Right now there’s a Facebook game going on.  People publish a certain number of facts about themselves in their status line.  I gather that these are supposed to be things few other people know.  I also gather the the number of items is determined by someone else.  I’m thinking it must be related to whether you make a comment about someone’s list about themselves.  I’ve carefully avoided not commenting on the basis of that hunch.  I’ve read several of these.  I enjoy getting to know about people.  But it makes me wonder what’s the line between private information and public information.  People seem to be sharing some pretty private details about their life.  I’ve noticed no one has posted a social security number or credit card number. That’s wise.  Someone might get your card number and pay off your debt. 
        Non sequitur alert:  It makes me wonder about baptisms. Is the date of baptism public information or private information?  What about the events leading up to your baptism?  Was a person baptized as a child or teenager at the conclusion of a pastor’s class or baptismal preparation?  Was a person baptized as an infant by parents who wanted them to know about God’s grace from their earliest days?  Were they baptized as adults after years of wrestling with God and faith?  
        We share an amazing amount about ourselves online yet many of us treat our faith journeys like our credit card numbers–kept hidden away. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). Baptisms are conducted in the context of public worship.  They are open statements to the entire world that a person belongs to the community faith who seeks to follow Jesus Christ. Perhaps, the most important thing for you to know about me is this–It happened on March 8, 1981 and it was the best day of my life. 

Why is my pastor fuzzy?

Last November, my son–then a fourteen year old–learned about No-Shave-November.  It was toward the end of the month and we said then we would do it this year.  We’d go a month without shaving.  So, I’m now sporting a beard for the first time in probably 15 years.  No Shave November is trying to be for men what wearing pink on October is for women–an encouragement for men to visit their doctors.  Men have unique health needs but often resist going to their physician unless they have a broken bone or can’t stop the bleeding with duct tape.  So we’ve all decided to grow our beards to encourage one another to visit our doctors.  Did you make your appointment?

In Catholic tradition, the function of the parish priest has been called the Cure of Souls for centuries.  It’s a beautiful image of one called by the Great Physician to administer the teaching, ordinances, and pastoral care that enable others to pursue spiritual health.  As a local church pastor, I can tell you that pastoral care for men is quite different than pastoral care for women.  Men often take circuitous routes getting to the point where they will allow a pastor to be their pastor.  They resist going to their medical physicians until something is undeniably wrong and the resist going to their pastors with an even greater determination.  So, your pastor is fuzzy today because his son asked him to be.  But, I’d ask all sons, regardless of their age, to attend to their spiritual health.  Make an appointment to visit with your pastor.  There doesn’t have to be anything wrong–we can pray together, speak of God’s glory and God’s grace, ponder the big questions, and grow in our faith.  Did you make your appointment? 

A Church Welcome

On the way home from work today, I started wondering what an honest Sunday morning worship welcome would sound like.  Here’s my first draft:

Welcome to First Christian Church, we are two parts piety, one part generosity, and a dash of insanity though to be perfectly honest, depending on the Sunday, those ratios can be completely reversed.  We’d love to say that we accept everyone and we practice radical hospitality.  Truth is we have our limits.  We have our good days and our bad days.  Some of us are too wounded to trust.  Some of us are too angry to welcome.  We get grumpy, tired, anxious, and self-absorbed.  We are also gentle, kind, funny, and capable of loving. And if you catch us in the just the right light some people say we look like Saints—you know the good kind.  But that’s not really the point.  We are congregation of people and people have limits.  We cannot accept everyone.  We can only point to the Christ who accepts everyone. Christ knows everything about you and accepts you. The Spirit of God has given you incredible gifts.  We will do our best to honor the gifts God has placed in your life and not exploit them.  But, again, we’re human so you know . . . And we won’t excuse our faults saying, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” We confess our sins to God and admit our mistakes to each other.  No excuses.  But, thanks be to God, forgiveness really is real.  We’ve known for a long time we are not the world’s Lord we forget sometimes we’re not its savior either.  We’ll try to keep our place firmly in our sights.  We are imperfect signs pointing to a perfect God who is perfectly capable of holding each of us in amazing grace.  So, you’re welcome here but don’t expect perfection out of us and we won’t expect it of you.   

