Reflections on My 40’s

Every time a new decade of life comes and goes it causes me to reflect on how the past 10 years have gone in relation to previous decades and what I have to look forward to in the decade ahead.

As I look back on the last 10 years I would have to say that this was one of the best. I absolutely enjoyed watching my kids grow into their teenage years and go through the youth group. I was nervous with my first-born when he entered into the youth group in 7th grade but he got involved and seemed to enjoy it most of the time! Same with my other three kids when the time came for them to enter into youth group.

Now that is not to say that Shelly and I didn’t have some difficult moments trying to raise teenagers. Oh we have some stories to tell. It just wouldn’t be fair to my kids to detail those moments in a blog. But the fact is, I think that, in my own fallenness and dysfunction, my choice of parenting did more good than harm. I am proud of how my kids are turning out and how they are thinking and perceiving their world and their faith. I really enjoyed watching Zach play football, the girls play lacrosse and cross county, and Ben being in show choir, cross country, volleyball and being an all around theatre geek like I was in high school. I also have had the pleasure of leading all four of them on some amazing mission trips which I believe have really impacted their lives. And finally all four of them went through Confirmation and were baptized here at our church.

I would also say that this was a great decade for our marriage. I feel like a lot of rough edges I had have definitely softened. Either that or Shelly has learned to put up with me. But I think that the both of us have grown closer to each other through the process of raising kids. And this is a good thing because as a youth minister, I have seen way to many marriages break up once the kids left the house and the couple realized they really didn’t have much of a relationship. That’s not true of us. I have also seen pastors’ kids completely walk away from the faith. In God’s mercy and grace, my kids seem to still maintain a strong faith.

Another thing that made this decade special is the fact that I have been at the same church through it all. Once again though, we as a church family have certainly had our up’s and down’s. I have had the opportunity to work for one of the best pastor’s in my career and also for one of the most “challenging”. The church has had some really great moments and some that where just bad, but through it all we stuck together, learned from our mistakes, and through all of our ecclesiastical dysfunction we are still being used by God in incredible ways. We have had a handful of senior pastors go through our church and just about everyone of them seem to think it is a great idea to get the youth pastor to act like an idiot in front of a camera to promote their next event or sermon series. I am beginning to wonder if I need an agent. In all the video’s I have been in I have had the honor of being Donald Trump (Apprentice skit), the Mayhem guy from Allstate, Superman, among many other skits, videos and special appearances. One of the best moments was when I was supposed to be a disciple at the last supper with the senior pastor being Jesus. Congregation members would come into the room and they would be served communion once we did a little “Jesus talking with his disciples” drama. The only thing was that, after doing this so many times the pastor started to break character when he would make eye contact with me and I could tell he was getting a case of the giggles. I know, not the right context for that to happen, but it happened. We pulled it together and finished the night.

And how many times can I say that I love what I do! To be able to be at the same church for over 13 years now and see a youth ministry grow and develop has been awesome. I owe a lot of what I have become here at this church to the senior pastor who hired me. He found me when I was ready to give up on church ministry as a career and he helped me rediscover who God created me to be. In the process I became an official United Methodist youth pastor. I have really enjoyed the opportunities I have had to work with teens and the best adult volunteers to raise up the next generation of Christians. Every year I mourn the loss of another great Senior class but get equally excited when my new batch of 7th graders come into the ministry!

This was also the decade of dogs! I never grew up with pets so this was a new experience for me. While my kids where going through their teen years dad was not as cool as he was when they were little ones. But with dogs all that changed! I felt like the superhero coming home again! The dogs always celebrate loudly whenever any of us come home, but to this fragile dad ego, it took on a more special meaning. I have one big, lazy dog named Abby who would sprint out the door if no one was paying attention. My little dog named Buckeye thinks he is a tough guy. Whenever I take them out for walks, Buckeye would always bite the leash and hold it as if he was walking me. He would also fight against the leach demanding his emancipation. I think that is why he tried so hard to act like he was walking me instead of me walking him.

