Friday, December 2, 2011

Finally, Christian Music Worth Buying…

I must confess.  I don’t like much of Christian music, especially Christian music in the vein of “worship music.”  My main critique of Christian music has been its often shallow and un-insightful lyrics.  While most of us spent our adolescent years trying to convince our parents that we paid no attention to the lyrics of the music we listened to, I scrupulously examined each cassette and CD jacket I purchased or borrowed.  I would spend hours listening to music, parsing every phrase seeking to understand the artist’s feelings, thoughts and beliefs.  I did this for secular and Christian music alike.  Most of the time, but admittedly not all of the time, the Christian music I encountered required barely more than a flimsy plastic shovel to unearth the pithy Christian clichés which are devoid of any real and sustaining meaning.  I mean no offense to you if Christian music from the 1990’s was a great means of grace for you, but for me, it almost poisoned me against the church.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pooh and Prejudice

A very kind neighbor was cleaning out their child’s DVD collection.  Our son, Nate, was to be the beneficiary of this cleaning.  One of the titles, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, fast became one of Nate’s favorite movies.  The plot of the film is simple.  The inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood wake up one fine morning to the earth shaking and loud elephant like trumpet blasts.  Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, and the rest gather to see just what transpired in the night.  They soon come across large round footprints. The conclusion is reached that a large Heffalump has invaded the Hundred Acre Wood.  No one, however, has ever seen a Heffalump.  In true Disney fashion, the cast of characters soon erupt into song about the various nefarious traits of this mysterious animal.  The Heffalump is an evil creature to be sure.  It is soon determined that an expedition must be made to find and capture this threat to the peace and tranquility of the Hundred Acre Wood. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Youth Ministry Is Dangerous? A Follow up...

A week or so ago I wrote about a documentary, Divided, that raised several questions about modern youth ministry and it’s connection to youth walking away from the faith.  While I disagreed with the film’s main premise and how they got there, I supported the idea that something is amiss with churches and our inability to enable youth to maintain their faith post high school.  I ended the post with a plea to parents, and their children, to engage in the task of discipleship together.  As I have said before, it takes a community to raise a child.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Youth Ministry is Dangerous?

I was recently encouraged to watch a short documentary on the effects that modern youth ministry has had on our youth.  The film, Divided, takes up this issue by, shortly, examining the development of age segregated ministry and the lack of biblical foundations for youth ministry.  Here’s a few of the most pertinent points of the movie.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Insights from Frodo and Gandalf...

I’ve recently begun reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.  I don’t know why it has taken me so long to read these three books.  In high school, I read The Hobbit, a tale that functions as a prequel describing how the Ring ends up in the unlikely hands of the hobbits of the Shire.  The Hobbit gives a considerable amount of it’s time to describing how Bilbo Baggins acquires the Ring from Gollum.  Gollum, we find out, once was a Hobbit himself.  His discovery of the Ring led him to murder his friend to possess this precious Ring.  The Ring does a number on Gollum, transforming him from a jolly Hobbit to a slimy creature that eats raw fish and can’t stand the light. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rocks on the River...

Probably one of my favorite trips we take with our Youth Group is our annual float trip.  The trip entails two nights of camping and one fun filled day on the Current River in central Missouri.  Of course, the whole weekend revolves around our time on the river.  Each year our experience on the river varies.  Some years we have a younger crowd of teens, many of whom have never been in a canoe on a river.  Other years our teens are river veterans who are able to navigate the bends and curves, the calm water and the not so calm water.  Some years, the river is low and lackadaisical with the energy of an overweight man right after the Thanksgiving meal.  Other years, the river is high and full of energy like an adolesant girl hyped up on pixie sticks at a Justin Bieber concert.   Even as you step into the river, ready to shove your canoe into the cold, cold water you can’t entirely anticipate what the river will be like. 

Monday, August 22, 2011


Sometime during my sophomore or junior year of college, a small group of my friends decided it would be good if we regularly got together.  It started small, just a few guys.  Soon our group grew.  By the time we graduated college, we routinely crammed anywhere between 15 to 20 guys in one of our dorm rooms or college apartments.  We met every Thursday night at 10:00 pm.  We called it “Mantime.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm a Scaredy Cat...Or, But What If...

