Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shaved Heads, Goatees, And Other Misdirected Attempts At Reaching The World. . . .

There's nothing wrong with shaving your head. . . except maybe for me with my knobby skull. There's nothing wrong with complementing your bald head with a well-manicured goatee. But a few years ago, I noticed that as I would look out over rooms full of youth workers, it appeared that some kind of conspiracy was brewing and I had been left out. There were bald heads and goatees everywhere - on the men in the room that is. I was curious about this phenomena that was making it hard for me to tell people apart. In discussions with observant peers, some of us began to jokingly wonder if this wasn't some kind of attempt on the part of some (certainly not all) to increase their cool factor and somehow become more relevant. What was a initially a joke is in reality - I believe - true for some, not all.

Over the years, I've sometimes referenced these observations as a prelude to talking about cultural relevance. Because I study youth culture for the sake of effective cross-cultural work with kids, many people are surprised to find out that I oftentimes try to squelch our (the church) growing love affair and obsession with relevance. I think we need to stand back and take a long, hard objective look at ourselves and our ministries to see just what this pursuit of relevance might not only be doing to us, but doing to actually hinder the advance of the Gospel message . . . the noble desire and calling that has made us pursue relevance so passionately in the first place. A misdirected passion for relevance has fostered the increased use of the word "reinvent" when it comes to ourselves and our ministries. We run the risk of unintentionally allowing an obsession with style to eclipse what should be a passionate obsession with substance. Sadly, when we fall into it, we don't even know that this is what's happened. Eventually, our lives and ministries become a series of extreme makeovers, with the short time in between each filled not with more and more reflection on the substance of the message, but with trying to keep up with the styles so that we're ready to jump when the next change is need. . . something which is happening with increased frequently as time marches on.

It's for this reason that I've been speaking more and more about the seemingly subtle yet significant differences between pursuing lives and ministries marked by being culturally relevant, and lives and ministries marked by being culturally informed. Being culturally informed - regardless of my age, shape, size, or hairstyle - means that I have taken the time to listen to another and their context. It means that I know them. It means that when I open my mouth to speak - regardless of whether or not that mouth is framed by a goatee - the person I am speaking to will know that I have listened to and cared for them. Then, they will be more prone to listen to what I have to say. We call this "relationship."

Yesterday this issue came alive in new ways for me as I opened my Summer 2010 edition of Comment Magazine - a magazine every one of you should subscribe to by the way. I literally got chills as I read the first twenty or so lines of one of the absolute best and well-written articles I have read in many, many years.

Here's what Jedd Medefind writes in those first two paragraphs of his article, "What The World Needs Most Is Not Our Relevance":

"Perhaps more than any single attribute, today's Christians desire to be relevant: listened to, respected, wanted in the room. In contrast to those bunker-mentality Christians of yore, we yearn to swim in the currents of our time, converse in its tones, and thus help to shape its character. . . .

What the world needs most from us, however, is not mere relevance. Nor has it any age. The most vibrant moments of Christian history are those in which believers chose a prophetic role - even to the loss of perceived relevance. There's no need to don camel hair robes just yet, but it may be time to rethink our passion for relevance, and whether we'd be willing to trade it or something higher and bolder."

Later on, Medefind writes, "Love of relevance can blind us to things we ought to critique and numb us to things from which we ought to recoil. It can stand as our primary measure of success, often subconsciously, replacing the cultivation of deeper virtues. Its pursuit can consume vast time and resources that God may have given us for other purposes. And once possessed, relevance can prompt us to sacrifice almost anything rather than part with it. Because relevance tends to mirror the trends and values of its culture, it can rarely offer society anything that it doesn't already have - including its prejudices, excesses, and mistaken assumptions."

Medefind makes a strong and convincing case for us to embrace the polar opposite of relevance - the prophetic. It's the prophetic voice, he says, that offers the things society most lacks. Our number one ally in cultivating the prophetic? Medefind points to the right place - Scripture. He adds to that solitude, mentors from other eras, global accountability, and a few good friends.

