Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Follow Me...

As I reflect back on this week for a topic to write on, I found that I was struggling to come up with anything.  As most people, do, I began to procrastinate, looking for almost anything to do to keep me away from writing. 

Some of you may know this, but my birthday was last week.  Per usual, my Facebook wall was flooded with posts of birthday wishes and blessings.  I remember a few years ago, a friend of mine went through and “liked” every single post on their birthday.  That lead to me trying to one-up…because well, why not?  So I wrote a personal comment to everyone who posted on my wall.  Sure it became time consuming but I will get back to that.

So while I was sitting there, trying not to write, I did my yearly tradition of thanking everyone who wrote on my wall and for many who I may have not been in touch with in a while, asked how they were doing.  I normally do not expect much from this but I feel it was a kind gesture and after last year, feel it is something that is worth doing.

I have found that by doing this, even if it is only one person, it offers me a chance to reconnect with someone that I have lost touch with.

With the technology of today, it is easier than ever to stay connected with people regardless of distance. 

Yet, we seem to be growing farther and farther apart….

Not just from each other but also from God…

Why is that?

This is what I thought of while I was procrastinating.  And something hit me…communication…

One way, probably the best and most logical ways to maintain a relationship with somebody is to communicate with them.  Something so simple, yet so hard to do at the same time.

With twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram…we can follow people and like their status updates or their pictures they post without ever really communicating to them. 

There are two main definitions when you look up ‘communicate’.  The first one is to exchange information… 

Please notice that is says exchange…not read about what somebody is up to.

Communication is not always easy because when it comes to communicating and building relationships…it is something personal.  Anything that is personal means something to us and has the potential to hurt us.  It is easier to just “follow” them and “like” what they are doing…but to stay connected and to communicate and to build those true real relationships is hard.

I will not be a hypocrite and go into talking about how great I am at maintaining relationships.  I am terrible at staying in touch with a lot of people and am very bad at communicating.

It is a skill I have been working on but it is also one that I need to continue working on.

There are far too many people in my life that I should be in touch with in my life that I simply don’t.

It is much easier to ignore or to not even make an effort than it is to pick up the phone and call or text a simple message…anything where information is being traded back and forth…you are communicating and that is better than nothing.

Another thing I did to avoid writing this post for today, was go around and read other blogs…maybe I would see something that would give me some inspiration.  I came across an article about Four Ways to Stay Strong in Your Christian Faith.  As I read through this I see that number 4 simply said, talk to someone.


Three simple words yet it made so much sense…

When you feel down or lonely or lost or helpless…talk to someone.

When you are feeling happy, joyous, goofy…talk to someone.

It works in both contexts.

When you feel far from God…talk to someone.

Sometimes the simplest thing can mean so much…just talk to someone.


This is also a key word when it comes to prayer.  Prayer isn’t just a one sided conversation with God.  At least in my opinion it shouldn’t be.  It should be communication.  But it also takes patience to wait to see how God communicates to you, because it may be in a way you are not expecting.

It all came down to one word that entails so much…


P.S.  The second definition listed for communicate was to receive Holy Communion… 

Huh, maybe there is much deeper meaning to communicating to others than just talking. 

But that is harder than just simply pressing “Follow Me” on Twitter, it requires communication.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Become a Disciple..to make a Disciple...

A few years back, I was away working at a retreat for middle school youth from around the country.  It was one of the first times I got to know my future brother-in-law.  He was a bit nervous about attending the event, not solely because it was one of those first times that this guy would spend a week with me and our other sister…One whole week to judge him and see if he was good enough to date our sister…

But that really wasn’t the part that made him nervous; it was the middle schoolers themselves.  I remember overhearing a conversation with one of the other staff members about how he prefers to work with high schoolers a lot more than middle schoolers…

To which the response was, well duh, working with high schoolers are easy!  Because once you are in high school, you are most likely involved in the church because you want to be.  Middle school is something completely different.  Most of them are there because their parents make them…some are there because they want to be.  But regardless, how do we move from one to the other?

