Ever-increasing Wonder

24 Sep

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and Iguacu Falls.  I’ve seen all the impressive sights in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Rio de Janero.  I’ve even seen a real-life Space Shuttle launch!  Each of these amazing sights gave me a feeling of wonder, awe, and humility.  I’ve been struck by the ingenuity of man, the granduer of creation, and the glorious power of God.  With each of these experiences, I was sure that it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen!

But nothing…not a single Wonder of the Natural World…not the most amazing feat of human engineering could have prepared me for what I was a part of yesterday.  None can compare with witnessing the birth of my first child, my baby girl!   Not a million Space Shuttle launches, not the deepest crack in the ground, not the largest waterfall in the world are as miraculous or awesome as meeting my daughter and hearing her first cry.

I know this sounds incredibly cliche, but it is as true as anything else I could say:  the birth of a baby is nothing short of a miracle!  That there is an entirely new, unique person in this world today and that my wife and I made her!  That she is a living soul, uniquely crafted by the Creator God.  That when Christ died on the cross, He died for her!  Amazing!!!

I believe in miracles.  I witnessed the greatest I’ve ever seen yesterday.  But I know that it is only the first in a long line of daily miracles I’ll experience watching her grown and learn and become the person she will be.

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The Church: Is It a Family or Burger King?

8 Sep

There’s a nip of fall in the air, and I’m ready for the Holiday Season already!!!  Halloween…Thanksgiving…CHRISTMAS!  Bring em on!

However, I discovered last Christmas that our neighbors down the street have some pretty cool Christmas traditions that we don’t have at the Lambert Household.  I’ve tried to get my wife interested in trying some of these new holiday traditions and festivities, but to no avail.  She likes our old traditions.  So, I’ve come to a conclusion.  I’ve made a decision.  Julia can celebrate Christmas however she wants to this year, but I’m going down the street to the neighbors.

Alright…now before I start getting hate-filed comments about what a selfish, terrible, shallow husband I am, let me explain…the above scenario is entirely made up.  I have no idea how my down-the-street neighbors celebrate Christmas.  But just remember the ire that you felt as you read that paragraph.  Keep it very near the surface as you read this next one:

I believe very strongly that many Christians are doing the exact same thing to their churches.  We discover that some church family down the street is doing things differently in worship, or in their student or children’s ministry than our church family.  And we try to bring those new ways into our church family‘s context to no avail.  (Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m no traditionalist, and I think there are lots of great things we can learn from other congregations.  I’m a firm believer in constantly evaluating what and how and why we do what we do and making necessary changes…but not for the sake of “keeping up with the 2nd Baptist Joneses”.)  And then when…for whatever reason…it doesn’t work for our church family, we decide to just up and leave them to go down the street and join a NEW church family.

Now, just think about what you just read.  Did that picture make you more or less angry than the first one?  I believe that speaks volumes to your theology of the church.  We love to sing and talk about the church as the “family of believers.”  Several times throughout the New Testament that analogy is used (Gal. 6:10, Eph. 3:15, Heb. 2:11, 1 Pet. 4:17).

So, why don’t we do a better job of acting as if the church were our family?  We don’t give up families because of the music they like, the look of the house they live in, or what extracurricular activities they like to participate in.  So why do we treat the church family like this?  Why do we treat it more like a country club or a Golden Corral buffet or a Burger King (Have it YOUR way)?

Here’s an idea:  Instead of church shopping or deciding to go out and “start your own church” because there’s something you are unhappy about at your church…try the ancient Christian discipline of fidelity.  Be as faithful to your family of faith as you are to your husband/wife and children.  Pray for change to come.  Do what you can to bring change…if it truly is of God and not just your own personal preference.  And if it is just a preferential thing, or if the change doesn’t happen, then pray for God to give you the peace and serenity you need to continue to faithfully worship and serve at your church.  In other words…don’t treat your church family any differently than you would your flesh-and-blood family.  The only exception would be if your church is heretical or abusive…much like what I would recommend for a family (well, maybe not the heretical part).

Thoughts?  Disagreements?  Show me where I’m wrong.

Attempting to Bridge the Gap

21 Jul

You can’t blame people for behaving in ways you’ve taught them to behave.  And you can’t get mad when people fail if you’ve set them up to fail.

