Passover Seder

I am going to a Passover Seder in about 20 minutes. The Lord has really been revealing some crazy cool stuff to our community about Jewish customs and feasts and how they enrich our journey with and toward Christ. The two primary influences have been Dave Cornwell and Hal Fogarty, two men connected with our church in some way and connected with our lives in a more intimate way as of late. These two have been so challenging to all of us. They know the Scriptures in and out, their flame of their passion grows with age rather than fading away, their patience and pacing with us is calming. They are not puffed up with knowledge. They do not see themselves as above and beyond us in our youth. They allow us to share all our ideas and convictions and then walk through the Scriptures with us. So cool.

I will probably post more sometime on the Jewish customs and traditions that we have begun to explore a little more lately. My church history course has really revealed to me why we stopped all of those feasts and customs around 70 AD. All I will say for now is that it wasn't because the Scirptures told us to. I have really begun to feel that Paul is quite misunderstood. It had a lot more to do with persecution, rejection and retreat. I know all of this must sound crazy, but I have randomly met so many people lately who are realizing these same things.

For those of you who are so wise to realize this isn't the actual time for Passover we realize that. This seder is happening at our church actually with about 30 people from one of our adult Sunday School classes... we are doing another one at the actual time at a friend's home... not that I would have know the difference.
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Friendship, Intimacy & Community

I had a rough day. I don't know what it was. It was my off day and it started out well. I spent some time in the Word. I spent some time with Kelly. I started to work on our taxes and then something hit me. I just felt lonely, alone, isolated.

It has been interesting to see those feelings arising often in me lately. It seems that I have been very analytical when it comes to friendship lately. I feel like my friends are sick of me. I feel like they have met their quota. I feel like I have overstayed my welcome in their life. It only takes misunderstood comment, an unintentional look or a "feeling" to set me off on my self-loathing. Joe and Heidi couldn't come over tonight (Heidi has been home sick for 2 weeks until today), but Benji and Sarah came. I made it through dinner and finally blurted some of my feelings out towards the end. I don't know what I expected. I just felt I had to be real. I had to share my intense drive towards intimacy by being vulnerable and intimate. I had to lay it on the line.

I quickly felt like retreating, but opted to talk longer instead, there was little said in response. Sarah shared some encouragement, Benji went and got the guitar, Kelly and I started cleaning up and I slipped away to the Master bathroom to sit in darkness on the stool and catch my breath (pants up and on). I regrouped and heard a knock on the bedroom door. I flushed the toilet instinctively to cover up my regrouping session and saw Benji. He shared a lot of thoughts from Scripture for about 45 minutes+ as I sat and listened.

Then we prayed.

The Lord revealed to be during prayer that intimacy, community, friendship and vulnerability are all great things that He created and values, but that I often tend to place them over Him. I often get to the point that I lift my earthly friendships over my heavenly relationship. I prioritize those I can see over the One who lives inside of me. I recognized the sin. I repented to God and Benji. I asked the Lord to be my love, my heart's desire, my one true aim. I asked Him to capture me. I asked Him to make Jeremiah 29:12-14 be more real to me... that as I seek Him I will find Him, when I seek Him with all my heart!

I love my friends, but I worry too much about what they think about me, about what I do, about how I act. Classic low self-esteem case, but also classic "eyes not on the right thing" case. My eyes need to be on Jesus, not others. He needs to fill my need for intimacy and friendship and then allow my other friendships to benefit from the overflow. This is probably one of the most raw and embarrassing entries I have written.

Sometimes I feel like I am just too complicated. I usually feel like everyone else feels that way. Who am I to question God's creation? It seems like self-hatred is probably a sin. Psychologists probably wouldn't tell me that, but it seems the Scripture screams it.

Set my eyes on you Lord.
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Upward Up Yours!

I have been directing or co-directing Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at our church for four full years now. The year before I moved here they had 249 kids in the league. All of the leadership team moved away. I moved here 4 months before the season began and thought that it might be a cool thing to be involved in. 450 kids signed up that year. I was overwhelmed. I was working 70 hour weeks (no lie) regularly to try and pull it off and deal with the demands of a growing youth ministry. It was crazy!... but I survived.

The next year we had 681 kids and I was swimming once again. I basically put my youth ministry on hold for a couple of months to attempt to deal with this massive beast. Half way through the year I looked at my finances and realized I could have hired someone to work 10-15 hours a week to take some of the load off my shoulders, which I did... the following year. That year we had 850 kids sign up as I trained Heidi to transition into leadership. We hired her officially as a secretary I guess (she claims I told her that... hahaha), but the role developed into that of Director. I really took that primary role that year as Heidi learned the ropes, but she rocked it out this year with over 925 kids in the league and me assisting her from the sidelines. It has been an enormous blessing to have Heidi relieve me of this enormous pressure and free me to pursue other outlets of ministry.

