Jump the Invisible Fence

Mentor and productivity coach Michael Hyatt recently told a story about his dog, a sweet little rambunctious thing that was constantly trying to run out in the street like a jailbroken inmate longing to be free.  The doe-eyed romanticist who once said “if you love something, set it free” probably wasn’t thinking of letting loose an animal into highway traffic, so Michael did everything he could to keep the dog indoors to keep it safe from the oncoming traffic it would inevitably meet should his wish for freedom be granted.  It would have been impractical, expensive, and downright ugly, so he took a different tack and bought an “invisible fence.”

The invisible fence, for those who don’t know, is a wire buried under the ground which senses when a chip in the dog’s collar is near.  When the collar, and thus the dog, gets close to the subterranean wire, a beep sounds in the collar.  If it gets too close, a tiny but painful electric shock is delivered, reminding Fido that freedom will have to wait.  Michael’s dog had to get that shock only a couple of times before he learned that it is futile to fight the fence.  He couldn’t see the barrier, but it was there nonetheless.

We have an invisible fence, too, and it sits on top of our neck, nestled inside our most complex organ, the brain.  The human brain is a marvel of divine engineering, capable of limitless innovation.  The brain has written symphonies, discovered cures, and sent people into space.  But unfortunately, far more often the same organ that sets men free to think and achieve beyond their wildest dreams keeps many people pinned beneath glass ceilings of their own design, locked in a self-made prison.

Here’s a couple ways to see if you’re setting up your own invisible fence:

  • When you talk to yourself, what do you say?  Is it words of encouragement, or disdain?
  • When you see yourself in your mind’s eye, what do you see?  Success, or failure?
  • When you describe yourself to others, what do you describe?  Your dreams, your aspirations, the noblest parts of yourself…or statements of mediocrity and disappointment?

How little we account for the truly startling power of our own minds and how our self-concept can either keep us in prison, or set us free!  Don’t settle for an invisible fence that locks you in…jump the invisible fence by starting to embrace a positive and confident mindset that encourages a life without limits!!!

“If you think you can or you think you can’t…you’re right.” – Henry Ford

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A prayer for the adventurer

Thank you to Pastor Craig Groeschel for setting me onto this prayer today. Sir Francis Drake, the great admiral, pirate, and explorer prayed this in 1577. It is my anthem today to remind me never to dare so little that I live with regret. Live big and dream big, friends!

“Disturb us, Lord, When we are too well pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when With the abundance of things we possess We have lost our thirst For the waters of life; Having fallen in love with life, We have ceased to dream of eternity And in our efforts to build a new earth, We have allowed our vision Of the new Heaven to dim. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, To venture on wider seas Where storms will show your mastery; Where losing sight of land, We shall find the stars. We ask You to push back The horizons of our hopes; And to push into the future In strength, courage, hope, and love.”

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Sleep is optional, apparently

Sleep is essential, but our bodies sometimes treat it as optional.  We need sleep to rest, repair, and prepare ourselves for the stress to come in the next day.  But some days, sleep just won’t come.  For instance, right now.  I woke up at 2:00am and simply could NOT go back to sleep!  I tossed and turned, alternately staring at the ceiling then staring at my family, who are all asleep (jealous!), and wondering what’s up with this.  Why can’t I sleep?  My body is tired, my mind is calm…but my eyes are not heavy and my brain will not shut down.  What to do?

I started to look for what God says about sleep, and found this verse:

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” – Psalm 127:2

That is supremely unhelpful.  God, don’t you love me?  Then please shut me down!  Is this verse saying that God does not love me when I am in the throes of insomnia?  Perhaps this points to something deeper than that.  This verse indicates that sleep is a gift that God gives and thus the implication is that He can withhold it, too.  So, instead of looking at insomnia with frustration, we can see that there is purpose behind it.  The lying-awake times are a purposeful engagement of God to our hearts.  When we sleep, He is granting us rest.  When we are wide awake when everyone else is asleep, maybe God is trying to get our attention.  Maybe there’s something He has to say that we haven’t listened to in the rush-rush busyness of our day.  Maybe the noise has drowned Him out.  Maybe He rouses our consciousness in the quiet of the night because that’s when the “still, small voice” has the best chance to break through.

When I wake up in the middle of the night, I hope I can learn not to respond in frustration.  Maybe I respond like Samuel, who, when woken up from a deep sleep by God, learned to respond with “yes, Lord, I am listening.”