So how do you get the middle school group that does not want to be there and turn them into a group of high school who want to be at church all the time?

There are many answers to this question, but it basically boils down to one concept…


There is a quote by Rollie Martinson, the former Professor emeritus of Children Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, that says “In order to make disciples out of young people, you have to make disciples out of their parents.” 

When you look at more statistics, that statement actually makes a lot more sense.  In 2001, sociologist Christian Smith headed up a group of researchers started what is known as the National Study on Youth and Religion.  They released their findings in 2005 and then smith released a book in 2009 that provided follow up research (Souls in Transition).  Some of the major findings from this study are the foundation for another book, Raising Teen in an Almost Christian World: A Parent’s Guide.  The following are the 7 highlighted major findings from the National Study on Youth and Religion:
1.       Most American teenagers have religious beliefs.
2.       Organized religion doesn’t matter much to most teenagers.
3.       For a significant minority of teenagers, faith does matter.
4.       Adolescents are incredibly inarticulate about their faith.
5.       Religious vitality differs by tradition.
6.       Highly religious teenagers fare better than less religious teenagers.
7.       Teenagers mimic the religious devotion of their parents.

Now go back and reread that quote from Martinson...then read number 7 again.

Makes a lot of sense.

I remember once when I was in 8th grade, my friend Ben was staying over at my house.  We wanted to watch a movie but did not know which one.  My sister was heading to Blockbuster to rent something and we requested that she surprise us with a movie of her choice.  When she returned, she handed over this weird looking movie that neither of us had ever heard of.  We had no interest in watching this thing, the description did not sound to appealing either.  What movie did my sister try to force me to watch?  Empire Records.  But being the good older sister that she was, she proceeded to tell me how it was such a great movie and how much she knew I would like it if I only gave it a chance.  I watched it because she was pretty pushy about the fact that I should and to this day, it is one of my favorite movies.  But what does this have to do with making disciples?

What my brother-in-law was referring to many years ago was not the fact that working with middle schoolers is difficult; it is because they are not there on their own accord…at least at first.

Just like my sister knew so many years ago…watch this movie…I know you…and I know this movie…I know you will like it.

Same goes for church.  If you regularly attend and are active in your church life, my guess is that it is much more likely that you child will be active the church as well.  As the National Study on Youth and Religion states in number seven, teenagers mimic the religious devotion of their parents.

If you want to make a disciple of your children, make a disciple of yourself first.  How can you expect your child to go to church and think it is a priority if you skip more then you attend?

Oh, I was up late…so I will sleep in.

I am hanging out with my friends…so I need that time to do my homework.

So and so isn’t going…so I don’t want to.

We are so good at making excuses and accepting them as to why we won’t get involved with something.  The other day I was listening to a comedy act where the comic was so thankful to the people for coming out to his show.

 “I really do appreciate you coming to a thing because you didn’t have to.  And it’s really easy not to go to things.”

I feel this though has become far too true for many Church going families.  We are so good at the excuses and the not doing anything that it is rubbing off on our children.

But why is it so easy to work with high schoolers? 

Well it is not, but they want to be there!  They are making that choice.  They are the ones driving themselves or having their friends pick them up.

But why is there such a change in just a few short years?

Someone pushed those high schoolers to go and be active when they were younger…and they loved it.

By going they find themselves apart of a great community and that community is one that stays with you for the rest of your life. 

The relationships that you make here are some of the strongest friendships that I have ever seen.

It starts at a young age.

If you want a child to grow up with a strong faith and to be active in a church…then it starts now.  It may require some pressure and may take some time…

But in the long run, they will look back and go…you knew what you were talking about all along.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Told you so...

It wasn’t long ago that I was posed a rather difficult question.

“When it comes to evangelism, how are we supposed to preach the word of God to someone who does not want to hear it and wants nothing to do with religion?”

The question came from a senior in high school who was struggling with the fact that a lot of their friends were atheist or did not want anything to do with God or religion.

