with the seeds or the farmer or the soil. Maybe it all has to do with the recognition that God is ultimately in control. If He is in control that means I am not! Amen and Amen!

Where does that sidewalk go?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Reborn (Teen 2.0)



There are few books that have had a long lasting, world view altering impact on me; The Bible, The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky), The Fountainhead (Rand), Jesus, Through the Centuries (Pelikan), Messy Spirituality (Yaconelli), and now Teen 2.0 (Epstein). I am not going to give you my opinion on the book but more or less my perspective after reading the book twice.

What if we didn't look at teenagers as "children" or "kids" but biologically what they are developing adults? The entire classification of children, into adolescence, into pre-teen, then teenagers, then adults is completely skewed depending on who you ask - parents, the law, pharmaceutical companies, youth workers, teachers, coaches, etc. Every person develops differently. I was a late bloomer myself. I literally had no interest in girls until my late high school years. I had more of the Calving & Hobbs attitude that girls were dumb and only good for throwing water balloons at. But when my interest in girls happened, it happened really fast! Girls, that was all I thought about! Sound familiar to any parent's with teenage boys?

Epstein proposes that we break away from the American pragmatic classifications and consider "children" as needing constant nurturing and attention, puberty as the stage of transition and then adults. During the Conference I attended he counted how many times the word "child" or "kid" was used by those who introduced him. I believe he counted 53 times. His point in counting the terms was to introduce the thought that how we view these "children" or "kids" greatly impacts the way we think about them. If we view a 17 year old as a "child" or "kid" we register in the back of our brain that they still need constant nurturing and attention. But if we view them as an adult who has all the physical and mental tools to survive it all the sudden changes our perspective on how we raise them.

"Infantilization" is the term he uses over and over again throughout the book and during his presentation. Basically it means we treat teenagers like infants supported by government classification (school, law, and legislation) and pharmaceutical companies that profit the most in labeling teenagers. He willingly admits he screwed up his first kid by raising him the way all his neighbors did. But as a Harvard Graduate Psychologist he realized that he could do better. You'll have to read his book to discover his resolution. The title of the book is Teen 2.0: Saving our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence. You, like me will probably disagree with much of what he says in your first reading. Yet, when I read it again I understood the subtitle, "Saving our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence."

I had to be reborn again with my thoughts about "children" and "kids." I've always looked at teenagers differently this book confirmed many of my initial thoughts. I willingly admit I believe many parents baby or infantilize their teenagers. I remember a Bible Study where a mom struggling with a "child" in college openly admitted, "I screwed him up being a helicopter mom. The best thing I could have done is let him fail on his own and not intervene." I, unfortunately, have this conversation in some form or another with a parent, regularly. Since I have gotten back from that Conference I have had to make professional counseling referrals for parents needing help with their "kid" or "child." In the past I have toyed with the idea of getting a L.P.C. (Licensed Professional Counseling). Well after my experience for the past few weeks and especially after reading this book my toying around has now reached a level of inquire that I know I have about 50-60 hours worth of classes to take and a "daunting" 3000 supervised hours. Luckily, I work with a ton of teens and families who will edge me closer to that goal.

Just as Epstein realized with his on family, I realize that with the Ministry God has given me, I can do better. We all need to be reborn on a daily basis. I am constantly amazed how God does that in my own life. Sometimes being reborn happens instantaneously like rolling down the window and feeling the cool air, remembering the God is in control. Sometimes being reborn is a slow painful process; such a breaking an addiction or changing ones belief about something. My definition of being reborn daily means "not going back." There are certain phases of my life I never want to experience again. Likewise there are certain beliefs, ideas, and philosophies I can no longer hold on too. My views and beliefs about teenagers have radically been challenged. Like God always does He puts this road in front of me and says, "what are you going to do about this?"

What if we cared and loved people so much that the only thing we strive for is to see them be reborn into God's most excellent creation? What is awesome about that is that "we" adults don't have the answer, only God and the individual student know the answer. But what if we are allowed to walk side by side with them discovering their wholeness in God. What if? What if? Its awesome to be reborn.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Best Volleyball Coach Ever!



The final score was 25-5. An absolute beat down in the volleyball community. The kind of score that would make any player question their contribution (or lack their of) to the team. But the losing team never felt down about the score or their performance. Why? Their Coach!

The nature of my job includes going to a lot of sporting venues. I've been doing this since 1991 - football, baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, track & field, cross country, swimming, diving, gymnastics, dance, and whatever else is on the Title XII listing of School Sports in Texas. I've ben able to experience some incredible organizations, teams, clubs, individuals, trainers, assistant trainers, and coaches. But this coach was on a different playing field. Here is where Mr. Hollands Opus meets a Volleyball court.

I couldn't see the score board during the game. But watching the game it was obvious which team was dominating. Taking pictures, I was privy to be able to stand a few feet from the bench. The coaches tone was of confidence and determination but not loud nor did she ever yell. The only time she got out of her chair was during time outs. Yet, her players knew her deep, confident, determined voice like sheep wandering lost in a field.