Throughout this decade I feel like I finally got the edge on my depression. I really wrestled with this quite a bit until my doctor got the right combination of meds that have helped me feel completely normal. But it wasn’t until my mid-40’s that we figured this out. Funny story: we found the right type of medication to work but a certain side effect that we discovered was that I started to put on a few pounds. So I just stopped taking the medication cold turkey. It was a very small dosage so I didn’t think stopping would make much of a difference other than bringing my weight back under control. Uncharacteristically, after a few days had passed and the effects of the medication wore off, I spent four very melancholy days crying about anything and everything. At a certain point my reasonable wife said to call my doctor back and get back on that medicine. Wouldn’t you know, I have felt great every since.

This is also the decade of watching my kids grow with excellent grandparents on both sides of the family. Shelly and I are blessed to both have parents who, through good and bad times, are still together and are healthy. They have all been a real positive influence on my kids. I never knew my biological grandfathers so it means a lot to me that at least these old Boomers have had a wonderful impact on my kids growing up.

Overall it has been a great decade. I am especially glad that there was so many positive influences in helping me and my wife to raise our kids. As I look to my next decade, God willing, I hope to see what kinds of careers my kids will fall into and how God will use them. This decade Shelly and I will become empty nesters. We have two more years of high school with Ben then he will head out. Of course college students have a way of coming back home for some time so the empty nest may not be just two years away, I know. I am really looking forward to the next decade to see what God has in store.

Moving Mountains – Mark 11:12-25

pexels-photo-976917.jpeg          Ever wonder about that passage where Jesus tells his disciples that if they pray with enough faith they can tell a mountain to throw itself in the sea. Pretty strange, huh? This scripture passage suggests on the surface that if we pray with enough faith for a mountain to be moved and thrown into the sea, it will be done!

Now, if you choose to stay home on any particular Sunday you can turn on your TV and see multiple so-called-preachers who will twist this passage to turn God into a cosmic Santa Claus who, if we just pray with enough faith, will give us all we want. Make no mistake, these are NOT biblical teachers. Many of them can be categorized as prosperity preachers. I believe that the Bible refers to them as false prophets. They teach that God wants you to materially prosper and give you everything you want if you just name it and claim it!

I knew a lady at a previous church who had a husband who was dying of cancer. She attended a church with similar teachings who told her that if she prayed with enough faith, God would heal her husband. Well, in a short amount of time her husband lost his battle with cancer. The wife was perplexed. She prayed with faith for her husbands’ healing and he passed away from the cancer. What happened? She went back to the preacher and asked him why God allowed her husband to die of cancer when she earnestly prayed with faith for his healing. The pastor had the audacity to tell the grieving wife that it was her fault because she did not have enough faith! She then walked away from the faith for years.

In order for us to best understand this passage we need to back the lens up and see the bigger picture of what is going on. If we look at the beginning of Mark 11 we see that Jesus has just entered into Jerusalem on a donkey as his followers praised him. This is the triumphal entry that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Let’s pick up the story at v. 12.

Mark 11:12-14

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Now on the surface, this appears to be a scene in which Jesus is having a bad day and in this one instance uses his power to curse a tree! Very, very strange. But we need to keep on reading to understand the context. So let’s continue with v. 15

 Mark 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Jesus entered into the temple and saw people who have turned it into a marketplace which he called a “den of robbers”. He called out those who were financially taking advantage of those who wanted to come to the temple to offer sacrifices. These people were being hustled for their cash. Jesus also made two points here that we need to highlight.

First of all, he said that “My house will be called a house of PRAYER”. He is emphasizing that this is supposed to be a sacred space for people to come and communicate with God through prayer. This is a spiritual discipline that is repeatedly taught all throughout the gospels and the teachings of Paul. We are to be a people of PRAYER.

The next point is that this sacred space is to be a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS. The nation of Israel had a way of feeling exclusive and exceptional when compared to the other nations. We know that many of the religious leaders were looking for a political messiah to overthrow Rome and establish his kingdom with power. They did not expect Jesus and his revolution to be of a spiritual nature. Jesus came to establish salvation not only for the nation of Israel but also for ALL THE NATIONS. Jesus had a much bigger agenda of inclusion and love that would involve all people.

So let’s pick up our story and see what happens with Jesus and his disciples after the temple incident.

