Monthly Archives: October 2010

Why I Don’t Listen to My Pastor

Over the last eleven years in church work, one thing I have realized is that it is not good for me to listen to my pastor.  Before you think I am going rogue, what I mean is that I need to listen to another pastor each week for part of my spiritual nourishment.

It is hard to listen to the pastor on Sunday morning who is also my boss during the week.  This doesn’t mean that my pastors are hypocrites but the boss/employee relationship clouds the pastor/congregant relationship on Sunday morning.

So each Sunday night Hillary and I sit and listen to the person we call our pastor, Craig Groeschel of Lifechurch.  We love Craig’s practical, wise applications of Scripture.  I have even recommended that our Family Ministry staff on Sunday mornings find some way to be spiritually fed because they are serving during the sermon.

For those of you involved in ministry, do you have this same struggle of listening to your pastor?  Why do you think this is?


Variety in Spiritual Disciplines

My parents ingrained in my head from an early age that an important part of following Christ is spending time with him daily in solitude.  Given my personality, I need to add variety to these times so they don’t become an empty ritual.  I thought I would just share with you some of the elements I have added to this time recently.  My hope is that they might help you connect on a deeper level with the Lord.

Biography/Journal Reading I am currently reading Henri Nouwen’s journal from the last year of his life.  It is a breath of fresh air to read the inner thoughts and struggles of a man who is revered for his faith and wisdom.  It is encouraging to know that another person has the same thoughts of insecurity and unworthiness that go through my mind.  Find out more about the book here.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours There are a great many practices of the Catholic Church that can enhance our spiritual walk as Protestants and the Liturgy of the Hours is one of them.  The Liturgy of the Hours is a mix of prayers, hymns and Scripture readings to be recited at specific hours of the day. Personally I download the podcasts and listen to them on my mobile device.  Find out more about the Liturgy of the Hours here.

Five Minute Retreat A college friend of mine, Ed Cyzewski, is writing a series of blog posts devoted to giving his readers a daily five minute retreat.  I love how Ed weaves breathing exercises, contemplation and Scripture into these exercises. Here is the Five Minute Retreat for today which focuses on peace.

Family Fun Activities: Charades

At our house the 6-7 p.m. hour can either be the best part of our day or the worst part of the day.  This is the time of day when we are both tired and our patience has been tested too much.  Hillary and I yearn for the calm that comes when both girls are asleep in their beds and we can relax.  So how can this hour be a great time for your family?  Here is one simple idea that worked for us tonight: charades.

Our girls love doing what they call “act-outs” where they jump in front of the TV and act out certain scenes.  I don’t know how it happened tonight but our family played charades together and it was hilarious.  We went pretty basic and didn’t even divide into teams.  Hillary told the three of us to act out certain animals or characters and the other two had to guess who or what it was.  The girls totally got into it and Norah’s hilarious laughter was contagious.  I even had to act as a cheerleader which the girls thought was crazy.

Charades was simple yet very effective in making the 6-7 p.m. hour the best hour our day.  What simple, fun activities do you all do as families?

Anna and Her Missing Teeth

Spirituality Not Religion

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there.

Ross V., Member of Alcoholics Anonymous

In Christian circles, I have heard people remark that my generation tends to be “spiritual, not religious” and they see this as a bad thing.  What does it mean to be religious?  What does it mean to be spiritual? Yesterday I read the quote above from a book titled The Spirituality of Imperfection and it really stuck with me. The essence of this quote to me is that spirituality is forged in the fires of tough experiences where as religion is sugar coated selfishness.  I ask students to explain Christianity without sounding selfish and it’s tough.  The message of Christianity is not ask Jesus into your heart and become a Christian so you don’t have to go to hell.  If that is the message, then it is selfishness and therefore, wrong.

If spirituality comes though tough experiences and tough experiences will happen, how do we set up our children to weather these storms? How do we fight our desire to keep our kids safe because safety actually works against spirituality? Why is it that people believe in God, go through a rough experience and then come out of the experience denying God?  Today I just have more questions than answers.

What do you think?

Anna’s Teenager Moment

I knew it was coming.  The moment Hillary and I knew that Anna was growing up quicker than we would like.  Yesterday our kindergarten daughter Anna had a teenage moment after school.

I picked Anna up after school and she exploded in conversation about her daddy taking her out to McDonalds.  Those are the moments as a dad of a daughter that I just let her go in conversation.  There is no interrupting her.  As we drove away from school, she told me that she was “crushed” over her relationship with a boy named Connor.  Anna has a way of misusing words she has learned so I knew it wasn’t that she was “crushed,” as in distraught over something bad that happened. She was talking about the boy in her class that she had a crush on. Then she went off about how she doesn’t want him to be her boyfriend or kiss him but that Connor is her crush.

Then when we got home Anna was not ready to come down from her teenage relationship realizations and hangout with her little sister.  I tried to get involved but Anna told me, “Daddy! You’re ruining my life!”  Then she stormed off to her room and shut the door.  She cranked her music and said she needed some alone time.  Hillary and I almost cracked up laughing because at that moment we got a glimpse of Anna Newton, the teenager.  It was a little freaky!

So why am I telling you this on a Saturday morning?  There are times, many of them recently with our daughter now in school, where Hillary and I realize our daughter is growing up.  We can’t do much to slow down this natural growth process. I wish Norah could stay at her exact size and age but she will grow up too. I’m realizing my role as a parent is to live in the moment with my kids.  It is easy to forecast and worry about what Anna will be like as a teenager.  My role is just to walk alongside and offer support and wisdom for the experiences they are having right now.  This is easier said than done.

