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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May 27, 2013: Go Play!

We took our son to a splash park tonight at a local mall, totally on a whim.  We knew he’d have a blast, so we finished up at our restaurant and promised that a “surprise” awaited him.  He was excited and very, very curious.  When he saw the fountains springing from the concrete and the myriad of children laughing, running, and playing, he knew just what he wanted to do.  With widened eyes, he said with extreme excitement, “Where’s my SWIMSUIT, I wanna PLAY!”  His joy gave us joy.  We said, “don’t worry about a swimsuit, we’ll just dry you off in the car.   Go and play!”

Micah was a little bewildered. “But I’ll get wet…I need my swimsuit.”  He knows that getting his clothes wet is a no-no at home, but in the midst of his worry about breaking our rules, he wasn’t embracing that the rule-makers were giving him permission to go and play.  He kept fretting about getting wet.  We said “go and play!”  He walked cautiously to the first fountain and gingerly stuck his toe into it, cautiously scanning our faces for the go-ahead.  Our smiles and nods told him that it was time to put his leg into the spewing water cannon emanating from the ground.  We said “go and play!”  He looked at us again, searching for permission to break the rules.  We again nodded and smiled.  We said “go and play!”  He interpreted this final nod as the greenlight for Operation Splashbody, running full-bore into the drenching center of the park: a pumping, pulsing urban geyser which soaks anyone who comes near.  He no longer looked for our approval of every step.  He finally stopped thinking of the rules and started listening to the call of the rule-maker: “Go and play!”

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4
We do the same thing with God all the time!  How often do we Christians spend so much time seeking to follow “the rules”…don’t do this, don’t do that.  Don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t date the girls that do.  Rules are good guidelines.  Drinking can be harmful.  Chewing tobacco can lead to a lifetime of health problems.  Dating women who do both of these things will almost certainly result in a relationship full of second-hand bad breath.  So it’s good to be wary of these things.  However, we can get so focused on the rules that we forget the Rule-Maker.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  As long as we’re doing the first, we can be fully and finally free to do the second.  When we mature in Christ, we can stop focusing on the rules and start focusing on delighting ourselves in God and then just “go play.”
Instead of following rules, why don’t we spend our energies on loving God and developing greater intimacy with our Father…and then just doing whatever brings the greatest joy to our hearts?  I wonder if we would be more generous, more joyful, more filled with the Holy Spirit…if we would lean into Him and then just go play.
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May 19, 2013: Dreams from God

“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Corinthians 6:2

I had an interesting dream last night.  I wanted to write this right after I woke up so I’d remember it as clearly as possible.  I dreamed that I took a friend of mine named Shane to a church small group I was leading. I had invited him several times and he came out of curiosity.  I can’t remember the exact passage we were studying in my dream (such details fade quickly) but it was something that was a reminder of the need for integrity and humility in the Church.  I remember discussing the quote from Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

It seemed to impact Shane and on our ride home we had a great conversation.  Remember, this is a dream, so in wacky-dream-world style, we started off in a limousine which morphed into a Town Car which morphed into a horse-drawn carriage by the end of the ride.  Shane was quiet much of the ride home, giving me just a few answers that showed he was thinking intensely about what he had seen and heard.  I was happy.  Happy that I’d finally invited a friend to church who really needed to hear the message being presented.  Happy that a friend who was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known, who is also one of the most ardent atheists I had ever known, was willing to come hear me pour out my heart for Jesus and preach the gospel in a way that spoke to him.

I awoke happy, as if the events of my dream had actually occurred.  Then, as the fog of sleep began to lift, my mind focused on reality.  Shane, my oh-so-intelligent atheist friend since first grade and a man I was always timid about inviting to church or talking about Jesus with, committed suicide a few years ago.  He jumped in front of a speeding commuter train in a desperate move to end his daily battle with a bitter depression.  Regret immediately filled me.  It is too late for Shane, but who else is out there who needs not a Bible-bash upside the head, but rather a compassionate presentation of Christ’s love and perhaps also a verbal presentation of the gospel?  Lord, may I never wait until it’s too late again.

“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Corinthians 6:2

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May 19, 2013: Resist the Slow Fade

I definitely think it’s a sign of the times that our world is routinely rocked by scandal.  It may be that we are on a morally downward slope, degrading more and more into complete moral free-for-all and absolute boundary-less-ness.  Or, it may be that we are simply more attentive to the faults and foibles of public figures, with so many news outlets desperate for a juicy tidbit, a morsel of gossip to feed the voracious 24-hour news cycle.  Sensation sells, and few things are more sensational than a person or organization who betrays the public’s trust for personal gain.  Regardless of the reason, scandal has become sadly commonplace.