I’m beginning to realize that we’ve set-up a lot of church people to fail (especially teenagers and their families).  And I’m finding myself getting frustrated for how people behave, when they’re only doing what I–as a youth minister–have taught them to do.  Let me give you the most recent example:

Last Wednesday night, I decided to bring our youth up to join the adults in their Wednesday night Bible Study because my good friend & our Minister of Education, David Walker, was going to do a study on the idea of being created in God’s image.  As we talked about it I commented on how appropriate that would be for our students to hear.   This summer we’re taking a more casual and laid-back approach to our Wednesday night youth program anyway, so why not do something radical and merge with the adults for one night?

I got the word out through Facebook, texts and phone calls to our students.  With our summer-time attendance slump, I was expecting at least 10 or 12 show up and couldn’t wait to see how impressed our adults would be with the depth of insight they could bring to the discussion!

Guess how many showed up?  Lower…lower…there ya go!  ONE. Yep, that’s right.  And it was our minister of music’s daughter. We even had a couple of youth there for supper with their family get up and leave to help work with the children’s program.

But as I sat there frustrated and discouraged, I realized that we have set-up our students for this very fall.  We have been operating a youth ministry built more out of what Mark Yaconelli calls “adult anxiety and teen angst,” and this was  a perfect example of teen angst.  It frustrated me because if we had met as usual in the Warehouse for youth Bible Study we would have had a decent group.  But because we were going to join the adults up in the “big church” they stayed away as if we were hosting a missionary showing mission trip slides!

This is a problem that MUST be fixed! The “generation gap” must be bridged!

And we are taking “baby steps” to do just that.  One thing we’re doing more of is family-based events instead of just planning multiple events for adults, children, and youth that just end up competing with each other for buses and calendar dates.  Tonight, in fact, we are taking a whopping 44 people to see the Atlanta Braves play!  We’ve promoted it as FBC Family Night @ Turner Field.  We have whole families going together…parents, teenagers, and younger siblings.

It’s a youth event…no, it’s a children’s event…no, its a FAMILY event!

Bridging the Gap!

And in a couple of weeks we’re transforming our annual Youth Lake Day to a Family Lake Day.  We’re hoping we’ll have families of all kinds come: those with small children, teenagers, or no children at all.  We’re having a fish fry that we hope will help even bring out our senior adults.

They’re not world-changing, earth-shattering events.  But they’re baby steps in helping our adults be less anxious about being with teenagers, and helping our youth feel less angst about chillin’ at the lake with our older generations.  I feel as Kara Powell does in the latest issue of Immerse where she said,

“I’m inspired by churches that are realizing that the Kingdom is more than separate adult and kids’ tables; it’s followers of all ages who feast together on the goodness of God’s Kingdom and invite others to join the celebration.”

I want our church to be one of those churches.  I look forward to sharing more about our adventures in “attempting to bridge the gap.”

If the Church Is Against Us, Who Then Can Stand For Us?

4 Jul

Why is it that so many Christians are against so many things?  It seems that we’re better known for the things we’re against than for the things we’re for!

I started to think about all the things that Christians, churches, denominations, and other Christian groups have been against at one time or another: dancing, rock n roll, card playing, restaurants that serve alcohol, drums in the sanctuary, women who wear pants (or make-up or jewelry), the NIV Bible, women deacons, women ministers, Disney, Twilight, Harry Potter, Democrats…I could go on.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t sins and social issues that the people of God should take a stand on and fight for what’s right and true.  And I know there’s a lot of difference of opinion among Christians as to what those issues are and are not.  What I’m taking issue with is the sheer number and superficiality of things Christians tend to be against these days.

So I got to thinking: What kind of things was Jesus against?  Let’s take a quick look.

Right off the bat, I can easily see that Jesus is against sickness and death, because He keeps healing people and raising the dead.  He’s apparently against hunger and thirst, because He feeds people and declares He is the Living Water with whom no one will thirst again. 

From Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7, we see Jesus is against pridefulness, unforgiviness, anger and hatred toward others, lustful hearts, divorce, being untrustworthy, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, greed, divided loyalty, worry, the illusion of self-sufficiency, being judgmental, and lip service.  Hmmm….not a single mention of drinking, gambling, secular music, or Harry Potter.  Interesting.

On multiple occasions, we find Jesus eating dinner with the worst sinners…among them prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, gamblers, you name it!  And we never once see Jesus rebuke them, preach against the “wiles of the devil” to them, or even give them a “tisk tisk. Shame on you.”  Instead, Jesus loves them.  Jesus affirms them as human beings made in God’s image.  He FORGIVES them!  He tells their accusers, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)  He doesn’t condemn!  He isn’t AGAINST them…He’s FOR them!