The wife and I had the opportunity to escape our two small children for a very brief time.  This last weekend, my wonderful mother-in-law traveled to our home to watch Nate and Sam, while Lori and I headed for Chicago.  Wednesday night, after church, I found myself packing for our departure on Thursday morning.  I have the tendency to pack like a girl.  This tendency has its roots, partially at least, in the influence of my two older sisters.  More likely, however, is that I’m scared.  As I lay in bed on Wednesday night, my mind raced through all the items I had packed.  “Do I have enough underwear?  Yes, I’ve got six pairs for a three day trip.  Do I have enough shirts?  I think so.  I have enough for three each day.  Socks?  Every pair I own.”  It hit me, while I lay in bed that night; I’m scared of not having enough.  Sure, I probably wouldn’t need all those shirts and undies.  But…what if?  What if it’s really hot and I sweat a lot?  What if a bird poos on my shorts?  What if I poo my shorts?  The scenarios are endless. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lawnmowers and God…

Shortly after we moved into the house we bought here in St. Louis, we discovered that we needed a lawnmower.  Previously, we had been renters and each of the places we rented had provided us with a mower.  Rather than letting my lawn grow to knee length, I decided to buy my very first lawnmower.  Now, I am a little bit of a tightwad when it comes to cash, so I opted for the hundred dollar mower from Wal-Mart.  After all, a lawnmower is a lawnmower –they all have motor that turns a blade that cuts the grass.  For the first year the thing worked great.  It started every time and the grass got cut. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why can’t they keep their disease to themselves?

Any parent will tell you that children, especially small children, get sick a lot.  It comes from a general lack of awareness about where these small children put their mouths.  Or, it comes from their lack of respect for personal space.  This is certainly the case for Sam, my youngest son.  He has yet to learn that it is impolite, not to mention disgusting, to place his mouth over another person’s nose.  All those exchanges of bodily fluids (which at this age are acceptable, I guess) lead to the contraction of viruses and infections of all sorts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Graveyards and Shopping Malls

Once a month, on a Friday, the youth pastors on our district that live in the city gather for lunch.  We try to meet at a central location for some good eats.  This month we met at Five Guys Burger and Fries just east of the West County Mall.  If you haven’t had Five Guys, I would recommend it.  I had never been to this particular Five Guys so I looked it up on Google maps. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Playing House

Sometimes I feel like I'm playing house. There are days when I come home from work and everything is as it should be. I am greeted at the door by two of the greatest little boys who shower me with affection for no reason other than I am their father. My wife, who has cleaned the house and done my laundry, is preparing us a filling and delicious meal. After dinner, the boys play quietly and then are in bed by 7:00 p.m., leaving Lori and I to relax watching baseball or a movie. Life is good. Feels like playing house.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pruggling: A term used to describe the ambiguous state of…

Last week was teen camp on the Missouri District. It was a good week, filled with fun and games, worship and learning. As the week progressed, a strange phenomenon emerged during our worship times. While there is no doubt that God's Spirit was there working in people's lives, there was something else being worked up as well. This leads me to the strange title of this post: Pruggling. It's a new word that one of our helpers, Lance Wallis, coined in response to spontaneous groups of persons gathering together during our worship and preaching times. Here's what it means.  Pruggling is (a) a term used to describe the ambiguous state of two or more persons involved in praying and/or snuggling. Or, (b) the act of using religious experience as a front for gaining physical contact with a person of the opposite gender.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Together and Alone…

The other day I ran across an interesting set of quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer's small work on…well, life together, he identifies two dangers: not being able to be alone and not being able to be with the fellowshipping, worshipping community. Here's what he says,

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community…You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called." 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Red and White Antennae Things…

I often go to the library at Webster University to do my studying and preparing for youth lessons and sermons. Webster's library now holds Eden Theological Seminary's collection. The seminary, and now the university, has been kind enough to give me a library card so I have access to both school's books.

One of the places I like to spend my time is the fourth floor in a collection of chairs which over look part of the campus. The other day, as I was working on the sermon that I will preach this week, I noticed a group of blind students being led down the sidewalk that approaches the library building. The group was being led by two students who obviously possessed the ability to see.  
The rest of the group trailed behind with their red and white walking sticks swinging back and forth feeling the way like the antennae of ants.

