The First Easter Morning – Darkness, Fear, and Surprise

 

Today I had the pleasure of one of my students asking me what MY favorite part of Easter is. Love it when they ask me for my opinion. My favorite part? The surprise. That first Easter morning wasn’t full of the expectation and joy we experience now… the disciples were AFRAID, huddled in a dark room, let down by their rabbi, and uncertain of what to do next… and then Jesus shows up (literally), and just says “Peace be with you.” I can see the smile on his face, I can hear that first nervous laugh, and then everything breaks lose… HE IS ALIVE!!!

That’s my favorite part. The surprise. The hope that springs from fear. The joy that can only be known AFTER the terror. The gratitude that can only come from knowing what it would be like to have been alone.

I was also asked today whether or not I felt Judas went to Hell for his betrayal. Not an easy-answer question, that’s for sure. I am no judge of person’s hearts, and certainly could imagine that Judas went for years as a disciple while “faking it” the whole time. Perhaps he himself even believed he was a follower, but in his heart, he never gave up control. I can see that. I’ve faked it before. So have you, I’ll bet. On the other hand, I think we all have moments of weakness where we betray our Lord, whether in thought or deed. How deep that betrayal goes is certainly a matter of the heart, but needless to say, I as a Christian am fully capable of making a spuratic decision that’s effects would far outweigh my understanding of what I did. So I don’t know. And it’s not much of my business. My business is checking my own heart, my own sincerity, and matching my walk to my talk.

Did I mention that I love it when my students ask my opinion? My REAL opinion? Not my Sunday School opinion but my opinion as a person, as a fellow traveller.

 

Rebuilding Relationships – ME2U and the book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah Rebuild Wall

If you’ve never read the book Nehemiah, I’d encourage you do to so. Especially if you’re a leader of any sorts. You could pull this book out of the Bible, toss it up on a bookshelf of leadership books, and it would stand the test of time. Put into the context OF the Bible, though, it’s a wonderful story of leadership, delegation, working together toward common goals, and facing opposition. Something leaders everywhere get to deal with.

ME2U currently has an image of a broken down wall on our homepage. In the background of the page, we have a strongly built brick wall. Both of these images were picked on purpose, and I want to take a moment to share why. Consider the following summary of the book of Nehemiah:

Nehemiah was a Hebrew in Persia when the word reached him that the Temple in Jerusalem was being reconstructed. He grew anxious knowing there was no wall to protect the city. Nehemiah invited God to use him to save the city. God answered his prayer by softening the heart of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, who gave not only his blessing, but also supplies to be used in the project. Nehemiah is given permission by the king to return to Jerusalem, where he is made governor. 

In spite of opposition and accusations the wall was built and the enemies silenced. The people, inspired by Nehemiah, give tithes of much money, supplies and manpower to complete the wall in a remarkable 52 days, despite much opposition. This united effort is short-lived, however, because Jerusalem falls back into apostasy when Nehemiah leaves for a while. After 12 years he returned to find the walls strong but the people weak. He set about the task of teaching the people morality and he didn’t mince words. “I argued with those people, put curses on them, hit some of them and pulled out their hair” (13:25). He reestablishes true worship through prayer and by encouraging the people to revival by reading and adhering to the Word of God. (Source)

Nehemiah was not a priest. He was not a prophet, a king, or a writer. He was the guy that tested the wine before the king drank it to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. It was quite an important job, but not one that you’d consider full of leadership potential. But Nehemiah’s heart is burdened, he speaks up, and is granted the opportunity to return to his home and get the wall rebuilt.

In my own way, I consider the relationships between adults and teens to be in a very similar state in the world today. Relationships are broken, whether it’s between a parent and their child or a coach and their athlete. Stories abuse, neglect, and friendships turned horrible are all too common in the news – and for every story IN the news, there are probably a hundred (?) that aren’t. There is tremendous potential in these relationships, but unless it’s channeled into valuable life lessons through effective communication and encouragement, they remain dormant.