At every play, even the losing plays (and there were a lot of those) you could hear her instilling confidence, positive accolades, praising efforts, etc. "Way to move towards the ball, Andrea!" Afters she missed the dig. "Keep focus it will come to you, Brittany!" After missing a serve. "Good timing on the jump, Erin!" Even though her hands were out of control and she completely missed the block. This continued the entire 20 minutes of the game. Even after the final ball was served and missed; it was one of those floaters where everyone on the court watched the ball land right in the middle of all of them. Embarrassing. But the coach said, "way to rely on each other girls, you'll get it next time!"

The final score was 25-5 you would have never guessed it. The losing teams body expression and attitude was that of confidence and well fought game. They left with a smile on their face and all under the directive of one incredible coach.

There are certain influences every child should have in their life time. This coach is one of them. To win any game is an incredible overwhelming experience of a job well done. But to lose a game and walk away with the same experience can only come from a core, a coach, a person who understands, this is only one moment. To lose with the understanding you truly gave it your best and more importantly you were praised throughout the entire will make anyone a winner in life.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1-2 says, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I praise you because you remember me in everything, and you follow closely to the teachings just as I gave them to you." If I had a child I would want them to walk under the wings of this coach. In winning and in losing she isn't teaching volleyball she is teaching life.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Disabler




Phone in hand, he started thumbing through his apps to show me a picture. It was a picture of his daughters semi-new jeep liberty, rolled over, sitting upside down in a ditch after she had hit a telephone pole. His comment to me was, "looks like I gotta get her, her 4th vehicle." My emotional roller coaster went like this: horrified, shocked, then angered.

Before I digest my emotional experience I have to give a little background. Last year I had to visit a student down at Baylor Hospital because she fell out of a golf cart and had to be life flighted. To this day she only has 20% of her taste buds and 20% of her smell. Four years ago a student got into an accident with multiple students from our Church, after youth group. No one was wearing their seatbelt luckily no one was injured. Two weeks ago we had another student who fell out of a golf cart and had to be rushed to the hospital. The week after that there were students hanging on to every part of a golf cart jacking around our parking lot.

Horrified
I was horrified on two levels. First the scene of the accident was horrific but luckily the driver (daughter) was okay. I've seen many accidents but not too many where a jeep is turned over upside into a ditch with a telephone pole laying a few feet from it. Second the fathers flippant attitude toward the entire situation. Was he concerned for his daughters healt. Yes, but then was his comment, "looks like I gotta her her, her 4th vehicle."

Shocked
The comment caught me so off guard that I spoke before thinking. My reply was this, "I am glad she is okay and thank you for threatening every person in our communities life with your daughters driving skills." I know people get into accidents. It happens all the time. But to total 3 cars?! Seriously! Then buy her another one?! Wait, What?!

Anger
In the deepest recesses of my brain I couldn't help but go back to my parents lecture to me when I first started driving, "if you get a ticket you will pay for the ticket. You will then start paying for your own insurance. If you ever get into an accident you will pay for the deductible and won't be able to drive until you pay it (even if it wasn't my fault). If you destroy the car, you'll buy your own." This fathers attitude was so counter-cultural to my own experience I couldn't even phantom it.

Many teenagers see driving as freedom and a right. We must remember that it is a privilege not a right. Many parents understand and enforce this concept. Others unleash their students into the community putting their own child and others in danger. Freedom to drive is not a right, it's a privilege and responsibility that needs to be closely monitored. Give all that freedom to a teenager at the age of 11 with a golf cart or a teenager at the age of 16 with a half ton vehicle without being monitored is completely irresponsible. The State of Texas has a law that now requires teenagers to drive 6 months with only 1 person in the vehicle. There is no law on the number of friends your teenager can shove in their golf cart. The job of parents is to guide our children in their decision making process. What are you teaching them? As a community, it is our responsibility to be accountable to one another. What are we teaching them? So from now on, I see a group of under aged teenagers jacking around on a golf cart I am calling 911. Yes, even if you're a Church member and in Church parking lot!

I was ranting this topic to a nursing friend. She replied, "we call golf carts, `the disabler.'" She explained, "They (golf carts) are just slow enough to require no safety gear but cause the most long-term permanent disabilities to those who have accidents in them."

Monday, May 02, 2011

$48.00 Short



About 3 weeks ago I took up the challenge to pay for everything in cash. Sunday night's I tally up what I believe my weekly expenses are going to be, pull that money out of the bank and leave my debt card at home. It's been a fun adventure so far. I get strange reactions from some people when paying in cash. Just like this morning…

Gas stations will not let you begin pumping gas until you pay with a debt card, credit card or give them cash prior to filling up. I walked into the store gave the cashier 60.00 explaining, "it won't take that much but I want to fill it up." She took the cash and I walked out the door. I loosened the gas cap, pushed the magical bleepy buttons, flipped the lever and started filling my car. $48.00 dollars later I walked in, got a cup of hot chocolate and a bagel. Walked up to the coutner and she said, "you gave me $60.00 right?" I nodded. She pushed a couple of buttons. Then put a look on her face. Pushed a few more buttons. Then another look. It was at this moment I realized she couldn't subtract $48.00 from $60.00. The line of customers started to build. I told her to give me $12.00 back and I would pay for the hot chocolate and bagel separately. She told me to hold on because she had to get her manager.