It is a challenging question and a very difficult one  especially if you have grown up in a denomination that it not too vocal when it comes to evangelism… cough cough the Episcopal church cough.

So what do we do? 

Before we go into this, I want to share a couple of stories…

As some of you know, one of my hobbies is playing disc golf.  I began playing in high school and have continued playing to this day.  I have even convinced many of my friends to begin playing.  We go out and play whenever we find the time, which isn’t always too often but we always do enjoy the times that we are able.

One of my friends that I play with on a regular basis has a bit of a stubborn personality.  He started playing about 4 years ago and has developed into a pretty solid player.  Every now and then when he is trying to pick his shot, I may offer my advice or mention how if I were in that position, I would probably do such and such…

Naturally, whenever I say anything, he goes out of his way to do anything else.  Sometimes it works out for him but a lot of times it doesn’t. 

By now it has just become a running joke whenever we play and always adds some humor into the round.

It didn’t start off as being so funny…it was actually pretty annoying and I must admit to it cause some frustration. 

“It just makes sense to do it this way!  Why won’t you just listen or try it one time!”

Most of the time the response was simple, “I don’t want to.”

As frustrating as that answer may be, it was his true honest response.  And you cannot not argue with someone else’s honesty.  Well, you can but in this case I didn’t think it was worth it.  Pick your battles, right?!

Now, I remember a quote that somebody told me a while back.  A smart person will learn from their own mistakes.  A wise person will learn from the mistakes of others.

This is an example of great advice that you hear and welcome with open arms…and then struggle to follow it.

Now, I am going to ask a serious of questions and I want you to answer them as honestly as possible.  You can answer them quietly in your head, so be as honest as you possibly can because no one will hear it.

Remember that time you did something that you thought was a really good idea? 

It may have been that person you dated briefly?

That thing that was going to look really cool... if you were able to do it?

Right before you did this thing, just about everyone you know says…”You know, I don’t know about this…”

But what do they know…this time will be different, things won’t happen like that.  Why should you listen to them?  What do they know about that particular situation?

I am sure you can all think of a few times you have been in this situation and can also think of a few times that you were telling your friend, “Hey, I really don’t think this one is going to work out for you.”

Typically, the situation works out the same way.

Friend A tells friend B that their idea is probably not smart.  Friend A does not listen and does it anyway.  Friend B, being a good friend, stands by their side.  Afterwards, friend B fights the urge to say, “Told you so” while friend A says, you were right.

So how many situations can you think of that fit that model?  Probably a few right?

After going through this many times myself, I have developed some ideas about this.

Sometimes, we just need to learn things on our own. 

When our friends or family are telling us that something may not be a good idea and advise us not to do something.  They say it is something so simple and it just makes sense!  Why won’t you listen?

Just like my friend earlier, we respond with, “I don’t want to.”

Whatever the reason is, we are not ready to heed their warnings or take their advice.  We hear what they say but it does not fully sick in.  We just may not be in a place where we want to hear it.

That is when we just have to be there for them.  We can’t just continue to tell them that they are wrong because that just pushed them into doing the exact opposite of what we are saying.

In time, when they are ready to hear, when the time is right, they will get it…and we will be there for them the whole time.

To me, that how evangelism should work.

They more you push your beliefs onto someone, the farther you will push them away.

Just because our words may fall on deaf ears it does not mean we cannot still live out the Gospel.

Have you heard the cliché, actions speak louder than words?

If you only speak the words, you can be ignored…but if you live it, then people will notice.

But remember, you can force someone to be ready to hear it, when the time is right and they are ready, they will know that they can come to you and talk about it.

Then you just have to try and hold back from telling them, “Told you so…”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

An Open Letter to Parents from Youth Ministers ...

A good read from a Youth Minister/blogger, Stephen Ingram...

See more of his writing at...