Has God ever spoken to you in the middle of the night?

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Junior High Mission Trip, Day 4

Wow!  What a powerful close to our week of work in this community!  We started the day at the House of Thorns again, to take a second shot at cleaning up the front yard.  Again we clipped, cut, pulled, raked, gathered, bundled, and cleared…the place looks like a totally different house!  We marveled that this choking growth of thorny vines, gnarled trees, and venomous insects took probably 7-10 years of neglect to cover this house, but when we all worked together it took about 7 hours to transform.  It was a beautiful picture of the power of community.  Whatever destruction is wrought in our lives by our actions or those of others, when the Christian community bands together, healing comes!

Since we all were just about the stickiest and sweatiest we’d ever been, we took some time to chill out at 121 with a little “movie night” action, watching Nacho Libre on the big screen in the theater.  Or, that’s what I hear…I was sacked out on the couch in the Room of Games!  I was definitely not alone; there was lots of napping going on!

After a delicious dinner served by the Townsend LifeGroup, we were back to Bear Creek Apartments for our last night of VBS ministry.  And what a night it was.  In the 102 degree weather (108 heat index), we weren’t sure if we’d have a lot of kids there.  We loved it that again we had 40+ kiddos there playing with us!  And again, all of our students were engaged, but as the saying goes, it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.  One of our most introverted students, Jocelyn, had an incredible night of ministry.  She was able to personally share the gospel four times and led one child in a prayer to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time!  Jocelyn’s language skills were used incredibly as she was able to connect with the Spanish-speaking children in ways that the rest of us couldn’t.  She, her mother, and some friends will be returning to the complex after the mission trip to distribute Spanish-translation Bibles; we LOVE to see that commitment!

Now, our extroverts didn’t slouch, either.  We distributed 25 Bibles to the kids at VBS, and those kids absolutely LOVED them!!!  It was incredible to see children treasuring the Word of God as they proudly showed their parents, “LOOK mommy!  They gave me a Bible!  It’s MINE, all my own!”  We had 25 Bibles, but one child was #26.  She was downcast, sad that she wouldn’t get a Bible.  Maddie’s heart went out to this child that she had invested in over the past few days, and she immediately handed over her own personal Bible to her.  The child was floored and so very thankful for Maddie’s heartfelt donation.  And this is in addition to the child that Maddie led to accept Jesus as Savior earlier that night!  We prayed over him as a whole group at the end of VBS; his joy was overflowing about the decision he had made.  Quiet or talkative, teenagers can change the world!

We had a LONG debrief and worship time in the evening, just because the students couldn’t wait to share everything they had learned and the lessons they want to bring home with them.  Here’s some of what they said:

  • “On Monday, we were so scared just to knock on doors.  Today, no one was scared anymore!”
  • Garrett: “I went outside my comfort zone this week, and now I know better what I can do to help people know and follow Jesus.”
  • Malori: “I’m more hungry for God than I was before.”
  • Neena: “I learned you have to pursue people for them to know that you care about them.  Just one quick conversation won’t do it.”

We finished our time by looking at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and Paul’s view of the importance of love.  When asked “what is love?” our students gave 3-4 really good but different definitions.  We talked about that though everyone defines love differently, everyone wants love desperately.  Though all the definitions we gave were good, none of them were the final definition.  We said this together several times: “Love is a person, and His Name is Jesus.”  Jesus is the final definition of Love, and no other person, place, trip, occupation, friendship, relationship, marriage, job, home, life, etc. will ever finally fulfill or satisfy us without Him.  We closed with the challenge to remember that our service is powerless without Jesus, but eternally powerful with Him.

Parents, this was a GREAT week that blew away all of our students’ and leaders’ expectations.  We are praying for the conversations that you will have, praying that you will be able to cement in the lessons learned for lasting life change!  Thank you for your support!!!  See you tomorrow!

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Junior High Mission Trip, Day 3

What an amazing day of ministry! What was easily the longest and hardest day on this trip has yielded some awesome fruit for our team. Barriers broken, hearts uplifted, lives touched…maybe I should share it with you.

