Are Your Kids Safe?

FullSizeRenderWe work hard and are actually pretty good at protecting them from all sorts of trouble. We have airbags, cameras on every corner and safety alarms on almost everything. We have helmets to protect their heads, immunizations that allow them to grow free from many diseases, and medication to help much of what afflicts the mind and body. Yet, today more than ever we may be leaving them vulnerable to unnecessary anxiety and despair.

We have a great opportunity to raise children with the resilience to face life with peace and confidence.

The world can be dangerous and things can change rapidly. Despite our best efforts, our world will remain imperfect and everyone at some point will face failure, difficulty and disappointment. The question is not how do we keep our kids safe from the unexpected, but how do we prepare them to live through it? Think through this with me. When was the last time you said something embarrassing, got a scratch on your arm, or dropped your bowl of ice-cream? Was it an overwhelming experience that spiraled into tears, turmoil and the need to have someone rescue you from despair? No! However, the earliest memory you have of embarrassment, simple injury or dropping your dessert may very well have included tears and turmoil. The difference between the two instances is an ability to deal with the pain and disappointment of the unexpected. Granted there are much more serious injuries than a scratch and much greater loss than ice-cream, however, the ability to handle the unexpected boils down to resilience.

Think of resilience as your natural ability to handle difficult and even dangerous “intrusions” into your otherwise stable life. Consider how a body has resistance to the flu after it has built immunity. With exposure to the flu the body builds natural resistance to the virus and is eventually able to fight a full exposure to the flu with no effect. However, the very same virus will wreak havoc on someone with a less resilient immune system.   It seems we are missing opportunities to encourage resilience early in the lives of our children, leaving them vulnerable not to the flu, but to overwhelming anxiety and despair. In a recent article psychologist Peter Gray warned,

“We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have: Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.”

As parents, we see the potential God has given our children and we are all well aware of the capacity of young people to rise up through difficulty and to solve complex problems.  At the same time we can struggle to help them find the motivation to succeed. We are given the opportunity and responsibility to help train them for independence, which is to fully utilize and enjoy their God-given gifts and talents. I think what Dr. Gray is suggesting is that children may need to struggle a bit on their own to recognize what we already know…in Christ they are able. As a dad of four young children, it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to protect them from the woes of this broken world. I am the first to admit that it is difficult for me to watch my kids experience pain and disappointment. However, I must remember the benefits of immunization and the value of resilience. My goal is to launch them into independence and at that point they must have their own immune system, not just the protection of their father. I am challenged to protect them from catastrophe while finding age appropriate ways for them to build strength to handle the unexpected.

Whether sports, academics or generally living life, training programs require resistance to build strength. A good trainer protects an athlete from injury, but at the same time must push his limits to increase his capacity. In the end it is the athlete who will experience the success or failure that results from a game or competition. I like what Dr. Tim Elmore advises. “When a [child] faces a problem, don’t immediately solve it for them or prescribe the steps to take. Instead, meet and come up with the objective they want to reach, then empower them to figure those steps out. Encourage them, coach them, support and believe in them, but compel them to solve the problem in their style, with steps they’ve created.” So, maybe our kids aren’t safe today from every potential failure, difficulty, or disappointment, but we do have a great opportunity to help them build immunity to the unexpected so they have the resilience to face life with peace and confidence.

Turn On The Lights: Ideas For Living On Mission This Halloween (And Beyond)

Much ink has been spilled- or, to use a more appropriately updated metaphor, many words have been typed– regarding the issue of Christians and our engagement with culture’s mega-popular fall holiday, Halloween. Some followers of Jesus ask, “What’s the big deal with costumes and candy?” Others, on the flip side, answer said question by citing their concerns about the holiday’s origins and overtones.