Thanks Giving Stories

Thanks Giving Stories
March 7, 2010
                He couldn’t have come at a worse time.  The widow walked near the city gates, near the boundaries of insider and outsider.  She collected dry vegetation that she might boil and consume so that she and her children would feel the hunger pains less as they slowly died.  The widespread drought  made survival unlikely for this family at the lowest end of the spectrum.  The man calling to her was not a neighbor.  He was not even a beggar known within the city gates.  He was an outsider.  He had traveled far outside his comfort zone.  Perhaps she had heard the reports of the prophet who went to the King of Israel and declared this drought.  After all, the Queen in Israel, Jezebel, had come from her parts.  Maybe this declarer of doom and destruction had encroached upon this land to taunt the queen on her home court. 
                “Give me something to drink.”  He called to her.  Didn’t he know that Baal had fallen asleep and there had been no rain.  How did he have the audacity to believe she could spare something as valuable as water.   She turned, though, without hesitation to bring him some water.  As she he did, he called to her again.  She must have flinched when he said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”  Give a prophet a vessel of water and he’ll ask for a morsel of bread.  Only a Hebrew prophet could be so intrusive. 
                She wheeled on him and said, “As the LORD your God lives.”  A little technical note to explain here—look at your Bible.  In the Old Testament, you will sometimes see the word “lord” in lowercase letters.  That means that the word lord is being used like we use the word “sir.”  Sometimes it is capitalized as a sign of a proper name of respect.  But most of our modern translations will place the word LORD in all caps when the Hebrew Manuscript uses the name YHWH—the proper name for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.  Notice as you’re reading passages in the Old Testament the way LORD—YHWH–is used. Somehow she knew the name of the God of Israel.  “As the LORD your God lives.”  She could believe in a living God but one that took his side over hers.  “As the Lord our God lives.  I have nothing.  I have nothing baked, a handful of meal in a jar, a little oil in a jug.  It’s our last meal—mine and my son’s—I am about to go home, prepare it and then we will die.” 
                “Do not be afraid,” he said.  “Go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me.”  Wasn’t he listening?  A little cake was all she would be able to make.  How much “littler” cake did he think she could make with the handful of flour and small portion of oil.  She had little reason to trust even the people she knows, for though she should have been at least partially provided for by her community she had been left vulnerable.  He continued, “For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.”  There was a tremendous risk involved for the widow.  This prophet had denounced her homeland’s princess.  He had declared the word of a foreign God.  He had come asking for water and food in the midst of a drought.  He didn’t ask the wealthy members of the community.  He called out the most vulnerable—the one closest to the city gates, the one on the margin of her community.  He asked for the living of one who was dying. 
                Perhaps she believed that this promise could come true.  After all, she was able to believe that his God lives.  But the risk was great—she risked her inclusion within the city gates, her life and the life of her son.  And yet, there is a painful beauty in the hospitality of dying souls.  Victor Frankl, the Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor  wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances” (quoted in What Color is Your Parachute, p. 33).  And like others who take great risks with only the faintest hint of a possible reward, “She went and did as Elijah said.  The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that God spoke by Elijah” 
                There’s a story to preface this one—after Elijah pronounced the drought he lived near a spring and was fed by Ravens—unclean animals according to religious tradition but still used by God.  On the other end of the chapter her story has a dramatic conclusion.  After a few days of eating well on the miraculous meal and oil, the woman’s son still became quite ill.  She feared he might die and became accusatory of Elijah.  He came to the point where he had little breathe in him.  And she lashed out against him and against herself, “You have come” she said, “to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”  Elijah too revealed his fear and vulnerability to God.  “LORD,” he prayed, “this woman opened her house to me.  Have you opened up calamity to her? O LORD, myGod, let this child breathe life again.”  And he did.  When she received her living son back into her arms, she declared, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD is in your mouth is true.”  Provide bread and oil and a person might put up with you in her house; bring life back to a mother’s only son and she’ll believe in your God. 