ME2U is not the solution to these problems. It’s a tool to help the people that are the solution to these problems. A tool to help “rebuild the wall” of strong relationships between invested adults and the adolescents in their lives. It’s our aim to provide ways for adults outside the parental relationship to have a place to equip and encourage teenagers, but to do so safely and alongside parents in ways that don’t allow dangerous boundaries to creep up and then be crossed. We believe that youth pastors, coaches, mentors, “big brothers,” and even teachers have great opportunities to work with parents to raise up the next generation, and we want to foster that.

Does this endeavor ring home with you? Are you already part of rebuilding this wall in your own way? We’d love to share this journey with you. While we’d love for you to use our system to connect with youth in methods that promote safety, accountability, and persistent positive input, we’d also love to simply know that you’re alongside. Click here to join our mailing list, or simply drop us a note.

Let’s rebuild walls of strength and security into the lives of our families, and start the conversation.

Nehemiah Rebuild Wall

"God, I just want what you want." Reeeeeally?

“Your will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

How often have we heard that line of the Lord’s Prayer and said, “Yes, God! YOUR will be done. Not mine.” And yet 10 minutes later we’re griping because we’re stuck in traffic because some old lady 10 cars up had the nerve to run over a nail and have a flat tire; and it doesn’t even look like she knows where her spare is! Or perhaps it’s more like a deadline we know is coming up, or a project we know needs to be completed, and even though we’ve had a month or more to really plan, set, and achieve the steps necessary to create an excellent end result, we somehow come to the hands, throw up our hands to God, and say “Your will be done! It’s out of my hands; I did my best.” Reeeeealy?

I was listening to end of the Sunday podcast of the Daily Audio Bible this morning and Brian’s words caught me. Here’s some of what he said (you can read more here):

We find ourselves in some sort of trial or hardship. We then go to the Lord in an attitude of humility, hat in hands. We come before the Lord and we’re sincere about it. “God, I just want what you want.” That hadn’t been true up to this point, but we’re rocked to the point that we realize God is our hope. We need to align our wills with his, so “whatever you want, God, is what I want. Where you’re going, Lord, is where I want to go. Speak to me. Give me a clear direction and, no matter what that is, that is what I will do. That is what I want to do, is to be obedient.” So then we hear from the Lord and it’s not what we want to hear, which immediately reveals the motives of our heart. We just want God to bail us out, to put things back to how they were when they were going well. We don’t want God’s will. We want our will with God’s blessing upon it. 

We don’t want God’s will.
We want our will with God’s blessing upon it. 

How true is that? And how many times has that been me. You could probably ask any of the people that REALLY know me, and they could rattle off a few. Or you could ask me, and I could rattle off a hundred. Times in life where I haven’t truly want’s God’s WILL. I’ve wanted God to fork over a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, to bail me out, to set me on a new path, or simply to “re-assure” me that I’m on the right path where I am.

It takes tremendous patience and humility to admit that God’s will may be being done in my life, even if I’m in a season where I can’t understand it at all. I was speaking with a very close friend just yesterday who, from the outside, could easily be thought of in a very stagnant part of life. In between “real jobs.” Friends around him have truly great things happening, some of which have even thrown my friend into even less work as he’s allowed God to take them out of his life, in a way… and yet as I’m talking to him, I sense complete honesty when he says, “I’m OK with that. If God has set me aside in this season to pray for others and connect them with each other, that’s great.” He goes on to say that of course he’d love to get “in the fray,” so to speak, but he’s come to a point in his life where he can no longer raise his fist at God and say, in essense, “I know better!”

I’m in a stage of my life right now where a lot seems to be changing. I’ve hunted all year for “something big” and haven’t found it. I’m still doing much of the same type of thing I was a year and a half ago, which is not entirely what I’d say I want to be doing 5 years from now. The only difference is I’m doing more of it to make ends meet. I’ve pursued leads, considered strategies, and even put together a decent business plan to get there. But it kept feeling “off.” Like it was more of my version of what I thought God would want to do than His version matched with my unique person.

