Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why We Do It. . . .

I was supposed to be in San Diego tonight. . . spending time with my wife and a whole bunch of friends who have not only devoted their lives to doing what we do, but who inspire us to pursue our unique calling with CPYU with excellence, passion, and integrity. A couple of thousand youth workers are gathered there at the National Youthworkers Convention as a community to be challenged, equipped, and refreshed so that they might be better able to pursue their unique callings as messengers of the Good News about Jesus Christ, walking with kids into the liberating life in the Kingdom of God.

Since we can't be there this time around, I'm committed to praying for what's happening this weekend on the other side of the country. I'm praying for my friends as they stand before youth workers to present the fruit of their labors in seminars. I'm praying for the youth workers who are the real heroes in San Diego. And, I'm praying that together, everyone will be challenged and equipped to address the deep hurt, pain, and spiritual groanings of a generation of kids that not only doesn't have it easy, but is living in a world where fewer and fewer voices point them to the Redeemer.

If you don't know how to pray for the kids and the people called to minister to them, give this video a look. This gives a glimpse into why we all do what we do. A special thanks to my friend Travis Deans, who gave me a heads-up about it.

It's Getting Close! . . . .

I'll keep this short and sweet! Circumstances (ie - a railroad crossing that swallowed my front tire) I encountered back on July 30th forced me to fore go my plans to take a 100 mile bicycle ride in late August to raise money for our long overdue tech replacement needs here at CPYU (ie - a new server to keep us connected to the world and two new presentation laptops to keep us connected with seminar-goers). I'm still recovering from my trip over the handlebars and onto the road, and probably won't be doing any serious riding again until the Spring.

But just when I thought my ride would never happen, some other people volunteered to take it for me. That's going to be happening next Wednesday afternoon when four members of our CPYU staff (Derek, Cliff, Chris, and my wife Lisa) hop on their bikes to ride 25 miles together on the Conewago Trail. Together, they'll ride 100 miles on October 6. Most important, together they hope to raise the $7300 still needed to reach our goal of $15,000 for our tech replacement needs.

You were all going to hear from me back in mid-August as I was going to be soliciting sponsors for my ride. Now, I'm asking you to prayerfully consider sponsoring our staff as they "(Finish) Walt's Ride for CPYU." I can't stress enough how important and necessary these computer upgrades are for us at this time. We need to make this happen. Your donation toward the ride can help make it happen. It's as simple as this: If 200 people would step up and each donate $36.50, we'd reach our goal of $7300!

To donate to the ride, just click here and you'll get all the information you need about making an online donation. Any gift - no matter how large or how small - will be greatly appreciated, not only by our staff, but by all those youth workers, parents, pastors, educators, and others around the world who rely on their connection to us both virtually and in person to feed their knowledge of today's kids and how to reach them for Jesus Christ.

Thanks so much for considering my request.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Little Ethical Exercise for Your Students. . . .

We've gotten pretty good at telling our kids what to believe, sometimes without ever taking the time to consider what they already believe, how they've come to those conclusions, and how those beliefs influence their lives. A little listening goes a long way. Not only that, but if we take the time to listen, kids know that they've been heard. So, when we open our mouths to teach kids the truth or to challenge their opinions (that are - at times - way, way out there), they're more prone to hear and consider what we have to say. That's one of the secrets to good dialogue. And good dialogue is always a prerequisite to spiritual nurture.

A news story circulating this morning caught my eye as one of those opportunities to dialogue about real-life ethical issues and culture. This one is unfolding in New York City, where a 30-year-old art teacher at an elementary school in the Bronx has been pretty straightforward in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post about her past as a "sex worker." Not surprisingly, people are upset and there is a growing debate raging about whether or not she should have been hired to teach young kids in the first place.

This morning, I quickly read the article penned by Melissa Petro for the Huffington Post, along with a report from the New York Daily News on the story. While I'll reserve more in-depth comment until a later time when I know more about Petro and the context of her remarks, there are some initial reactions I have.