Mark 11:20-21

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

Now we have to ask, “What’s the deal with the stinking tree?!?” We need to look at the tree event as book ends to the temple incident. Jesus saw a tree that looked good on the outside. It was healthy and was full of leaves. But as he got closer up to it, it had no fruit. Then he addresses the Israelites at the temple who, on the outside looked like a beautiful temple, but on closer inspection, they were not producing the fruit that they ought to, which is being a house of prayer. The tree was a type of symbolic parable of Israel. If they were not going to be producing spiritual fruit like they were supposed to be doing, then judgment was coming. I believe that Jesus was foreshadowing the coming destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 by the Romans. So instead of being a house of prayer for all the nations, they took an Israel First stance and to hell with everyone else, especially Rome. The tree represented the nation of Israel who would be judged for not bearing the fruit that God intended for them.

Now, this is not just about Israel. We need to realize that Jesus has established the church to be that very house of prayer for all the nations. And this is how Jesus tells his disciples to pray. Let’s continue reading from Mark:

 Mark 11:22-25

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Is Jesus saying that we can literally move mountains if we just pray hard enough? Well, being that Jesus never actually carried out that type of miracle, I don’t think so. But the tree representing Israel became an obstacle to Jesus because it did not produce the fruit it was supposed to. Therefore Jesus removed the tree and instead, empowered his disciples to carry out the task of taking his message out to all the nations!

Now Jesus does say we can remove mountains if we pray correctly. What exactly does he mean by this? I believe that he is telling us that if we want to be a part of God’s program of being a blessing to all the nations we need to overcome the metaphorical mountains that stand in the way. The mountains that prohibited Israel from being a blessing was pride, arrogance, nationalism and an attitude of exclusion. As a church we must be aware of the mountains that prevent us from seeing the “other” as an enemy and learn to be a blessing for all people, for all nations, and even for those whom our government would consider enemies. We have a responsibility to pray to remove these mountains and to be a blessing to everyone. Even if it also means forgiving others.

So how does this apply to us?

The first thing related to our IDENTITY. The most important thing that you must understand is that if you have put your faith in Jesus then you are a child of God. This trumps all other ways that we try to find identity. You are a child of God!

The second application relates to PRAYER. And as a child of God we have a responsibility to be in conversation with God through prayer. Our prayers cannot be self-serving, looking to take advantage of people, and about our own materialism and our own ego. We must pray for all people to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and that His Spirit would remove any and all boundaries that are holding back people from coming to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Our salvation is not a private, exclusive deal between you and God. It is more of an opportunity for us to invite others to be a part of this awesome family of God. We are to pray that God would remove those mountains, those barriers that prevent us from inviting others in to the church of Christ, and prevent others from seeing the blessings that are connected to being a child of God.

And the final application is that we need to be producing SPIRITUAL FRUIT. One day we as believers are going to have to give an account for our lives before Jesus. And if we learn anything from the fig tree, it’s that a true follower of Christ is one who is producing spiritual fruit with their lives. That would involve what Paul talks about in Galatians 5 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. But in the context of this passage, it also would include that we are a people of prayer who want to take the message of Jesus Christ to all the nations. That we love others. We care for others. We reach out to the hurting. We pray for our enemies.

So find your primary identity in Jesus. Yes you are a son and daughter, brother or sister, a student, an athlete, a performer, a musician but all those thing pale in comparison to the fact that you are a child of God who loves you. And He wants to be in conversation with you through prayer, and He wants you to be a blessing to all the people you can: those who are easy to love and those who are hard to love. And we are to smash down barriers through prayer that stand in the way of reaching others for Christ.

So knowing this should help you to look at your school differently. Your job. Your sports team. Your show choir. Your band. Be the light in the world that God has called us to be which is supposed to be attracting people out of the darkness and into the light.

Are you ready now to claim your identity in Christ and take ownership of your faith that your parents and the church have raised you in?

Are you ready to begin your own journey of being in conversation with God through prayer and Bible study?

Are you ready to open yourself up to God to use you to be a blessing to others and help remove barriers that prevent others from knowing him?

If so, then let’s do this!

I’m back!

Well after reading the book “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done” by Jon Acuff I was inspired to actually start something I have been thinking of for a while. I used to blog quite a bit back in the day. But needless to say, I have gotten away from it. Raising four teenagers can take up a lot of your time, and hobbies tend to slip away. So Acuff’s book inspired me to get back to writing again. If you are interested in any of my earlier stuff you can go HERE. I also have a YouTube channel HERE. Many of my videos have to do with ministry and family. Feel free to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. I hope you enjoy!