In fact, the only group I can find in all the Gospels that Jesus is against…are the religious leaders!  The pious, “holier than thou” Pharisees and Sadducees are the ones Jesus has the only things to say AGAINST.  He calls them a brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33), they’re the “blind leading the blind” (Matt. 23:24).  They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), not to be trusted. They actually make it hard for people to come to God (Matt. 23:13-15).  Jesus calls them hypocrites and the children of Satan (Matt. 23)!

I can’t help but feel that the Pharisees were known for what (and who) they were against.  They were against the Romans, the prostitutes, the drunks, the Gentiles, the tax collectors, those who work a little too hard on the Sabbath, and of course…Jesus.  Maybe they led boycotts, had protest rallies, and preached about everyone else’s wickedness.

Funny how Jesus and His followers didn’t do any of that.  Funny that when Jesus preaches a “Woe unto you” sermon, it was to the religious people.  I guess you could say that the only people Jesus was against were those who were against people.

Are there some things in this world worth standing against? Of course. Are there any people groups worth standing against? Certainly not!  The Church of Jesus must be very careful about what we stand against, lest we become white noise no one pays attention to.  And we must be very careful never to stand against anyone…for every person is a person for whom Jesus died.

Let’s be like Jesus!  He wasn’t known for what He was against, but for what He was for!  Even in the Sermon on the Mount I mentioned above, those things I said Jesus was against were framed in the positive.  He didn’t preach a bunch of “don’ts.” He laid out the kind of things we are to DO!  When we DO the right things, and love everyone, the “don’ts” become obvious.

Remember, Jesus said He didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but so that it might be saved (John 3:17). And in the verse before that one, Jesus reminds us God actually LOVES the world!  So if the CHURCH…the last, best hope for the world, is always standing AGAINST the world, then what hope does the world really have?  Satan is our enemy.  Not the people of the world.  Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can stand against us? (Rom. 8:31)”  What about this question asked from the world’s perspective, “If the Church of Jesus is for us, who can stand against us?  If the Church of Jesus stands against us, who can stand for us?”  The World needs us! 

So…what and who are we standing FOR?  Let’s make the world sit up and take notice of those things!

How’s Your Youth Ministry Environment?

29 May
Parents Backyard

An Environment for Life and Growth

I’m spending Memorial Day at my parents’ house.  Over the past several years they have transformed their normal, blah backyard practically into a wildlife refuge!  They tore down their deck and created a serene water garden with a waterfall, rich landscaping, and 5 birdfeeders with a variety of feed.  Just sitting here this morning we saw the following: 3 frogs, a red-tailed hawk, a rabbit, about 20 species of bird, and of course their 4 Koi fish.   We joke that it might qualify as a protected wetland!

As I reflected on this abundance of wildlife flourishing right outside the windows, I thought about why so much life is drawn and nurished in my parents’ backyard.  It’s because they have created an environment that both draws and sustains life.  It’s more than just pretty flowers and birdfeeders…it’s a place that nourshes and protects as well.

How does my youth ministry compare?  What kind of environment are we creating for students?  Are we creating the kind of spiritual and relational environment that both draws students in and sustains, nourishes, and protects?

You know the old saying, “How you get them is how you keep them.”  There is truth there.  It’s one thing to draw students in with lots of smoke and mirrors—games, concerts, food, wacky stunts, etc.  But how do you keep them coming week after week?  And are you offering anything that nourishes their souls, or are you just giving them spiritual junk food?!

My goal is to create an environment where young people are welcomed, accepted, and known.  I want to provide a nourishing place for their souls and a place where they feel safe to explore questions of life and faith with caring adults who can help guide them.

What kind of environment are YOU creating for your youth?

Review–NCV Dad’s Bible

22 May

The Dad’s Bible (New Century Version) by Thomas Nelson Publishers is a well-crafted devotional Bible for fathers, full of articles, resources, and insights to help any Christian dad live out his faith in real ways that make a difference in his family, community, and world.