                 The three stories in 1 Kings 17 belong together.  Together they declare: The LORD God and no other god is the one who controls the winds, commands the ravens, enables the widow, revives the dead.  The first move in this text is to declare that it is the LORD God and no other God who is the one true God.  The LORD God demonstrates tremendous freedom in acting by using animals regarded as unclean, people regarded as incapable, and even sons who have passed away. 
                The second move is to acknowledge that God’s grace does not respect political, cultural, or even religious boundaries. Jesus interprets this text in Luke 4:25-26 to show that God is not limited in God’s favor to any particular group of people.  We live in a world of increasing pluralism and in response to the “outsiders” who want to come into our city gates, drink our water and have the audacity to ask for bread, we are tempted to respond with insulation, boundary-fortification, and distance.  We live in a world of perceived scarcity which tempts us to hoard and withdraw.  By recounting the terrifying headlines and failing to declare the abundance of God,  we place limits on the hopes we have. The woman took a risk to speak to an outsider.  She risked sharing what little she had.  And in return she encountered the living presence of the God of all creation. 
                There’s a part of us—or at least a part of me—that wants a third and concluding move in this story: thanksgiving.  Only, the woman never reaches that point.  She only goes as far as to acknowledge that Elijah speaks the word of the Lord.  She no longer identifies the LORD as “your” God but expresses simple faith that Elijah is a man of God and speaks truth from the LORD.  That’s great, but where’s the gratitude?  Where’s the thanksgiving song? After all, she survived the drought and her son was revived all through God’s gracious act.  Yet, when stories end like this they are left open for our response.  She is neither openly grateful nor openly ungrateful.  She goes as far as acknowledging truth and then is silent.  Perhaps the word of thanksgiving can be on our lips. 
                We too have received the gracious gift of God: we have received the Son of God—the bread of life, the water from the well that will never run dry.  I resonate with this woman collecting sticks to boil and eat so that she can feel full until she dies.  No, I’ve never faced that kind of hunger.  Not even close.  But I have known that sort of futility and frustration.  And in the face of that—life is what you do while you’re waiting to die—experience, God has touched my life with purpose.  God has revealed to me these extraordinary moments of grace and beauty.  The gift of Jesus Christ is that in the midst of scarcity we can know the abundance of God’s grace and in the face of strangers we can see a neighbor: a Samaritan willing to help, a Melchizadek offering bread, a widow willing to give the hospitality of a dying soul.  And yet, how often do we talk about that?  How often do we express our thanksgiving?
                Annette Simmons teaches people in a business setting to pay attention to the stories they tell.  What she has to say about our career interactions makes a lot of sense in the context of worship.  She begins with the belief that people understand who we are by the stories we tell.  She is building on a forty year old movement known as “narrative theory” that says not only do other people know who we are based on the stories we tell but we know who we are by the stories we tell.  She asks people to think about the stories they tell.  Most of us must admit that we do not tell stories when we are “happy, productive, and at our best”  we tell stories when we are “disappointed and frustrated.”  “The times we seek attention,” she writes, “are the times when we think correction needs to be made.”  She goes on to say, “If we were to judge by the stories most people tell on a daily basis we would conclude they are stressed-out, misunderstood victims here to survive red tape and stupid decisions.  They pine for retirement or the firings of a certain individual, and they believe that the ‘haves’ couldn’t care less about the ‘have nots’.  They unconsciously tell stories that ensure coworkers learn that no amount of effort is going to change things because they’ve already tried and failed” (Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins? p. 23).  That’s what Simmons says in a workplace environment.  What might she have said had she been in Sunday School? Or Committee Meeting?  Or listened in on your phone calls? 
                Complaint and anxiety–the dribble of cable news commentators tell the stories that say in face of scarcity and migration our salvation comes from hoarding for ourselves and shielding ourselves from others.  Thanksgiving intentionally tells another story—in face of the chaos of our experiences we have known a God’s grace.  We have met prophets with true words, wells without dryness, dying souls with hospitality.  People we thought couldn’t have come at a worse time; who asked for things we didn’t think we have; turn out to come at just the right time with just what we need in that moment. And even within ourselves. 