I love the way Medefind ends his article: "In the long view of history, mere relevance - attractive as it may have looked in its own day - simply cannot compare. It is no more desirable that the feathered hair of a 1980s pop star. Eventually, we always come to see the remarkable truth: the prophetic voice is the only one that was truly relevant after all."

This article is timely, brilliant, and prophetic. You have to get it and read it. Now, think about you, your ministry, your church, the church in America. What needs to change?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Death. . . .

It's coming. . . I know it is. And no matter how much I might try to ignore it or convince myself otherwise, my own death will someday visit my life. I was reminded of this again this morning when I walked out to the end of the driveway to pick up the newspaper. There at the top of the front page was a large headline telling me that 5 motorcyclists were killed here yesterday after colliding with a van.

I mention this not to be morbid, but to be truthful. I also mention it because I have just finished reading John Stott's wonderful little book, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects Of Our Calling. The book is the 88-year-old Stott's farewell address to the church he so dearly loves. It's the last book this great theologian and prolific writer will ever pen. He's aware that his earthly physical death is imminent. In the book, Stott masterfully outlines eight characteristics of Christian discipleship that are often neglected in the contemporary church, yet deserve to be taken seriously.

The first seven characteristics are for the most part things that we might expect to be on the list: nonconformity, Christlikeness, maturity, creation care, simplicity, balance, and dependence. But then there's the eighth: death. Death?!? Isn't Christianity about life. . . eternal life?

Once again, John Stott (my favorite living theologian) has challenged me to think about the things that really matter, to gain a Biblical perspective, and to live my life in light of the things that are good, true, right and honorable. It's no coincidence that the last few words penned by the man who has penned so many words about the faith would be reminders to himself of what is imminent in his own life. He writes, "Christianity offers life - eternal life, life to the full. But it makes it plain that the road to life is death. . . Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life."

Stott then goes on to describe six areas in which this is true.

There's death in our salvation. Christ died in our place so that we might have life.

There's death in discipleship. As Christ's followers, we are called to take up our cross and die to ourselves.

There's death in mission. "People receive life through the Gospel, and those who preach the Gospel faithfully suffer for it."

There's death in persecution. The history of the church is filled with accounts of physical persecution being the avenue to life.

There's death in martyrdom. Perhaps you are familiar with the story of Romanian pastor Josef Ton, who told in one of his sermons how the authorities threatened to kill him because of his faith. Ton responded, "Sir, your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying."

Finally, there's death in mortality. For the Christian - John Stott included - the best is yet to come.

These are the realities we must contemplate and communicate. They bring great joy, great hope, and great assurance. They prepare us for what is to come.

I have found Stott's The Radical Disciple to be a short, easy-to-read, and challenging reminder that in a world filled with distractions, has centered me back on to some of the things that really matter. With only a week gone in the summer, I would challenge you to give this little book your time and attention. It's the book I'm choosing to recommend as the "summer read for 2010." You can order your copy here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pursuing The Depth Of The Skin. . . .

This is not only what we've come to, but where we're still going. . . and it's going to destroy us. While we've been made to pursue the deep things of God, we've somehow bought the lie that we're to pursue and tend to that which is on the surface, specifically, our appearance. Those who promote beauty and anti-aging products hardly have to work to catch our attention anymore. Instead, we're so obsessed with undoing the effects of time and gravity - a fruitless pursuit that nobody has ever succeeded at, by the way - that we are constantly looking for them.

Both immoral and ridiculously absurd, this pursuit and worship of all things culturally beautiful was on my mind again this morning as I read about something new from the folks at - a web community that if I joined, I'd be voted out of in no time. If you aren't already aware of this virtual meat-fest, it's a place where you are rated and voted off if your looks don't measure up. Now, the site's 600,000 members are able to search a virtual sperm and egg bank as part of the community's effort to populate the world with beautiful people. As an added bonus, even ugly people can sign up and make a withdrawal if they want to redeem and steer their own genetic tendencies away from the ugly and to the better-looking. One news outlet reports that the site's founder Robert Hintze said: "Initially, we hesitated to widen the offering to non-beautiful people. But everyone -- including ugly people -- would like to bring good looking children in to the world, and we can't be selfish with our attractive gene pool." Wow, that is so generous! Sadly, something about all this sounds eerily familiar to some stuff a horrible group of people in Europe were pursuing seventy to eighty years ago.