I’m fairly certain that I’m not going to say anything in this space that hasn’t already been said (and said well) on this issue, so rather than making an attempt, let me point you in the direction of some biblically solid, thought provoking resources. The best I’ve encountered recently can be found here. It is important to recognize that people seeking to faithfully follow Jesus have landed on both sides of this; we need not judge one another harshly, but instead seek to do whatever we can to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I encourage you to take some time to check the Scriptures, and the article linked above, and consider thoughtfully what your family ought to do this weekend.

For those of you who choose to celebrate this Saturday, we want to resource you to make the most of this opportunity to love, serve, and share Jesus with your neighbors. After all, as one friend recently quipped, “Halloween is the only day left in our culture where your neighbors willingly and eagerly come knocking at your door!” That being the case, how can you receive them with Gospel hospitality and intentionality? Check out this idea book filled with creative practical approaches to doing just that.

Whatever you do, remember this principle- Halloween (or any other day) isn’t about completing a project for some imaginary spiritual checklist, but rather about engaging people in genuine relationships. And trust me when I say that people know the difference! So be prayerful…be thoughtful…be authentic…have fun…and do everything you do from a heart rooted in genuine love, compassion, and concern.

For those of you who choose to do otherwise, consider this- How can you and your family faithfully and effectively love, serve, and share Jesus with your unbelieving neighbors in this season (and beyond)? Regardless of our convictions about certain days on the calendar, it is clear from God’s Word that all those who follow Jesus are called to live like missionaries every day of the calendar. Here are a couple ideas to get you started…

  • Grab a rake. Many of your neighbors will spend their weekends cleaning up their lawns as the leaves begin to fall en masse (I still have nightmares about the masses of leaves I raked as a child!). Is there someone in your neighborhood who could use a helping hand? If so, put on your work clothes and lend one.
  • Share fall flavors. I happen to love the flavors of fall- cinnamon this, pumpkin that, and the like. If it’s out there, I want to try it. I have a feeling I’m not the only one. So if you’ve got a knack for cooking up some autumn awesome-ness, don’t let your family be the only ones who benefit. Find a neighbor with whom you can share the goodness.

None of these ideas are particularly profound, but maybe that should tell us something about the nature of our mission as followers of Jesus. We aren’t called to be flashy or spectacular (and it’s a good thing, but most of us aren’t). Instead, we’re called to “turn on the lights” of love in a world that is increasingly darkened by the disorder, disunity, and decay that sin inevitably brings. So I challenge you, this week and beyond- How are you “lighting up” your neighborhood (and workplace, and school, and other circles of influence) and pointing people to Jesus?

3 Reasons Christians Should Travel Internationally

I left this morning for an international trip that mixes some official ministry with some vacation. I look forward to visiting our friends, David and April McWhite, in Czech Republic before getting away for a few days with my wife in Italy to celebrate our 15th anniversary. I’m excited about the trip and know that it will be memorable.

Preparations for this trip have, however, made one thing abundantly clear: TRAVEL IS EXPENSIVE! Of course, right as we’re setting out on our first trip to Europe, both of our vehicles required service totaling more than the cost of the trip – which was a once in 15 year expense to begin with! It makes you wonder, is international travel ever worth the cost? Is it good stewardship? Even if this trip had no element of vacation and was 100% mission trip, would the cost associated with international travel be worth the mission? How much more mission work could be done for the same price in my own, local context?

Having considered these questions, I offer three responses that support and encourage international travel:

1. Go global to understand other aspects of God’s global work
Have you experienced the jumping, smiling laughter of your brothers and sisters in Africa? Have you sat on the floor with 50-60 brothers and sisters in Christ, segregated by gender, in a 30 x 30 foot room in India for a two hour worship service followed by a meal together? Have you walked into a nearly vacant cathedral in Eastern Europe to experience its beauty and vastness and ponder how an entire population could travel so far from their Christian forefathers? None of these experiences are essential to a faithful Christian walk, but all of them help with perspective and humility in local church decision making as well as boldness with the gospel at home. So on your next trip, vacation or mission, take time to find a local Christian church and worship there. Invite the pastor to lunch. Take time to get to know the people with whom you will be spending eternity.

