Being Rich is Awesome

I love watching the classic Christmas movies like Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and Saw III, but  as uplifting and full of merriment as those are, I think my favorite has to be It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart.  I know, I’m a big wuss. I can’t help it. I just love that movie and even though I have seen it a couple dozen times, I still get a little emotional watching it. I love it when Clarence the angel says, “You see George, you really have had a wonderful life”.  George Baily ends up being the richest man in town, not because of money or possessions, that of course would be Mr. Potter. George Baily was the richest man in town because of friendships. 

On July 18, I had a party at my house celebrating my years at YS, kind of a reunion of everybody I had worked with over the years. It was a fantastic evening and I was overwhelmed with the love and affection shown by so many friends. That night, and the weeks leading up to it with calls and emails, I was reminded that I am a rich man. I was reminded that I have been blessed with meaningful relationships, with lots of good friends. I am so thankful for the people God has placed in my life. Yes I am one rich dude!

It’s funny, most of us say relationships matter but live much of our lives like they don’t.  We spend way too much time  “being productive”, “planning”, “strategizing” , “reaching goals”, trying to build our own little kingdoms, scrambling for power, position, wealth, recognition, whatever. We just get caught up. In the end, that stuff just doesn’t really matter as much as we think it does. It’s fool’s gold.  I am not saying what we do does not matter, of course it does.  I want to do everything with excellence, I want to give my best to my job or calling, I’m just saying often we give too much and we pay a price for that.  We KNOW what Jesus says about loving our neighbor. We KNOW, amazingly enough, that Jesus calls us his friends. We KNOW relationships matter to God, yet somehow we get sidetracked and focus on other things. 

During the past election we kept hearing the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” to remind us what some people thought was the only real issue in the election, the only thing worth paying attention to and talking  about.  Maybe we need to start saying “It’s people, stupid”. People are what matter….pay attention.

One of the unexpected benefits of  losing my job at YS, is that I have been so powerfully reminded of  just how rich I am. How blessed I am with friends. But I am also aware that I was forgetting that. As I look at my last few years at YS, I am aware of how I was letting relationships go fallow. I was not giving my relationships at YS (and other places) the attention they deserved . I was too “on task” . I was trying to “get things done”.  I was spending way too much time in front of my computer and not enough time face to face with the people I cared about. Work was drowning out friendships and if I am honest with myself, I was not as happy, not as fulfilled …I was getting too caught up. In the rear-view mirror I see it a little more clearly.

I guess what I am realizing in a new way, is just how easy it is to take relationships for granted, assuming  they will just happen. I’m amazed at how easily I can focus instead on the fool’s gold. If friendships truly make us wealthy, and I believe they do, I want to get rich, filthy rich, obscenely rich. This is the kind of prosperity gospel I can get behind.

PS I will be backpacking and joyfully away from my computer till August 23

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Of Grief and Gratitude

It was around midnight almost six years ago when Karla Yaconelli called to tell us that Mike had been in a horrible car accident.  A few hours later she called again with the numbing news that Mike was dead. We were in shock to say the least. This could not be true!  I had worked with Yac for over 26 years and he was one of my closest friends. Terrie and I lay in bed holding each other, talking, crying (you know, the kind of chest heaving, snot running down your face, hot tears on your cheeks kind of crying)…..our grief  instantaneous and searing.

Then the strangest thing happened, we started to laugh. We would think of some goofy thing Yac had done in the past and we would start giggling right in the midst of our tears. This went on for a couple of hours, periods of deep sobbing interrupted by surprising outbreaks of healing laughter which after a while moved us to gratitude. We were face to face with the reality of how grateful we were for the years we did have with Yac. Gratitude for how much richer our lives were because we knew Mike. Gratitude for how the love of Jesus had a greater grasp on us because of this wild-man. Gratitude for just how much darn fun we had together.