Recently some things have started to come together in some directions that I’m simply amazed by. A month ago I had an idea and started building on it for a concept I thought would allow me to encourage, equip, and empower teens all over the country through little groups they’re part of. Last week I had coffee with a man who sandblasted the idea with a word of wisdom I hadn’t even thought of that could have seemingly squashed the whole thing. Instead, though, we talked it through, and 2 hours later that obstacle had become a tremendous opportunity. It took me right out of the equation. Instead of “Chet” being “the guy” who sends out all these little “love drops” (Thanks for that word, Rob), it’s now parents, grandparents, and those who should be adding life to their children. Instead of looking to build some sort of income from cash strapped ministries, we’re looking toward families with some cash to spare. I was humbled, excited, scared, and thrilled, all at once.

That feeling remains. We’re now moving into plans to build marketing and sales strategies, and up comes this idea that we’ll need a 3-5 minute promo video to play in churches and before parents to share the concept. Video!? Wow. Um…. I hadn’t even thought of that, but it makes perfect sense, and since I’ve bitten the bullet and re-engaged my little network of people these past few weeks, I know exactly who to call on to help me with that. 

It’s amazing what happens when we switch from “my will with God’s blessing” to simply “God’s will.” I wouldn’t say that everything falls into place, because it certainly does not. Before ANYTHING can fall into place, it probably all needs to FALL DOWN. Depending on the height of the wall I’ve built and upon what foundation it was built, it may need to be torn down to the ground (or further). But Jesus will do that. He is faithful and true, and our God will come through…. always.

I’m no expert on this subject, and I think those who are “experts” are either full of crap or have walked the long, hard path of surrender and finally seen that to truly experience God’s blessing in our lives, we must lay it all down. Every. Little. Bit. I hope to continue to seek out and learn from these men, women, and even children. They are out there, and they are worth following. Perhaps, someday, God will use me in that way. Perhaps he already is. All glory to him, forever.

Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

(If you’d like to read more of Brian Hardin’s thoughts on this topic, check out the transcript of 10/23’s Daily Audio Bible here, or listen to it here.)

 

Kristian Stanfill – Always

My foes are many, they rise against me
But I will hold my ground
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm
My help is on the way, my help is on the way

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

Troubles surround me, chaos abounding
My soul will rest in You
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm
My help is on the way, my help is on the way

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord (4x)
From You Lord, from You Lord

 

Entertaining Angels While Playing Chicken on a Sled

So I don’t have any way to prove this, and you can’t disprove it, but it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to take the liberty to allow the idea in my head that I almost ran over an angel with my sled tonight.

Tonight a gaggle of us went sledding down a hill by my friend Tricia’s house. There were a bunch of teens and a few good adult friends, too. Colton came along too and had a blast. We were there for probably 2 hours or so. About 10 – 15 minutes before we left, another couple and a kid showed up and were doing some sledding. I amost ran into the woman while Isaac and I were playing chicken by aiming our sleds diagonally from opposite sides of the hill.

Anyways, we finish up, head back to Tricia’s, and as we’re getting out of the cars, one of my teenage friends Zorina exlaims, “I can’t find my keys!” Yes, she’d had them in her pocket while sledding. Yes, they had somehow, strangely, most obviously very abnormally, fell out amongst all the bumps of sledding. You could see it in her face. “What am I doing to do!? My mom is going to KILL me!” As most of kids get their snow clothes off and head inside for pizza and hot chocolate, I’m still getting rid of wet stuff out there in the garage with Zorina and another boy, Aaryn. “So here’s the worst that could happen,” I start out. That didn’t help. Not a bit. So I tell her I’ll take her back and look for 20 minutes, but that’s all I can do tonight. But we’ll do it. Aaryn decides to come along as well.

On the way I tell Zorina that since I’m driving her back, she gets to pray. And so she does. Short, a bit desparate, a bit funny, but isn’t that how we often get when we feel silly asking for Jesus to fix something that’s totally our own stupid fault? Along the way I get to tell Z that, yeah, I agree with her that she did something stupid, but that doesn’t make HER stupid… but even so… yeah, don’t sled with keys in your pocket, especially your only SET of keys. Then again, looks who’s talking. I’ve locked ALL FOUR sets of keys in my car at the same time. I know this pain.