As a Dad, I'm very concerned about the character of the people who teach my kids in school. Sure, Petro says the experience left her "spiritually bankrupt." I'd love to know more about what that means to her, along with what she's done to remedy that spiritual bankruptcy. Depending on what that means, she could teach kids some amazing lessons that might just save them from adopting dangerous beliefs or making horrible decisions of their own later in life. Those who have been there and done that can issue powerful and credible warnings.

Of even greater concern might be Petro's foundational beliefs about human rights and authority. I know that my life is not my own and that I answer to someone much higher than myself or any philosophical life foundations that I could ever dream up on my own, adopt, or feel good about. I always hope and pray that my kids are around people who do the same, so that they are better equipped to converse, love on, work with, play with, and minister to those who think and live differently. Those are just some initial thoughts.

What I really want to encourage you to seize on is the timeliness of this story as it unfolds. I would sit down with your more mature kids and students and have them read the stories I've linked to, along with the countless others that are sure to flood the internet and airwaves over the coming days. Ask them what they think about Petro, the school, the hiring of her as a teacher, the reaction of the school's parents, etc. What a great window into how your kids are thinking and what they believe. Remember, listen hard. . . but follow that up with some clear guidance and direction . . . . guidance and direction that comes from that someone much higher than ourselves and the revealed Word that that someone has graciously given to us.

I'd love to know where your conversations on this one go. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Over The Edge With The New Skyy Vodka Ad. . . .

I always get a little nervous about talking about things like this. . . the "this" in this case being the latest Skyy Vodka print and billboard advertising campaign that was announced today. Sure, there's concern about kickback from our friends who think that we shouldn't be looking at or talking about things like this. But for me, it's more the way the old cliche - "any publicity is good publicity" - might play out because I'm telling people about something I think they should be aware of.

Let me make this short and sweet. This new ad campaign leaves little to the imagination. For that reason, kids will be looking at and talking about this ad. . . which is exactly why we should be doing the same. . . with them. It might not be the teachable moment we had hoped for, but it's a teachable moment nonetheless.

Here's the ad. . . .

Chris Wagner, our Director of Media Resources, pointed me to this story today. He reminded me that I had just penned a Trend Alert on kids, alcohol, and an alarming new way some kids are reportedly abusing Vodka. Timely, I guess.

And by the way, if you're wondering where you can find that upcoming Trend Alert, you have to be subscribed to our weekly Youth Culture e-update. Don't worry, it's free. And because we've got another free new monthly resource we're about to announce that will include this Trend Alert, you might want to sign up now. Just click here to sign up.

"What Lindsay Lohan Really Wants To Know. . . ."

Her roller coaster life seems to make the headlines every day. And just when you think she's got her life back on track, it all derails into an ugly mess one more time. Sure, Lindsay Lohan is now a 24-year-old adult, but her few years of adulthood have been built on the very shaky foundation of a childhood which was - like the childhood of most child stars - never really a childhood at all. These kinds of childhoods seem - more often than not - to be precursors for a miserable and maladjusted adulthood. Sure, Lindsay Lohan is now responsible for herself and she needs to take charge of her out-of-control life. . . a task which I'm sure is much easier said than done. But Lindsay Lohan also serves as an example of how incredibly difficult it is for an adult to connect the dots in a way that leads to a healthy adulthood, when all the dots of her childhood were connected in wrong ways when she should have just been allowed to be a kid.

As I read the latest on Lindsay Lohan over the weekend, I couldn't help but think of the things child development expert David Elkind was writing twenty-five years ago in books like All Grown Up and No Place to Go and The Hurried Child. What Elkind knew then was that kids were being ripped off. What we know now is that Elkind was right, not only in his assessment of how kids were being ripped off, but in his predictions regarding how the robbery of their childhoods would effect them later in life.

Elkind's message was simple and straightforward. What kids need is a time to grow. In other words, they need to be kids. What we give them in our culture is a push to premature adulthood. . . a push that can take many forms including things like over involvement in youth sports at younger and younger ages, along with thrusting cute little kids in front of movie and tv cameras before they've even reached the age to climb onto the school bus. Elkind says that our children wind up reaping what we've sown. The result, he says, is stress and its aftermath. . . including everything from early sexual activity to substance abuse to self-abuse to depression to suicide, and a whole lot more. I've always wondered if in Lindsay Lohan's case, her substance abuse problems aren't rooted at least partially in an attempt to self-medicate and numb the pain of her existence.

