Archive for January, 2012

Boys To Men part 2

What skills, tools and attitudes do kids need in order to survive and thrive in their own futures?

This is thinking out loud…

There are many tools and skills that youth need developed in their lives to mature into healthy adults. Solid work ethics, computer familiarity, self-restraint, and a host of other qualities come to mind.
However, the most basic need is a complete dependance and willingness to submit to the love and authority of God in all things.  Obviously Jesus put it best when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV)
The questions “why” and “how” come to mind when I consider that our savior explicitly stated this, and consequently parents and youth workers need let it to inform all that we do in the name of God’s son.

Why is this commandment first?  The answer to this question can delve deeply into a systematic theological rant, so I will summarize.  Loving God informs us of how amazing He is, and how much we are dependent on Him.  Loving God gives us the most basic thing to remember when doing youth ministry, that is: It’s about Him.  Youth ministry is often targeted towards teens, but it’s not really about them.  It’s about Him.  This should help us choose from the myriad of opportunities available to the American church , and help us to separate distractions from the thing of greatest importance: loving God.
Furthermore,we need to train teens how to truly love God. Loving God is not just a past-tense action from when they prayed the sinner’s prayer, but a present-tense reality that needs to be a part of their daily life. As they mature into a future-tense, teens need to understand that loving God is, and will always be, the most important need that they have regardless of what school or career path they end up on.

 

How do we teach this commandment? There are many ways…

times up

Boys To Men

Our culture doesn’t have a formal ceremony or other cultural influence to strongly suggest a normal rite of passage that tells a young man that he is an “adult”.  With respect to the ladies, I think one of our society’s large problems is when men don’t stop acting like little boys. This hurts marriages and families in profound ways.  Some think you are an adult once you accomplish one or more of the following unique rites of passage:

  • Join the military
  • Get drunk in public on your 21st birthday
  • Pay for your own car or smart phone
  • Vote in a Presidential election

It’s not an exhaustive list, but there are certainly some prevailing attitudes that back up these ideas.  However, not much there is a good definition of being a man.

My wife and I have been blessed with four children, the oldest of which is currently 14 years old.  Sometimes he is acts like he is 30. He’s co-captain on his basketball team. Sometimes he acts like he is 6. He whines about cleaning his room and turning off the Xbox. It gives us parental whiplash!

However, we went through an intentional ceremony with him on his 12th birthday that called him to grow into a man.  It still resonates with responsibility. We got the idea from Robert Lewis book, “Raising a Modern Day Knight.”  One of the results of that ceremony is a plack on his wall that is signed by his parents and grandfathers.  It reads:   “In a world full of boys,  this is a direct challenge and honor to the recipient in becoming a MAN. A man is someone who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects the greater reward…God’s Reward.”

Obviously a nice framed certificate on his bedroom wall doesn’t turn a boy into a man. But it helps keep the conversation flowing.  We point at it sometimes and get to say affirming things like, “We are proud of how you handled that tough situation like a man.  Good job.”  Sometimes we point at it and say, “You are not being a man right now.  Settle down and accept responsibility.”  It is not an easy path converting a boy into a man!  However, being intentional about engaging that process is making a difference in his life, as well as in ours as caregivers.

I know we aren’t alone in choosing intentional paths that lead to him taking steps towards becoming man, so I’m always eager to hear what successes others have had in this regard. We are already starting again too, as our second son turned 12 recently and we had a separate yet similar ceremony with him too.  We like hearing how we can become better at helping our boys make this transition, as this is just one that is helping us.

Is this a quick fix or an all encompassing answer to the question of how to move a child from boy to man?  Definitely not.  However, a key aspect is living Proverbs 22:6 by literally infusing it into our everyday conversations.  “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

12 certificate

10.3 MINISTRY IS LIKE Mountain Biking – VISION IS EVERYTHING

As I have been learning how to be more of a serious mountain biker on legitimately challenging trails, I have noticed many things that are similar to leadership principles applicable to ministry.