There was grief to be sure; in fact it was easily the most pain I had ever experienced in my life but gratitude just kept showing up and it changed us. It was powerful, it changed our perspective, it saved the day. It was like this unexpected and uninvited guest who would not allow grief to stand alone, not allow grief to be the only emotion in our life, not allow grief to drag us into despair. It did not replace or remove grief but would accompany it. It was a gift of the Spirit. And it stayed with us day after day after day. It seemed so strange to me that those two emotions could be so closely aligned. Even now when I think back on those days I am so aware of the presence of this odd couple, the unexpected companions who walked beside us through those dark days. The grief eventually went away but the gratitude never has and in fact it has grown stronger over time.  As I think about Yac today I am so very thankful for what we shared together.

Now as I am leaving YS I find them both back in my life again and I’m so glad they are. Yes I’m grieving leaving YS in a big way, it’s been my life’s work but just like in Yacs death, gratitude has shown up again unexpectedly (I know I’m a slow learner) and powerfully.  I am so grateful for what an amazing run it has been at YS. I am overwhelmed that God has allowed me to serve, train and encourage youth workers for 32 years, way more than I could have ever hope for and certainly more than I deserve. I have been so blessed!

So here is the deal. The grief means it has been great. The grief means it mattered. We don’t grieve things we don’t care about. Would I really want it any other way? I’m glad I am grieving. I’m grieving because it has been so freaking awesome!  It would so suck to leave YS after all this time and not have it hurt, to not care. But once again the gratitude has allowed me to not be overwhelmed by the pain and disappointment. In fact, in a mysterious way it allows me to embrace my pain and work through it instead of trying to deny it. In a way, it gives grief its proper place now so it will leave later. So once again I have these two uninvited guests taking up residence in my life, guests for which I am thankful.  In time, only one will remain and for that I’m grateful.

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We get to Choose

It seems like a lot of life comes to us or even at us, often leaving us with the feeling that we have no choice in the matter. Sometimes it’s little things like our kid gets on a lousy little league team, the restaurant runs out of the special of the day that sounded so good to us, some car wreck in front of us brings traffic to a crawl or a storm comes in and rains out our plans for a big day outdoors. We didn’t do anything to cause these things, they just happened to us. Other times however it’s big things, difficult things, painful things, things that can alter the course of our life. A loved one gets cancer, our pastor gets caught in an affair and our church is a mess, our child has a learning disability that makes school way too difficult and painful, or in my case your job comes to an end. It wasn’t my choice to leave YS, the choice was made for me. I wasn’t the only one involved in the “downsizing” but I had no say in the decision and in a sense it was done “to me”. Of course nothing is really that clear cut in real life. Very seldom are things completely one way or another. Seldom are any of us completely innocent or without any responsibility in a situation but we can still be left with a feeling or a sense that something was done to us and we had no choice. But of course that is not true. We always have a choice. WE ALWAYS GET TO CHOOSE! This was not how I envisioned leaving YS, this was not the time I would have chosen to leave YS but I do have a choice in HOW I leave YS. I get to choose my response. We all get to choose how we respond to something that comes our way. We get to choose our response and in the end that may be the most important choice of all.

In the difficult “big things” that come our way there are many questions that flood our minds and emotions. You know the “why”, “how”, “what”, “who” and “where” type of questions. Some questions come at you like waves on the beach one after the other while others you hunt down, sometimes in hot pursuit of them. For me I have found chasing the “why” question to be the least productive and in fact actually a waste of time. Do we ever get an answer to that question that is truly satisfying? I don’t think so and at least for me it often ends up an exercise in self -justification, self-pity or blame placing. Not a very healthy place to take up residence and not a place where I find God hanging out much. For me there are other questions that are much more powerful, much more life giving and more God finding. The “what”, “how”, “who” and “where” questions area much better place to live in. Chasing down answers to these questions are allowing me to leave the way I want to leave.  I want to leave with integrity, grace and gratitude so these are the questions I am choosing to ask myself these days to help me stay that course:

What is God trying to teach me in this? 

What do I need to lean about my myself?

What is going to be revealed in me?

What if all that God has taught me to this point has been preparing me for what  is next?  

How can I respond to this situation with integrity, grace and faithfulness? 

How can I find God in this? Can I embrace that God is in the midst of this? Can I remember that it was God who brought me to YS so can’t it be that God is leading me away from YS?   