The more I watch what's happening with Lindsay Lohan, the more I believe that she's desperately searching for an answer to one simple question: "Who Am I?" She's really no different than the rest of us.

The other night I had the privilege of hearing Derek Melleby, Director of our CPYU College Transition Initiative, address a group of teenagers and their parents on issues of identity. Derek has put together a wonderful seminar entitled "Identity Matters: The voice of Culture, The Truth of God." As Derek ran through the pervasive, compelling, and convincing messages we hear from the voice of culture, I couldn't help but think about how these messages have shaped, influenced, and confused Lindsay Lohan as she continues her quest to discover her own identity. How has she been influenced by "You are what you buy!" Or "You are how you look!," "You are what you do!," and "You are somebody if you are accepted by the right people." How many of us have ordered our day-to-day comings-and-goings because we believe these lies to be truth?

Ultimately, the search for our identity is a spiritual quest. Alistar McGrath captures that reality in his book The Unknown God:

If there is something that has the power to fulfill truly and deeply, then for many it is something unknown, hidden in mystery and secrecy. We move from one thing and place to another, lingering only long enough to discover that it is not what we were hoping for before renewing our quest for fulfillment. The great certainty of our time seems to be that satisfaction is nowhere to be found. We roam around, searching without finding, yearning without being satisfied. The pursuit of happiness is often said to be one of the most fundamental rights. Yet this happiness proves astonishingly elusive. So often, those who actively pursue happiness find that it slips through their fingers. It is an ideal which is easily put into words, yet it seems to remain beyond our reach. We have long become used to the fact that the richest people in this world are often the most miserable, yet fail to see the irony of this. Perhaps it is just one of the sad paradoxes of being human. Maybe we will have to get used to the fact that we are always going to fail in our search for happiness. Part of the cruel irony of human existence seems to be that the thngs we thought would make us happy fail to do so.

On Saturday night, I loved hearing Derek offer the truth of God to those kids. . . a truth that contrasts sharply with and corrects the voice of culture. Derek said the answer to the question "Who Am I?" is quite simple: "You are a child of God." For those who are in Christ, their identity is secure in Christ. Will there be struggles? Difficulties? Doubts? You bet. But we need to remember, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (I John 1:31).

Let's pray that Lindsay Lohan would experience the redeeming, freeing, and life-giving love of the Father. And, that she would find the answers to all of her questions.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You Gotta Like Sean's Parents. . . .

I've seen alot happen over the years in Philadelphia's sports cathedrals. . . and I'm not necessarily talking about player performance. What I didn't see happen live while watching the Phillies battle the braves the other night, was 17-year-old Sean Hagan's red spandex run through left field during the game. I did hear Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler bemoan the interruption as the camera - in an effort to not glorify the teen's actions - focused on Jason Werth and Brian McCann laughing about Braves' left fielder Matt Diaz' run-ending knee to Hagan's side.

But the incident that Phillies' security wished would quietly go away has garnered a lot of attention from media both near and far. On the day after, we not only learned the identity of the elusive red-man, but we learned that his parents, Gary and Barbara Hagan, seem to be responding by doing the right thing. . . something that happens less and less in our culture when teenagers break the law. Instead of covering for their son or bailing him out by running interference in order to spare the kid the consequences, they've gone public and say he will pay.

What do we teach our kids when we steal away the opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes by making sure they pay the consequences for their actions? We learn from adversity, don't we? Sometimes, the adversity God uses to teach us lessons we need to learn is adversity that is a direct result of our impulsivity and lack of good judgment.

To Gary and Barbara Hagan. . . thanks for being an example to the rest of us through how you're handling this thing in the public eye. I'm guessing you were living a pretty quiet life until Monday night. And to Sean. . . I've got a hunch that you'll learn a lot from this. And, twenty years from now, some reporter will do one of those "Where are they now?" stories on you and we'll see firsthand what a great lesson it was that you learned from your mom and dad.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

They're Going To Do It! . . . .