If a ministry is based off the Great Commission, then it must be contributing to making disciples who are making disciples.  Too often I come across ministries that throw around buzz words like “build the kingdom” and “make disciples,” but there is little evidence of that actually occurring over time.  They often have not even made an attempt of defining what a disciple might look like in the 21st century.

This can be blamed on the season they are in, changes in the organization, or a host of other excuses. Yet ultimately, a ministry that is not involved intentionally in supporting the making of disciples is actually just a religious program.  It’s leaders and or its participants simply don’t have clear vision for why they exist or what they are supposed to be doing.

Mountain biking is practically impossible if you can’t see where you are going.  You have to be able to see what’s in front of you in close proximity, as well as up ahead, often at the same time.  Adjustments will need to be made or you can literally go flying off the side of a cliff in epic fashion.  This happened to my son awhile back, and he broke his collarbone.  Real dangers exist!

On one of my first rides, my more experienced friend suggested I get some sort of glasses to protect my eyes from the elements (tree limbs, dirt, etc) and to help me see more clearly while spinning through the wooded Ozark mountains that exist in our area of the country.  One particularly sunny and  bright morning I thought I was being smart and I put on my uber dark sunglasses.  I didn’t give it a second thought until I was well into the ride, and I realized that I couldn’t see very well in the shadows.  I assured myself this probably wouldn’t be a problem.

Soon after, it became a problem. At one point I was hurtling down an incline at a speed that must have exceeded 20mph, and I was shocked to see barbed wire on the path in front of me.  I put on the breaks, and as my bike began to leave the ground I jumped/fell off and miraculously landed on both of my feet and slid to a stop as my bike catapulted into a somersault down the trail.

I slid right over the barbed wire.  I was amazed I hadn’t fallen into it or been cut, but then I took of my sunglasses which were exceedingly dark.  I didn’t see any barbed wire.  In it’s place someone must have placed a harmless small branch with small sprigs protruding from it. Oops!  I had almost been in a bad accident because I thought I saw something that wasn’t there, because my vision was bad!  I needed the correct lenses, and my lack of preparation nearly caused me greater problems.

If your are a ministry leader, just like in mountain biking, vision is everything!  Know what you are trying to do, why you are trying to do it, and how you are going to respond as you lead forward.  Otherwise you might not only have an accident, you may be the blind person causing it!

10.2 Ministry is Like Mountain Biking – DONT LOCK ELBOWS

As I have been learning how to be more of a serious mountain biker on legitimately challenging trails, I have noticed many things that are similar to leadership principles applicable to ministry.

A key part of navigating treacherous Ozark trails on a bike is making adjustments to your direction. Though this sounds obvious, it’s not so easy to remember after a steep climb.

Imagine huffing and puffing and working hard as your slowly peddle your way up the side of a mountain. Your legs scream for rest, but if you slow down you roll backwards. You want to stand up, but if you do your bike won’t have enough weight leaning forward and you can perform an unwanted, unspectacular, and ultimately painful wheelie. Finally, you reach the top. Success! Your reward of going down the mountain awaits you.

As you begin your steep descent, the breeze picks up with speed, and it cools your sclap through your vented helmet. It feels so good, and you descend at a speed that is several times faster than what you just completed. Joy! But also, danger! The temptation is to lock your elbows while you lean on your handle bars and enjoy the thrill ride. This is the very instant when I have almost had my most spectacular wrecks.
Why? When your elbows are locked, it’s harder to make minor yet crucial adjustments to your bike’s direction. Rocks, trees, roots, gravel, sand, mud, boulders, and drop-offs are potentially in your path at an increasingly quick pace. You have to be ready to change, despite your desire to just sit back and relax. Yet the amount of time you have to react is very little.

Can you see the ministry analogies pop out of that last paragraph? Many times ministry leaders will accomplish something of significance, and then relax while they lean on their ministry handle bars. Meanwhile they and/or their ministry is ever approaching fresh hazards, and their lack of preparedness for the next difficulty leaves them vulnerable to a spectacular fall.