The Dad's Bible

The Dad’s Bible is presented in the New Century Version, a contemporary, easy-to-read translation.  I would describe it as a cross between the New Living Translation and the Message.  While the NCV is an actual translation, not a paraphrase, it does loosely translate many of the ancient idioms and technical terms (such as measurements) into modern day equivilants.  I wouldn’t recommend this translation for serious study,  but for public and devotional reading, I found it very fluid and enjoyable to read.

As a soon-to-be father I found the articles sprinkled throughout this Bible to be inspirational and encouraging.  The key features highlight areas of family leadership, godly character, insights drawn from the text and applied to modern day living, as well as specific and practical ways to pass on the Christian faith and biblical values to your children.  I also enjoyed the honesty of the “Dads in the Bible” feature which highlights key fathers in the Bible…the good, the bad, and the ugly, and draws useful principles out of their stories. Other helpful features include a great “Question and Answers Resource” perfect for helping dads answer sticky questions their kids may ask about God and the Bible, a topical index, and insightful Bible book introductions.

I am looking forward to making The Dad’s Bible a daily part of my adventures in fatherhood after our baby is born.  The humorous but thoughtful style to the articles makes it fun and encouraging to read, but also leaves the space for introspection and personal challenge we should all get from reading the Scripture.  It would make a great gift for any dad, whether their child is still to be born or heading off to college.

(Disclaimer: As a blogger I received a free review copy – no requirement to give it a positive review, just for the reviewer to call it like they see it.  The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Experiential Worship Services, Part 2

6 May

For most of my life I thought that the best and most biblical way of conveying the precious truths of the faith was through preaching/teaching.  And by preaching/teaching I mean lecturing. It was how all of my previous pastors, youth ministers, and Sunday School teachers did it.  It was the way all the camp pastors, guest evangelists, and featured speakers at conferences did it.  Wasn’t it the way Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets did it?

Now THAT is the question.  And HERE is the answer:  NO!  If you look at the teaching methods of Jesus, He did speak a lot (hence all the red letters!) but when He spoke it was usually in the form of stories, question and answers, and explaining object lessons.

  • Jesus loved object lessons–whithering fig trees, fields of grain, water wells, stormy seas, unleavened bread, wine, money in fish mouths, etc.
  • And Jesus loved stories: good Samaritans, prodigal sons, foolish and wise builders, weddings, and treasures buried in fields.
  • Even the Prophets used stories and object lessons, and visual displays…weird things like eating scrolls, lying around on your side naked for years, wearing yokes around your neck, and stories about rich men killing and eating their neighbors pet lamb.

In fact, many of the teaching methods of Jesus and the prophets were very hands-on, multi-sensory experiences that involved food and drink!  Take the feeding of the 5,000…or the woman at the well…turning water into wine…or, naturally, the Passover meal.  They obviously understood something that many of us in the Church have forgotten—people are more than just empty minds waiting for us to poor information into.  People also have bodies…hands and feet and eyes and mouths…full of billions of nerve endings and sensory receptors that convey information as well as (or even better than?) the ears!  So why not use all the senses in teaching?  Why not involve the WHOLE PERSON in telling and retelling the stories of the faith?

And so as part of our great experiment this year, we observed a Seder Passover Meal as a student ministry.  We timed it to coincide with Holy Week and our Storying of the Last Lord’s Supper in our Bible Storying process.  It couldn’t have timed out better!  Imagine students hearing the story of the Last Supper, then experiencing it in a Seder Meal together the next week, then going through a “Walk to Golgotha” Prayer Experience the next week, and then after celebrating Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday storying through the Death and Resurrection!  If they don’t get it after all of that…well, we’ve got issues to say the least!

This was such an amazing experience for our students and adults.  Not only was it multi-sensory, but it was completely emersive, totally collaborative (everyone was involved), celebratory yet serious, and it was intensely worship and thoughtful.  We sang together, retold the story of the Exodus, read Scriptures, prayed, served each other, retold the Last Supper, and worshiped the Risen King.

Many of our students commented how fun and interesting it was.  And for some, that may be as much as they got out of it.  But several more talked about the connections between the first Passover and how Jesus fulfills so much of that story–how He is our Passover Lamb.  Many were amazed at how much of the Seder Meal is fulfilled in Jesus, and some even wondered out loud how any Jewish person could celebrate this meal and NOT see the connections with Jesus!  The meal certainly raised good questions and provided opportunity for great discussion and reflection.

If you are interested in doing a Seder Passover meal with your students (or your whole church) visit this link for an indispensable resource to help you plan and take a group through the experience.

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