Book Review: The Art of Neighboring

Book Review:  The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon

The Good:

Best Camouflage is Right in Front of Your Face.  I had a high school teacher that would repeat that phrase when he didn’t notice the person in the front row raising their hand.  It tends to be true in life.  We often neglect the things that are right in front of us.  This book is one of those obvious premises that is so clear in Scripture, but we often generalize it and walk right past it.  Love your neighbor actually means to LOVE…YOUR…NEIGHBOR.  Imagine that?

Uber Practical.  If you have read my reviews in the past, you know what a big fan I am of practical books.  Don’t just give me all the information and don’t give me pointers on what to do with what I learned.  Help this poor slow reader connect the dots.  And boy does this book do that!  It gives you numerous ideas and even personal examples on how to put the principles into practice.

The B-I-B-L-E.  Pathak & Runyon do a fantastic job of using Biblical examples, typically from the life of Jesus to drive each point home.  If I’m going to step out on a limb here and start applying these bold, but needed actions, it helps to have some Biblical support.

The Bad:

Huh?  One concern I did see was on page 174.  The paragraph under the heading “Find a Partner”.  With phrases like “all truth is God’s truth”, and listing of various religions as possible partners in “honoring God”.  Could cause some confusion and almost sounds like relativism.  I don’t think that was his intention, but did raise my eyebrow.  Basically, it was not a well-thought out idea and slightly tainted the ending of the book for e.

The Grade:  B+

Well thought out practical ideas that the church needs to hear.  You want to read books that change your life, and I can honestly say this book does.  It has convicted me in how I interact with my neighbors and in the month that I have been reading this book, I’ve met at least 3 new neighbors.  Sure, not astronomical numbers, but it’s a start.  Want to be a good neighbor?  I think even Mr. Rogers would tell you, try this book on for size.

 

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Book Review: On Being a Servant of God

Book Review:  On Being a Servant of God by Warren Wiersbe

The Good:

Grandpa Wiersbe.   You can imagine the words of this book coming from a grandpa, giving their grandson advice about ministry.  Maybe I think that because both my grandpa and my wife’s grandpa were in ministry for decades.  The advice is not in a condescending tone, but come across as loving and caring.  You want to get to the page to learn more, like you are sitting on your grandpa’s proverbial knee.

Quotes For Days.  This man has a quote for everything, and each one is dynamite.  Seriously, how does he do it?  Wiersbe doesn’t just reference one or two servant books and take some nuggets to build on.  No, he grabs quotes from deep in history, professors, old preachers, and the list goes on.  No stone was left unturned to drive the point home.

Ministry A to Z.  This is like the Amazon logo of ministry books.  It takes you from A to Z of every aspect of ministry.  Both practical aspects of ministry and also the personal/spiritual side as well.  Such wisdom in these pages from a man who has lived it.

The Bad:

Nada.  Nothing bad to report.

The Grade:  A+.  This book will be on my “read again and again and again” list.  OK, I don’t really have that list, but if I did, this book would be at or near the top.  So much wisdom and practicality to this book, where it walks alongside you in ministry and drops truth bombs on every aspect of your life.  It is a must read for all those that are going into ministry, non-negotiable.

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How To Get Parents on Your Team – Part 2

Last week, I wrote on the importance of being on the same team as the parents in your youth ministry.  I cannot overstate how critical it is to have a parental connection and partnership within your student ministry.  The trust and credibility you build with parents will only bring value and growth.  Parents will provide the support you need in various ways and you will be able to provide valuable insight and encouragement to their parenting journey.

Today, I’d like to share with you one practical method of getting parents on your team.  It’s not a trick or an ulterior motive ploy.  On the contrary, you hopefully have the same heart as the parents, and that is to see their child grow in their relationship with the Lord and reach their full potential of using their God-given abilities and gifts.

One way that happens is through Parent/Pastor Conferences.  You heard me.  Why can’t teachers have all the fun with parent/teacher conferences.  After all, aren’t youth pastors/workers/leaders also teaching their children valuable material (the most valuable actually) and need to give progress updates to the parents and find ways we can work together at church and home to allow the student to achieve continued spiritual growth?  In actuality, this meeting has more significance (no offense teachers, you are most appreciated), but not because of the teacher’s place in the student’s life, but because the church teaches about that which is eternal.Shouldn’t parents and pastors sit down and discuss ways they can partner with each other to allow the teenager to fight temptation, grow in their spiritual disciplines and gifts, and experience spiritual growth.  I can hear you scream YES from here!  So how is this done?  I’m glad you asked.

