Announcing: LifeAsGodsHouse.com

Hi Everybody:

For the past year or so I've been playing around with the idea of changing things up here at Rookie Youthworker. I started this blog with the idea that I would always be "a rookie;" always learning something new, always challenging the way I did youth ministry to make it better, more Godly, more effective, but never claiming to be an expert or to have learned all I would need.

Today I'm announcing the opening of a brand-new blog called "Life As God's House."

This blog's intention was to always write hard-hitting, usable or theological youth ministry reflections and ideas and use my rookie philosophy to help improve other people's ministries too. But what I noticed about all the other great youth ministry blogs I read was that they had more in them than just Bible study plans and problems to solve; they talked about the bloggers' families, hobbies, and other things like that.

My new philosophy (catch the reference, anybody?) is this: Life is a ministry.

If I say "Ministry is my life" I'm usually complaining about how much time it takes, and how little attention I have to pay to everything else because of the work I do for my youth group.

But "My life is a ministry" is an affirmation that when I take up a new hobby, that's part of my ministry. When I read a book just for me and talk about it with someone, that's part of my ministry. An accountability group I work with told me that one of the things they noticed when we checked in was that I never talked about what I was doing for "Isaac time," and I realized they were right.

So check out the new blog, let me know what I can do to make it better, and let's explore what it means to live ministry together!

McDonald's Happy Meal Ad

The CORE was this weekend in St. Louis, and the trainers this year are talking about transformation-- both in our selves/our students and then, through that God-inspired transformation, in the world. And this was one of the videos Dave Ambrose showed to make the point about transformed people transforming others as well.


Look just like your dad

"Tell your dad you have an excellent GPA."
I was at a transfer day at one of the colleges I've applied to, and the woman checking over my previous credits looked up and said that.

It threw me for a second because she'd never met my dad, and I always think I'm being very clear that I'm the only member of my family who lives in, or has any reason to go to, St. Louis.

But then I realized what had happened. She'd spotted a large, bearded guy next to me in the lobby when she came to find me. He was there for the same thing I was; applying to school, but since we were sitting and talking together, and looked a little similar, she assumed we were related.

While I was pet-sitting a week or so later, I was out for the dog's morning walk and ran into another dog-walker. She looked at the dog, and looked at me, and said, "Doesn't your dad usually walk him?" I explained that no, I was a friend of the family, not a relative. But with both of those stories, I apparently "looked just like my dad."

Jesus told us that anyone who has seen Him has seen God the Father. And St. Paul writes that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." Taking those together, since people are supposed to see and know the Father through Christ, and see Christ through His followers, we as Christians are supposed to "look just like our Heavenly Father."

So how do we do that?

What does God do? And how can we do those same things?

We know that God is a creator. I tell everyone who will listen that one way to experience a connection with God is to create something-- bread, lamps, artwork, antique cars-- I think one of the reasons we're seeing people with such fragile faith lately is that not enough people know how to make things themselves. So we miss the experience of knowing how much a creator cares for what he's created.

And we know that God is a storyteller, and that God's people are keepers and sharers of that story. The theologian Martin Buber wrote that "it is possible to listen someone into existence." Today when Christians end up in the news, they tend to be denouncing something. I think we need to spend more time listening to the stories of the people we want to reach with the Gospel, so that we will be able to identify with their lives and figure out how God's story will reach them most powerfully.

Most importantly, we know that God is mysterious. And that He is bigger than us, and our understanding, and our way of worshiping. One of the most important qualities I look for in volunteers is an ability to say, "I don't know." People want to wonder; that's why school classrooms are using more debate and conversation, letting teachers and students discover things together instead of having an expert download information into students. And God's church needs to make a bigger deal out of showing people that we all wonder together about God.

It's vital for us to "look just like our Dad." Not "just like our denomination." Not "just like our senior pastor." Not "just like our youth group." And those are my thoughts about a few of the ways we can start.


A Prayer

Lord God,
teach us to rely on your grace for our salvation;
on your wisdom for our decision-making;
your strength for the work you have called us to;
and your provision for our daily needs.

Send your Holy Spirit into this place to teach us to lead your people.


Tape Sculpture

Marko blogged about this a while back-- a fun cool art project using plastic wrap and clear packing tape to make sculptures of people, or body parts, or anything else you might want to mold. The other week we had a middle school youth group and I was less than prepared... so we made a tape sculpture and used it to talk about welcoming people into our community and how we might do it better.

The idea was that the guy we created represented anyone who might walk through our doors, so we did some role-playing about how we should and shouldn't treat him, and how we might make him feel welcome and start to hear God's story from us.

Here's a photo.


Help-- need a hard-to-recognize Biblical character

Hey, I'm headed for a reunion next month with my group of youth ministers who trained together, and part of the event is a trivia night/costume contest.

So I need some suggestions for a character from the Bible who would be hard to recognize but would also have a great backstory. Any thoughts?