2. Go global to change your passion for God’s global work
International travel seems to clarify personality traits pretty quickly. A famous stereotype of some Americans traveling abroad is the traveler who would prefer that everyone and everything at the destination be exactly like his location of origin. One might call this, “When in Rome, wish it were Dallas.” These travelers generally return home with stories of inadequate toilets, warm sodas, and unconditioned air. Others, however, set out to embrace the locals and their ways. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” These are typically happy travelers who love new experiences. I fall somewhere between these two depending on schedule, sleep, and toilet paper availability.
The most important thing, though, is to make sure to take opportunities to get to know the locals and their ways. Move outside of the tourist destinations. Start a conversation in a local shop or restaurant. Stop to watch a kids’ football or cricket match. Go to a local mall and people watch for a while. Learn to love the people of the world. Once you love the people, you’ll never again be able to undervalue the priority of reaching them all with gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Go global to encourage those who have uprooted their lives to take part in God’s global work
One interesting phenomenon of international travel, especially extended travel, is the comradery you begin to feel toward any other American you meet along the way. “You’re from Nashville?!? I’m from Baton Rouge! Why, we’re practically neighbors!” If that’s how you feel after two weeks, imagine how our dear brothers and sisters feel who have packed up their families and moved across the world to stay for years – if not forever. Just a few stories from home can be such an encouragement. Another strong follower of Jesus can be a breath of fresh air to those working among unreached people groups. Rachel and I are bringing peanut butter and mac & cheese to the McWhites. We’re pretty extravagant with our gifts, right? But that’s what they miss and that’s what we can bring! Wherever you are going, for whatever reason, take the time to look up missionaries in the region. Plan to visit them, encourage them, pray with them, and leave them whatever of yours they could possibly use or enjoy.

In the great commission, Jesus tells all Christians to go. Though I believe that my field is in Louisiana, it is good for me to go and see the work of God in other places, love that work, and encourage those who have gone long term. Will you join me in this passion? Plan, save and yearn to Go Global as well.

“Watch Me!” Part 2: The Four P’s of Social Media

I really do think social media is a gift to us. All things are from above, and yes God created the innovative minds of those who developed social media for us to stay in touch with people. Though it is not the ultimate form of connectivity, it can be used in a great way for influence. From Xanga to MySpace, from MySpace to Facebook, from Facebook to twitter, and from twitter to Instagram, we can stay in touch with pretty much the whole world with the scroll of a thumb, and the click of a refresh button.

That works both ways; the whole world can stay in touch with us. Isn’t that kind of scary in a way? Whatever you post, can be viewed by almost anyone. What you post screams out what’s going on in your life. From the white bench you took a picture of, saying “I think I’ll take a nap!”, to the picture of you without your shirt on at the beach shouting, “Look at my wash board abs, even the waves crash at the looks of them!”, to the selfie you posted while you were looking out at the mountains on a family vacation, it’s all viewed. And sometimes, when we start to care too much about it, it can start to own us. It becomes unhealthy. If we have the wrong outlook on what social media can really be used for, we’ll begin to take things too personally and start comparing rather than just using it as the gift that it is.

In part 1 of this post, I challenged the excessiveness of the selfie. In part 2, I want to get us thinking about the usefulness of social media for influence. Here is, I believe, the ultimate reality:

Social Media is an extension of you: I believe there are four P’s of social media that represent how we should view it and use it.