He came and had her explain the entire story. He replies, "Did you give him back his change yet." "No," she replied. He started pushing some buttons then asks her, "how much gas did he get." I butted in and said, "$48.00's worth." He then say's, "The computer doesn't show that you've gotten any gas." I told him the entire story over. "I gave her $60.00 in cash, filled up my car, came in got hot chocolate and a bagel. Just give me $12.00 back and I will pay for this separately." He again repeats, "the computer doesn't register you getting any gas." He crawls from behind the register, goes outside a few seconds later comes in and says, "you didn't get gas." Here is where I become frustrated and said, "I am telling you I owe you $48.00 in gas and you are not going to take my word for it?" He replies, "If the computer doesn't say it, I can't take your money." I then reply, "So all you are going to charge me is for hot chocolate and a bagel?" "That's what the computer says."

I feel party guilty because at the end of the day someone is going to be $48.00 short. Obviously I couldn't force them to take my money. That's a first. When did we become so computer reliant. When did we no longer take people at word value. There was obviously a break down in their system, a break down in our communication, and a break down in trusting their customers. If someone told me they owed me $48.00 I might second guess them but if I ran a business and someone told me they owed me I would never question their word. I was so baffled by the experience I had to question my own experience. When I turned on the car I watched the gas meter to see if it was hanging out by the "E" or the "F." Yep, it was full. I drove off.

I wish there was a theological response to this but I can't find one. I was trying to be honest in my debt to them, yet their reliance on computers and technology trumps my word and the space for truth and honesty. What are we becoming when an electronic device dictates truth over human experience?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Not So Great Commission



Standing in line ordering my meal, she approaches me with a tinge of excitement in her body language, and exhilaration in her voice. "I've been called to ministry," she states. "I've enrolled into [a local Bible College]." I listened with joy in her excitement and hesitation, whispering in the back of my mind to run away as far and as fast as you can. She then states, "I am currently working in the Children's area of my Church." I ask her about her calling. She tells me that she knows one day she will Pastor a Church but her mission field is America. Then surprisingly, under her breath, she whispers, "there are so many lost right here in McKinney."

At this point I've had a very harsh work week and this was the icing on the cake. In most situations I would have just nodded my head through the conversation but not this day. So in a non-whispering voice, I said loudly, "what do you mean there are so many lost right here in McKinney?" She was caught off guard returning to her whispering tone, "you know, the non-Christians." Defensively, I replied, loudly, "more than 90% of our country claims to be Christian, so you're looking for that 10%?" She replies, "no the real Christians." The people in the food line start moving away from us, hearing the tone of our conversation. Fortunately, it was my turn to order. My closing comment to her was, "I am not trying to discourage you but you're judgement is destroying Christ love for people." She tried to justify her stance but I had already stopped listening.

Walking out of the restaurant I was an angry bird ("bwaaaack," "crash")! I wasn't angry at this person but what I call bad theology. Bad theology is recited, repeated, and duplicated without much thought by its followers. It's just what they grew up with and they honestly don't know any better, nor have they thought about it, nor have they ever been challenged on it, and so it goes on. Not today. The foundation of ones theology or philosophy is what I have termed first premise. The lady I talked to today's first premise may have been a love from Christ, but I didn't hear that in the whisper of her breath. What I did hear was judgement and fear. Judgement on those who aren't "real" Christians. Fear that it is her obligation to make them, like her a "real" Christian. We wonder why people move away from us at lines in a restaurant or from our houses of Worship?

Am I against Evangelicalism? If it looks like this? Absolutely! Have I now become judgmental, the very thing I am writing against? Absolutely! I have become my own worst enemy. Yet, I am reminded that 98% of what hacked off Jesus were religious types of His day. Religious types that created a system that labeled those "clean" and "unclean." Meaning faith in His day was only accessible to those who submitted to a particular system of theology versus a God who asks that we "have no other God [or religion] before Him" (Exodus 20:2). Do your own Bible Study of the Gospels and prove me otherwise. How have Evangelicals failed to see that Jesus completely deconstructs the system of judgementalism of his day only to replace with an entirely new system of judgmentalism in our day?

Now, I know this one person in a restaurant does not represent the full spectrum of Evangelicals. But the fact that even one person continues down this line of judgement over love fails at the very crux of the cross. I've never seen the resurrection of Christ as an opportunity to judge and condemn others but to sacrifice all I have to show them a love that was worth dying on a cross.

There are many streets, avenues, bi-ways, alleys, avenues, and roads to Christ. When these roads are "orchestrated" and paved with the "love of Christ" by God He will receive the glory. When these roads are orchestrated and paved by fear and judgement, love is nowhere to be found and the only glory received will be those "we" convert to be "real Christians" whatever that means. Does this mean that we don't "go out into the world" as Matthew 28 commands. Not at all. When we go out we go out in love of God's people, not judgment and fear. Or is it maybe we've forgotten God created all people?!