On a side note, Anna said she is no longer crushed this morning.  I asked her why and she couldn’t explain.  She said Connor is just her friend now.

The Parenting Equation

As parents we have heard the “Parenting Equation” many times.  If we do such and such, then our children will turn out a certain way.  If we have a weekly Family Night and if we pray at dinner time, then our kids will become high functioning Christians who transform their world.  A + B = C.  Even the writer of Proverbs mentions this equation, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6).  The “Parenting Equation” is very comforting to us as parents.  We have a step-by-step process for raising kids that honor God.  We are in control.  If we just follow the directions then we can enjoy the end product.  But what if I were to tell you that this is all wrong?  What happens when our daughter gets pregnant as a teenager?  What happens when our son gets ensnared by pornography?

When the equation doesn’t give us the intended results we wonder if we did something wrong.  Maybe if I would have taken that vacation instead of putting more hours in at work then my daughter wouldn’t be pregnant.  As a youth pastor, I see parents pouring in endless hours to make their equation work only to see their son or daughter give up on it all.  Even the most devout parents have children who give God the stiff arm.  Even though we know our efforts might be in vain in the end, we still let the pressure of parenting own us.  We experience guilt if we don’t have our kids in every activity under the sun because if we don’t put our kid in AWANA that might be the one missing piece of the equation that leads to their downfall.  The guilt and pressure of parenting according to the equation is like carrying a ton of bricks on our back.  We think this is God’s way of raising our children, but could it be just the opposite?

This past spring I read Larry Crabb’s “The Pressure’s Off.”  In it, he speaks of two ways to live:  the Old Way with its equations and pressures and the New Way of the Spirit.  He writes, “That’s the Old Way–discern which principles to follow that will bring about the blessings we want, then put them into practice as best we can, then pray, trusting God to honor our obedience by making our lives work better.  With all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, get it right so life works.  Desire the peace available in this world” (80).  So much of our spiritual lives our governed by this Old Way.  If I just have my daily quiet time and get rid of sin in my life, then God will reward me with a healthy marriage, a good job and kids who obey me.  In this Old Way of living, a healthy marriage, a good job and obedient kids become my idols.  The spiritual disciplines are just things to do in order to get God’s blessings.  This is jacked up and I know God hates it but yet I continue down this path.  I want life to be an equation.  My experience tells me that it doesn’t work that way though.

Crabb continues, “It’s not about growing up into the maturity of a good self-image and developing the energy to do good things; it is about growing down into the brokenness of self-despair and deepening our awareness of how poorly we love compared to Trinitarian standards.  It’s not about working hard to get it right so that we can present ourselves before God to receive the blessings we desire; it is about coming before Him as we are, honestly, pretending about nothing, becoming increasingly convinced that we can’t get it right though we try as hard as we can, then listening for the whisper of the Spirit, ‘Welcome! You’re home. You’re loved.  You’ll be empowered to speak your unique voice as you hear the Voice of God singing over you with great love’” (26).

May I give up on the idea that parenting and life as a whole is an equation that I am bound to toil under.  Living under this bondage will only pull me further away from God.  Lord, take my burdens and let me rest in your presence.  The pressure’s off!


Reforming Education

With all the talk of reforming education, I thought this video and the ideas it brings forth is worth watching and discussing.  The video raises some interesting motivations behind our current educational system.  It sounds like we need a complete overhaul.  But what would an overhaul look like?  How would this impact religious education in the church?  Take a look and tell me what you think.

Thanks for bringing this video to my attention Leslie Barr!

Segregation in the Church

Racial Segregation in Chicago - Business Insider

Today I read a statistic that said that 9 in 10 churches are racially segregated. This was striking to me but then I thought about how many of our communities in America are still segregated.  I found this map that shows the extreme racial segregation in Chicago and other large cities in the United States.  If our neighborhoods and communities are segregated, it is no wonder that our churches are segregated.

But why are we still this segregated in the United States?  I watch the horrific videos of police brutality during the civil rights movement and wonder what led people to have such hatred for someone of a different color.  Then I see the hatred still present in our communities.  Champaign is definitely a segregated city. There have been a string of attacks in our city led by a few black men who target white adults at night.  I read the comments on our newspaper’s website and see the intense hatred and racism of some in our city.  They demand an armed public to fight off these black teenagers.  Did we not learn anything from our past?

But I do have hope for the future.  The teenagers I see on a regular basis are looking beyond racial lines. We have a free lunch for local high school students in our church fellowship hall and I see a multi-ethnic gathering that is not segregated. I see my kindergarten daughter getting beyond her uncomfortableness with the black students in her class to now saying they are her best friends. I see our white downtown church that was at one time known as the “country club church” reach out and host the Boys and Girls Club after school program. Hillary and I are feeling a tug to move to the north side of Champaign so our daughters can grow up in a multiethnic neighborhood.

My hope is that our generation can lead a movement to make Dr. King’s dream a reality in our neighborhoods, communities and churches.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

– Martin Luther King

Love Letter for Our Children

How often do we indirectly tell our kids that we love them more when they get good grades or have success on the athletic field?  One of our middle school moms sent me a link to a powerful blog post from a pastor who is also a parent. In his post, Jong Park honestly tells how he responded to his daughter who failed to get into an honors program at school.  He reflected on this experience and wrote the following powerful love letter for his children:

You are not loved because you are the best

You are not loved because you tried your best

You are loved because you are mine — my blood, my flesh, my heart

This is powerful stuff!  Imagine the amazing impact if our children felt this kind of unconditional love!  This is the same love that our Father has for us.  You can read more of Jong’s post here.