  • Personality: Social Media should be a tool we use to express to people who we are, not what we are not. You can be who you are on social media. We can express ourselves however we want. I would encourage you to be who you are, not the guy or girl you’re trying to be. God made you distinct, so be distinct.
  • Platform: Christians especially have a platform to make Jesus more famous than themselves. Pictures sometimes don’t tell the world “this is who I am in Jesus, he loves me for me!” Pictures sometimes show “I’m the point, my family is the point” or “Please tell me I am pretty” or “I’m ready for an argument!” If social media is a tool, how are you using it as a platform to point to something and someone greater than yourself? Are you sharing the mercies, graces, and love of Christ at times?
  • Perspective: It’s ok to give views and inspire people the same way that you want to read views and be inspired by others. One thing I love about social media is seeing motivational posts, quotes, upcoming movie and music posts, etc. I also love to inspire people with my views as well. However, if we are to share our own perspectives, we must be able to accept that others will post theirs. Of course, you want to be careful with your views. Not everything is beneficial to post. I think it’s ok to challenge people’s thinking, but not to verbally shatter someone else’s view or personal life.
  • Peace: Arguing on social media never solves a thing, and debates can disturb peace. Even if someone doesn’t agree with your perspective, you can have a conversation without “losing your religion”, especially when you can’t even understand someone’s tone of voice. I use to be the guy that would post things just to start something or tick someone off. I, for some reason, got a real joy out of that. How insane! But the moment someone commented on something I posted, I would go to war. I would encourage you to make peace, not madness.

If we can’t take social media out of the culture, we can surely invade it with a positive mindset. Between our personality, platform, perspective, and peace, I believe people can be and will be influenced by what we post. Maybe I don’t have to be self-infatuated, and can actually say “Watch Me!” because I actually do have something to say, and it’s worth reading!

“WATCH ME!” Part 1

“Watch me!” says Silento, over 70 times to be exact in one of the catchiest, most annoying songs I have ever heard. The song is so self-absorbed and the more we sing it, I believe the more we will continue to believe that it’s all about us! Actually, we don’t even need a song to help us with that truth, we just need it to affirm what we already believe.

Selfies are annoying! There I said it! But really the excessiveness of selfies makes me not want to get on Instagram, twitter, or Facebook. To me it is the ultimate form of self-infatuation. As insecure as we come across about our looks sometimes, we seem to love how we look after we snap a picture of ourselves with our smart phones and selfie sticks.I know any picture that is taken of me or anything that I have snapped before I always review it before it can be posted! Selfies are taken for fun, as well as for evaluation from the public. People want to know what people think about them. Me, Me, Me, is at the front of every picture we take of ourselves. I want to show the world “Me!” to gain security or to show off.

I never want to come across as a hypocrite. I just have a passion to help people see vision of what it truly means to deny self. And I know it’s hard, I have to do it every day because I’m In Jesus but I am also a human who loves myself so I am preaching to myself.

I think there are some facts about the selfie and some questions we need to ask based on those truths before we post one and what the heart behind them is.

Yea a selfie is fun, but what’s really the point?   It’s about me!

– Yea a selfie can be viewed by a lot of people, but what if it’s a stumbling block? What are you wearing?

– Yea selfies can be shared with just about anyone. What portraits are you saving for just your loved ones or your future spouse?

– Yea selfies are culturally relevant. But who really cares about what you look like? Shouldn’t how God views you and those you love and love you be of most importance?

– Yea selfies can be a way for people to comment and like, but don’t you get more insecure about the negative posts more than the positive posts? What if you don’t get any likes at all?

We say “Watch Me!” just like Silento. We may not do the ‘nae nae’ or the ‘whip’ but we do the selfie. Being self-consumed has never helped anyone. If the point of life is Jesus, shouldn’t the view of ourselves be decreased and our view of Christ increased? There is nothing wrong with snapping shots and having fun with people in photos, and I am definitely not suggesting that we shouldn’t live joyful lives and enjoy one another. What I am challenging us to think about is the reality that our uses of social media are making us more obsessed with our image in our minds and others minds, instead of the image we have in God. God approves of us through his Son Jesus, and that is the only thing that should ever matter.

I want to encourage you with a quote my favorite hip/hop theologian Lecrae; “If you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die by their rejection.” When you live knowing you’re an image bearer of God, when people watch you they’ll really see Him. And when you are satisfied with that, you won’t care what they think, and you won’t be discouraged if they like what they see or not. Next time you raise your phone to snap a pic, are you screaming “Watch me”? or do you enjoy the image God has given you already regardless of what you post?

