NYWC Atlanta 2012: Part 1

17 Nov

There’s nothing like a National Youth Workers Convention to jump-start my blogging!  So, I will once again attempt to record my thoughts, observations, and notes here…should anyone be interested in reading them.

I came a day early for the pre-convention spiritual retreat, “Coming Home: An Invitation to Rest in God” led by Mark Yaconelli.  This also gives me a chance to scout the lay of the land before the rest of our group comes up tomorrow.

This is the first time I’ve been to an NYWC in Atlanta that wasn’t at the World Congress Center.  At first I was very disappointed in the new location of the conference, but once I got here I fell in love with it!  The Atlanta Marriott Marquis is beautiful, well laid-out, and has great access to plenty of food options that are reasonably priced.  In fact, I can walk from the parking garage to the hotel to the Peachtree Center Mall without ever stepping foot outside!  I can see definite advantage in having the conference in the hotel!  It takes 30 seconds to get up to my room!

Now…on to more weighty matters.  My first day of retreat was very meaningful.  The Lord has spoken to me and revealed to me some deep things about myself.  We spent the day exploring the idea of “coming home,” with God being the one who is always “at home” in our lives.  We are the prodigals who wonder away and need to come back home to the Father.  We explored our childhood memories of home, we wrestled with the deep fears and longings of our hearts, and we laid ourselves bare to Jesus’ loving attention.   I really can’t write any more on this until I have some time to sit with it.

Finally, let me say that I’m thankful the bookstore wasn’t actually open for purchasing anything.  I gave it a very thorough look over, and if I could buy anything right now, I’m sure I’d blow a small fortune!  There are so many great resources and books there for student ministry and personal growth.  So, I’m now going to spend some time narrowing down my selections!  Tomorrow is going to be great!

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Stand Firm in the Faith!

30 Sep

I have continued to meditate on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 over the last several weeks, but have fallen down on the job of blogging about it.  These two verses are a series of brief, pointed commands.  And I believe that they outline some of the key elements to being a strong disciple of Jesus in today’s world.

Here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every [action] must be done with love.”  –1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Stand firm in the faith” has taken on new meaning for me as I have been following the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran over the past several days.  This young Iranian pastor has refused to recant his faith in Christ.  As a result today the Iranian courts have sentenced him to death.  Whether this will stand, or will be repealed, remains to be seen.  The international community has risen up in united outrage over this blatant violation of basic human rights.  With this outcry and God’s people in earnest prayer, hopefully Pastor Nadarkhani will indeed be released.

This man is a living example of what it means to “stand firm in the faith.”  He willingly risks losing his life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.  He would rather die than deny his Lord and Savior.  THAT is true faith!  C.S. Lewis once said,

“You never know how much you really believe anything
until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

I hope that you will join me in prayer for Pastor Nadarkhani and all Christians facing persecution for their faith.  Here are some other things you can do with your church and youth group:

  • PRAY with your youth, Sunday School class, and church.
  • Educate them with help from Voice of the Martyrs and many other organizations out there.  I’ve recently discovered a powerful documentary entitled Love Costs Everything.  Below is the trailer:
  • Discuss with your group the difference it would make if they lived in a place where being a Christian was dangerous.  How do they stand firm in their faith?  How does that compare to how people like Pastor Nadarkhani stand firm in the faith?

Audacious Faith: Preparing for Victory

30 Sep

Here is my 3rd sermon in the series I preached in May and June of this year.  It’s taken from Joshua chapter 5, when the people reaffirmed their covenant relationship with God by circumcising the males, and then observing the Passover for the first time since Mt. Sinai.  This sermon lead up to our own reaffirmation of our commitments to God and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. o

Audacious Faith sermon #3: Preparing for Victory

Audacious Faith: A Crossover People

27 Jul

Here is my 2nd sermon in the series I preached between our pastor retiring and our interim beginning.  It’s taken from Joshua chapters 3-4, when the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  I hope it challenges and encourages you today.

Audacious Faith sermon #2:  A Crossover People

Be Alert!

26 Jul

I have been inspired to meditate on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 over the next 5 weeks.  Our interim pastor, Dr. Leonard Dupree, preached on 1 Cor. 16 this past Sunday morning, and these two verses in particular spoke to me.  They are a series of brief, pointed commands.  And I believe that they outline some of the key elements to being a strong disciple of Jesus in today’s world.

I really like the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation of this passage.  Here it is:

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every [action] must be done with love.”  –1 Corinthians 16:13-14

This week, I’m meditating on what it means to “Be alert!” Other translations say, “Be on your guard.”  I see this applying in a number of ways:

  • Be alert to open doors of ministry.  Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 16:9 Paul talks about a great door of ministry opportunity that has opened for him.  What doors of ministry opportunity is God opening up for me every day?  Am I missing them because I’m not on the alert?  Am I failing to see people with compassion the way Jesus did?
  • Be on your guard against temptation.  1 Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  This echos the warning God gave Cain in Genesis 4:7.  What are my spiritual blind spots I need to be especially aware of?  What wrong attitudes or motives do I tend to struggle with?  Do I have a tendency to complain, to get my way at any cost, to be judgmental of others?  What are my weaknesses that Satan tries to capitalize on?  Greed? Lust? Pride? Materialism?  I need to be on my guard and alert to these tendencies so I can avoid those pitfalls
What about you?  How do you need to be more alert and on your guard in your personal and family life?  What ministry opportunities do you need to keep your eyes open for?  What areas do you need to guard against temptation and wrong attitudes?  What are your blindspots?  What kids are falling through the cracks in your ministry?  What issues and topics have you been avoiding teaching on or addressing with your students?