So we get there, and start walking from the car to the hill for the inevitable 20 minute search. I’m praying to God, “God, you could do this in 5 minutes. You could do this in 2 hours. You could do this in 30 SECONDS. Or, you could let Z suffer the consequenses. I just ask that you show up, that you’re glorified, and that if you please, we find her keys.”

It’s about that time that Zorina says, “hey, what’s that?” A stick is stuck in the snow with a pink glove on top, kind of like a flag. Also dangling from that stick are her keys. We looked for literally about 30 seconds, and within 2 minutes, we’re back in the car zooming back to Tricia’s house. You could feel the cloud nine relief all over the place. Z thanks baby Jesus on the way back, and then I start venturing into my little “visit by angels” idea.

What if… what if that family that showed up were angels sent from God? They showed up just before we left, so that we knew they were there. They were gone by the time we got back, which wasn’t much more than 20 minutes. So they didn’t stay long. It’s like they showed up so we’d be sure to see them, and once we left, they “miraculously” found her keys, stuck them on the stick with the “flag” of a pink glove, and then left. Like their mission was accomplished. Like they’d been sent for that purpose alone, and by the time we got back, they weren’t even there to thank. And so God gets the thanks instead. No names, no car descriptions, no need to try to figure it out… we’ll just stick to the Entertaining Angels story.

So we get back and Z tells the story. Aaryn backs it up. It’s cool to listen to other people tell stories you first shared with them. I get home later and tell it to Erin, and she asks me a couple times, “is that really how it happened?” No tricks? No pranks? Nope. Just plain and simple good people (or were they NOT just people?) happening to find her keys within a few minutes, put them where we’d find them, and then leave… that or they were sent for that purpose. I’ll believe the latter, because I can. And because the Bible says it happens.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.Hebrews 13:1-3

I AM, however, glad I didn’t run over the lady on my sled. How messed up would that have been?

One of "My" Glimpses of the Bigger Picture

This past Sunday I was reminded about the reality of the bigger picture, even the “more real” world that The Matrix gave us a great picture of, although it was quite allegorical. Much of my world is nice and neat, surrounded by what I would imagine are God-fearing and God-honoring people. If I want to really reach out into the hearts of teenage kids, I need to go hunting for them outside my church doors, right? I mean, these guys and girls are doing fine, doing great, and loving and worshipping God at any chance they get… right?

Right?

Wrong.

Dead wrong. And I should know better. I’ve seen how “hurt” a heart can get by just putting a mirror on my own. Not just hurt by mean people, but hurt by my own false impression of myself, of God, and my picture of what others think. Even if it’s totally false, I still bought into it. How much more so the young men and young women I’m getting to know better and better. While it’s not a mid-life-crisis as we often think of it, it certainly is a crisis, at least according to the definition Google gives me: “an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty.” How many kids get lost in the high school years? Lose their way? Lose respect for (or of) their parents? Lose hope? Lose confidence in themselves? It’s all over the place, and I saw a glimpse of it this Sunday.

I grabbed a whiteboard this past Sunday as I taught Sunday School and asked the kids three questions. We were wrapping up a video series called Gospel Journey: Maui. It was an attempt at a reality series where they brought a group of several open-minded people together from different faiths and talked openly and honestly about faith, God, and life. It was actually pretty good, if I say so myself. I especially learned a lot from Jasser, the Islamic guy, who had a great respect for his god, and while my faith, beliefs, and God tell me he’s headed in the wrong direction, this boy was utterly sincere, and it shone through.

So at the end of the series, I asked our kids three questions, and had them write their answers, completely anonymously, on a sheet of paper I then collected and transferred to the whiteboard. The questions:

  • How would you describe Jesus (in a word)?
  • How would you describe Jesus’ message?
  • How would Jesus describe you.

The answers tell a story that I knew was real, but was suprised to get out of these guys at 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Check it out below:

 

 

All sorts of great things about Jesus, right (I added the “offensive” and “divisive” words about his message later on). High words. Lofty words. True words. But look at the words they used to describe how these kids feel Jesus (God) feels about them:

  • Fallible
  • Super
  • Pitiful
  • Lacking
  • Princess
  • Ignorant
  • A Child
  • Genuine
  • Wayward
  • I’ve never talked to him about it.