They're going to do it. . . and we need your help! A couple of weeks ago I told you that our hearty and healthy CPYU staff of 4 (the folks who work so hard to keep you updated on all things youth culture) are going to finish my bike ride. On Wednesday afternoon, October 6, they are going to take the 100 mile ride that I was planning on taking, but can't (more on where I'm at in the healing process in a minute. . .)

So. . . here's the deal. . . plain, simple, and straightforward. I was scheduled to ride 100 miles on August 25th to raised the additional $10,000 we need to 1) replace our CPYU computer server. . . should have been done three years ago so we're living on borrowed time, and 2) replace two of our presentation laptops. . . have you seen the dinosaur I've been using when I present? Yep, it's been getting some laughs lately! My plan was to have 200 youth workers step up and sponsor my ride at 50 cents a mile. . . . which - if I'm doing the math right - would result in the much-needed $10,000. Then, I wrecked and wound up looking ahead to months of recovery for a host of broken bones and other injuries.

Now that our staff of 4 is going to ride 25 miles each (that's 100 miles!), I'm asking youth workers and others who benefit from our stuff to step up and consider sponsoring our staff at the same rate. We've already raised $300 towards the goal! If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation of any amount to sponsor the ride, just click right here! And, for any of you who live near us who would like to ride with the staff, just call our office to get yourself signed up - 717.361.8429.

But wait. . . there are some other ways you can help. I was blown away by a small group of individuals from around the country who emailed me to ask if they could take my ride in my place. Because of that, we're inviting individuals, youth groups, families. . . anybody. . . to ride any distance on our behalf between now and mid-October. We've put together a downloadable instruction sheet and a downloadable sponsor sheet to make it as easy as possible. Just choose your date and your distance, recruit the sponsors, and then ride! You can click here for more information and the downloads.

While I'd much rather be telling you about what's happening at CPYU, I will answer the requests of many of you who have been following up and asking how I'm doing. Tomorrow marks 7 weeks since the accident. God is doing something in my life. . . I'm just not sure what it is yet, but I am working and praying to sort it all out. I've learned more about suffering, pain, and prayer than ever before. I've realized that I've got a great family and some very special friends. Physically, I'm back to sleeping in my own bed and driving, although it is short distances. I'm walking alot in the neighborhood and doing more and more work at my home desk. I'm tired, I'm sore, and I'm stiff. But I'm not as tired, as sore, or as stiff as I have been. I'm going to therapy to get my left arm working again. . . and it's getting better every day! My ribs, clavicle, and scapula are healing. I can feel that. My lung is recovered as far as I can tell. My bruises have disappeared. There are still some other things going on physically for me, but I'm simply asking people to pray for complete healing. I have also turned the corner on my fear of ever riding my bike again. . . and I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle next spring. I most likely will be riding rail trails rather than on the road. I've learned that concrete hurts!

Finally, when I took my first little solo drive in the car last Sunday I went to our local K-Mart. Guess what I saw in the aisle? Yep. . . I think I might buy it!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thoughts On The 2010 VMA's

I’m going to come clean. I’m watching the clock as the last 40 minutes tick down until the start of an annual event I’ve been watching and telling youth workers and parents to watch for who knows how many years. I started watching in 1984. The media shelves in our CPYU offices hold copies of just about every edition of the VMAs, offering a video timeline into how the world of pop culture and music reflects changes in the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the emerging generations. I’ve got a hunch that if I went back through the archives in chronological order, I’d be surprised by how relatively tame those old VMA’s that stretched the envelope then would be by comparison. Where will we be in 10 or 15 years?