How can I be anything but grateful for the wild and exiting ride it has been at YS? 

How can I be anything but thankful that God has allowed me to minister to youth workers for 32 years? 

Who am I going to become in this process?  

Who is God bringing into my life right now and for what purpose?  

Who can speak truth into my life that I need to listen to?          

Where am I placing my trust?   

Where am I finding my identity?   

Where am I going to serve next and can I embrace this as an adventure with God?

These are the questions that bring me life, hope and faith these days. My guess is that in a difficult situation you might be facing it is questions like these that will bring light to dark places. Remember we get to choose our response. It is never helpful to play the victim, to think we have no choice in a situation. That posture gets us nowhere and in my case is an act of faithlessness. It is saying that what I am going through is outside Gods control. It’s denying, as crazy as it may seem, that God may just be in this after all. This does not mean denying the real pain of a situation or acting like it is all no big deal or playing some “happy Christian” game.  It’s just the opposite, choosing these responses and ones like them allow us to embrace our pain and grow through it.  My leaving YS is incredibly painful for me and I have been on an emotional roller coaster and imagine I will for a while. I don’t try to deny that.  But, and it’s a big But, it’s not the end of the story. I get to choose how to respond to what God has put in front of me and to embrace the adventure. To me it’s all about the journey and we get to choose how to embrace that journey and that is a pretty awesome thing.

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Small is Beautiful

So we do this BIG student event called DCLA, the name comes from the cites in which the event in held. It is a BIG event!  It has some BIG names, is held in BIG convention centers, has BIG sound and BIG lights, with BIG video and BIG graphics.  It’s BIG time, get it. We just finished LA and next week do DC. One of the things I do at the event is to run what we call “Youth Worker Oasis”. It is a time for adult leaders to get away for their students and chill for an hour or so.  I get the privilege of chatting with lots of leaders and in doing so I began to realize that sometimes these BIG events can make these youth leaders feel small. They may only have 5, 10 or 20 kids in their youth group and compared to what is going on at DCLA it doesn’t feel like much. At DCLA there are BIG time speakers and BIG time artist who are so much “better” than they are and they start to feel small or worse yet insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth!

BIG events don’t really change students. God uses loving “small time” adults who leave these places with their students and do beatiful small things back at home that really make the BIG difference in the lives of students.

It is a small thing to sit for hours with a student and help them sort out their feelings and thoughts about God, family, friends….life. It’s a small thing to stay up all night at a lock-in to build the relationship and trust with a middle schooler that leads to meaningful conversations when they are ready to talk. It’s a small thing to listen to a students dream. It’s a small thing to speak truth into a students life about God’s dream for him or her. It’s a small thing to pray day after day for one students relationship with Jesus, to pray for their hurts, to pray for healing, to pray for their family that is falling apart or to pray for the destructive relationship they find themselves in. It’s a small thing to have a small group of students meet  in your home week after week. It’s a small (and sometimes painful) thing to go to a middle school band concert, a freshman basketball game or a school play. It’s a small thing to listen. It’s a small thing to give a kid a hug, a smile, a welcome, or is it?

Compared to the BIG time speakers and BIG time artist these things seem so small. You know where I’m going with this, these are not small at all but in fact are HUGE, they are the things that matter the most. These things are the beautiful things God uses to change lives. All the BIG stuff we do at events is to set up youth workers to have more opportunities to do the “small” things. The real stars of events like DCLA are the people who came with the students and will leave with them. The ones who will be there when no one is looking, when the lights are no longer shinning brightly and all the music has faded. Our real job at BIG events is to set up these youth workers for doing what they can do best, speak knowingly into the life of a student that they have established a relationship with, to guide, Shepherd and disciple those students.