  1. Pick a date. Provide a date with a wide range of times.  Example – 3-7pm on a weeknight can allow families with different schedules to attend.  Provide alternate dates to parents so they can still have time to meet with you, but encourage the conference date as a primary option.
  2. Sign-up List. During your next parent meeting, explain the parent/pastor conference and pass around a sign-up list.  Follow up with parents that may not sign up, but this provides a good base of meetings right off the bat.
  3. Make it Professional. I had my dear wife make her famous chocolate chip cookies (this puts everyone in a good mood to start the meeting) and some coffee.  I set out two leather chairs in the lobby, coffee & cookies on a table, and a sign saying I would be with them in a moment.  This is not a silly exercise, we are talking about the spiritual condition of a human being.  Take it seriously.
  4. Have a Plan. For me, I kept it very simple.  In order to stay in my 30 minute timeframe, I had 4 categories:  Concerns, Strengths, Weaknesses, & Goals.  The parents talked and I also gave my input as well.  This plan worked well in this context and kept discussion on topic and with a firm direction.  **Make sure to have plans for each grade written down and ready to go.
  5. Make Prayer a Focus. We want God to be the main source and contributor to our discussion.  So we make sure to invite God right off the bat through prayer.  Then, I make it a point to have the dad pray at the end of the meeting if he is able to attend.  This is a subtle encouragement to allow the dad to take charge spiritually within the family.  It’s always a blessing to hear parents pray for the teens you serve and care for.

That’s it.  5 steps to conducting a parent/pastor conference.  Just another way to get parents on your team.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the value this provides in your personal ministry to teens, and in your relationships with parents.  Trust, encouragement, direction, blessing, and counsel all happens in 30 minutes.  Give is a try, and get on the same team with those parents.

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How to Get Parents on Your Team – Part 1

All this discussion about football & the National Anthem, I thought I’d find some comparisons to football and youth ministry.  It’s very common for a rookie in football to make…well, rookie mistakes.  A poorly thrown interception, a missed assignment, or a blown play.  The classic rookie mistake for a youth pastor is to neglect the parents.  Some young or inexperienced youth pastors might even go as far as to see parents as a hindrance or an enemy to their progress in ministry.  Not so!

My ministry philosophy is based on Deuteronomy 6:5-7.  The youth pastor needs to be the assistant coach to the head coach, the parents.  “The responsibility for raising spiritual champions, according to the Bible, belongs to the parents…the responsibility is squarely laid at the feet of the family.  This is not a job for specialists.  It is a job for parents.”  (George Barna, Revolutionary Parenting).

The goal of the youth pastor and his ministry team is to be an assistant coach to the head coaches, the parents.  It is the parents’ responsibility to raise the children, and the youth ministry should assist with that goal in various ways.  This assistance occurs through the teaching of God’s Word, spiritual counsel and encouragement, and prayer.

Alongside those essential spiritual actions, there are practical aspects that need to be brought to the table.  A good assistance coach will help in-game planning, go to the coach when they see a player struggling or injured, and help inform the coach where they lack the knowledge.  Youth ministry is no different.  The youth ministry team should help the parents game plan.  In other words, they should help them develop the spiritual goals for their child and allow the programs and teachings to aid in reaching those goals.  Also, it is imperative for the youth ministry to go to the parents when a student is struggling spiritually.  There will be times when behavior is inappropriate, words throw up red flags, or things are said in small groups where the parents need to be made aware.  Then, the youth pastor can aid in the recovery process.  Lastly, there needs to be parent meetings that include youth culture updates, upcoming event information, discussion/advice from other parents and other essential communication that will act as support in the parenting process.  After all, it is the responsibility of the coach for the team’s behavior, but the assistant coach has a vested interest in the outcome of the game.

You want to get parents on your team?  Make sure you are on their team first.

Stay tuned for next week – a practical way to get parents on your team that will only take about 30 minutes of your time.

 

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Why Do I Want to Shake Joseph of Arimathea’s hand?

Jesus was far from home during the crucifixion.  As a result, his family did not have a tomb, or any other family’s member’s tomb they could use…In comes Joseph.

Who is Joseph?

Wealthy man – shown in the size of the tomb.  A possible reference to Isaiah 53:9, prophesying Jesus would be “rich in his death”

Member of Sanhedrin – lawgivers/judges – the group of men that pushed for Jesus’ death

Jesus’ Disciple – A follower of Jesus, secret follower…until now!

Good Man – He didn’t agree with the death of Jesus.  Recorded in Luke 23:51 & John 19:38.

What did he do?

Went to Pilate – That took some guts.  But it also took some clout, but Joseph of Arimathea had it, in his Sanhedrin position.

Ven. Bede said this – “It was divinely appointed that Joseph should be rich, in order to have access to Pilate, for no mean man could have access to the governor; and that he should be a just man, in order to receive the body of our Lord”

Took the body – Took the body off the cross and carried it off the hill, most likely with the help of Nicodemus.  A Jew, willing to defile himself – willing to do so for His Savior.

Wrapped the body – He and Nicodemus spared no expense in wrapping Jesus’ body w 75 lbs. of spices.