We started the day by working to rehab a house that needed some MAJOR yard work. The grass had been mowed weekly by a local nonprofit agency, but the trees were out of control, weeds had taken over the yard, and the house was absolutely covered with a thorny ivy spawned in the twisted mind of Satan himself. The stuff blacked out all the windows and had even begun to wind into the attic, becoming a tangled mess that choked out hedges, trees, and harbored two wasp nests and a beehive, the lattermost of which swarmed us as we cut down the treacherous vine. We cut, we snipped, we pulled, we raked, we bagged, we bundled…we WORKED. “Everyone had a job, and we got the job done fast,” Trudie said. There’s a long way to go, though. We have more work to do on Day 4 at the front yard and the back yard looks like it would require a small-yield nuclear weapon to clean up. Right when we’re running out of fuel, Day 4 will test us.

We were all thankful that activity could be enjoyed inside and from a seated position! Whirlyball was a great chance to blow off some steam and bumper-car our cares away. Treyson was a champ and made a clutch goal from all the way across the court!

After some chill time and an incredible dinner prepared by the Ranne adult LifeGroup and Holly Cunningham’s 9th grade girls LifeGroup, we headed to a hot and humid VBS. It was hot. And humid. The humid hotness was a bit overwhelming as we ran around outside with kids whose energy never seems to stop. Did I say it was hot and humid? It was! But despite the inhospitable weather, we had 40+ kids come and hear the gospel message, delivered up front by Trudie Troublefield and individually by many of our students. Just like at the house, everybody had a job. Not all the kids joined the group games and crafts, but every kid had a student or adult leader playing with them, smiling with them…loving them. Jocelyn shared the gospel for the first time with a child; a little girl started a conversation with her and asked her very clearly to tell her about God. Jocelyn proceeded to tell her about Jesus and what He did on the cross. I wish you all could have seen the joy on Jocelyn’s face as she told the group what happened! Her elation was evident…you don’t forget your first time bringing the words of eternal life to another. Our introverts AND our extroverts all engaged fully in reaching kids; no one held back effort in the task set before us!

After crashing the High School Wooden Door after-party at DQ, we headed back to the school for a surprisingly energetic time of worship and debrief. Despite a grueling day of service, our students sang their hearts out in telling of God’s greatness in our lives and thanking Him for what we seen Him do. We closed our worship time in a time of corporate prayer, telling Jesus what is so great about Him. The room erupted in an incredible outpouring of praise that had students talking over one another to openly declare the goodness of our God. I was personally moved to tears! In debrief, the students laid down some serious wisdom that blew us all away. A sample: “You have to be fearless for other people to learn about Jesus.” “If you are fearful and scared when you talk to people, they won’t want to talk to you. But if you are confident, they want to talk.” Our students are learning a LOT about engaging people with the gospel message!

We closed our evening time by looking at Philippians 2:5-8 and examining how we can emulate the humble attitude of Jesus in our service. We talked about that we are to follow Jesus’ attitude in all ways except for one: whereas He came down from heaven to serve us, we don’t come down from anywhere to serve one another. We and those we serve are all children of God, brothers and sisters in humanity. It is wise to “look around” at our neighbors needs and “look up” toward God, but we are never to “look down” at anyone else. We are all of us a few tragedies away from poverty, and a calamity or two is all that stands between those who serve, give, and donate and those who are served, given to, and donated to. And really, ALL of us need something! All of us are richly given to by others and by God! None of us are independent! We are all poor in spirit and made rich only by God’s grace.

What an awesome and exhausting day! We have just one more full day of service, so please pray for perseverance. We will need every ounce of effort we can muster not only to serve, but to do it with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts. Sound like a God-sized job? It will be. Thanks for your love and support, parents!

Disclaimer: Parents, I’ve been trying to text you every day but for some reason my phone is not allowing me to text the group of you. I’m sorry about that, and I hope you all get to read the blog!

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Junior High Mission Trip, Day 2

Today was physically exhausting, but our minds and hearts stayed strong!  We started the morning by rehabbing the exterior of a local woman’s house.  It was amazing how much of a difference our team made in just a few hours of work.  Some students used saws for the first time, confronting wasps, a hornet, and what ended up being a waist-high seven foot-wide pile of live brush to transform this house from dilapidated to dazzling.  Our 6 Stones liaison told us before we went that this work is not fun, but it’s really helpful to a person in need.  Student after student came to me at the work site and said, “what was he talking about?  This is fun!”  Let me report on the next two days before you get your yard tools ready to hand over to them as soon as we get home…today’s difficulty level was about a quarter of what we’re about to face.