One of the greatest and least understood cultural threats to deep faith and true worship of God is the narcissistic tendency to focus on ourselves. . . and to focus at a level that's only skin-deep. It's epidemic in youth culture. It's epidemic in adult culture. Perhaps it's time to take a more serious look at a couple of things. . . first, a look into the Word for some accurate, proper, and right perspective, and then second, into our own faces and hearts to see where we've bought the lies. Yep, it's even in the church. . . big time. Perhaps a look at what we daydream about, what we spend our money on, and where we spend our time would yield some not-so-pleasant but oh-so-necessary revelations about who we really are. Our kids need to be taught these skills as well.

Could it be that "blessed are the ugly" . . . . ?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Divorce - Facebook Made Me Do It! . . . .

The other day I attended the wedding of a couple of young friends. One of our pastors, Troy, issued a wonderfully straightforward and realistic challenge to the pair as they were just minutes away from embarking on their life together. Troy talked about the covenant of marriage in the context of a future reality that on their wedding day this couple would find to be unimaginable. That reality that all married couples eventually experience is the reality that requires the very covenant Grant and Jenn were making before God, their family, and their friends. It's a reality that the inevitable dry spells, challenges, difficulties, and selfishness always bring to a marriage sooner or later. It's the reality that some day and over the course of some days, we are all tempted to forsake our covenants and follow our feelings (or "heart" as some like to say in today's world) into behaviors that are not only wrong, but destructive. When it comes to our marriages, we should never say "never," thinking that these are the things that only happen to other people and will never happen to me.

Instead, we need to realize that our tendency is to wander away from the rightness of God's will and way. We need also to realize that there are places of temptation and danger that to which we just can't and never should go because going there is like throwing gasoline on the smoldering coals of depravity that live in us all.

An article that someone passed on to me just a couple of days before Jenn and Grant's wedding pounds this reality home. It seems that lawyers in the U.K. are reporting that the growth and popularity of social networking sites like Facebook are being used by people to make online connections (new friends, former classmates, old romances) that oftentimes lead to cheating, adultery, and divorce. The problem isn't Facebook. The problem is how the fallen and broken human heart leaves us with a bent towards using Facebook in dangerous ways. Over the course of the last three or four years, I have seen the growth of social networking technologies paralleled by a growth of poor decisions and crossed boundaries by Christian brothers and sisters who should know better. I have sat across from many who have entered into emotional and/or physical extra-marital affairs that have led to tremendous amounts of pain and difficulty that reaches far beyond just the immediate participants, some of which has resulted in divorce. The lawyers in the U.K. are saying that now, one in five divorce petitions they're processing cite Facebook as either the way petitioners find out about their partner's infidelity, and/or how their partner began or pursued extra-marital relationships.

For those of us in youth ministry, there are three categories of relationships that I'm afraid we'll be seeing and hearing more and more about in regards to the abuse of social networking and marital breakdown. First, there will be the parents of our kids. You'll be called on to intervene not only with the children of brokenness, but with husbands and wives whose marriages are disintegrating due to this stuff. Second, there will be your kids. Most of them are several years away from being married themselves. Still, talking about these matters and issuing the necessary warnings shouldn't wait for premarital counseling sessions or post-wedding crisis intervention. Finally, there's us. There's not a single one of us in ministry who doesn't struggle with the temptations. When that one who claims he or she doesn't struggle with it proudly speaks up about the fact that they've been spared, we should be doubly concerned. We've got to be about the business of knowing our bent, knowing how our bent will lead us into temptation, and avoiding like the plague the places and practices that can so easily take us down. We should all be growing tired of hearing and reading about friends and others in ministry who have blown it. But we should never grow tired of reminding ourselves that we're only one bad decision away from the same thing.

