It is raining outside today and I am supposed to be at two track meets. I have Junior High students competing today and one of my high school guys running at another meet about 30 miles away. It's bad enough to try to be in two places at once, but it is worse when it is raining...Which makes me think to my self, "Self, Where is my poncho?"


C.S. Lewis & Walter Hooper...

Last night myself and a few others from our Tuesday Night Bible Study group at Texas State attended a lecture that one of the professors had set up entitled "The Legacy of C.S. Lewis: A Master Communicator." The lecture was by Walter Hooper, a brilliant man who spent time as Lewis' personal secretary near the end of his time hear on earth. At first I'll have to admit that I was reluctant to go because I thought it might not be that entertaining. I could not have been further from the truth. Dr. Hooper was fascinating and hilarious. However, the one thing that impressed me the most was that his entire lecture circled around Lewis' faith as a Christian. He talked about his apologetics, his theology, and his evangelism. Hooper said that Lewis was always a great technical writer, even before he was a believer. But few of his pre-Christian works are of any fame or legacy. Hooper stated it was because Lewis had nothing to say then. After becoming a believer, he was an instrument for the Lord and carried a message that was worth saying...This was a pretty cool thing to be happening at Texas State, one of the most secular universities in the state. I highly recommend picking up some of Hooper's work on Lewis if you are a reader and have read any C.S. Lewis at all...I'll leave you with a couple quotes/stories shared by Hooper about Lewis:

Hooper met Bob Jones, the conservative president of Bob Jones University before he met Lewis. Knowing that Jones knew Lewis, Hooper asked about him. Jones replied in a stern manner, "That man smokes the pipe...and he does drink a little...but I believe he is a Christian."

On his first meeting with Lewis, Hooper said Lewis spoke these words to him after Hooper complemented Lewis's work and its influence on him: "I am glad I was used as an instrument of the Lord in your life. In his hands any instrument will do...Otherwise, none."

A final story he shared was of the two men walking home in Oxford one evening and being approached by a beggar. Lewis gave the man some money and Hooper asked him as they walked away, "Aren't you afraid he'll use it on drink?" Lewis quickly replied, "Well, if I had kept it, that's what I'd have used it on."

Hooper also told how Lewis never took any money from his writings. Up until the time he married he had 100% of his money off his writings given to a charity for widows and orphans. After marrying, he still gave 2/3 of his money to the charity and 1/3 to his wife and step-children. I knew going into last night that C.S. Lewis was a man of faith. I left with an understanding of how much he really lived that out. C.S. Lewis was a great example of John the Baptist's exclamation: "He must become greater, I must become less!"


Shannon's Story (or The Emptiness of Things)...

So here is the great story I promised from last night. Let me begin by saying that over the past 10 years of student ministry I have had the amazing opportunity of ministering to and with some of the best students on the face of the earth. It is always great to have students that are not only a joy to minister to and work with, but who are also just great people who are a joy to be around and who are trying their best to follow Christ and model his love. Shannon is one of those people.
Last night at our DEEPER Bible Study, Johanna led a discussion about materialism. Her concept was to try and get the girls to see how much they really are blessed and how much others sometimes go without. They talked about materialism and how in the end, "things" leave us empty. Toward the end of the Bible study, Shannon, a senior in our group, told the other girls that she was going home to clean out her closet and put what she had learned into action. About an hour later when some of us were hanging out at the home where the girls Bible study meets, Shannon walks in the door with an enormous garbage bag and says, "Here, Nic. I've got a present for ya!" Up until this point, I had no idea what she was doing or had done, but she told Johanna that she wanted to bring the stuff up to me because I wouldn't think she would do it. To be honest, she was probably right because we had a similar conversation this summer and I am always giving her a hard time about all the shoes she has. She proceded to get a couple of the guys to help her carry in all the rest and when all was said and done she had given me two garbage bags full of shoes and clothes and another three boxes of shoes, all of which she wants donated to a charity that will be able to use these possessions to clothe people in need and share the love of Jesus in a practical way.
Understand this: This was a big deal. Shannon is a shoe-a-holic and I'm sure her collection of shoes and clothes rivals any. But last night, Jesus spoke to her and she responded. In a real and practical way she said yes to the call of Christ. She chose to use her possessions in a way that would honor Jesus and she gave back to him and others out of the over-abundance that she had acquired. She was blessed and she is turning it into a blessing. She chose to give an offering. And in the process she is providing to me and others an example of what it means to being to understand that our meaning is not found in things. When all is said and done in life, it doesn't matter how many new cars you have had, how many houses you own, or how big your bank account is. That is all rubbish, dirt, nothing, in the kingdom of God. When life is done, it doesn't matter how many pairs of stylish shoes you own or how many clothes filled your closet. What matters is how many lives you've impacted with your's for the kingdom of God. What matters is what we have offered to God. Last night, in a very practical way, Shannon chose to impact the kingdom and she gave of what she had as an offering to God. That's what it is all about.