How To Appreciate Your Pastors This Month (And Beyond)

Recently, in my wife’s Kindergarten class, she took a week to talk with her students about various “community helpers”- firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and the like. No discussion, though, yielded more hilarious results than their conversation about the work of a pastor. One afternoon, I got a text message with this image, which provides a summary of the kids’ thoughts on a minister’s work…

IMG_7862

To their credit, the kids started off right on track, but as you can see, things veered in a strange direction as they approached the bottom of the page, culminating with my personal, laugh-out-loud funny (but also cringe-worthy) favorite- “I can help my pastor get all the money.” 

This little class project, along with the fact that October is apparently Pastors’ Appreciation Month, got my wheels turning about what it is as a pastor that makes me feel truly loved, helped, and appreciated. Now I’ll be honest with you- it’s just a bit awkward and self-serving writing something like this about yourself. I’m trusting you to trust my heart on this. That said, I think a bit of transparency is needed here, and can be beneficial for all of us.

So without any further delay, here’s one pastor’s perspective (for whatever it’s worth) on how you can appreciate us this month (and beyond)…

Ask us how we’re doing. The heart of any pastor worth his salt is to love and lead others to thrive spiritually. Practically, this means we have a lot of conversations that go like this- “How are you doing with __________?” I can’t tell you how meaningful it is when someone turns that around on me and asks me the same thing. It communicates that you understand that we are real people with real joys and pains, triumphs and struggles. One word of caution here- If you’re going to ask, be ready for an honest answer. Pastors, if we’re going to ask this of others, we need to be prepared to be honest too!

Demonstrate care for our families. Just like you, we as pastors aren’t isolated individuals; we live our lives in a system of relationships with people we love and value, and who love and value us. Before I’m a pastor, I’m a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and more. I can’t tell you how much it means when someone does something to show love to my wife, my kids, and other important people in my life. This doesn’t have to be anything close to spectacular; the simplest acts of kindness are such an encouragement.

Pray for us consistently- and tell us how you’re doing it. One of my primary roles as a pastor is to pray for those whom God has entrusted to my care. I love doing this, and count it a great privilege and responsibility. It is so meaningful when I hear from others that they are praying for me too, and it is even better then when they ask specifically how can they pray.

Tell us how God is at work in your life. One of the nagging challenges of pastoral ministry is knowing whether or not everything we’re doing is making a substantive difference in the lives of those we’re serving. So speak up! Tell us- with specifics- how God is speaking to you in His Word, how He is using others to grow you in Him, and how He is working through you to help others come to know and follow Him too. Faith is certainly personal, but it was never intended to be private!

Invest yourself deeply in the community and mission of the church. There are many ways you can do this practically, but the overarching principle is this- demonstrate that you value God’s people, and the common mission we share in this world, with your time, resources, and skills and abilities. Make the choice to prioritize what we’re doing together. We get that things come up in life- that’s true for all of us- but don’t make the local church the first thing to be tossed aside every time they do.

Be responsive when needs and opportunities are communicated. As pastors, we are constantly bringing before you ways that you can get involved and invested in God’s work- through giving, through serving, through showing up in others’ lives in innumerable ways. It is such an encouragement when one such opportunity is presented and people jump all over it to make something of eternal significance happen. There are few things more beautiful than to see the church being all that God has created her to be in this broken world. On the flip side, it can be a great dis-couragement to see needs and opportunities all around, and the only response to be a disinterested apathy. Engage with us!

Be open and honest with us about your struggles and concerns. Maybe you’re thinking, “But a lot of what you ask and invite us to do seems like a waste of time, resources, and energy.” Some pastors may not share this sentiment, but let me just say this- If that’s where you’re at, please share that with us! I would much prefer the opportunity to work through a disagreement or difficult issue with someone than to never know that it existed in the first place. So whether it is something in your life, or something we’ve done to offend (or even just confuse) you, be up front with us about it, so we can work together toward a solution.