The problem isn't Facebook or social networking. The problem is me and the problem is you. If we're about the proclamation of God's design for marriage and showing Jesus to the world through our own marriages, this is stuff that deserves our attention.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Generation Porn - Where Will It End? . . . .

A couple of weeks ago I was in the car with my 17-year-old son Nate and one of his classmates. It was early on a Saturday morning and we were driving to a lacrosse tournament on a road north of Harrisburg here near our Central Pennsylvania home. At one point we hit a several mile stretch that serves as a window into a dark - yet increasingly acceptable and rapidly growing – part of our culture. Along the road stood a dozen or more “gentlemens’ clubs” and “adult” stores. I couldn’t help but look at the snoozing teenagers in my car and wonder how growing up in a world like this would shape them, their relationships, and their families during the course of their lives.

Perhaps you’ve heard me mention before that I wasn’t exposed to pornography until I was 12-years-old. A friend had found a magazine along the side of the road (or so he said) and we eagerly and secretly engaged in what was (without us even knowing it) a watershed moment in our lives, as our understanding of God’s good gift of sexuality was distorted in ways that we could never go back and erase. Growing up in today’s world is very different. Declining standards of morality, moral relativism, and the development of the Internet and other digital technologies have created a situation where curious kids and adults can willingly roam into this dark world to find things that will not only destroy their lives, but the lives of those around them. It’s also a world where even those who don’t go looking for it are “found” by it.

Because the dark world of Internet pornography is growing minute-by-minute, accurate up-to-date statistics are hard to find. But consider these facts on Internet pornography that were recently released by OnlineMBA (see the graphic below):

• 12% of all Internet websites are pornographic. That’s 24,644,172 sites.
• Every second, almost 30,000 Internet users are viewing pornography.
• 70% of all men ages 18 to 24 visit porn sites in a typical month.
• 1 in 3 porn viewers are women, and that number is steadily rising.
• 68 million daily search engine requests (that’s 25%) are pornography related.
• 34% of all Internet users have experienced unwanted exposure to pornography.
• The average age at which a child first sees pornography online is 11.
• The most popular day of the week for viewing pornography is Sunday.
• The overwhelming majority of children (90%) ages 11 to 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet.

As a follower of Jesus who studies youth culture, I’ve spent lots of time thinking about the cultural realities and circumstances that are fueling these trends, along with how the decisions people are making will effect both them and our society down the road. Because the digital/Internet generation hasn’t yet come of age, we can only speculate as to what the fall-out will be. But research has shown that exposure to pornography effects children and teens in the following ways:

• An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society (or, the belief that “everyone’s doing it” and “this is normal.”)
• The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy.
• Belief that promiscuity is the natural state.
• Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy.
• Belief that marriage is sexually confining.
• Lack of attraction to family and child-raising.
• Lasting negative or traumatic emotional responses.
• Earlier onset of first sexual intercourse.
• The commoditization of sex and the objectification of humans.
• Increased acceptance of sexual perversions including bestiality, group sex, etc.
(Jill Manning's testimony before the Senate, Nov. 10, 2005; Dolf Zillman in the Journal of Adolescent Health, August 2000)

I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t just sit back and do nothing. The proper God-glorifying response to these cultural realities must include the prophetic (proclaiming God’s liberating Word about all of life, including our sexuality), the preventive (developing strategies to prepare kids to respond to the sexual pressures they are bound to face in ways that are pleasing to God), and the redemptive (showing restorative grace as we lead the sexually-broken to hope and healing).

Over the past few months, God has been burdening me with the need for a response from CPYU. While I don’t know what form this will take, I do know that the time for it to happen is now. For this reason I’m asking you simply join with me in praying about what this all means for CPYU.