The Weekend Update...

What a great weekend! I guess the weekend "unofficially" started for us on Thursday night when Johanna and I met up with Jeremy and Kari in Austin for a double date. We hit up some Z Tejas on 6th street, which was very good, even if Jeremy and Kari were a little under the weather the next day...I don't think it had anything to do with the food...Maybe it was ebola or the bird flu. ..Anyway, after having a quite ecclectic meal at Z Tejas, we hit up Starbucks and then headed home. Friday involved driving most of the day to pick up Curry, who moved in with us this weekend. Then late Friday night about midnight Andy and Jaron, two former students of mine who are going to live with us this summer and help us in the youth ministry, came in for the weekend.
Saturday we spent most of the day just messing around and hanging out together. By far, the highlight of the day involved our kite flying...great times. We went into Wal-Mart to get something (I can't even remember now what it was...) and we all came out with some of those cheap plastic kites. We went to the park that is in our subdivision and flew kites for a while. Then we came to the conclusion that we definitely need more kite string and headed back to Wal-Mart. We all got a couple hundred more feet, except for Andy, who bought 400 yards of thick thread and flew his kite over 1200 feet in the air before tying it to a tree and leaving it that high. I'll have to say that I really had forgot how fun and relaxing flying a kite really is.
Today consisted of Sunday School, Church, a big lunch and great fellowship with lots of friends (13 of us) at our house after church, and our student small groups this evening. We talked about where we find our meaning and about materialism. One of the girls in Johanna's group had an amazing practical application of what she learned following the Bible study. I'll blog about it tomorrow because I want to include a picture. Until then, hope your weekend was filled with things are relaxing as flying a kite and people as incredible as the friends I shared mine with.


I Never Want To Drive Again...

I have been in the car for over eight hours today...driving my wife's little Nissan Sentra. A friend and I headed down to south east Texas today (and I mean WAY SOUTH and WAY EAST) to pick up a former student of mine. He has been having a lot of family problems that have basically ended up with him moving in with Johanna and I. Yeah, its crazy I know, but it will be different for us. We will have adjustments to make and we will have to be flexible and learning again with someone else living with us. The guy is one of my former students from another church I served and is an older high school student. He was really having a bad time with his family and after praying about it Johanna and I feel that the most-like-Jesus thing we can do is to allow him to move in with us, to teach him some things, offer him love and support, and try to give him a chance to get on his feet in life...Sometimes all people need to succeed is for others to believe in them, model a good lifestyle for them, and then just give them a chance.

While we are at Mission Arlington one of the MA leaders talked about how when you are growing in following Christ, there are times when God calls you to take deeper steps of trust to show you really and truly rely on him and are following him no matter what. Basically, he is seeing how far we are willing to go to follow and trust him. This is one of those times for us. We know it will take extra money and patience and time and we're not sure where a lot of that is coming from, but we know that Christ has called us to do this, even if some people think we're nuts...Heck, I even think we're nuts sometimes, but when He says Go, you go.

One of the coolest things in all this is how great Johanna has been in it all. It is incredible to serve and share my life and ministry with a godly woman who really wants to embody Christ and doesn't see ministry as "MY job," but rather OUR CALLING. Knowing, even if only partially, that this will require some major adjustments and sacrifices for us, she has jumped in with both feet...And I think that has probably impacted this young man with the love of Christ more than anything, because she is so willing to accept him into our home.

All this to say pray for us. Lift us and our new family member up. We will certainly need it as we adjust and follow him together.


Finally, Someone Who Get's My Messiness...

Click on the above title to check out this article...I read this article at lunch about a new book and study coming out that shows how people who have messy desks and offices can actually be more productive and cost efficient employees for their company...Finally the truth is revealed! I would print a copy of this article and keep it but it would just end up in the three foot pile of junk on my desk...And to think, I had actually started to clean up my office this morning...Man, was I wasting time!

Who Sits At Your Table of Influence?...