(I have not written on the blog in a while mainly because I have been working on an exciting new book that I will tell you more about in the coming weeks.  While there has been blog silence I have had some time to observe youth ministry around the country as well as in my own context and have decided to write an open letter about what I have observed.  This letter is not from all youth ministers and it is not to all parents, but I think it speaks to most)

Dear Parents,
We love your kids.
We love them enough to send you this letter.
Your youth are in a bad place.  We have never seen a generation of teenagers who are more stressed, full of anxiety, depressed, suicidal, over committed, over medicated, over worked and over extra-curriculared, and it is killing them, sometimes literally.  We know you want the best for them, the best grades, the best college, the best teams, performances, standardized scores, friend groups etc.  We all want the best for them.  But they are not the best at everything and they will never be the best at everything.  I was not, you were not and they will not stand atop the podium in every area they compete.  As I watch the Olympics I have thought a lot about what it takes to get to the Olympics, let alone what it takes to get to the top of that podium. It takes incredible amounts of raw talent, dedication, work, and single-mindedness about that discipline.  Unfortunately we see many parents pushing these standards and unrealistic expectations of every area of their kids lives.  They cannot do it all, they cannot handle the stress and are being crushed under the weight of the expectation. Now, please hear me, it is not just your expectation, it is the expectation of their coaches, teachers, administrators, colleges and the expectations of each other.  Expectations are good, they cause us to rise above where we, alone, would usually strive.  But they must be realistic expectations based on each student.
Your kids are probably not going to Harvard, and that is ok.
Your kids are probably not going to play a professional sport, and that is ok.
But your kids can be amazing, productive, courageous and wonderful human beings, who love, have passions and dreams; should we really want more than that?
Our culture is moving to a place where parents are told that they are not allowed to be the ones who determined the limits, balances and expectations of their kids.
When kids come home with 3+ hours of homework every night, you should not accept that, it is not reasonable.
When kids have to practice a sport all summer, every week so that you cannot take a family vacation or send them on a mission trip because the coach threatens them that they will not play, that is not acceptable.
When you have to beg your kids to get off the computer or video game, or to see their phone, you should remember there should never be any begging involved.
You should set the priorities for your children, you are the ones who determine their schedules, you are the ones who are ultimately responsible for balance in their lives while they are under your roof.  This is not only your right it is your calling and your responsibility as a parent.
You are not powerless in ANY of these situations.  Get enough parents together to talk to the administration about the amounts of homework.
Pull enough stars from the football team.
Disconnect their phone.
I guarantee you that will bring all parties to the table.
Now, I am a youth minister.  I have been in youth ministry for 16 years.  It has not always been this way, trust me.  Also know when I talk about a balanced life, I am not excluding their spirituality.  There was an article written a few months back that compared youth ministry and church to an elective or extra-curricular.  I think that is generous at best.
Most parents and students take electives and extra-curriculars much more seriously than they do regular involvement in a faith community.
Now, do not get me wrong the lip service is there.  ”I want to be at youth on Sunday night but I have too much homework” “I wish my child could go on the mission trip but they have football” “I really want them to be in church but they just have too many things going on right now”
Lets stop playing the game.
If you really want them there, you can make it happen.  If a student really wants to be at church or youth group homework will not get in their way, it doesn’t get in the way of basketball, show choir or act prep classes.
Because we value those things, we love those things and we are committed to those things.
I will argue you that we are over investing in each of these things and are under investing in the long term spirituality of our youth.  If it is a priority, them make it one, if not that is ok but do not make excuses about it.  We will respect you a lot more if you do not apologize about your priorities and often try to make us feel bad that your student cannot find 1 hour a week to come to one of the 10 things we offer.
Balance also means not creating kids who spend every waking moment at church.  We are not asking you to have them there 5 times a week.  They need other communities, activities and things that balance their life.  Sports, academics, the arts etc. are all wonderful things as long as they are balanced.
We want you and your student to commit to 1 or 2 things a week that will feed them spiritually and give them the opportunity to engage in a community of faith, the way their faith calls them to.  Youth group junkies are not what we are trying to create, and is not why this article is written.
Finally, we want to tell you that we know it is hard.  We know these decisions are not easy and you have the enormous weight of cultural and societal expectation bearing down on you.  But know this..
We as youth ministers and clergy are here to help you.  To support you.  To join with you as we push back against this culture of excess and strive to bring sanity back to our kids and our families lives.  We want this, for us, for our communities and for you.  We want families and students and parents to have sabbath, not so you can refuel but so you can rest.  We want balance, not so you can add church on to your list of to do’s but so you can have time and bandwidth to live out your faith.  We want this, not to make you feel guilty, but to help you reclaim your kids lives, their schedule and your calendar.  Ultimately we want this because we love you, we see you suffering and we want to help.
Let’s do this together.
Stephen Ingram (and a lot of other youth ministers who care)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An Eye for an Eye...