Finally, I know that these are not just problems occurring “out there.” All of us know people who are struggling with pornography issues. Some have been caught. Some have confessed. Some are still suffering in silence. For that reason, I’ve linked to a very helpful and straightforward article from Nicholas Black and our friends at Harvest USA, a ministry to the sexually-broken. The article is entitled “How and Why Pornography Hurts a Marriage.”

What are you doing to address these issues with the kids you know and love?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Youth Culture, Kids, and Isms. . . .

After blogging yesterday on the differences between the "over here" and the "over there," I read the first chapter in the newest and the last (sadly) book from John Stott, a theologian from "over there" who's got a lot to say to those of us living "over here." The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling, is Stott's farewell address to the church that he has loved and served for his entire life.

Stott states his purpose as this: "to consider eight characteristics of Christian discipleship that are often neglected and yet deserve to be taken seriously." For those who know and understand the challenges of living in today's youth culture, his message is one our kids desperately need to hear and apply. But it's not just the kids.

The first of Stott's eight characteristics is listed simply and bluntly as "nonconformity." This is the "double responsibility in relation to the world around us. On the one hand we are to live, serve and witness in the world. On the other hand we are to avoid becoming contaminated by the world. So we are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world." Those who have read Stott before know that this is an idea he's been hammering home for years.

But what are the unique aspects and challenges associated with living a life of nonconformity in today's world. Stott challenges readers to consider four contemporary trends (isms) that threaten to swallow us and our kids up if we aren't consciously aware and resistant. Here they are. . .

The Challenge of Pluralism - "Pluralism affirms that every 'ism' has its own independent validity and an equal right to our respect. It therefore rejects Christian claims to finality and uniqueness, and condemns as sheer arrogance the attempt to convert anybody to what it sees as merely our opinions."

The Challenge of Materialism - Hmmmm. We don't have a leg to stand on if we want to argue that we aren't obsessed and preoccupied with material things. Many of us want to have this disease. Just this last weekend I saw an 11-year-old wearing a shirt emblazoned with the credo, "Shopping Rules." Stott warns that materialism can smother our spiritual lives. I like this too: "Life on earth is a brief pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness. So we would be wise to travel light. We shall take nothing with us."

The Challenge of Ethical Relativism - With moral standards slipping, we wonder if there are any moral absolutes left. Stott says that relativism has not only permeated the culture, but it is seeping into the church. If Jesus Christ is truly Lord, why then do we not obey and conform to His standards?

The Challenge of Narcissism - Do we serve the one true God, or do we serve and love ourselves as the one true god? The evidence of Narcissism's hold on our culture lives in our kids and in our mirrors.

If this is truly the way things are, what are we doing to understand these isms, evaluate how they've taken root in our lives, and chase them away as we embrace the life of the radical disciple?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Over Here vs. Over There. . . .

The other day I read something that describes the mounting challenges that committed European Christians are facing as they endeavor to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In my selfishness, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief for the blessing of living where I do. But then I got to thinking - how would my life and faith be different if I wasn't living in this place where Christianity is more enculturated and consequently "easier" or "cost-free"? Maybe another way of asking the question is this - "In the eternal scheme of things, is living as a Christian here a benefit or liability, a blessing or a curse?"

I think the answer lies in what I've gleaned from casual observation over the years. I've grown up and lived my entire life in what has been called a "Christian nation." I've spent time reading, listening to, and engaging with loads of fellow believers from places I've heard some describe as "pagan nations," - places like Canada, the UK, and other European countries. These are places where Christians live in the minority. As a result, there is a depth and seriousness to their faith that one rarely sees here where I live. There is a vitality and excellence that stands out.

What is it about them "over there" that sparks this difference from us "over here"? I think it's the challenge of suffering that comes with life in the wilderness. These are the things that drive us to our knees, that cause us to seek dependence on God, that shatter the idols we're inclined to worship, and that ultimately take us deep into the things that really matter.

I was reminded of these realities last night as I listened to Robin Mark, the songwriter and worship leader from Northern Ireland. It is out of suffering that he sings these amazing words in the opening lines of his song "All Is Well" - "He lowers us to raise us, So we can sing His praises. Whatever is His way, All is well."