Tonight (Wednesday) at our midweek youth gathering we started a new series called MySpace: MyLife. For the next six weeks we'll be exploring things like relationships, evangelism, media choices, and the like through the lenses of the lessons we can learn from the online world and community of MySpace. We started off tonight talking about My Top 8. For those who aren't "myspace" friendly, each person has their own homepage and can choose their top 8, 16, 20 or 24 friends to display who also have a myspace page. We used that whole idea to talk about relationships and how to build healthy friendships in life.

We all want friends. None of us like to be alone. None of us like to be the one who is left out. We are all created in the image of God, whether we acknowledge it or not, and part of being created in that image means being created relationally. We need relationships with other people.

So as I prepared and prayed about this series and what I would share tonight I felt led to talk about who sits at our table of influence? Who are you friends and how do they influence you or you influence them? Who do you go through life with? Who sits at your table of influence? The dictionary defines influence as "the act or power of producing an effect (on someone or something) without the use of force or command." In our relationships we all have some sort of influence. Either we are being influenced or we are influencing others, and sometimes this can happen in the same relationship.

As we all look at the friendships and relationships we have I think we need to look for a two kinds of people. First, we all need people who influence us to be more like Jesus. We all need mentors - people who challenge us to grow and mature in the faith - people who will hold us accountable, inspire us to follow Christ more closely, and who will influence us for the good of the kingdom. But we also need a second kind of relationship: We need friendships where we are influencing others with the love of Jesus. Jesus was called a "friend of sinners." If you were to eat a meal with Him and the people he ate with you would probably share a table with prostitutes, social outcasts, uneducated and poor people, and a lot of other people considered "riff-raff" by their society and even the religious leaders of the day. But Jesus knew the need to live out truth, grace, and love in the lives of those who did not know it. And we are called to do the same. We are called to have friends who no nothing of the love and truth of Jesus so that we can model it, teach it, and live it toward them and for them.

So, who sits at your table of influence? Are there both types of people? I know that for me, personally, the challenge is to be sure that I am making authentic, real relationships with people who can influence me to follow Jesus in a deeper way, as well as friendships that are intentional and authentic in showing the love of Jesus to those who don't yet claim it as theirs.


Think About This...

Read a great quote on a friend's blog recently. It was taken from the book Organic Church by Neil Cole. In the summer of 2005 I took eight students on a mission trip to Koln, Germany and the model for what the missionaries were doing there was taken from this book. Here's the quote...Hopefully it'll make you think, wrestle, and maybe even cross the street to places you wouldn't normally go.

"If you're going to reach the world for Christ, you're going to have to sit in the smoking section." - Neil Cole


My Week In Review...

I got the great opportunity last week to spend the week with a group of students serving on a mission trip to Mission Arlington. This was my 16th or 17th trip to serve at Mission Arlington, either on a Spring Break or Summer mission trip with students...After 10 or so I guess you start to lose count...Anyway, it was a fantastic week. I took a group of students from our church who had never been before and we met up with three of my former students that had done this whole thing before. Two college guys and a junior high guy who were willing to give up their spring break to come and help us serve and teach so Mission Arlington newbies the ropes. It was a fantastic week with several highlights. It was great to see our students serving outside of their comfort zones. We stayed in places they normally would not stay. We went to places they normally would not go. We interacted with people that they normally would not interact with...And in all of that, they were able to see how big and wide and deep the love of God is. Not only for them, but for a lost and hurting world that surrounds them. And they were also able to see that they can make a difference. Their life can count for something big. I think that one of the biggest problems in most churches, schools, and other institutions that deal with teenagers is that they don't challenge students to excellence. They don't challenge students to comeplety exhaust their lives for the kingdom of God, convince them that they are capable of doing it, and then give them the opportunity to do so in small ways. I believe that good student ministry is founded on missions and this was a great week to allow students to catch a small glimpse of what God can use them to do.

Another highlight of the week was in seeing how God used one of our students named Alberto. Alberto moved across the street from Johanna and I about four months ago. He started coming to our youth stuff with some friends and has been super involved ever since. He moved here from Monterrey, Mexico. Alberto wasn't planning on going on the trip until the week before we left. He got some info about it from me on Wednesday night and then his mom called us on Friday to sign him up, just two days before we left. During the afternoons at Mission Arlington we were at an apartment complex called Roger's Landing doing Rainbow Express, which is like VBS or Backyard Bible clubs. It just so happened that the vast majority of the complex was Hispanic and about half of the kids that came to the Rainbow Express only spoke Spanish! Alberto was able to translate the Bible stories without any problem and proved to be out source of communication for many of the children. That is a total God thing and it was evident to our group that God has a purpose in even the sign up list of a mission trip.