Creating a Culture of Trust

            One of the more intriguing films in 2009 was “Up In the Air” which starred George Clooney—not to be confused with “Up” which was also a very cool movie.  Clooney’s character—Ryan Bingham makes a living traveling from city to city.  He fires people for a living—when companies are down sizing they hire Bingham to come in, deliver the bad news and provide counseling as the employees prepare to reenter the job force.  Bingham spends over 300 days a year traveling.  So much time that he explains he is most at home in an airplane or an airport.  The Holy Grail in Bingham’s life is to reach 10 Million miles on American Airlines.  With that sort of mileage accumulation Bingham would be treated as Airline royalty.  In truth airlines do provide significant perks to people who fly that many miles but nothing close to the sort of celebrity status depicted in the film. The film is based on a 2001 book by Walter Kirn by the same title.  There are significant differences between the book and the movie.  Bingham’s character is not nearly as likable in the book.  And the conclusion is far more jaded and satirical.  Yet, both the book and movie explore the consequences of living without roots. 
            In one soliloquy from the book, Bingham praises a particular hotel by saying that its great accomplishment is to “help guests disappear.”  He writes, “the indistinct  architecture, the average service, the room-temperature everything.  You’re gone, blended away by the stain-disguising carpet patterns,  the art that soothes you even when your back’s turned.  And you don’t even miss yourself.  Invisibility, the ideal vacation.  No more anxiety about your role, your place.  Rest here, under our cloak.  Don’t fidget, its just your face that we’re removing.  You won’t be needing it until you leave, and here’s a claim check.  Don’t worry if you lose it” (Up In the Air, p. 215).  Bingham trumpets a freedom formed by having no connections that reveals itself in the end to be a hollow and inauthentic existence. 
            The people addressed by Paul’s letter to the Corinthians are similar to Bingham.  Though they were bound together to one another, they suffered from a fundamental lack of trust.  In 1 Corinthians 3 we read that people separated from each other based on cults of personality.  Some people rallied around Paul and others around an evangelist named Apollos and others around Peter.  In chapter 6, Paul addresses lawsuits where one Christian sues another Christian.  In chapter 8, we read how there was division between those who saw eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols as participation in idolatry and others who saw it as simply good bar-b-cue.  And we know that nothing can divide one person from another more quickly than a discussion about bar-b-cue.  They divided themselves over the way the Holy Spirit was at work in different ones of them.  The Spirit gave some the gift of proclaiming the truth—prophecy.  The spirit gave others the gift of praying in tongues.  It gave still others the gift teaching and others the gift of leadership (chapter 12).  But the people saw this as a reason to separate from each other.  Rather than seeing the different gifts as the work of one and the same Spirit that should unite them with one another, they saw the diversity of gifts as reasons for division. This distrust even filtered into the way they practiced communion.  In the early church the Lord’s Supper was probably a full meal.  And Paul questioned their habit of some people eating their fill before others even made their way to worship—some had plenty from the Lord’s table and others had very little.  Distrust and isolation was destroying the people in Corinth and it was stealing their capacity for authentic living.        
            Distrust deprives us of a necessary resource for authentic living.  The past three weeks have seen an increase in violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip culminating with a raid on Monday with an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla.  It is difficult to understand the Israel’s rationale in enforcing their embargo of the Gaza Strip so harshly.  Regardless, of the one’s position on the political situation between the Israelis and Palestinians it seems that all of us could agree that the fundamental lack of trust between the two groups is the factor that prevents any meaningful resolution.  Unless the people involved can learn to trust each other violence will continue.  The event itself has sparked a series of protests around the world including on college campuses here in the US. Speaking about such protests on the UC Irvine campus, Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater wrote, “Rather than bringing the groups together to talk about their grievances, these kids are only growing farther and farther apart in the gulf of distrust, anger and self-righteousness. How will this advance the hopes for peace?” (Grater, Joshua Levine. “Stop Protesting and Start Talking | Flotilla Crisis | Jewish Journal.” Jewish Journal.Com 3 June 2010. Web. 3 June 2010.) 
            This is just one example of how we continue to live in a culture of distrust.  We can blame the erratic economy, we can blame the rising temperatures of summer, we can blame a volcano or an oil spill, we can  blame the uncertainty caused by swift changes in laws.  But blaming behavior simply feeds the culture of distrust.  Across the board people have adopted a stance of suspicion toward other people.  People suspect everyone else of having self-serving, self-gratifying motivation underneath every action.  The culture of distrust and the stance of suspicion seem like the prudent and wise approach to a world where there are so many scoundrels and thieves.  Of course, you could also hold your breath to avoid breathing catching an airborne disease.  It works until you realize that you actually need oxygen to live. People are made to connect.  People are made to support.  We can’t stop breathing and we can’t stop connecting.  So, somehow we have to find ways to meaningfully cultivate trust with others.     