The afternoon was a great time to chill out from the morning’s work at the church building.  The trip leaders planned several elaborate water games for the students, which we blazed through in about 20 minutes.  We leaders marveled as our beautifully planned and prepared-for games devolved into students just dumping buckets of water on each other, especially that they seemed to have more fun in the impromptu dump-fest than at the games!  We had a great time.

We finished the day by facilitating a Vacation Bible School at a local apartment complex.  We didn’t know how many kids would come or if they’d be interested in the games, stories, snacks, and relationship-building we had planned.  We didn’t know how to break the ice, so we started the evening as we best knew how: by playing.  We played frisbee in the central courtyard, which drew a single 5 year-old girl to join in.  Her courageous involvement encouraged a few other kids and then more to have some fun with us.  After a full-blown game of “sharks-and-minnows” we had somewhere near 20 kids at VBS, with more trickling in the entire night.  A small group of us roamed the complex, searching for kids to invite…all happily agreed to come, but none needed directions.  They knew to follow the sounds of laughter.  One 5 year-old told Trudie and Neena: “Thank you for making me happy today.  I have never been happy before.”  A teenager well-known in the complex for getting into trouble came in and out of the VBS today, but dropped what she was doing and listened intently to the gospel presentation when she saw that it was Abby who was delivering the message; “ooh, that’s my best friend!”, she said.

Our students learned a lot today and were extremely eager to share their newfound knowledge with our group at debrief time tonight.  The two primary things that they took away from today were that (1) they had no idea how many people living right in our area did not know the basics about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and (2) that people long to be connected with and prayed for.  Maddie Walden summed it up well: “People want others to know them, ask them how they’re doing, and pray for them.  But they won’t ask you to ask them to do it.  We have to just do it.”

We closed with a message on 1 Peter 2:9-10, a passage that powerfully describes our identity in Christ.  We talked about that what we do for others flows out of who we are in Christ.  Religion says, “I obey and therefore I am accepted.”  The Gospel says, “I am accepted, and therefore I obey.”  It is our sincere prayer that our students will learn more how to see themselves and their community through God’s eyes, and we’re seeing that happening in small ways.  We pray it kicks into high gear tomorrow.

Parents, we covet your prayers and your continued support of your student as we travel through this week.  Just like you, we look forward to tomorrow bringing us a new challenge, and a new opportunity to see God at work!

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Junior High Mission Trip, Day 1

When you’re on a mission trip, it’s expected that you will be pushed to your limits physically, emotionally, and physically.  It’s not expected that you will find some of those limits on your first day.  The students were heavily challenged in every event of the day, and performed with flying colors!

The day started with us driving around the neighborhoods surrounding 6 Stones) the ministry we are partnering with for the week) collecting canned good donations.  The students had to deal with some disappointment as most of the houses had no donations…probably about 2-3% had donations for us to pick up.  But the kids displayed great enthusiasm despite the lack of activity, whooping and hollering aloud when we spotted a donation, and practically fighting each other for the privilege of running full speed to collect it.  At the end of the day, the students commented that they learned better what it feels like to be on the “other side” of generosity, so desperately wanting someone to help that spotting even small bits of that help was like fresh air to a drowning man.

The evangelism training challenged our students deeply as they learned two tools to relate the good news about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to people they’ve never met before: the Bridge and the Evangecube.  Though almost all of our students knew the basics of both tools from their years at 121, they struggled when they were challenged to actually use the tools in conversation.  It was easy to cover all the “talking points” in the script, but very, very difficult to include that message into an authentic conversation that they might have with a real person.  Their discomfort with the task led some to frustration and others to excessive joking.  Everyone was stretched!

We finished our work together by passing out flyers advertising our upcoming Vacation Bible School to residents of a local apartment complex.  We received various responses, from excited acceptance to unresponsive apathy to open hostility.  Our students were 100% respectful, polite, and kind throughout the entire exercise, receiving every emotion thrown at them and transforming it into a kind smile or an encouraging word.  Every student knocked on doors and talked to people, inviting them to come hear a fun message that could change their lives forever.  It was easy to read our students’ fear when faced with the prospect of talking to complete strangers and equally easy to see that fear melt away so quickly.  What a day of stretching and overcoming!

We ended the day with a powerful time of worship, reading from Luke 4:14-21 and Jesus’ declaration of the purpose of His ministry.  We talked about that the frustration and awkwardness we saw in our evangelism training was likely a result of one or two things: (1) a difficulty in seeing the death and resurrection of Jesus as a real event and (2) a difficulty in seeing ourselves in the gospel message.  It seemed that as the students were communicating the Story of All Stories they saw it as something for “other people”, a message to be communicated rather than a personal experience to be cherished and shared.  Students were left with food for thought, to wonder not only if they are ready to share the gospel but if they have truly experienced it themselves.  