There was another highlight of the last week for me personally. I have now been involved in student ministry for just over 10 years. In those 10 years I have grown and learned a lot and continue to learn, but one of the things that I have felt most convinced and convicted of is the need to have missions as a core value of any student ministry I led. And as I have served and led over the years we have tried to make our missions emphasis not just on mission trips, but on what we are doing where God has placed us on a daily basis. Becuase of some of the missions stuff I have done in the two towns where I have lived, the guy who runs the Mission Arlington Rainbow Express things asked me to speak to all the groups that were there about how we have taken the concepts of what Mission Arlington does and have applied them to our home mission fields. I told the students, adults, and youth ministers who were there that far too many times we make missions in our youth ministries about a trip that we take somewhere. We are so willing to drive across the state or country and even fly across the world. And that is great and brings glory and honor to God. But that is not all he has called us to do. We ought to be just as willing to walk across the street, sit across the cafeteria, and drive acroos the tracks to a different part of town in our cities. God has placed us in the places we live so that we might serve him there. I got to share my heart about how we are called to live as missionaries wherever we are and not just take mission trips. After I got done a couple students and a couple adults came up and talked with me a little while about what I had shared and some of the things we had done. It was pretty cool to know that God used me and the experiences he has led us through to impact others.

Overall, it was a busy week, a tiring week, a stressful week, a crazy week, but a good week in which glory and honor and fame was brought to God. Because we went and served and sang and colored and played and knocked on doors and loved, there are people in Arlington who know God loves them in a real and practical way.


Blog Silence...

I have been on a mission trip all week with a small group of our students at an amazing place called Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex (www.missionarlington.org). This has been my 16th or so trip to serve at Mission Arlington and each trip has its highlights and lessons...I will post some this weekend, as its after midnight right now and we just got back to the hotel and have to head home in the morning, but I'll give you this teaser of a quote from Matt, who leads the Mission Arlington Rainbow Express outreach...

"You can prepare for a movement of God, but you cannot plan for it."

Hope your week has been as good as mine up to this point...Tons of lessons learned that I'll try to share from a coffee shop corner this weekend.


The Weekend Update (or Lessons Learned While Looking For A Fake Coach Purse)...

This weekend was busy and full as usual. We had trackmeets and Thursday and Saturday and in between that I got to spend some time with two close friends. Two of my buddies, who are also Youth Pastors, were in Austin this weekend for the girls state basketball tournament. On Friday we got together in Lockhart for some early morning (9:30 AM) golf and some famous Kruetz Bar-B-Q for lunch. After that we headed off to Austin to watch the UT baseball game, get some Longhorn gear from the Co-Op, and hang out in the ATX that evening. Saturday, after doing some work stuff and errands in the morning, Johanna and I headed to Austin to spend some time together in the afternoon and evening.

One thing that Johanna wanted to do was to find a fake Coach purse. One of her co-worker's daughters had gotten her one for Christmas and Johanna really like it. So we called to find out where they got it but couldn't get ahold of anyone. All Johanna knew was that they found it at a flea market in Austin. In case you're not familiar with the Austin area, that really doesn't narrow it down too much. We stopped at a gas station once we got to Austin and borrowed their phone book to look up some numbers for some flea markets. After looking them over we decided to call one that we thought sounded like a pretty big one. When we asked where they were located we found out that they were in north central Austin...about 30 minutes away. But since I knew she really wanted to find one of these purses we headed off in that direction. We exited off of I-35 and began to follow the directions the lady had given us over the phone. And I began to notice that the further away from the interstate we got, the more the signs and billboards and stores began to change. We were getting into a different neighborhood and most of the signs were in Spanish. Needless to say, once we arrived at the flea market, we were in an area we were not really familiar with at all. We noticed that most of the people outside the flea market were very different than us. Especially when it came to ethnicity. Once we entered the building where the flea market was we quickly realized that we had walked into another world. The flea market was almost 100% Mexican-American, with the exception being a couple Asian-American run booths, an African-American woman shopping, and myself and my wife. As we walked the aisles and scanned the collection of goods that were being sold, we could have easily been in another country. Much of the signs and descriptions of the goods, as well as the background music, were in another language than what I speak. And a lot of the products, such as video games, movies, books, and magazines were in Spanish and not English. The goods that were for sale in this place appealed to a certain people group, one of which I do not exist. We walked around inside for several minutes and received several strange looks. We got stares and puzzled looks from people, most of whom were probably trying to figure out why we were there. I even caught a couple of glances that seemed angry toward us, but that could simply be my perception in the given situation. However, after making our way up and down a couple aisles, we decided to head to another place, with no fake Coach purse in hand.