Proverbs 22:5 “Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.” As in mountain biking, it’s great to celebrate victories in ministry. Appreciate when you overcome difficult stretches. Yet we must remember to not let our guard down, lock our elbows, lean on our handles bars, and just coast unwittingly into danger. We must guard that which we have been entrusted with from being overcome, simply because we weren’t ready and watchful for the difficulties yet to come.

10.1 Ministry is like Mountain Biking – DRIVING OVER BRAKES

As I have been learning how to be more of a serious mountain biker on legitimately challenging trails, I have noticed many thing that are similar to leadership principles applicable to ministry.

I was reminded today of a big one. I was hurtling down the side of a steep mountain trail between boulders and stones, when some old advice popped back into my head. It came from a very unlikely source at a very unlikely time, but had and continues to have many applications in my life. Many years ago I was talking about relationships with several young adults. One of our “wilder” college aged students was present. He was and is still a great guy, but at the time he was very rough around the edges. Even his appearance was a bit shocking for 1996. Double earrings. Pierced tongue. Some tattoos. Not necessarily normal for a young adult at the time, but he pulled it off. He was a cool dude, inside and out.

As we were discussing having boundaries in dating, the topic of lust and physical touch came up. I spoke of how our biggest goal should be to honor God in our relationships, and part of that reality meant avoiding situations where pre-marital sex might be a temptation. Brad suddenly spoke up. “You mean trust your driving, not your brakes.” I missed the analogy entirely at first, and was a bit stunned at how we had slipped into a discussion about highway safety. He noticed my confusion, so he continued. “You know. If you are with a good looking girl in a private place, you might want to start messing around in ways you shouldn’t that doesn’t honor God. Then once you start doing that, it won’t be satisfying enough, and you will want to start doing more than just messing around. Before you know you it, you can both end up, ya know, naked. If you would have never steered yourself into a bad situation where there wasn’t any accountability, you wouldn’t have to worry about putting on the breaks to stop yourselves from having sex. So make good choices so that you can trust your driving instead of your brakes.” I was both stunned at how quickly the conversation had gone past a G rating, and also at how succinctly he made a powerful and wise point.

I started to break while I was approaching some trees at a quick pace, but it really wasn’t necessary. Breaking when you are mountain biking is sometimes necessary, but just as often you can avoid danger by changing direction ever so slightly. “Trust your driving not your brakes,” popped into my head, and I easily avoided the danger.

This advice is applicable in dating, in mountain biking, and also in ministry leadership. If you are careful to be in prayer and the Bible on a regular basis, plan ahead, consult wise men and women of God, I believe you can boldly steer through and around many leadership difficulties that will arise. Sometimes you do need to stop when you are wrong, and even change direction, so I’m not advocating blindly steering into a rock of sin.

I’ve taken this analogy long enough. It needs cleaned up. I’m out of time.

Youth Ministry: Know your Audience

Though my job title and duties have changed over the years, I am still involved in youth ministry as a volunteer at our local church. But ministry to teenagers can be as much art form as anything else.  It sometimes takes listening and boldness to get a kid to connect through non-traditional means into a group.

“Ryan” is one of those kids.  A couple of months ago, I started noticing that though Ryan would attend the large group Sunday morning worship service for teens in our church, he never attending the smaller group meetings on Wednesday.  He is shy. He is very reserved.  He would politely say, “maybe someday” when invited, but never showed up.  We finally had a meeting a his house, but he didn’t come when we met elsewhere.

By ordained coincidence, Ryan’s father and I ran into each other several times over a couple of weeks, and finally decided to get coffee.  He shared with me about a messy divorce situation that Ryan had more than just a by-standing witness too in the last 2-3 years, and how Ryan stopped engaging in sports and other outside activities almost completely as a result.  This made a lot of sense to me, but I asked a couple of more questions about what he is currently interested in, and I learned some things.  Among the most important: He loves to shoot and edit video.