After the events of this past week, especially these past few days, I am full of lots of emotions.  I am speechless at the hatred and complete lack of respect people can have towards others.  I am saddened by the evil, racial slurs, and finger pointing that takes on such a regular basis here in my own city. I was shocked after hearing the reports of the incident that occurred at Kroger just the night.  The same Kroger that is a mere 2 minutes from house and was at just a day before.  Then the next day reading of a shooting that took place in a Target parking lot…again I had one emotion.  I was hurt.

I was hurt by how we can treat each other.

I was hurt by the violence and evil that often times eclipses the good in this world.

I was so hurt by all of these things.  But I was also hurt by a lot of responses to these incidents.

I have read a lot of name calling, racial slurs, and hate filled comments about the entire incident.

I must be honest; I too struggled with an appropriate response.

Today is the Feast Day of Constance and her Companions, also known as the Martyrs of Memphis.  In 1878, when the yellow fever epidemic struck, many priests, nuns, and doctors stuck around to tend to the sick and dying.  In the face of this life threatening plague, they chose risk their lives and help those who could not help themselves.  Today we honor them.  The traditional Anglican prayer used to memorialize the Martyrs of Memphis is:
We give thee thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the Heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ...

This prayer made me think a lot today.  In light of these events, how would I respond and how I should I respond?

My immediate response I think would be anger.  I would be so upset by what happened and would want an explanation and would probably want to retaliate. 

Last Lent, I attended a sermon given by Marcus Borg.  He broke down a section of Matthew.  One verse he broke down was Matthew 5:39.  This is the passage that tells you to turn the other cheek.  You may be like me when you hear that…”If someone hits me there is no way I am going to turn my head and say ‘Hit me again!’” 

Borg went on to explain that is not what he thinks Jesus meant either.  The most important thing to do when interpreting these stories and parables in the Bible is context.  He went on to explain the difference in their lifestyles back then.  Here you have Jesus and his followers, who are Jewish, living in a Roman ruled empire.  The Romans saw themselves as being above and better than Jesus and his followers.  Back in those days, you did not punch people that were below you.  Punching someone was only used when you were dealing with someone who was your equal.  The way to hit someone who was lesser of a person was to backhand slap them…

Yea, I know this sounds weird but trust me.

In this passage, when Jesus says to turn the other cheek, in the words of Borg, it is not so that we are treated like doormats, but because if they were just struck, it would have been a backhanded slap.  By turning the other cheek, the only way for the person to hit them again would be with a punch…which, even for just that moment, that person considered you an equal.

Something else that I have been reflecting on this week is a quote that Rabbi Micah Greenstein said in our Parish Hall Forum last December.  “Do what you can, in the place you are, with what you have.”  He said this in reference to doing outreach and mission work.

Especially in light of the events that have just occurred, I think it is fair to share that the city of Memphis could use a lot of work.  What can we do about it?

On one hand, we may respond with anger, and hate, and wanting to retaliate…but that wouldn’t be right.  Jesus does not say, ‘If someone strikes you, hit them back.’

But also if we use the Borg way of viewing this, we are not simply suppose sit there and allow it to happen. 