As I have pondered that experience over the past few days, God has really used it to speak to me. Every Sunday, and on some other days of the week at certain places, all across our country this experience occurs. And other people experience the same thing I experienced in that flea market on Saturday. Yet the experience for them doesn't happen in a flea market, or on a quest to purchase goods, or even across ethnic lines. Every Sunday this experience happens to the unchurched who gather up the courage to walk through the typical church doors of their local congregations in our country. And as I have pondered my experience in another culture, I wonder if their's is much different. Most churches and Christians have, in my opinion unfortunately, adopted their own culture. We have Christan music, Christian clothing, a certain order of Sunday morning worship, Christian songs and Christian singers, Christian books, and even our own Christian language. Think about it for a second: How many times do you use words like justifaction, redeemed, sanctified, and thou in every day conversations? It just doesn't happen...except for at some Christian churches on Sunday mornings. And when unchurched people, who may not know anything of the gospel or the love of Christ, walk through our doors they are thrown into a culture in which they have no experience, no connection, and is completely foreign to them. They don't understand the music or the language or the "goods" and yet we are shocked and puzzled at why they do not return. In many cases, they stand out and look different, just like I did at the flea market, and because of that they receive the same treatment and hurtful stares that I received in my experience. And still we wonder why our churches for the most part aren't growing and reaching unchurched people. The church sits around in meetings wondering why people outside our doors aren't being drawn into a life-changing relationship with the living Savior. Maybe it's because the culture that we've created is something so foreign to them that we've actually gotten in the way of the message of Jesus. Maybe people don't come back because they are so confused by the language and the culture that they really don't see the need for what we offer. It's my fear that in creating this Christian sub-culture here in America that is exactly what we've done. So how do we fix it? Well, I think there are some big, major, institutional changes that need to take place in the church. And those changes would affect some of our practices and the more practical aspects of what occurs at our gatherings and in our ministries, but those are big things that take time to unpackage and explain and can easily get a guy in trouble. There are definitely some BIG things we need to change to begin to more effectively share the love and grace of Jesus with those who are yet to understand and accept it. But there are also some smaller things that each of us can do in our own communities of faith and in the places in which we live that can make a difference. While this list is in no way comprehensive or exhaustive, it's a small start.

#1 - Realize that what we have done in many churches is create a culture that many unchurched people do not understand. Be conscious of ways in which you can break down those cultural barriers, explaining your faith and your churches practices to someone in a way that makes sense to them.

#2 - Quit judging the unchurched without knowing them. Every Sunday in churches across our land people are on the receiving end of stares, whispers, and looks that let them know they are different and for whatever reason don't fit the mold. We need to THROW OUT THE MOLD and began to treat people as Jesus would, welcoming them into our community of faith, regardless of their ethnicity, dress, soci-economic background or any thing else that might cause them to be a little different than we are. It is not our place to decide who is in and who is out. Jesus already made that decision on the cross. Our arms ought to be as welcoming as His.

#3 - Don't talk in a foreign language. Be real and authentic in your communication of the love of God to others and encourage your church, your church leaders, and your church structure to do the same thing. So many times we feel that we are communicating something when we are simply just talking. If people are not understanding and receiving our message then we are not communicating. Let's not let the incredible message of the gospel get lost in translation from some Christianese language that we have made up in the church. Make sure people around you understand the love of Christ in their language.

#4 - Live authentically. Regardless of what form of worship your church has chosen, whether it appeals to the unchurched or is steeped in traditon that someone outside the walls wouldn't understand, it is not the church service itself that draws people into following Christ in this society. Relationships are everything. It is our relationships with the unchurched and lost that will prove to be the main factor in their acceptance of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. If we do not take the initiative and show others the love of Christ, and then authentically live it out in real and practical ways in our daily lives, then it doesn't matter what else we do. It is in the authenticity of our faith, our love for God and others, that people will see Christ and His love for them. That can overcome a lot of barriers that the institution of the church has built up over time.

As I look back on my experience at the flea market, I know there are several more lessons to be learned. And hopefully as I continue to process those lessons and God continues to teach me through this experience, I'll be able to share more of what I've learned. It is sometimes good to be the outsider and see how others feel from the outside looking in. I'm thankful for the experience and the lessons learned...and by the way, we still haven't found that purse!