The sidewalk they were progressing down was narrow. It was easy to see that these visually impaired individuals were easily navigating the path before them. Stray too far to the left and they would run into a curb protecting the flower beds. Stray too far to the right and they would wander off into grass – obviously not the path. The path, however, did not stay narrow. As they continued on the normal width sidewalk the path began to fan out into a larger area with multiple points of departure. All of it was concrete. There were no obstacles which might pose a problem. The way was no longer clear.

I watch as one girl, who had been using the curb as a reference point, continued to use the curb to guide her way. As the curb curved away from the direction of the larger group, she followed it. Soon she was a good distance away from her friends and about to ascend some stairs. Just then, one of the student guides realized that she was going the wrong way and directed her back to the group.

Perhaps this imagery provides a good analogy to our life and faith journey. To a large extent we are like these blind students. We are unable to see very well where the path of life or faith will take us. We make decisions about what to do, where to go and how to act based on a limited set of information. This isn't hard when the boundaries of the path are clearly marked out. But what happens when the narrow path dumps us out into a giant intersection? What happens when our red and white walking stick antennae thing fails to give us any information other than that our path is a hard prepared surface? The path is there. It's smooth and straight and doesn't contain anything that will cause us to stumble. But how do we know the right direction?

At this point the common answer is to read the bible and pray; seek Godly counsel from mature Christians. These are all good things, things I have suggested to people and have used myself. But it has been my experience that sometimes those things don't help either. The path of life seems more often to be wide, with a multiplicity of choices and directions. Some of those choices and directions are better than others, but at the end of the day they are along the paved path.

I'm not facing any major life choices at the moment. I know, however, that as long as I trust the red and white antennae thing (the Holy Spirit?) that God has given me to keep me on the paved path, that regardless of which exact path I choose God will be with me and find a way to use me.

What about you? What do you do when the path becomes wide and the way is difficult to discern?

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Love Teen Camp!

Teen camp for the Missouri District NYI will be here in just a little over a week. I'm really excited for it. I love teen camp for few reasons. First, it's fun. There are tons of fun stuff to do: the blob, games, team competitions, and sports tournaments. A few of our teens have entered the basketball tournament and have already declared their victory by giving themselves the name, "The Winners." I'm sure they will do fine. Second, there is a good deal of time to just be in relationship with people. By that, I mean to sit around and talk. This, perhaps, is one of my favorite things. Finally, there's the food...? Ok, the food isn't bad, but it isn't one of my favorite things!

Of course, it would not be teen camp without some sort of worship and preaching. I'm hoping that this year both of these elements will be excellent, as they have been in years past.  
But I'm also hoping that the impact of worship and preaching will last well past the end of camp. David Fitch, in a blog that I regularly read, comments that many people have faced what he calls "church-abuses" that have led them to reject certain things within protestant evangelicalism (typical organization structures, authority in leadership, God's judgment, the authority of scripture, and conversion). These abuses have led to various degrees of discontentment and have sparked the creation of different movements which seek to find meaning and safety in Christianity again. One of these, conversion, is a big one at camp.

It has been my experience in camps of all kinds (Family Camps, Teen Camps, and the like), that we abuse conversion like a rented mule. We hype people up on emotion or scare the hell of out of them (quite literally) so that they might find a saving relationship with Christ. When the week is over, when they return to whatever life had for them before camp, things revert back. Salvation becomes an act of manipulation which almost always damages the one being manipulated. Never mind that the salvation that Jesus brought was never manipulative. This isn't always the case, but I've witnessed it enough to know that it happens more than we like.

I am not, like those who Fitch describes, saying that we need to get rid of the altar. What I am saying, what I am hoping for is that at teen camp this year salvation is proclaimed as an open invitation to begin to participate in the work and mission of God in the world. I'm praying that those who find Jesus at camp this year will realize that what they are getting themselves into is not nearly as much about them and their future destiny (which is important) as it is about what God would have them be and do in their schools, in their churches, and in their neighborhoods. It is only as we are sent with a sense of purpose and mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that our conversions – teen camp or otherwise – become more than just a moment in time.

Friday, May 27, 2011

About the Title…

I love Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. As far as art that depicts the fallen nature of humanity and our inextricable propensity toward our own self destruction there is none better. Macbeth's slide toward his ultimate demise begins when he is shown his own future by the Weird Sisters, a group of three witches, who are as much in control in the play as anyone. Once Macbeth is shown his ultimate future he fights and kills until he obtains what is rightfully (he thinks) his. Much blood is shed as he attempts to control what he has taken.