On MSN, a columnist denounces Hannah Montana

I spotted this column on MSN.com this afternoon, titled "Why Hannah Montana is a bad role model" and it's an interesting read, mostly pointing out boilerplate reasons why following teenage stars too closely is likely to get real kids into trouble. The column predicts that H.M. will be the "next to go all Britney Spears on us." It's a fairly strong criticism the whole way through, and while I can't identify if the author is connected with any particular Christian group, I wanted to post this link and see if there were any thoughts about it. I hear a lot of parents talking approvingly about Hannah because she's seemed like a generally well-scrubbed small human with a lot of potential, and they tend to appreciate their kids watching her rather than some of the more "grown up" stars (those ones grown up in chronological years only, of course.)

Here's a quote.

These teen idols, besides charging $30 for fan-club membership, are doing one thing: They're making our teens and preteens idle. Instead of watching quality movies, reading good books and learning to sing and play instruments on their own, our kids are indulging in the fantasy that their idols are sitting just across the family room. Really, these young stars are sitting on huge piles of money that would be better invested in college savings funds, and squandering irreplaceable time that could be better spent on something smart or, at the very least, on quality entertainment.


NYTimes story on religious affiliation

"Americans Change Faiths at Rising Rate, Report finds"

"The report, titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.
For at least a generation, scholars have noted that more Americans are moving among faiths, as denominational loyalty erodes. But the survey, based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans, offers one of the clearest views yet of that trend, scholars said."

Any thoughts? I was talking with some people at a party one night about how this is a great time to be a Christian, because so many people are open to "spirituality" and trying out different ways of having a spiritual life, that they're also open, if they're approached properly (which is always the issue) to Christianity. The downside, as the article points out, is that if you're determined to sample all different kinds of faith, the spiritual life you end up with could be somewhat un-integrated.


The gift of Silence

At a teacher training event last week, we explored a few ways to work with silence as part of a strategy for teaching students (and the teachers themselves) to care for their souls.

We started with an Quaker-style prayer that began with a short silence (10-15 seconds by my rough mental count) and then finished with a spoken prayer. Several of the teachers there had experienced similar ways to pray, but about half hadn't. For most of the group, the time between "Let's pray" and my beginning to pray out loud was uncomfortable. Even though it was a short period of time, it felt much longer and silent-er.

In classrooms, school teachers are learning to wait to call on a child to answer a question; the first hand up might still be called on first, but not until there are several other hands in the air too. This gives the class more time to puzzle out the answer, and lets children who work at a slower pace become more confident as they realize that being first to answer isn't the goal.

Silence is hard to get. From the alarm clock in the morning to the MP3 player during the rest of the day to the late night shows before bed, we tend to surround ourselves with sound. Even in a church service, most of the time is taken up with words and music; for my highly-ordered Episcopalians, an unexplained silence would be interpreted as a gap (for most of the congregation, anyway) and not a gift.

When Elijah heard God, 1 Kings 19 points out, "The Lord was not in the wind...the earthquake... [or] in the fire." Instead, God made Himself known in a still, small voice. One thing I point out to kids fairly often is that it isn't that when we start listening, God starts speaking; it's that God has been speaking all along, and when we learn to enjoy silence, we can begin to hear Him.


New Bible as a graphic novel

From the NYTimes today: "The Bible as Graphic Novel, with a Samurai Stranger called Christ"

"Publishers with an eye for evangelism and for markets have long profited by directing Bibles at niche markets: just-married couples, teenage boys, teenage girls, recovering addicts. Often the lure is cosmetic, like a jazzy new cover.
Sales of graphic novels, too, have grown by double digits in recent years. So it makes sense that a convergence is under way, as graphic novels take up stories from the Bible, often in startling ways. In the last year, several major religious and secular publishing houses have announced or released manga religious stories."

Zondervan started doing some of these graphic novels of Biblical stories; they gave out a few as samples during the NYWC this year. Here's their link.

It's a great idea. For a visual culture, provide visual evangelism. The story makes reference to the tradition of providing ways to access the Bible that people can easily be drawn into-- stained-glass windows were originally intended to share God's story with illiterate people.


Prayer Flash

Last night in Kirkwood, MO, just a little down the road from me, a man walked into a City Council meeting and shot 6 people.

The full story is here, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"KIRKWOOD — The last things Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton said to his family were "To God be the glory" and that he loved them.Then Thornton headed to Kirkwood City Hall, gunning down a police officer outside. He then burst into the City Council meeting just after the Pledge of Allegiance and opened fire, shooting another officer dead and apparently targeting public officials he's sparred with in the past.Police said those killed included three Kirkwood officials, two police officers and the shooter. Two others, including Mayor Mike Swoboda, were injured."

Please pray for the city of Kirkwood and all those involved in this incident. The hardest thing to say, and to believe, in a case like this is that God will somehow redeem even tragedies, but it's true.


Evidence, please.

I had a fishbowl question the other day at Bible study that's got me started on creating my teaching time for our next game night, in two weeks. The question read:

"(Please don't call me atheist.) Does God exist?"