Don’t give up on us. There is one thing that I can guarantee for myself and for every other pastor you’ll ever encounter- We will, at some point, fail you. We will disappoint you. We will fall short of your expectations. Our brokenness will rear its ugly head in some tangible way. When it does, my humble plea is that you will be gracious, and that you’ll continue to fight with us for the greatest mission this world has ever known. This doesn’t mean clamming up when there is truth to be spoken, but it does mean working actively toward reconciliation and unity. Pastors, let’s be a people who have the same heart and mind toward those we serve too!

In addition to all of these, I will say that my wife’s students were on to something very true. As the pastor of a mobile church for the past almost three years, I always welcome help “carrying heavy stuff”- because trust me when I say, we carry a lot of it in what we do. So as you pray, care, speak truth, and stay in the fight with us, we also welcome a (literal) helping hand with that next box of kids’ supplies or sound equipment J.

Thanks so much for giving me the privilege of loving and leading you as we walk together to bring real life in Jesus Christ to Ascension Parish and beyond. I love you and count it an honor to be called one of your pastors!

You are so ordinary.

God reminded me this week: “Jonathan, you are ordinary.” I couldn’t decide if that reminder was discouraging or encouraging. I chose the latter. I couldn’t wait to get together with my Life Group guys and speak this promise into their life: “Guys, God wants you to know that you are ordinary.” Let’s just say that they were thrilled.

Please allow me to explain.

First, try this fun self awareness exercise? List your ordinary qualities. Here are a few of mine:
1- I just wear whatever shirt, pants, etc are on top of the stack. No real thought goes into my wardrobe. Jessica makes fun of my constant grey, v-neck outfit.
2- I run & scream when I see a spider.
3- I constantly wish I were napping.

But maybe more seriously:
1- I often worry about my kids and their future.
2- I go to bed many times feeling like I wasted an entire day.
3- I am really concerned that other people like me.

Many days my head will pop off the pillow and I have this great ambition to do something extraordinary. And when I go back to bed at night, I realize I simply neglected the ordinary – and still did nothing extraordinary. I often fear that I’ll wake up and discover I’m average. That nothing stands out about me. That I have no discerning qualities, no noteworthy characteristics, that nothing within me thirsts for more. That one day, I’ll discover I’m unremarkable.

If you’d be honest, you are just like that.

So many times it just doesn’t quite feel like you are living the “abundant life.” For you, it’s hard to overcome the mundane when fighting to finish school and pay the bills with your night job. For others, there just isn’t a lot of thrills for the mom changing 10 diapers (that’s 20 for my wife) before lunch. That adventure we were promised in our younger years might seem distant for the person who spends each morning in traffic only to return to the standstill once again at 5 p.m.

One principle I’ve learned as a pastor is that some tensions can’t be eliminated, only managed. This is one tension we can no longer ignore — living in a normal world full of tedious movement while knowing that we were also made for more. This tension is best managed when we wake up daily with a full awareness of how powerful God is and how deeply He loves us. Then, the ordinary becomes saturated with life. And we can celebrate this ordinary life because it is indeed incredible that God invites us to be a part of the story He is writing.

We can either focus on the grind, letting ourselves get lost in the jungle known as our lawn, drown in the sink of dirty dishes or be crushed below the weight of every other monotonous tasks. Or we choose to live above it. We choose to focus our eyes higher and “contemplate the Lord’s glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Because one day, something mind blowing may happen through you.

One day I may do something so extraordinary In my own eyes. Even in the eyes of the world. But my family will not be impressed if I go down in history as a great minister to large crowds on huge stage…but cannot be patient and loving with them in my own home.

I want to have the courage to do the ordinary things well. I want to remember that Jesus said if I am faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones (Luke 16:10). Embrace your ordinariness, for God will exalt the humble for His great name’s sake.