If you look back a few versus before Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, there is another line, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38-39).

When Borg discussed this, he went back to the Greek text that was used and retranslated it.  He explained how in Greek, there were two words that meant resist.  One of them was to violently resist, or resist by fighting back while the other was to verbally resist or resist in spirit.  In this passage, Jesus uses the former.  So you can retranslate that passage to, “Do not violently resist…”  This puts a new spin on the verse.

But still, what are we to do?

Do we leave?

I do not know the exact answer, but these stories do help me think through these things a little better.

This city needs help.  As a proud Memphian and someone who is tired of seeing my city on the news for the negative things, I do not simply want to leave.  Like Sister Constance and her companions refused to leave and instead chose to stay where the problem was, and do what they could to help.

Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

We, as the church, are here to spread the Kingdom of God.  We do not need to go out into the world evangelizing and preaching about the how they must behave in order to be “saved”.  We do need to be careful and smart though.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t go out into the world and “…set an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It is better to give than to receive

To be honest, sometimes when I sit down to write these daily reflections, I struggle greatly at what to say.  Today is not one of those days…

This past week I once again was blessed to be present at a youth-led spiritual renewal weekend for high school students.  It is always a very special time where you are just surrounded by the Holy Spirit at all times.  The retreat is called Happening. 

One of the biggest aspects of the weekend is the concept of Servant Leadership.  It may sound like a bit of an oxymoron but it is actually a very useful form of leadership.

Typically, the “leader” accumulates and exercises their power as if they were above everyone else.  On the other hand, a servant-leader is someone who shares power, and puts the needs of others first so that they may help them develop and perform better.  Imagine those two qualities in the teachers you have at school…which one would you rather have?

So as I mentioned, servant leadership is a huge part of the Happening weekend.  If you are wanting to serve on staff, one thing you must understand is that everything you do as a staff member is to make the weekend a great experience for those who are attending the weekend.  You must put yourself last and give yourself as a living symbol of Christ’s love to others.  It was this thought that actually inspired the youth rector of the weekend to choose Acts 20: 35 as the verse for the weekend. “ In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.

This verse just seems to describe the weekend of Happening perfectly. 

Another tradition at Happening is that the youth Rector will read everyone a goodnight story.  They typically choose one of their favorites books from their childhood.  This time, Max, the rector chose The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  I am sure that most of you are familiar with this story of a tree that gave everything it had to help this boy.  Each time the boy wanted something, the tree would do it’s best to make it happen.  Each time the tree was able to help out the boy, “the tree was happy”.

Many times in our lives we forget this message.  In a society that is dominated by a push towards independence and making it on your own, the principal of servant leadership and the message from Paul is lost…it is better to give than to receive.

It is does not sound like a very difficult lesson to learn but it is a whole other thing to live it.

If you follow the Lectionary, you may be aware that today is the Feast Day of the Martyrs of New Guinea. 

If you are unfamiliar with this story, I do recommend that you look it up. 

The Anglican Church’s mission work began in New Guinea in 1889 when Rev. A.A. Maclaren was appointed first Anglican missionary in the region.  This was just the beginning of a very long history of Anglican mission work to be done in New Guinea. 

During World War II, the Japanese had placed troops in Papua in July 1942.  This posed as a threat to many of the missionaries in the area and they were afraid of what could potentially happen.

However, Bishop Philip Strong felt so strongly that they must stay to do their work.

 "We must endeavour to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The universal church expects it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled, when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the Church in Papua." 

In the face of danger, these priests and missionaries decided to stay because that was where they were called.  They could not leave the people they were there to help.  They did not did not think of themselves first but they remained faithful until their death.

My challenge for you this week is to try to live out this call given to us by Paul in Acts.  It is better to give than to receive…

How can we go about our daily lives giving more to those around us, to our family, to God…

What if we spent just a little less time focused on ourselves and spent a little more time helping others.

What if when choosing between keeping something for ourselves, we made a small sacrifice so that someone else may benefit.

I think the tree would be happy.