One touched me more deeply recently.  A public service organization in the same city where I work has been accused of some heinous stuff…like federal indictment heinous.  Using federal funds for personal purposes is a huge no-no. The person at the center of it all is someone I have worked with for years, a colleague whom I collaborated with on several projects and was very well-respected in our field.  She’s not a friend per se, but definitely someone close enough to me that her accused actions hit me like a brick.  How could she do this, and risk her job, reputation, and a career over 30 years in the making?
It was ironic that when I read the first article about the scandal my Pandora app chose to play Casting Crowns’ “Slow Fade”.  The chorus goes like this: It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away / a slow fade when black and white will turn to grey / thoughts invade, a choice is made / a price will be paid when you give yourself away / people never crumble in a day.  If you’ve never heard this song before, you owe it to your conscience to listen to it enough to memorize it.  It’s my personal integrity soundtrack, a constant reminder that we are all vulnerable to the wiles of temptation.
I looked at the trouble my colleague has gotten into and I thought “what was she thinking?”  I rushed to judge her.  But the more I thought about it, she more than likely got caught into the slow fade.  It begins with a thought, which becomes an attitude, which becomes an action, which becomes a habit, which becomes a character.  What thoughts could have sparked this slow fade?  Here’s a few I can think of:
  1. It could never happen to me
  2. I’d never get caught
  3. Others do much worse things
  4. I deserve better than what I’m getting
  5. I’m too powerful / in a hurry for the rules to apply to me
  6. I need this money/power/desire, and I don’t have time to get it the right way
I think the answer to resisting the slow fade is to focus ourselves and dedicate ourselves fully to a singular focus.  The Slow Fade happens when our focus is diluted, when our worries become too heavy to handle.  The key is to solidify our focus on God and His righteousness so intensely that we don’t have time to think on unethical things.  There’s so much more to say on this, but Solomon wrapped it up in a nutshell:”Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” – Prov 10:9
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April 7, 2013: Can’t Let Up

You can win or be safe but you can’t do both.  But what happens when you win?

At my job this week, we had a big win.  An external auditor known for toughness was evaluating one of the social services programs run by our agency.  She represented the program’s biggest funding source, so a positive review was of the highest importance.  Our team prepared long and hard for the big review, knowing that the auditor’s opinion could translate into the program’s doom or its survival.  As the program’s manager, her opinion could translate into a similar fate for me.  If it goes well, accolades galore.  If not, the pink slip may be in the mail.  That may be a bit over-dramatic, but my reputation was definitely on the line.

We spent a week under the auditor’s expert microscope, poring through details of program operations, management, fund expenditures, outcomes, and much much more.  After five full days of living under her watchful eye, the auditor delivered her results to senior management.  To our relief, she had nothing but glowing remarks.  It was the best audit she’d had in twenty years, without any findings or concerns, and she will highlight our program as a “best practice” program for others to draw examples from.  Couldn’t have been a better outcome!

As I entered our staff meeting the next morning, I thought “Great!  What now?”  We had spent so much energy and time focusing on the win, and now that we had it…what’s next?  Many times in my life I have over-celebrated my wins, relishing the win and allowing it to lull me into a lackadaisical slumber that I believe I have “earned”.  I generally take the time to slow down and savor the victory (which is fine), but I slow down so much that I stop doing the things that gained me victory in the first place (which is stupid).

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14

What I’m learning is that to keep from losing after a win we must (1) celebrate the win and (2) refocus on the mission.  At the meeting, I said to my team, “We won last week.  Big time.”  We handed out compliments and gifts for the staff involved in the audit all throughout that week.  We celebrated.  But while we celebrated we reminded each other that the work is not over.  In multiple meetings throughout the week we reminded each other of what we are here to do.  “We did well in the audit,” I said, “but we are not here to do well in audits.  We don’t get up in the morning excited about beating audits.  We came here to help people.”  It was a great moment for our team that I hope will result in us never letting up, but keep going and doing the things that made us great to start with.

In our walk with Jesus, we will experience victories.  When a friend meets Jesus for the first time, or a family conflict is resolved, or we conquer a financial debt, it is tempting to relax.  But friends need discipling, families need encouraging, and budgets need maintaining.  There’s always work to be done to ensure future wins.  Because to Christians, there was a HUGE win 2000 years ago when Jesus took the nails with our name on them, but we look forward to an even greater win when He comes back to put all things aright in God’s kingdom.  We strain toward the next win with all the intensity we can muster, knowing the next win is in sight…for you, for me, for all of us.  So, what “win” are you praying for?

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