Tonight I’m hunkered down to watch the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards show. . . and truth be told, I don’t want to be doing this. I’m tired. . . tired of viewing this yearly peek into the soul of our culture through what I hope are eyes of faith that are faithful to the will and the way of my Heavenly Father. Doing so from that perspective can’t help but be frustrating. The scores of youth workers parents who always seem to protest my annual push to suck it up and watch know exactly what I’m talking about. If you love Jesus and love kids, it’s heartbreaking to see the brokenness, fallenness, and evil that’s not only peddled and promoted, but is the fruit of the ways we choose to go in our sinful and messed up world. We watch and we know: this is not the way it’s supposed to be. With the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, we watch and find ourselves lamenting the fact that God’s ways are ignored, justice is not upheld, and the wicked surround the righteous. Hopefully, we hurt for our kids and we hurt for our culture. We see it when our youth group kids follow the lead of pop stars more than the lead of the Redeemer.

But in spite of this, I’m going to watch. I will watch because I’ve been called first and foremost to be a follower of Christ who is to be salt and light in this world in which I live. And to effectively serve as salt and light I must understand the nature of the darkness and decay. All of us who are called to minister to kids are by default called to be cross-cultural missionaries. Their world is not our world. Don’t believe it? Watch the VMA’s. What you will see will serve you as a mirror, reflecting back to you the map that’s serving kids as a guide through life.

So tonight, I’ve decided to watch, process in real time, and blog my thoughts as they enter my head. I have no idea what to expect. . . . well, I do have an idea. However, I would love to be pleasantly surprised. . . .

So here are just a few thoughts. . . . I’d love to hear yours.

- So. . . Eminem is back. And in true Eminem style, he’s boasting in his own power and ability to pull himself up and make it back. It’s supposed to be all about me, isn’t it?

- In a nod to staying on the edge, this year’s VMA’s is being hosted by Chelsea Handler. Should be interesting. Her jokes and commentary are sure to be raw. And she begins by encouraging everyone in the house to be on their “worst behavior”. . . including using her opening monologue to egg on the relatively innocent and young Taylor Swift into all kinds of over-the-top behavior. In effect, she’s verbalizing what the show serves to do in the lives of its young viewers.

- Lady Gaga’s first win includes a shout out to the discharged soldiers who accompanied her to the awards. . . a political/ethical statement that’s in line with her views on sexuality. The soldiers she brought are all part of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the national organization devoted to assisting those affected by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the United States Military. In terms of pop culture icons, Lady Gaga is perhaps not only the most popular artist out there (yes. . . have you heard your kids sing her praises? . . . which strongly makes the case for promoting integration of faith into all of life and the need to learn how to use the Scriptures to shape their reaction to music and media), but has perhaps the most influential pop culture presence in terms of promoting a sexual ethic and shaping our kids’ understanding of their sexuality. According to what she said tonight, her next album is titled “Born This Way.” We need to be ready to enter into the discussion.

-The VMA’s are a marketing event. Not only has Eminem returned, but the guys from Jackass showed up to promote their return with their soon-to-be-released 3D movie. And when they start pulling their stunts while presenting an award. . . even MTV has to pull the cameras back. Then there are the stars of the upcoming film, Social Network. Marketing. . . again.

- Is it me, or this Justin Bieber thing outrageously silly and out-of-control? One word – marketing. And it’s working. He’s captured the hearts and wallets of millions of the youngest music fans and their moms. Keep an eye on him. What will he be singing and doing when he’s 18?

-You might not be a fan of Usher, but you’ve got to love the sets. . . lighting. . . staging. The creativity and complexity bears witness to the image of Himself that God has put into human beings. . . the crowning point of His creation. We bring glory to Him when we create with excellence.

- One theme that seems to have run through the VMA’s and a load of pop music in recent years is the audience of adoring, objectified women. Did you see Drake and the gallery of girls that served as his background? What are we teaching our girls about what makes them valuable and worthwhile? What are we teaching them about how to relate to men? And what are we teaching our boys about how to treat and relate to a woman?

-The commercial for the new female fragrance Gucci Guilty. . . . ponder the name. . . ponder the commercial’s message. This is one worth talking about. If you decide to talk about it and are accused of being prudish. . . well, then talking about it was something that needed to happen. Our culture, for the most part, doesn’t think twice about this kind of stuff. It’s status quo.