The youth ministry was recently doing a large retreat (400 middle schoolers), and Ryan had resisted signing up.  If he did, he would be with our small group and get to start feeling more comfortable.  His Dad let me know that he was planning to sit it out, so I went on the offensive.  Within a short time frame we got Ryan excited to attend and participate by inviting him to help with the photos and video.  I even called the guy who oversees that element and had him call and invite Ryan personally.  Success!  He attended, interacted, and appeared to be smiling a lot.  He even shared with me about some personal struggles during a small group break out time where the other 3 boys had also been touched by massive struggles from their parents marriages.

I praise God for the little team of adults that are all praying for and trying to encourage Ryan in his walk with Jesus Christ! Sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity and listening to love on a kid for the kingdom of God.

 

 

Too Many Resources

The U.S. needs healthcare reform.  That is not news in and of itself, but our story is unique.  We have 4 children.  I make $2400 per month.  I can’t quit (not that I want too).  I can’t get a raise even though I’m definitely owed it, and my bosses want to give it to me.  The problem? Resources.

I’m both the last person who is interested in discussing this topic, and one of those who probably needs to speak up more at the same time.  My wife is legally disabled due to brain tumors.  We discovered this at the most inopportune time when we were “between jobs” so to speak.  We signed up for personal healthcare, but Marque had already been getting migraines and BlueCross had deemed anything head related uninsurable.  This is something that group health insurance cant do, but if you are getting private insurance, they can stick it to you.  And they will.  And they did.  Our healthcare system badly needs reform.

Just before all this happened I had begun the process of starting a non-profit ministry. In the midst of the physical and emotional trauma of it all, we came to realize that because my income was so low, we qualified for SSI (Social Security Income).  We didn’t necessarily want government money, but it was the only route that a younger person can take to also get Medicaid.  With the crazy amount of potentially expensive hospital bills we could foresee coming soon, we applied and were accepted.

What an amazing country we live in that my wife could basically get free healthcare because we were, and are, technically poor.  This was a major blessing and I will be forever grateful for it.  However, over 3 years later we are still on SSI and Medicaid.  We don’t want to be, but we practically must stay on it since she isn’t healthy and we have 4 kids that all prefer to eat food on a daily basis.  Yet still, someone has to help us with groceries too.

This reality has caused some difficulties that surprises many people.  I may go into greater detail in future posts, but here are just a handful of the bizarre things that have happened at the hands of SSI/Medicaid:

  • Marque is still uninsurable unless I join a large group healthcare plan.  In my field of expertise, that simply does not exist.
  • A SSI employee indirectly yet quite clearly told me to not work so much.
  • When I made a few extra bucks working a side job, the government tried to revoke medicaid because we had “too many resources.”  I had to figure out a way to legally find multiple expenses to blot out the appearance of financial gain.
  • When we didn’t blow through our entire tax-refund check within 30 days, the government tried to revoke medicaid. This came at a time when she had just had her third brain surgery in four months. Their reasoning: Too many resources.  My reasoning: I was paying someone for house repair that I’m ill equipped to do myself, and they hadn’t submitted a bill yet.  Their response: Too bad.  My response:  I had to get a U.S. Congressman to get involved. Thank God for that help!
  • Last summer our 4 kids had combined savings accounts totaling nearly $1500.  Though this had been the case for many years, previously unstated and unclear rules of SSI were suddenly to be enforced, and the government tried to revoke medicaid once again because we had “too many resources.”
  • We own one car with 173k miles on it. It needs replaced. I can’t afford to upgrade.  It’s not worth very much. My salary is capped in such a way that if I make even a few more dollars a month, once again the government will try to revoke medicaid because we have “too many resources.”
  • My wife is still not healthy.  Just one of her hospital stays last year was billed at $40k. She will likely need to return in the future.  We can’t afford to “not” have medicaid.

    Do we sound like a family with too many resources?