Laid body in the Tomb–Laid Jesus’ body in the tomb – Joseph cut with his OWN hands.

Rolled the stone – Gospels just say he rolled the stone in front of the tomb.  Maybe he and Nicodemus were power lifting partners during lunch breaks?  Maybe they used a fulcrum system?  Maybe they dug a trench and rolled the stone down the hill.

Why did he do ALL that?

Here’s the point.  He didn’t have to.  He did all this because he was willing to boldly put his faith into action.

Listen this man risked EVERYTHING:  His status, his wealth, his job, his life…to bury the Savior.  Now that’s BOLD.

But to me, it’s more than that…In heaven, after praising my Savior and my God …you know who one of the first hands I want to shake next…JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA.

Why?  Well, it almost goes without saying that good men weren’t hung on a cross.  That was reserved for the worst criminals of society.  So, normal practice was to leave the crucified bodies on the cross to be eaten by the birds, the cut down and thrown into a makeshift grave by the side of the hill.

Listen, Jesus didn’t deserve the whip, the thorns, the nails…

You want to know WHY I want to shake Joseph’s hand…Because my Savior certainly doesn’t deserve for his dead body to be eaten by birds, put into a wheelbarrow and dumped on the side of a hill.

So thank you Joseph.  Jesus had suffered enough humiliation because of my sin.  Thank you for stepping up and giving my Jesus a proper burial.  Thank you for your boldness.

[Entire Sermon can be heard/watched here – click on special messages –  9/17/2017 link]

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What is Good?

Most of the time, we have a very poor definition of good.  We read Romans 8:28, and we think of our own definition of good…

Good to us is a well-frosted piece of cake.  Good to us is a plush, cushioned recliner.  Good to us is sitting on the beach with an ice-cold sweet tea.  Good to us is when we wake up with clear sinuses, no aches/pains and low blood pressure.  Good to us is when we have some extra in our bank account for some fun purchases this month.

While these things are not bad…it shows we have little idea of how good the goodness of God truly is.  God’s goodness is more than this.

Joni-Eareckson Tada (a diving accident at 17 left her without use of her hands/legs…is now CEO of Joni & Friends International Disability Center, famous artist using her mouth, & international speaker) said this:

“God cares most – not about making us comfortable – but about teaching us to hate our sins, grow up spiritually, and love him.  To do this, HE gives us salvation’s benefits only gradually, sometimes painfully gradually.  In other words, he lets us continue to feel much of sin’s sting while we’re headed for heaven…where at last, every sorrow we taste will one day prove to the be best possible thing that could have happened.”

You see, God operates from a whole different level.  Not limited by time & space; Unlimited knowledge & power that has no bounds

BUT Put all these together and just TRY to doubt that God can accomplish Romans 8:28 in our difficulties.

Sure, good can be seen when life is riding on unicorns on rainbows while eating skittles.  But when life gets hard – that’s when we really see God work in miraculous ways.

God can orchestrate his plans, interweaving through the evils of this world, pulling decisions and circumstances from the past, present & future…allowing difficulties, exercising patience…and HE IS ABLE TO MAKE IT GOOD.

That’s my God – NOTHING can stop Him from accomplishing His goodness.  None of these things stopped God from producing good in Joseph’s life.  And NOTHING will stop him from producing good in your life either.

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Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

Book Review:  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

I know what you are thinking.  Have you been living under a rock?  Did you just recently learn to read?  How’s come a pastor just done read this book?  Well, to be honest I grew up without much of a desire to read.  I didn’t really like it.  I’m a bit of a slow reader, a visual learner, and Calvin & Hobbes, Guinness Word Record books, and Garfield were the only books I remember completing.  So, let’s just say I’m still catching up from the days of comic books and playing outside…and beginning to really enjoy reading.

The Good:

Eye-Opening.  When you dive into the spiritual realm, it is truly an eye-opening experience.  The unseen is a fascinating place to take your mind, and when you begin to imagine the spiritual warfare that is happening behind closed doors, it truly opens your mind to what could be happening.

Just Said “Wow” Out Loud Again.  It’s true; while I was reading this book I would actually say “wow” out loud.  The reality of these temptations were so real life, it was almost shocking at times.

Mind-Reader.  The way Lewis puts the temptations and discussions between tempters, is like he could read minds.  He was a master at finding common temptations and constructing his sentences to take you to times where your mind and temptations were real life experiences.

The Bad:

Mind Tricks.  Not a knock on the book, but was a challenge.  Every time the “Enemy” was mentioned, it wasn’t Satan, it was God.  And when you heard “Our Father”, it was not speaking of “Our Father, Who art in heaven”, but the Great Deceiver himself.  So as you read, you almost had to trick your mind so you can follow the storyline and experience the spiritual battle yourself.

