Life This Week and A Prayer Request...

Life this week has been pretty hectic...I have been super busy at the church planning The Hunt - which is basically a giant scavenger hunt we had tonight...It was pretty fun and we had a lot of first time students show up so it was good. I plan to blog more later but it is late. I just wanted to pass on a couple of prayer requests. First, pray for Johanna and I and her family. Her grandmother passed away yesterday and the funeral is early next week. Secondly, pray for us a house. We have been hoping for a specific house here in town and found out today that someone else wants to lease it too and is willing to pay more than we can offer. We are praying that God would work in the hearts of the owners to give us the house anyway. That's all for now...


The Weekend Update

Not a whole lot going on this weekend...Johanna and I went out Friday...We went to San Marcos and grabbed dinner at Mamacita's (good Mexican grub) then headed to catch the movie "Employee of the Month." Good food and a funny movie...You really can't beat a date night like that. While we were killing time before the movie started we messed around in Target and Wal-Mart and then grabbed some Starbucks after the flick. Basically, it was a really fun evening together.
On Saturday we just kinda lounged around the house. I watched the UT and Nebraska game and played some NCAA 07 on the XBOX while Johanna did some of her homework and reading for her online classes. My parents came down late Saturday night to hear me preach this morning. Also, some of our close friends and one of my youth workers got engaged Saturday night. We're glad to share in their joy!
I preached at both of our morning worship services because our senior pastor is on vacation this weekend. It went pretty good I think...I love to teach so I always look forward to the opportunities that I get like this. It was cool to have my parents here as well. They just headed back home because my grandmother fell this morning and they are taking her to the hospital so my parents headed back a little earlier than expected. I also got to baptize one of my students this morning so that was super cool. Other than that, not a whole lot going on. We have praise team practice for our youth worship band at 4:30, a Youth Worker meeting at 5:00, and our student small groups meet at 6:00 so it will be a busy evening. Until next time...


A Light Rising In The Darkness

Tonight was a tough night at our youth worship service...Not just because students were a little more rowdy and "caffeinated" than usual, but because of the topic that we dealt with. Tonight I talked to our students about the AIDS epidemic that is destroying Africa. I have been involved with different types of AIDS and poverty related groups such as One Life Revolution, World Vision, and Compassion International for a couple years now. So tonight I shared with our students the heartbreaking statistics related to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa - that 8,800 people are infected daily with HIV, 1,400 of whom are infected newborns through there mothers milk - that every 14 seconds a child is orphaned in Africa because of AIDS - that 30 million of the 40 million people with HIV live in Africa - that more people die from AIDS in Africa EVERY WEEK than the total of all the American casualties of the Vietnam War - that a major reason that young girls (almost 60% of Africans with HIV are female) contract the HIV virus is because many countries have myths that teach that sexual relations with a virgin cures a person from AIDS...The statistics go on and on...You can check them out for yourself at oneliferevolution.org, worldvision.org/hope, or data.org.
Then I shared with them a scene from the popular movie Hotel Rwanda which my wife had shared with me last night. In the scene the Rwandan hotel manager is so happy that the American journalist caught the horrible atrocities on tape and is planning to show them on US news. The journalist, Jack, replies by saying, "I think if people see this footage, they'll say, 'Oh my God, that's horrible.' And then they'll go on eating their dinners." Unfortunately that is how many people in the church have responded to the AIDS crisis in Africa.
I think it is time for people who claim to follow Jesus and claim to be his disciples to start loving people in practical and real ways. To start being a light rising in the darkness. For me and my students this means getting involved in the AIDS epidemic. We are planning to raise funds to help support orphans and AIDS relief in Africa through World Vision as a part of ONE LIFE REVOLUTION...If you haven't heard of them, I really encourage you to check it out...Their slogan is "You have one life. Do something." That is what we as a student ministry are challenging ourselves to do. We realize that we may not change the entire continent of Africa and that our meager efforts will not make massive changes in the overall epidemic. But it will matter to some. We will not sit back and watch from our couches...We will be involved, one life at a time.
And I believe that if Jesus was on earth today, he would be hanging out in places like Africa, ministering to hurting children and orphans. So I want to be there too...If not in physical presence, then by giving to support the work that is being done to impact the world, one life at a time. And I believe that is what God desires of us. In Isaiah 58 God is rebuking the people for their empty acts of worship, specifically fasting. His indictment against them is that their religion has become empty and simply ritual because it does not affect the way that they live their daily lives. (What an idictment on believer today as well!) And in the middle of the chapter God responds to the people with these words:

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like noonday.
When I think about what I want my life to be, this rings so real to my heart. I want a light that rises in the darkness. I've got one life...I'm gonna do something.


Imagine If...