I love BIG events and God uses them in mighty ways but almost always over time those ways involve the small beautiful things done by caring adults. To all you folks who come to DCLA take heart in the Kingdom of God you are ROCK STARS because in Gods kingdom SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

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Everybody needs a second home

So I Got an email today that was like many of the calls and letters I have received over the years from youth workers telling me how much the National Youth Workers Convention means to them and how much they love it.  I love getting those emails, call and letters.  This email expressed a common theme and that was that this person didn’t feel they could continue in youth ministry without the convention. I have heard this time and time again. This sentiment along with others like those saying they were ready to quit when they arrived at the convention and how their vision and calling were restored there come in all the time. Why does this happen? How does this happen? How can such a short period of time have such a profound impact? I’ve come to believe that for many people that place has become home. A healthy home is a place where we feel understood. Where we feel safe, where we are affirmed and valued. A home is a place where people get us, get who we are and what we are about. It’s from our “home” that we venture out into the world.

We all have a home as in the house where we live and that place may or may not be a home in the way I just described. For the people where that place is less than they desire, those people need to find a “second home”. Their primary home may be god but it is just not enough to sustain them in this crazy demanding world. For most Christians their local church or ministry becomes their “second home”. It may be the church as a whole or it may be a subset of the church. Maybe it’s a home group, accountability group, a ministry or mission team but it has become “home” to them. But for folks who lead churches and ministry it often doesn’t work that way. At church or in their ministry they often feel judged, misunderstood and disconnected. So where do they find their “second home”? I think that is where the National Youth Workers Convention and other events, gatherings and experiences come into play. Here is what I have heard people say about our convention: “we circle the date on our calendar and count the days still we will be renewed and refreshed”, “only 4 more months till someone will tell us we are doing a good job”, “only 3 months till we are told that what we do really matters and that we are making a difference”, “only 2 months till someone will tell us that all our sacrifices are worth It”,” Only a month till our calling gets affirmed”, “Only two weeks till I will be with people who get me. “Only one more week then I will be with my type of people”, “At last I’m with people who know that this is a real job”. When I hear these statements I hear people who are longing for a “second home”.

If you are in ministry or even if you are not most of us need to find a “second home” to survive. We must all find place where we are loved and valued for who you are not for how well we perform at our jobs. We all need a place where we can relax emotionally, spiritually and relationally, a place where we don’t have to be “on”. It’s out of a healthy home that we flourish and for some of us that means finding the right “Second home”. House hunting is not easy but after all as Dorothy taught us, there is no place like home, even a “Second home”.

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Living into the mission of God

So at YS we are in our season for doing our two DCLA student events. This time we themed DCLA “Living into the mission of God”.  I love that whole idea. The idea that God is actively about redeeming and restoring his creation and if fact has always has been and always will be till in his time he reestablishes his kingdom on earth like he foretells in scripture . Too often we think, especially as Americans, that we have to do something for God. We need to come up with a great campaign or a new and exciting evangelism tool. We have to start a new movement. We act like God isn’t doing anything. That God  is on the sideline hoping we will come up with something to save the day. We are so busy creating, developing, selling and marketing the kingdom of God that in all our activity, our programs, our strategizing  we miss what God is actually doing and in fact all too often miss God completely. We have our heads down going full speed and we don’t stop long enough to see what God is doing and join in. We don’t even know where to look. We assume it’s always in some church sponsored program and miss what God might be doing outside those walls.  Part of this is our addiction to doing of which I am a total addict. We have lost the ability to stop, to listen, to discern. We love activity, we love new and we love programs and campaigns.

In our learning labs at DCLA this year we flesh out a bit of what it means to join in the mission of God with “Be.Love.Serve.Repeat.” It’s not a program; our approach is helping students take on the attitude of Jesus in loving and the lifestyle of Jesus in serving. It’s not serving as an activity, like a service project but becoming servants. However it all starts with being. It starts with understanding our identity in God, our beingness if you will. Understanding that the truest thing about us is what God says about us. That is where my personal struggle lies.  I am trying to find my identity, to find out what is true about me and who I am by doing. Way too often I’m doing instead of  being and I miss God. I don’t hear the still small voice, I don’t create a thin space where I can connect with God and I wonder why I’m not content. To me that is my and I think one of our biggest challenges in being the church. Unless we learn how to be we will continually miss what God is up to.  I want to live into what God is about and for me that means slowing down, creating time and space for God just to be God in my life. God does not need me to do something for him, he needs me to be his and when I am I will be able to be me and that me won’t miss what he is about in this world

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