            Paul portrays a vision of a trusting community for the Corinthians.  In chapter 15,   he reaches the finale of a theme that is woven throughout this letter.  Here he writes that the the most essential gift he had ever received–the gospel—was received through a trusted community.  He beckons the Corinthians to remain true to the gospel.  It is by this gospel they are saved, it is on this gospel the Corinthians have taken their stand.  The gospel’s content is simple—Christ died for our sins according to scripture, he was buried, and on the third day he was raised.  This is a summary of the entire Christian proclamation.  And there are those who say that all they need is this message and nothing more.  But Paul’s point is more nuanced than that.  As he runs through the litany of people who witnessed the resurrection he is revealing his understanding that the gospel depends on people who will share the gospel. 
            For all the talk of Paul’s singular experience of conversion Paul himself recognizes the necessity of being within a trusted community.  Influential 20thCentury sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann have written about the social construction of reality.  Basically they assert that we know what reality is because other people have taught us to think about reality.  In their classic work on social constructionism they wrote, “To have a conversion experience is nothing much.  The real thing is to be able to keep on taking it seriously; to retain a sense of its plausibility.  This [retaining of the plausibility of conversion] is where the religious community comes in.  It provides the indispensable plausibility structure of the new reality.  In other words, Saul may have become Paul in the aloneness of religious ecstasy, but could remain Paul only in the context of Christian community” (quoted in Gaventa, From Darkness to Light, p. 5-6).
            In this letter addresses so many divisions and points of distrust, Paul has offered some of his most memorable and vivid descriptions of the cultivation of a trusting and trusted community and relationships.  It is in this letter that Paul responds to the distrust that emerged around the various spiritual gifts and who possesses them with a word encouraging everyone to seek after the gifts that are available to everyone.  “Where there is prophecy” Paul writes, “it will cease. And where there are tongues  they will be stilled.  And where there is knowledge it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8).  What remains is faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.  It is in this letter that Paul offers the vivid metaphor of the trusting community as the body of the Christ where it makes no sense for a hand to say to an eye “I don’t need you.”  It is this letter where Paul speaks most passionately about communion “There is one loaf and one cup.  And because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body in Christ” (1 Corinthians 10).  And then here, “I pass on to you what I have received.”  Paul speaks most poignantly about trust in response to a people plagued by distrust. 
            Cultivating trust within connects us to an essential ingredient of authentic living.  Trust is a largely intuitive approach people.  But one of the things that we can put our finger on that generates trust is the knowledge that a person has our best interest at heart.  When we know that a person’s advice or a person’s actions are enacted in order to help us or at the very least intentionally constructed so that our needs are protected, then we learn to trust that person.  That is what we have found in Christ Jesus—one who always acted in our best interest.  This is the gospel we have received, on which we have taken our stand, by which we are being saved—that Christ died for our sins. 
            When I was younger, a man that worked with my scout troop described how he learned to like classical music.  He said that he didn’t naturally like classical music.  He hadn’t been raised listening to it.  But he reached a point in his life where he wanted to like classical music.  He said he found one part of Scheherezade that he liked.  This was back in the old days when you played music on a phonograph record.  He learned exactly where on the the record the part he liked was and he would put Scheherezade on the turn table and he would put the needle down and listen to that small portion of the song over and over again.  Eventually he got to where he would leave the needle on the record longer and he would place the needle a little earlier in the song.  And by building on just that one portion of the song he like he was able to develop an appreciation for the entire song and building on his appreciation of that one song he was able to cultivate an appreciation for classical music generally. 
            Trust works the same way.  Learning to trust involves finding that quality in others—to find those who reflect the character of Christ in our lives by seeking our best good.  Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck defines love as, “The will to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s good—for their spiritual growth.”  The response to our culture of distrust is to begin by forming communities of trust.  Generally, that starts with cultivating one or two trusted relationships where another friend responds to you as Christ would respond to you—seeking your best interest and your spiritual growth.  And while we are cultivating relationships of trust.  We reciprocally realize that we must be people others can trust.  Increasingly, I find that the real goal of the Christian life is not understanding the intricacies some theory about Christ but increasingly cultivating the character of Christ within us.  We receive God’s grace because God has placed people in our lives who can demonstrate God’s grace to us.  And we pass on what we have received in Christ.  We receive God’s grace because God is good to us. Others receive God’s grace because God is good through us.    