From impromptu walkie-talkie renditions of Taylor Swift favorites to leaders lifting a frighteningly huge and nearly-toppled box of canned goods, it was a really fun day.  We are already exhausted, but look forward to what God has in store the rest of the week!  Thanks for all your support as we continue to stretch ourselves to new lengths and allow God to refine our spirits on mission.  See you tomorrow!

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Junior High Mission Trip, Day 0

This is the right place for the 121 Students Wooden Door Junior High mission experience.  We’re looking forward to a great week of seeing God at work in our community and seeing ourselves through His eyes.  Check back daily for updates on what’s happening with our students as we engage our community with the love of Christ.

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Stuff Church Kids Ask, Part 1

I lead a seventh grade boys’ small group at my church and I was recently amazed by what I heard.  The agenda in our meeting was to share our stories with each other, specifically about how we first decided to follow Jesus.  After laughing, talking about the latest movies, laughing, making fart noises, and some kids actually farting, then laughing more…we got down to business.  As one student shared his story, he also shared a mind-blowing question.  The question itself wasn’t extremely difficult to answer, but it was mind-blowing that a 13 year-old who had been raised in church didn’t know the answer.

Then I thought about it some more.  I shouldn’t begrudge my students for not knowing the answers.  They’re coming to a place where their faith is becoming their own, a place where they don’t want to ask their parents the answers all of the time, and when they do they want to question and challenge the answer to their very last breath!  Middle school is the perfect place to begin wrestling with these questions that I’m willing to bet we’ve all had from time to time.

In this recurring series, I intend to touch on the questions that the students who were raised going to church (“church kids”) ask in my Life Group or in other forums.  I’ll share how I respond to these questions and even give some ideas for how families can follow up on these questions at home.

Here is the question: “What is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian?”

Really interesting question and an interesting way to word it.  What’s sad is that the difference is not intuitive.  Those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers should lead lives of marked difference from others who have not made a commitment to Jesus.  However, I totally understand why he asked this question.

I responded by asking the question back to the group.  Some said, “Christians are nice.”  I told them that I’ve met some pretty nice non-Christians, and they said they have too.  Some said, “Christians are going to heaven.”  My response was, “why?”  That opened up a whole different can of worms…I’ll address it in a different post.  We kept talking about differences we see between Christians and non-Christians, and almost all of their answers revolved around something superficial, like music, clothing, and speech.  I said the answer goes deeper.

It’s not about doing nice things, though Christians do nice things.  It’s not about using nice words, although Christians do use nice words.  It’s not about modest clothing, clean music, or “I don’t drink, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls that do.”  It’s about the heart behind such things.  Christians are motivated by a heartfelt trust in Jesus.  The way we listen to music, engage people in conversation, wear clothes, eat food, etc. are all bound up in a deep trust in Jesus.  That ends up looking quite different person to person and church to church, but that at least is in common.  We trust Jesus.

This could spark a lot of discussions at home about what it means to “trust Jesus.”  Younger kids could learn trust through doing “trust falls”, that frightening exercise wherein a person closes their eyes and falls backward from a standing position into the arms of a trusted loved one who is (hopefully) waiting to catch them.  Dinner table questions for older students may include:

  • Who are people that you trust?  Why?
  • Who are people that you do not trust?  Why?
  • What do we believe that Jesus can do with us, for us, and for those outside of us
  • Is trusting Jesus different than believing that He is real?  How?
  • If Jesus told you that the next thing you prayed for He would grant you unconditionally, what would you pray for? (“infinite wishes” is cheating!)
  • If Jesus answered all of the prayers you prayed in the last week, how would the world be different?
  • If we trusted Jesus with everything (our house, our money, our Xbox, our school work), what would change?

This is just a starting-off point.  Comment below about what you think is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian or how you would teach these spiritual truths to children and students.  Peace and grace!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

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Soul Candy joined the 21st century!

I’m now on WordPress, as you can see.  I’ll be uploading all of my old blog posts for the enjoyment of anyone who happens by the site.  Welcome, and I hope you stay awhile and leave inspired!

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” – Isaiah 55:1-2Image

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