I respect and admire whichever kid was open and honest enough to put this question in there, and since I tend to tackle basic bits of faith on game nights (when we gather socially for the first hour, then wrap up with our regular teaching time and prayer time) I though I'd put it on the docket for February 13.

The approach I'm taking is that I won't be mathematically or scientifically "proving" God, since science and maths don't actually do that in the first place, and since God is too much of a mystery to nail down with any specific arguments. But I want to be able to present a compelling set of clues, some evidence, that Christians cite when we're involved in this discussion, that leads us to believe in God's reality.

What are some good clues I can present, and/or ways you've presented said clues to groups? Your help is much appreciated!


Before all your Super Bowl parties, a warning...

From today's New York Times, this story: "Dip Once or Dip Twice"

“The way I would put it is, before you have some dip at a party, look around and ask yourself, would I be willing to kiss everyone here? Because you don’t know who might be double dipping, and those who do are sharing their saliva with you.”

Check out the story for the actual results, and then post a guard by your dips at the church party!


Two notes

First, a serious one-- we're off to the Middle School retreat this morning with three dozen of our finest, so prayers for the trip (we're looking at the Apostles' Creed and what it means to say "I believe in..." every Sunday morning) would be appreciated.

Then, on a humorous note, something a very postmodern kid said yesterday in Starbucks:

Girl to Boy: "I wouldn't believe you if I was you!"


Big Broccoli Ocarina:Angels We Have Heard On High

I know it's after Christmas, but I just found this guy today, who makes musical instruments out of vegetables. I've been vowing for years that my children, once I have them, will be encouraged-- if not required-- to play with their food, and this video shows the kind of thing I'm talking about.


Kids say...

Walking into the building today, I heard this from one of the kids on the playground, talking to a friend:

"Kids hate organized games-- it's true!"

Guess what I'm planning this weekend? Yup, the games list for the middle school retreat. That kid's not invited anymore...


This story made me say, "Oh, great..."

I saw this story, oddly enough, while I was running last night:

"Study shows girls' take on popularity affects weight gain"

"Those who believed they were unpopular gained more weight over a two-year period than girls who viewed themselves as more popular. Researchers said the study showed how a girl's view of her social status has broader health consequences.The girls in the study were still growing -- their average age was 15 -- and all of them gained some weight. However, those who rated themselves low in popularity were 69 percent more likely than other girls to increase their body mass index by two units, the equivalent of gaining about 11 excess pounds. (The body mass index, or BMI, is a calculation based on height and weight.)"


Dallas Willard on going to God's well to prepare for preaching

CSMSG's high school retreat was this weekend and I was preaching from John; three messages-- the first on "He must increase, but I must decrease" from chapter 3; the second on "This happened so that God's power might be seen in his life" from chapter 9; and the third on "I pray that they all may be one" from chapter 17.

I felt off; disorganized; unsure of the power of what I was saying. So this article, from Preaching Today, gave me a lot of hope and a direction for my prep for the middle school trip in two weeks.

"A Cup Running Over"

"There is no substitute for simple satisfaction in the Word of God, in the presence of God. That affects all your actions.
Preachers who are not finding satisfaction in Christ are likely to demonstrate that with overexertion and overpreparation for speaking, and with no peace about what they do after they do it. If we have not come to the place of resting in God, we will go back and think, '
Oh, if I'd done this,' or 'Oh, I didn't do that.'"


Quote of the day from the HS retreat

(On the ropes course) P: "I like my way better. It hurts more and makes me feel more manly!"


2008 is the Year of Rhythm

In the beginning, God gave us a rhythm of work-rest-worship so that we would be able to maintain our relationship with Him while leading effective and productive lives. He gave us natural seasons so that we wouldn't have to do everything all the time, but focus on what was right for the season. And one of the most beautiful insights in "The Message" is the passage about taking on Jesus' yoke and burden: "Walk with me and work with me-- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace."

This is the year of Rhythm. When people ask me "How are you?" I tend to answer "Rushed and disorganized." The person who asked laughs, and I laugh, and we understand each other. But what does it do for my witness that I serve the Savior who constantly told people that he did things only at their right time, and yet when people see me work, they see me acting frantic and overburdened?

One of the ways I'm seeking rhythm this year is by limiting the amount of work I plan to do each day. Beyond my regular routine, I want to work on three tasks. Each one gets more attention that way, hopefully gets done faster, and leaves me more time for rest and contact with kids. This will mean more carefully planning out the work I'm doing and when it's going to get done; it means when I do my long-term planning I need to build in not only the dates of events but the dates when I can sit down and create the program for each one.

One of the things that's on my weekly plan is "read 1 hour each day." This is supposed to let me research, keep up with the latest that my fellow youth ministers are writing, and give me time for some pondering. And I'm going to use this as my first benchmark of how well I'm doing with keeping up a rhythm; when I'm reading without worrying, I'll have made a first step.