The Grade:  A.  Sure the language was a little older and took some getting used to…but there is a reason this book has been set to plays, quoted by a President, and read by thousands.  It is a fascinating display of behind the scenes literature.  The reader is capture by what is happening behind the scenes and capture by what might happen next to the “the patient”.  Get your mind ready, understand the context, and buckle up for an incredible ride.

 

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What if the Bible ended at Genesis 3?

What if the Bible ended in Genesis 3?  In Genesis 3 we witness the fall of man.  And in the punishment of Adam, God reveal the ultimate punishment of death.  Adam’s heart must’ve just broke.  You are telling me, this all is going to come to an end?  Shades of Ecclesiastes 12:7 come to mind.  As does Romans 6:23, where it tells us the wages of sin is death.  Adam’s, Eve’s, and our choice of sin = the end result is death.

What if the Bible ended there?  What if that was the end of our story?  Returning to dust.  Because there are many in this world that believe that.  That this life is all there is, and when it is over, it is over.

But it’s not the end.  Because of our Redeemer, we can have victory over death.

Let’s take a journey to the story of the Lost Son, returning to his Father.  Maybe you missed the subtle phrases at the end of the reunion, because I did.  Look at the final verse we read in that story…Luke 15:24.

How does the Father describe the son?  DEAD.  But when he came back, he was ALIVE AGAIN.  From death to life.

Please don’t let this be the end of your story.  Because, let me just share with you, that if you have not allowed the Redeemer Jesus to save you, you are dead in your sins…and that is where you will remain for eternity…

BUT…if you trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, death is not the end!  It is just like in Luke 15 with the Father and his lost son…it will be a celebration in heaven…because you have come home.

To hear/watch the entire sermon go here and click on the 8/20 sermon.

 

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Book Review: The Pastor’s Family

Book Review:  The Pastor’s Family by Brian & Cara Croft

The Good:

It Takes Two.  Probably my favorite aspect of the book is each chapter provides two perspectives:  the pastor and the pastor’s wife.  This did two things.  First, as a pastor it provided encouragement, challenge, and practical training for the years ahead.  Second, it provided a whole new perspective of what the wife feels, deals with, and the challenges they face.  It allows the reader to come away more sensitive to the other spouse and a willingness to see the other side of situations.

Big Eye Emoji.  I was shocked.  Maybe I need to be a better student of church history, but I had no idea of the struggles some of the greatest preachers in history had in their family life.  Marital struggles, parenting regrets, and family difficulty…how was I so naive.  If these fellas struggled, I need to be even more on guard and fight for my marriage, my family, my children.

Heart to Heart.  At the end of each chapter, it allows the husband and wife to ask questions.  Each of these questions were well thought out and are valuable to a ministry marriage.  Put these into practice and allow it to be life-changing material rather than just head knowledge.

The Bad:

For Real.  This is stretching it, but for someone early in ministry there needs to be a warning here.  This book is real and honest.  It speaks of difficulties, depression, struggles…just make sure you are ready to read this.  It acts as a warning, and an important one, but prepare yourself if you are just entering ministry or have a young marriage/family.

The Grade:  A.  Those in ministry need to read this book.  It won’t take you long, but it will have great impact.  It’s highly practical, challenging, and encouraging along the way.  It’s like a pastoral mentor and his wife taking you by the hand and leading you through the next years of your marriage and parenting.  The value goes beyond the price of the book.  Without a godly family, how will you have a godly ministry.  Sometimes we get things backwards…this book will help put you back on track.

Extra Credit:  Read the reflection article on pages 107-109.  It is dynamite.

 

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What If I Can’t Afford a Mission Trip?

Let’s face it.  Mission Trips can be expensive.  Travel expenses, training materials, ministry supplies, possible medical expenses, meals, housing…and the list goes on.  Is the expense worth it?  Absolutely.  I’m on record that short-term mission trips can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to provide long-lasting spiritual life change.  BUT…there are times when the expense of a trip is simply too much.  So what do you do when you can’t afford to go on a mission trip?  To put it simply, look out your window!

Each year, we host a summer mission project for our junior high students.  It is a mission trip literally in our backyard.  It teaches them how to participate in a mission trip setting, and helps their love for serving others to grow. 

Below are some examples of projects we have done in the past or plan to do in the future that are inexpensive projects that can serve as your summer’s mission trip:

  • Landscape a neighboring apartment complex
  • Yard Work for elderly of your church
  • Help with end of the year cleaning at the local school
  • Plant a community garden
  • Trash pickup along the roads of your community
  • Free Garage Sale for community
  • Vacation Bible School Projects
  • Clean nursery toys
  • Church Spring Cleaning

That should get you started.  Even if you do international trips at your church, I strongly encourage you to try some community projects either in the summer or throughout the year.   After all, if you are not serving in the community you are in now, how can you serve in someone else’s community?

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