Indicative and Imperative Hospitality

Indicative language states what is; imperative language stresses what must be done.  It’s the difference between Southern Hospitality and Southwestern Hospitality.  Southern Hospitality is Imperative: “Get on in here and give me a hug; let me get you something to eat–I won’t take no for an answer; sit yourself down; make yourself at home; y’all come back now, ya’ hear!”  Very demanding really.  Southwestern hospitality is indicative hospitality–mi casa es su casa; the backdoor is open; there’s tea in the fridge if you want anything.  It’s why pre-sweetened ice-tea is Southern, it’s not Southwestern.  Southerners know that tea taste better sweetened (it doesn’t but they think it does) and will tell you how to drink it.  Southwesterners would never presume to understand how you like your tea.

Stupid Consistency

Dad:  Did you enjoy the burrito I made for you? (looking at plate that’s not been put in the sink).
Son:  Yes
Dad: Did you get enough to eat?  (no movement to put plate in sink)
Son:  Yes
Dad:  Can you put your plate in the sink? (still no movement)
Son:  Yes
Dad:  Please put your plate in the sink now.  (half distracted moves from couch, still watching cartoons, and slowly puts plate in sink)

Pastor:  Did you hear that you are a loved child of God? (seeing others who need to hear that)
Church:  Yes
Pastor:  Did you hear it enough that you believe it? (no move to share message with others)
Church:  Yes
Pastor:  Can you tell people that they are also beloved child God? (still no movement)
Church:  Yes
Pastor:  Please share this with others now. ( . . . ) 

Foolish Consistency

Dad:  Do you want a ham and cheese sandwich?
Son:  No
Dad:  Peanut Butter and Jelly?
Son:  No
Dad:  Soup?
Son:  No
Dad:  What do you want?
Son:  I don’t know.

Pastor:  Do you want to do personal evangelism?
Church:  No
Pastor:  Home Groups?
Church:  No
Pastor:  Media Blitz?
Church:  No
Pastor:  What do you want to do?
Church:  We don’t know. 

Glad my life is consistent. 

What one senior minister needs to remember about being a youth minister

“You never stopped thinking like a youth minister, did you?”  It was one of the most thrilling compliments ever paid to me. We were co-directing a camp together and working on a game.  I was having fun thinking about twists and wrinkles. She is a good youth minister–far better than I could have ever hoped to be.  She’s perceptive, attention, kind in the way that steps past kids defenses and hormones. She has a gift for facilitating games that get kids connecting to each other and energized.  I have a gift of facilitating games that fall under the weight of their own complexity or require medical attention.  She is gifted in many other ways.  And she’s not alone.  This past weekend I was reminded of just how fortunate our kids are to have a cadre of youth ministers who get it.  As best I can tell, the criteria this cadre uses to evaluate a senior minister is the senior minister’s capacity to think like a youth minister. I would like her evaluation of me to be true.  So, I’ve named a few things that senior ministers, or at least this senior minister, need to remember about ministry from being a youth minister:

1.  Some days really do come down to whether people get sufficient rest and proper hydration.
2.  Rigid plans and no plans are both problematic.  Plan tight; adhere loose. 
3.  It doesn’t matter how comfortable the minister is praying and reading scripture.  It matters how comfortable the people are praying and reading scripture. 
4.  You can’t very well expect to get them to open up to you if you’re always sitting with someone else.
5.  Neither congregations nor youth groups can be built around the minister’s insecurities.
6.  Letting people remain unaccountable for destructive behavior is the exact opposite of loving them.  Holding people accountable is not punishment. 