-Who was Kanye West toasting? And why???? Kudos to him for admitting his mistakes from last year and seeking forgiveness from Taylor Swift. . . . who by the way, didn't follow Chelsea Handler's advice. Instead, she took the high road by offering forgiveness and redemption to West in her own performance. The standing ovation afterwards was well-deserved.

What do we do with what we see when we look at our world through the window of the VMA’s or other elements in pop culture?

First, we must put what we see and hear under the light of God’s Word. Can we celebrate and affirm it? Or, must we lament and challenge it? This step requires filling our wells with God’s Word, knowing the truth, and meditating on it.

Second, we must get on our knees for our kids and our culture.

Third, we must speak to it, being very direct with the kids we know and love.

And finally, we must be patient as we are faithful and obedient. We can’t twist people’s arms into thinking and living differently. We must love those who think differently as we wait on God’s Spirit to move whenever and wherever In God’s perfect timing.

So. . . did you watch? And if you did, what did you think?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Shoulder and Shalom. . . .

For the last six weeks my left shoulder has been messed up. The collarbone I broke in the bike accident prompted the doctor in the hospital to tell me that my shoulder and arm were hanging . . . connected to my body by nothing but muscles and nerves. . . . which, by the way, was not an especially pleasant thing to hear and ponder. During the six weeks that have passed since I flew over the handlebars, my bones have been healing while my shoulder muscles have atrophied. Up until that point, my 54-year-old shoulder didn't miss a day of working and moving just the way it was created to do. On July 30th, that all stopped. And then came my first visit to Brenda the physical therapist last Thursday.

Before meeting Brenda, I was told that she's an experienced physical therapist (62-years-old!) who is a "miracle-worker" when it comes to shoulders. After two visits and a couple of hours of Brenda moving my shoulder in every possible direction, I can tell that while things are nowhere near back to normal where my arm meets my torso, things are on their way to getting there. In other words, there's some hope.

Yesterday when Brenda had me moving my shoulder in the therapy pool, my counting through a host of exercises was interrupted by thoughts of what once was. . . specifically, a shoulder that functioned so normally that I took it for granted. My thoughts quickly shifted to July 30th and the moment when all of that changed. Now, after five-plus weeks of things not being the way they once were when they were the way they were supposed to be, I'm hoping, longing, and waiting with great expectation for the restoration of my shoulder so that I might be able to one day function fully again.

That deep longing and the history of my left shoulder parallels a simple life reality that we all deal with on a daily basis. God made all things and declared them "good." All things functioned according to His plan. Then, in our rebellious "flip" over the handlebars of lives that we decided we knew how to steer better than the One who made us, it all came undone. And whether we know it or not, we long for what once was to be restored. That longing drives all that we do, all that we are, and all that we seek in life.

I want Shalom - God's original, intended, universal flourishing and intended functioning - to visit my shoulder and to visit it quick. After six weeks of spending every night laying motionless on my back, this man who loves the freedom to stretch and roll around in bed needs to be freed to do that once again. I'm longing for that day (night) to come and to come soon. I want my bones to be free of the stiffness and soreness that's been there since the wreck. But even more than that, I know that I want the "final restoration of all things" that Peter preached in Acts 3 - that restoration of God's Shalom - to be ushered in with the new Heavens and the new Earth. . . beyond just my shoulder, to all things.

Tomorrow morning, Brenda will be bending my arm all over the place once more. . . and once again, I'll be pondering the beauty of God's Shalom and the hope that exists for those who are in Christ.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thanks Scotty. . . .

I love the richness of my Presbyterian and Reformed heritage. I know, I know. . . Calvinists have oftentimes gotten a well-deserved bad rap for the way they represent, or more accurately misrepresent, their theological heritage. But when you understand the deep commitment to truth and the sovereignty of God, you wind up with an anchor that is rock solid. I communicate this reality to my kids by encouraging them to constantly fill their wells with the truths of God's Word. Someday, I tell them, they will be blessed with droughts, doubts, and sufferings that God will use to take them deep. If the well is full, growth will take place.

This morning, I ran across a wonderful prayer rooted in this heritage that was written by Scotty Smith, pastor of Christ Community PCA Church in Nashville. I simply want to pass on this wonderful prayer that ministered deeply to me in the hope that it might minister to you as well. You also might want to regularly check out Scotty's very thoughtful blog, "Heavenward".