Yesterday (Tuesday, March 15th) was Awards night. This thing is huge. It is this gargantuan experience that dominates a couple weeks of the year in preparation and is over in less than a couple of hours. There are hundreds of door prizes, amazing entertainment, individual awards for every player and tons of fun. The numbers have grown from 1500 or so my first year to closer to 2300 this year. This was to be my first year as the primary "right-hand" man to Heidi as the leader, but then she got sick.

Heidi is pregnant. She got a viral illness two Mondays ago, but I thought she would get better. On Thursday she went into the hospital and I began to panic. I worked on the Awards Night the rest of that day. On Friday 32 of the youth group took off on a trip to Muncie, Indiana for ATF (my teens pressured me into it). After no sleep and a lot of draining activity I got into bed in Findlay at 1am Sunday, woke up at 7, went to church, worked on Upward in the afternoon, went to the Core (leadership teens), worked on Upward at Heidi's vacant house (all the stuff was on her home computer), went to small group, returned to work on Upward, rolled into bed at 2:30am, rolled out at 9:00, worked on Upward all day, set-up 2400 chairs etc at 6pm, went home to work on stuff that I transferred onto my computer (which I just got back from the shop... out a week... that really hurt... roughly 160 e-mails... 110 were junk mail), worked on Upward until 4:30am, woke up at 8:30, met folks at the Venue at 9:00, was there until 10pm (except for a 1/2 hour shave and change clothes break).

Are you serious!?!?!? This is not a life meant for anyone. I was talking to a friend tonight and he said he had been really busy, but a good busy. I told him I didn't think there was such a thing. I hate how we immortalize business in our culture. I hate how I am a slave to it. I hate that the only way we know to "evangelize" is through a program that spans 5 exhasting months, costs $60 per child, and has shown little evangelistic impact in the life of our church. We are a slave to it. It is a great program. It is the best in town, even though the YMCA program has been around for 50+ years. We have tunnels the kids run through, we have smoke machines, we have the Chicago Bulls intro song, we have adjustable rims for all ages, we have equal playing time, we have an individual award after every game. We do great things for kids. We build up their self-esteem, we develop their character and we introduce them to Jesus. We do really great things, and the results seem good:
Over 250 Kids Accepted Christ last night
Over 30 Adults Accepted Christ last night
Over 60 of those are unchurched
Over 40 others marked that they are looking for a church home
Tons more adults raised their hand after the dynamic, pointed, bold salvation invitation. I would guess 150 did. When he asked those same people to stand up for their faith, about 60-75 did that! The others quickly and sheepishly put their hands down. Great stuff. Great results. But...

Is this the best way, or is this our way. Do we have to compete with Grey Y (the YMCA league) to win families to Christ? The vicious cycle I see is that a HUGE program like this reaches people in mass, while distracting us from the natural opportunities we have to live Christ in front of our neighbors on a daily basis, reaching them relationally. I know that Jesus spoke to 5000+ at one sitting, but one of the greatest insights I ever heard about that was that Jesus didn't go running after them. They came to Him. They came running to Him. Following Him. Seeking Him. He didn't have a program. He didn't even use pizza... or any food. He had to take that from the offering of a little boy, because the crowd came to Him, because they were drawn to the man, not His "program".

Reality: If our church stops Upward many people would be angry. It could potentially cripple our church. Our people have become proud of it. The community has become proud of us. The other churches look to us and HEAVILY rely on us to get this work done. Heidi and I are really the only two who understand what is really all going on in the league.

I don't know what all this means. Do we keep doing it forever, even as our church has decided to move to relational living, rather than programattic living? Do we phase our role out of it and allow it to survive? Do we keep doing it as a community service, and just do a better job at developing relationships through it? I don't know the answer. I am not as cynical as I sound, but I am really tired. I do need to go to bed and stop whining and I do love that line that Eric gave me over 3 years ago. He said, "James when you answer the phone say 'Upward Up Yours!".

Now that it funny.
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The Church Without Walls

One of my closest brothers in Christ, Craig, gave me this book in 1998. For those of your who are counting that was 7 years ago, which is also a little over one fourth of my lifespan. I had picked it up a couple of times, read what Craig wrote in the inside cover numerous times, got through the first chapter a few times, but never really dove in... but it always rose to the top of the heap when I chose a new book to read. If I took three books to the bedroom it was often one of them, but always lost in the final cut.

Well, my master's class... Historical Foundations of Ministry changed all of that. It was actually one of the assigned texts for the class and I had to write a reflection paper on it. It pumped me up so much that I have read the entire amount of two of my books for this class and the majority of the third, which is far more than I have ever done for a class before (except in Rick Ryding's classes which were always Nouwen books, whether the class was on Curriculum Design or Church Administration... thank you Rick!).