The biggest thing I see from the good youth ministers I know is that they anticipate seeing God transform the people they serve.  They live with the belief that the next worship service, or game, or activity, or conversation, or meal, or message may be the point of transformation for someone.  Too many of us stop anticipating transformation.  Truth be told, many ministers have never anticipated transformation.  These folk do time in youth ministry rather than do youth ministry which is how they do other forms ministry later on.  We might defend ourselves saying that we’ve been at this longer and therefore we have calibrated our expectations to fit reality.  That’s just another way of saying we’ve let the calling become a job.  Transformation can happen whether we expect it, pray for it, and anticipate it.  After all, God doesn’t ask our permission no matter how offended we get by that.  We can get in the way or miss transformation altogether by failing to look, pray and work for it.  So, to my friend who asked if I still think like a youth minister I’d say, only on my best days. 

Six Things I’ve Learned Following My Daughter’s Twitter Feed

–>My daughter has been away at college for a year and a half.  One of the ways we stay connected to her is through her use of Social Media.  Here are some things I’ve learned about following my daughter’s twitter feed.  
1.  Following your daughter’s twitter feed is all about the relationship.
2.  Following your daughter’s twitter does not replace real conversation but, it sometimes helps.
3.  Knowing the names of the places she goes and the people she knows helps make sense of the things she says,
4.  You don’t act on every post.  Sometimes she’s just quoting song lyrics that are stuck in her head.  But, Piece the posts together and get a sense of how to act in general. 
5.  Don’t assume the angry posts are about you . . . don’t assume they’re not either.
6.  And one that was verbatim from my daughter.  “Creeping on [your daughter’s] crushes’ profile is good. But be cautious when letting them know that. Some may not want you to know who their crush even is. I, on the other hand, will gladly sit there with you and “creep”.

These six things also apply to reading scripture particularly when we think about how we read the Old Testament.  Let’s start with my daughter’s own contribution to the list–creeping on crushes.  There are three great crushes in the Old Testament–God’s and Creation’s crush on each other (Psalm 8); God’s and Israel’s crush on each other (Deuteronomy 6:4-5); and God’s crush on Humanity (Micah 6:8).  What we’re doing when we read the Old Testament is creeping on these crushes–i.e., eavesdropping.  As Fred Craddock would say, we are “overhearing the gospel.”  

We eavesdrop on this record of crushes because the relationship matters to us.  Reading the Old Testament is about the relationship.  It’s the search for language through which we can join in the crush (Psalm 19).  Because the God who has a crush on creation, Israel and humanity has a crush on you.  As such, reading the Old Testament doesn’t replace prayer or a real conversation with your God.  But it does sometimes help.  My favorite hymn lyric probably in all of Christian music comes from the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”  We sing, “What language shall our borrow to thank thee dearest friend?”  The Old Testament gives us language we can borrow to thank God. 

Knowing the places, characters and idiom enables us to understand the text.  The student ministry my daughter attends has a funny name for its Tuesday Night worship.  There’s a ministry intern at the student ministry with a unique name also.  If she mentions him in the context of the worship service, I have to know both the places and the names to make sense out of what she’s said.  Similarly, when we read scripture it’s important to know the background.  I think about these as hash tags (#).  There are hash tags for genre #torah #history #story #wisdom #lament #apocalyptic #propehcy.  There are hash tags for historical placement #foundation #inEgypt #exodus #conquest #judges #monarchy #dividedkingdom #exile #restoration.  These hash tags help orient us to the text.
Fifth, We don’t respond to a single text–don’t try to build a response around just one passage of scripture.  Piece them together.  Most of us have had the experience of over-reacting to someone’s facebook post only to find out that they were just quoting a song lyric.  Similarly, most of us have had the experience of watching people who try to expand one single passage into an entire doctrine.  The point of scripture is to see how God’s word comes through the entire arc of scripture.  

Finally, the angry texts aren’t about you.  However, we can’t just skip over them and pretend they have no value for us.  If we’ll listen closely to them they may speak to us in ways we need to hear.