A Prayer About the Pure Joy of Trials
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-3

Dear Jesus, apart from the gospel of your grace, this admonition would appear to be the work of a madman. What sane person would ever associate pure joy with many trials? In fact, many of us have been schooled to believe that faith is the very means by which we can escape trials and hardships. And yet Jesus, it was because of the joy set before you that you persevered and endured the greatest trial of all for us… the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Grant us your joy, Jesus… grant us your perspective… grant us your love for the glory of God above comfort… and grant us a greater love for your cross.

It’s only because of your cross, Jesus, that we can be certain that trials don’t come to us as punishment for our sins, but for the purification of our faith. We praise you for exhausting God’s judgment against our sins. We praise you that your cross was our Judgment Day. The perfect love of the cross drives away all fear of judgment and punishment (1 John 4:18). What peace this give us… what hope… what freedom!

Jesus, what dross would you burn from our faith through trials? What needs to be purified? Since faith is both the content of what we believe and the act of believing… please free us from all false gospels and from a lack of trust. Burn away everything we believe about you that contradicts the truth of the gospel, Jesus. What bad teachings have robbed us from the riches of the gospel? What bad teachings have made it easy for us to distort and misapply the gospel? Burn up these impurities, Jesus. We want the pure gold of the gospel to shine forth.

And burn away our double-mindedness and our lack of love for you, Jesus. We’re predestined to be like you. None of us likes to see our immaturity, and yet since maturity is Christlikeness, Jesus, reveal our immaturity… our incompleteness… our lack. In what ways do our attitudes and actions contradict your beauty? You’ll never condemn us, because you took the condemnation we deserve. But you will convict us. Grant us pure joy and godly sorrow which lead to repentance, salvation and no regrets (2 Corinthians 7:10). So very Amen, we pray, in your most loving and patient name.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stephen Hawking, My Youth Pastor, And My Hand . . .

My youth pastors left quite a mark on my life. They challenged my faith, provided a great example of what it means to follow Jesus, and they used teachable moments to shape my knowledge of the Almighty. I oftentimes say that if it wasn't for Phil, Mike, and Chuck, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today. Because of them, I know what kind of impact a youth worker can have on a kid.

One of the many profound moments I remember from my high school days occurred during a youth group meeting when Phil asked our group to ponder the wonder and greatness of the Creator. He asked us to hold up our right hand and to look at it. Then, he instructed us to move it. . . and move it again. . . and then move it again. We did this for about 5 minutes, but it didn't take that long to come to the realization that the so-familiar-that-we-take-it-for-granted five-fingered thing at the end of our right arm provides amazing evidence of the fact that we have been - as the Psalmist says in Psalm 139 - "fearfully and wonderfully made."

I was reminded of this on Monday as Lisa and I sat in an office at the Hershey Medical Center after viewing x-rays and discussing the healing taking place in my bones with a couple of orthopedic physicians. When they left the room we were in awe at how God has made our bodies to heal, and the evidence of that in my own body over the course of four short weeks. As we sat there together in amazement in the quiet of that room, we both remarked with wonder at how any physician couldn't be a believer and follower.

This morning, our paper reported on some new stuff from physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking. I've never read any of Hawking's stuff, but I've from time-to-time followed the news stories about Hawking's theories and writings. Today's headline read: "Hawking: God not needed for creation." It seems that Hawking is challenging Isaac Newton's theory that God had to be involved because without him, order couldn't have somehow just naturally come out chaos. I don't get it. For me, even the ability of Hawking's brain to think at levels I could never dream of achieving is ample evidence for a Divine Creator.

So. . . today. . . I challenge you to take 5 minutes (or more) to look. . . to really look. . . at that right hand on the end of your arm. If you're a parent or a youth worker, take a lesson from Phil, a guy who had a tremendous impact on my life, and challenge your kids to shut down long enough to ponder the evidence at the end of their right arm. And if that isn't enough, maybe I'll get you a copy of my x-rays!