The cool thing is that I knew why the Lord had me wait. I knew why he allowed my taste for this book to brew a few years. I wasn't ready. I simply wasn't ready. The Lord has changed me so much this past year, that this church history class, has rocked my world. To see where we have come from, where we have strayed and how that plays out in what we call church today is painful. At the same time it gives me hope. I look at all these "characters"; the church fathers, the monks, the reformers, the modern day megachurch guys... and I fell a lot more connected to them now and a lot less bitter... I think. I see folks who sincerely wanted to see the Kingdom of God advanced and set out to do it the best they knew how. I see guys with hearts of gold. I see guys with lives of discipline. I see guys who seem like spiritual superheros. At the same time, I see guys who generally went back only so far in their reforms, they built off what they knew, what they were raised in. In Jim Petersen's book, The Church Without Walls, he calls for something more. He calls us to debunk all the clutter of the past 1950 years and get back to the early days, the days of Scripture, the days of the Apostles, the days when the gospel was fresh. He calls us to start there. To lay our foundation from the stones of the teachings of Jesus and reclaim some of the major elements of church we have lost. He calls us to community. He calls us to life as a body, in a body and with our body of believers.

I dig it. I buy into it, but it isn't because Jim Petersen wrote it. It is because God has been stirring this in mine and Kelly's life for a year and a half, and he has been stirring it up in the lives of those around us (Benji & Sarah, Joe & Heidi, Dave & Kathy, Hal & Louise, Pastor Mike & Vicki and many many more). He prepared me for this book. God laid the foundation in my life to be able to process all Jim said, to be able to process all history had to tell me, to be able to process where this may lead my family someday.

Sometimes I tell Kelly that it feel like God has made it more difficult on us by opening our eyes to all that He has in the past five years. He could have left us alone. He could have allowed us to be more wrapped up in the institution of the Church than we are wrapped up in Him. He could have let us live our lives contently blind to many of the truths unveiled to us. It seems like we would have been happier, more peaceful, more tranquil... if you will.

But... I know better. Thank you Lord for opening our eyes. Thank you Lord for revealing yourself to us in new ways. Thank you Lord for sending Mark, Rick, Eric, Craig, Jeff, my parents, Melanie, Andrew, Chris, all those mentioned above, and many more into our lives to shape them in dramatic ways. Many have played a part and many more will. Thank you for constantly reminding me that I don't get anything yet, that I am still learning to walk in your ways in an new way everday. Thank you Lord. It sure is fun.

P.S. I really have been going to bed early. I repent about this late posting. I played basketball really late tonight.
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Childbirthing Pains

I am experiencing childbirthing pains and they hurt really bad. As I try to help raise these teens the Lord has entrusted me with it is often so painful. Tonight, at 11:00pm my phone rang. It was one of my teens. This teen has some of the greatest potential to change a school that I have seen in anyone. They are fun-loving, outgoing, extremely popular, good looking, athletic, musical and in addition to all that pretty humble and very nice to everyone.
This teen has a natural draw to God. They randomly showed up at our church a couple months after I had come here because their parents had stopped going to church and they wanted to go somewhere. A couple of weeks later their parents started coming and in the last couple of years numerous teens have come due to their invitation, including some of my strongest student leaders.
The popularity factor has led to an ongoing struggle the past 2 years as they desire to please God, but are so drawn to please their friends. The cool thing is that this teen is always so often about these struggles and always tells me what they are and how intense their failures have been.
Well, the past couple of months have been great. There has been evident growth in many areas of their life. Last Wednesday we had an awesome talk after youth group and covered some intense struggles they are dealing with. On Friday we went to lunch and I talked bluntly about their potential and how I didn't want them to look back 5 years from now and wish they hadn't wasted the opportunity they had in high school to impact so many lives. They agreed and we decided that we needed to start meeting: This teen, me and at least 1 of their friends. They talked to their friend and told me all about it on Saturday. We were pumped about the possiblity of what lied around the corner and then...

Temptation rolled in.
A Bad Decision.
A Worse Decision.
A Harsh Fall.
A Difficult Call (to me).

It is so sad. It is so difficult. This teen it broken and torn up over this and I am too. I should have see it coming. I should have been able to tell that Satan would launch an all out assault. I should have forseen the battle. I should have...but I didn't . Instead we went separate ways on Saturday evening, about 6pm, and I didn't even pray a word of protection over them.
Youth ministry... all minstry probably... can really make you feel inadequate. It can really make you feel like a failure. It can really make you feel unspiritual and un-Spirit-led. It just seems that if I was walking in the Spirit I would have had discernment that evening. Instead this teen is left with scars and I am left trying to find a way for healing to begin in the midst of confession and retribution.

I would call all of this birthing pains. As I am trying to give birth to mature Christians it really hurts to push them so hard. It feels like most of them like it in the womb and don't want to come out. They are comfortable. They are safe. They can't be touched by anyone... and they can't touch anyone else's life. And then, just when I have one trying to get out, ready to get out, wanting to get out... they get stuck...

and that hurts.
It hurts them.
It hurts me.
and I imagine it hurts every woman reading this just to think about that.
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