Last week at the Youth Specialties convention I had the opportunity to attend a session titled "Leading Change In Your Ministry" by Mark Oestriecher. I have had the benefit of hearing MarkO speak about ministry topics a couple different times and he always provides some great, challenging stuff and this was no exception. During this session he talked about how you begin to get your leadership in your ministry to dream about changes and he led us through some differnet group excercises that you can do to dream about the future together. One of those was an excercise called "Imagine If...." Basically, you spend about an hour imagining what your ministry would look like if you had no limitations or restraints. If there were no budgets to stick to or no time limitations or no nay-sayers holding you back, what would your ministry look like? Basically, imagine if the resources and possibilities for your ministry were limitless....I'll have to say that it was pretty fun to imagine all we could do, but then kind of deflating to realize that we don't get the opportunity to do a lot of it....
But the past week I have been thinking about this whole concept of "Imagine If..." In Psalm 50, God tells us that he owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" and that the "world is His and all that is in it." In the gospel of Luke (chapter 11, verse 9) Jesus is teaching his disciples about praying and he tells us "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened." As God answers the accusations of Job in the Old Testament (Job 41) he says that "Everything under heaven belongs to me." In Psalm 24 and 1 Corinthians 10 we read that "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." The biblical examples of this go on and on and on. We read all throughout the New Testament that Jesus did crazy, astonishing, shocking miracles that escaped and passed the limits of the physical and understandable in our world. We see time and time again that Jesus defies logic and rational thought to make a blind man see, to make a crippled man walk, and to make a dead man (that's right - D.E.A.D. for 3 days!) come alive again. So I come back to our little group dynamic dreaming game, "Imagine If..." and I ask myslef (and anyone who might read this, I guess, if anyone does read it...) "Imagine If...when it came to doing what God has called us to do, there were no limits. What if we had a limitless resources and all we could dream of could be done?"
I don't know what is going on in your life or what obstacles that you are facing. I have no clue about what God has called you to do that seems impossible. I don't know in which ways God has revealed to you that He will use you and has left you feeling incapable. But I do know this: As followers of Christ, we serve a God who takes the game "Imagine If" and turns it into reality. God's power, ability, and resources are limitless and beyond our imagination. If we truly put our trust in Him, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.


Among Friends...

A week ago Johanna & I headed to Austin for a five day adventure among friends. We went to the National Youth Workers Convention held annually by Youth Specialties. This was my third straight year to go and the second year for Johanna to attend with me. NYWC is basically an extended weekend conference put on by Youth Specialties in order to train, encourage, and minister to those who daily work in the trenches of student ministry. I am a Youth Specialties fan, big time. I think that they challenge youth workers, encourage the hearts of student ministers, and faithfully exhibit the love and grace of Jesus to those of us serving God and students in the local church better than any company or organization out there. That being said, NYWC is, in my opinion, the best thing that they do.
So basically, Johanna and I got to spend the last weekend, plus a day or two, with a few thousand people who "get us." And a lot of times that is really hard to find. At these conferences YS provides tons of seminars to train youth workers in specific areas and they provide great worship times and challenging speakers who both encourage the hearts of youth workers and urge them to keep pressing on. However, for me, the greatest part of the NYWC is that it gives us a chance to be among friends. I had a few buddies that attended with me this year and for some of us it is an annual time to hang out and learn from one another. They are great guys whose friendships I deeply cherish. But it wasn't just those friends that I got to be around. I was among friends, who although I didn't know them and they didn't know me, they got me. They understand why we do what we do. They see the importance of going to a 7th grade B team football game and cheering like it was the Super Bowl. They know why you don't turn your cell phone off at 10 PM. These people understand why we do crazy things like lock-ins and spend weeks away from our families and homes sleeping on the floor on a trip with students. They get it. At NYWC you are among friends. You are with people who understand why, when the pastor or church staff doesn't support you like you want them to, and when parents complain, and when church leaders not only don't get on board the ship but try to stop the ship from leaving the port before it ever gets started, these people at NYWC, they understand why we keep loving students and ministering to them in spite of all the junk that comes with it.
And I must admit, it is always good to be among friends. I assume it is this way with any calling, ministry, and maybe even all jobs, but it seems that when people don't understand you or "get you" it sure makes a job hard. But when they do, it is so encouraging. So THANK YOU, Youth Specialties, for realizing that as youth ministers, we need the time to be among friends. We need the time to be around people who are like us and who face the same stuggles, and hurts, and joys that we do. Thank you for standing in the gap for youth pastors all across this nation and the world. I think that Jesus smiles on you guys at YS because he knows what you do for us that keeps us going.


This Crazy Calling

I have been telling myself and others that I would start blogging for almost 6 months now. I keep telling people that I'll jump on a blog site and myspace "this next week." Well, I am officially taking the plunge into the blogging world...and man is it impressive to see that I am only several years behind the times. Hopefully, the plan is to sign up for a myspace as well tonight or tommorrow...I am really an over-achiever and on the cutting edge of technology, I know.
Well, back to my title for this post "This Crazy Calling." For those of you who don't know, I am a youth pastor. I am 28 years old and have been doing this with my life for the last 10 years and to be quite honest, there is nothing on the face of this earth that I would rather do. I may not be the typical, church minister. Most of the time when people find out what I do for a living they qucikly say (with a very puzzled look), "Really...you don't look like a minister." And many who know me well would agree that I don't act like the typical "minister" either. And both of those comments are probably the highest compliments I could ever receive in my opinion. You see, I believe that a lot of what the church does and what it stands for in today's culture is counter to what Jesus would do and stand for. I believe that many church-goers and people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with religion and rules instead of relationship and intimacy with a loving and gracious God. That's why it doesn't bother me to be different from the norm...And that is why I love what I do. I love God and I love people, especially students. My calling and my job allow me to put those two loves and passions together and do it in a way that challenges the status quo and the norm. It is far more important for me to BE THE CHURCH, than to go to church. I feel that Jesus has called those who have been changed by Him to a lifestyle, not a weekly meeting. In my opinion, Christ challenges us to live love, not just talk and sing about it. I think that Jesus is far more concerned with problems like hunger, AIDS, poverty, and racism than he is with how we dress when we show up to worship together. I believe that Jesus is far more concerned with our hearts rather than the style, length, or color of our hair. And I believe that, unfortunately, many people who claim to be followers of Jesus are concerned about things that matter not to Him.
That is why I love what I do. Every day, I get to try to show, teach, and demonstrate to students that their is a loving God who is far more concerned about a relationship with them than the religious rules they follow. Every day I get the chance to help people see that their is a God that is crazy-in-love with them regardless of where they are in life. Some days I think I do ok and then others I know I blow it and do more harm for the kingdom of God than good...But I know that at the end of the day Jesus' love for me is not based on what I do or don't do. To me, it's crazy but I would rather do nothing else.