If - and when - it all comes undone, will we embrace His way as a blessing or as a curse?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grass, Graduations, And That Song Stuck In My Head . . . .

As if there isn't already enough weirdness about me that's evident to those who know me, let me reveal two little idiosyncrasies that to this point have remained locked in my brain and therefore, known only to me. Both have to do with time.

The first is that there's a song that's been stuck in my head since 1976. I don't know why it's there or why it rears its head and starts to loop even when I'm not thinking about it. It's not the entire song, but just a little piece of the title cut from Steve Miller's classic Fly Like An Eagle album. The line ingrained in my brain is this: "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future. . ." While I don't know why it's there, there's a part of me that's glad it is for the simple reason that it's absolutely true. . . and it reminds me of what I need to know.

The second reality is related, as it too has to do with time. I have this little habit of measuring my life in what I call "this time's." You know, thinking about what happened "this time last year. . .", or what's going to happen "this time next week." The habit hit me hard when I was in college. Finals week was filled with things like "this time tomorrow my humanities final will be over," etc. Over the years, it's become a way to categorize, remember, and look forward to the markers of my life, both the good and the bad.

Last night I watched my youngest child, 17-year-old Nate, graduate from high school. This time 18 years ago he wasn't even born. This time 18 years ago seems just like yesterday. This week, as I was sorting through photos of Nate's short life, I realized, once more, just how true that bit from the Steve Miller song really is. We moved to Elizabethtown almost 19 years ago. Caitlin, our oldest, started Second Grade. I would go to the high school track to run during the day. I can still remember sharing the track with the high school students who had come out for gym class. I remember looking at them and thinking that some day - a day that's pretty far off - my kids would be on that track for gym class. Caitlin graduated this time eight years ago. Her three siblings are now all graduated as well. Where did the time go?

The Psalmist gives us the accurate perspective, telling us that our "days are like an evening shadow" and we "wither away like grass" (Psalm 102:11). We are told that our "days are like grass," we "flourish like a flower of the field, for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more" (Psalm 103:15&16). In the context that immediately follows these truths, we are reminded that God is "enthroned forever" and that "the steadfast love of the Lord" is eternal. . . things that remain absolutely certain and true as time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future.

Last night those realities were on my mind as I sat and observed the graduation ceremony. Nate sat through graduation speeches delivered by some very bright and talented peers. Like most graduation speeches, these were about writing your own story, determining your own destiny, and leaving your mark on the world. They oozed optimism. But I'm not sure they captured reality. In many ways they reflected our shared tendency to build our lives on the faulty foundation of human, rather than Divine, sovereignty.

Nate and his classmates were reminded several times last night that they have their whole lives ahead of them. I remember hearing that same message in the yesterday that was June, 1974. My prayer for him and his peers is that as their grass-like lives fly by, that they would live under the sovereignty of God, rather than the sovereignty of self.

For that reason, I turned this morning to this prayer in my Valley of Vision Puritan prayer book and prayed this prayer for myself, Nate, and his peers.

I am a shell full of dust,
but animated with an invisible rational soul
and made anew by an unseen power of grace;
Yet I am no rare object of valuable price,
but one that has nothing and is nothing,
although chosen of thee from eternity,
given to Christ, and born again;
I am deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state,
of the vanity of creatures,
but also of the sufficiency of Christ.
When thou wouldst guide me I control myself,
When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself.
When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself.
When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself,
When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will,
When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself;
I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself,
Instead of thee I look to man’s approbation,
and am by nature an idolater.
Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.
Convince me that I cannot be my own god, or make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy,
nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,
for when my credit is god thou dost cast me lower,
when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,
when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart;
Show me that none of these things
can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame,
or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross and leave me there.

My prayer is that for the days we've each been given and this time whenever, these words would reflect the desires of us all.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stop Your Yelling! . . .

I wasn't going to blog on last Wednesday's baseball game - the game that's sure to be one of the most memorable in baseball history - until hearing and seeing what I saw and heard on Saturday.