Audacious Faith: A Lifestyle of Promise

18 Jul

From May 22nd to June 29th I had the honor and privilege of filling the pulpit at the First Baptist Church in Thomson, GA, where I serve as Minister of Students. Our pastor retired from active ministry on May 15th. The Pastor Search Committee approached me to fill in while they looked for a long-term interim pastor. I humbly accepted the opportunity and holy responsibility of bringing a message from the Lord for His people on a weekly basis. And it gave me a whole new appreciation of the challenge of preparing weekly messages in addition to all the other demands of ministry. Wearing the hats of youth minister AND preacher at the same time is no easy task! But by the grace of God, I survived. More than that, I think I actually thrived. I truly enjoyed the opportunity.

And so, I thought I would share these messages with a broader audience. I will be posting the links to the audio of these sermons here on my blog. I will try to post a new one every couple of days. When the committee approached me to preach, I was reading Steven Furtick’s book, “Sun Stand Still,” and was prompted to further study the book of Joshua as a result. These sermons came out of this study, with some inspiration from Furtick’s book (which I highly recommend). I felt that where our church was in this time of transition was similar to where the Children of Israel where as they transitioned from being a people wandering in the wilderness to a people conquering and settling the Promised Land, from following Moses to following Joshua. May you find encouragement and words of challenge as you listen to these sermons on “Audacious Faith.”

Audacious Faith sermon #1:  A Lifestyle of Promise

Recognize Your Roots

28 Nov

This blog is a long time in development, thanks to my constant distraction by a little person who has taken up residence in our house.  😉  But, better late than never!

You know the old expression, “You can’t go home again”?  Well, back in September, I did just that!  I enjoyed having the honor of preaching on “Homecoming Sunday” at the church where I grew up.  It was more than a little surreal riding into that parking lot in the back seat of my parents’ car…the only thing that would have made it even more nostalgic would be a good old-fashioned Sunday morning argument between my brother and me.  But once I stepped into the church building, it became clear that this wasn’t a trip back in time.

Seeing your childhood church through adult eyes is a sobering experience.  I haven’t been inside that building in 15 years.  It seemed smaller to me.  There were many welcome updates to the facilities, bringing it into the 21st century.  Many of the old feautres I remember were no longer there…the old 1950’s water fountain downstairs, the bamboo-print curtains in the men’s bathroom that acted as toilet stall “doors,” and the old memeograph machine.  But what trully suprised me where the things that hadn’t changed…namely the people.  I saw men and women who played such crucial parts in my childhood and adolescent faith formation.  Sunday School and VBS teachers, RA leaders (Royal Amabassadors, a Southern Baptist missions organization for boys), Deacons, and other men and women who simply loved and supported me and encouraged me in my calling to the ministry.

This church was the place I accepted Christ as my Savior, was baptized, embraced God’s calling on my life, was liscensed to preach and ordained into the ministry.  I preached my first sermon there, taught my first class, was incharge of my first church-related event, and held my first church job.  It’s because of one summer spent as an interim youth minister that I’m in youth ministry today!  This was, as they say, where it all began!

And to be back there after all these years, married and with a baby just a few weeks away…was more than a trip down memory lane.  It was an opportunity to revisit my roots, to see where I came from, to remember the formative years of my faith, and to say “Thank You” to those whom God used to teach me the basics of His word, and the power of His love.

But it was also, I believe, an important trip for the people at that church.  How often do Christian men and women poor their time, energy, heart, and tithes into the lives of children and youth and never see the fruit of their labors?  How many times have I as a youth minister wondered whether I was making any difference?  How rewarding is it for me to see my students continue to grow in their faith development and remain faithful to the local church through college and beyond?  How powerful is it when a former youth enters the ministry or even comes back home to become a youth worker?  Well, the people of my childhood church were able to see exactly that.   And it was an affirming and rewarding experience to be able to thank them and relate to them that they were in deed making a difference.

What about you?  Where do you trace back your spiritual roots?  Who were the men and women who believed in you, who saw something in you you couldn’t even see in yourself, who dared to trust you enough to give you a pulpit for a Sunday or entrust you with a church van and 14 kids for the first time? 

I encourage you to find the time to visit those people, to return to your spiritual “birthplace” and thank those people.  Let them share in the joy of your labors, tell them stories of lives changed through your ministry, laugh (and cry) about old times, and dream about the future.  It will be a blessing to you and to them.  And maybe, just maybe, down the road some young person will seek you out and do the same!