Nate's high school lacrosse team had one last post-season hurrah with a trip north for a six-game tournament. The eight high school teams in attendance worked through their brackets on a couple of fields that sat directly next to each other. As a spectator, I sat in my trusty lawn chair between the two fields - facing one and with my back to the other. Early in the day, I heard some pretty spicy yelling from a voice from behind that became very familiar throughout the course of the day. The voice was that of one of the coaches. Initially, his berating comments directed towards his players and the refs made my head turn. I wanted to see what I was hearing. Eventually, the voice became so familiar that all I did was listen to the annoyance. At one point, I found myself wondering, "What is it like to play for a guy who does nothing but pound you?" I also wondered, "What makes someone like that?" That's not the way its supposed to be.

It wasn't long before "Old Yeller" was drawing the attention of a growing number of other parents. His lack of a positive attitude or any kind of good sportsmanship naturally led to conversations amongst ourselves about Armando Galarraga, Miguel Cabrera, Jason Donald, Jim Leyland, umpire Jim Joyce, fans of the Detroit Tigers, and sports fans all over North America. Those folks were brought together last Wednesday night and in the days since by Galarraga's near-perfect pitching performance, Jim Joyce's blown call and quick admission of such, and a whole lot of grace shown to Joyce in a day and age where events like Wednesday's usually elicit anything but grace.

In the many interviews I've heard with Jim Joyce over the course of the last several days, I am blown away by the redemptive power of grace. I've read books by and about umpires. I've watched interviews with umpires. None of them want their careers to be defined by that one glaring blown call. Jim Joyce's career will most likely be remembered because of a "safe" call on what should have been the 27th consecutive out. But it will also be remembered for someting great and amazing - the grace that turned the whole thing around. In several of Joyce's intervies he's mentioned how what was the lowest of low moments quickly turned to the highest of highs. . . . all because of grace.

The story not only provides great talking points and examples of the highest standards of sportsmanship, but it serves to remind us of what once was along with the great expectation of what some day will be again. The story of the blown call has become one of "shalom". . . that universal flourishing of all that God originally made that has since come undone. Still, we catch glimpses of the Garden through stuff like this. "Oh what a foretaste of glory divine" we might be able to sing about this moment.

In a world where sport all too often becomes a magnifier of our human depravity, something else took place last Wednesday night. And it was good! Wouldn't it be great if all of our play was marked by that kind of stuff?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Help Us Help You. . . .

We've got a technology issue here at CPYU. . . and we need your help.

Three years ago, the IT company we use to keep us up and running informed us that our server was running on its last legs. Due to financial issues, we've been unable to replace the server. We're grateful that the server has continued to function long past its life expectancy, but we've been warned that the time to replace the server is now. This video captures the inner workings of our weary server. . . .

Just the fact that you're reading this blog indicates that our connection to you has been facilitated by and through our server. The fact is that everything we do here at our CPYU office and everything we do to stay connected with you (weekly e-Update, Youth Culture Today,, etc.) so that you can stay connected with kids goes through our server. We've decided that in order to avert a disaster, we would like to send "Old Rusty" out to pasture this summer.

We've asked our IT company to spec a new server that would allow us to continue to deliver our content to you with even greater efficiency. To make the transition, we are contacting our small army of CPYU friends and followers to ask you each to prayerfully consider making a tax-deductible donation during the month of June so that we can complete the server upgrade before the end of the summer.

Our goal is to raise $15,000 towards computer/server upgrades and the related transition costs. Any donations over and above the cost of the server will go to replace our presentation laptops (Anyone who's been at one of my seminars and has seen my antique laptop. . . well. . . you know why!). Perhaps you would consider sending us just a few dollars. Or, you might be the person who could fund the entire upgrade. Every gift, no matter how small or large, counts.

Please donate online today and choose the designation titled "Server/Technology Upgrade."

Thanks for considering how you can help us continue to help you. I trust that through our partnership together, God is doing great things in the lives of kids.