For the first time ever, I could hold something up in front of these guys and authoritatively say, “Look around you! You don’t have to go hunting broken hearts. You don’t have to go searching for someone who needs to know the Jesus you have, or the Jesus you want to have! They’re right here!” I know these kids, and I could probably pick certain people to go with certain words, but then again, I might be totally off base, as they might with me. We hide things so well, and it appears that we do so at a very early age. Many of the kids in this group have grown up in this church, and here they are, 15, 16, 17, 18 years old, feeling that God thinks they’re pitiful, ignorant, and lacking.

Let’s get real, because this is real. This is the most honest set of words I’ve ever gotten had them give me, and I choose to accept it, and let it change me. I’m not going to pretend like everybody’s alright. I’ll accept that from them if they tell me, but just like me, there’s always more to the story. And I can do something about that. I can care for them. I can pray for them. I can let them know absolutely, without a doubt, at least one person believes in them, and so does their Heavenly Father. We all have earthly parents that fail us in one way or another, and I think we wind up attributing that to our Heavenly Parent, and then suddenly he’s looking down on us, disappointed in us, and unwilling to ask us to do big things.

I totally get that. Because that was much of my own life. I now know my Heavenly Father AS my True Father. My earthly father introduced me to him in his own way, and I appreciate that beyond words. But until we realize that that’s not all there is in the God that really loves us, we’ll be bound up in these words.

I truly loved this lesson. It opened my eyes, and the anonymity and randomness of the mixed up answers made it even more impressive to me that the fields truly are white for the harvest. I don’t even have to walk out the door to my “back yard” (the Plainfield High School is literally in our church’s back yard). They’re here, waiting, wanting, and fearfully wondering if there really is more out there than life is promising them.

Let’s show them that there is. THERE IS LIFE. FREEDOM. And JOY.

When did I become a leader?

“When did I become a leader?”

I had that question asked to me via text message last night by a teenage friend of mine. I had mentioned to her about how a little prayer ministry she was championing didn’t have anybody except little old me show up this past week while she had been away. “But I don’t want people doing something just because I want them to do it,” she said. “I want them to want to do it themselves!”

How common is that desire in the heart of so many people. We find something we are passionate about, we bring in some others and they seem to love it too, but the moment we take a break or miss a meeting or ask them to step up for themselves, no one shows up. And immediately, at least for me and (I think) my friend here, we get kicked into this “well maybe it’s not such a great idea if no one else really wants to do it” mode.

I pulled a thought from Andy Stanley’s book, Visioneering, out for my friend last night. Leaders see what should be, and what could be, and they go after it. They see things well before others do, whether it’s a need that they can meet, a problem that they might be able to solve, or just a passion they can set their heart on, and they go after it. They inspire others to come along side of them, and even if those people don’t totally “get it” right away, they care enough about both the concern and the person whom is concerned about it to make it important to them, too.

So what do we do when suddenly, one day, nobody shows up? When they forget? When their passion begins to fade? When we suddenly look around and realize we’re the only one doing the work again, and it feels like we’re just dragging others along on our ride, or that perhaps they’re trying to get off? Do we quit? Find something new? Go all introspective and wonder, “was it really meant to be?”

I tried to share with my friend that just because others forget, doesn’t mean it’s not important to them. Yes, they may have some growing to do to make this a priority in their life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it to be a priority. And that’s when I told her those words… “you’re that leader.” Essentially, you started this, like it or not. You initiated it. You’re driving the ship. Others want to be on that ship, and they may specifically look to you in the upcoming weeks to see how you’ll handle a week off, and a week with a bit of a let down, now that it’s past. Will you let go, and demonstate to those around you that this really wasn’t as imnportant (not just to you) as you made it out to be? Or will you press in, invite them back, and act like what you are doing is important enough to do, regardless of whether or not it’s a priority to anyone else.

BECAUSE IT IS.

You’ve seen what could be. You’ve seen what should be. What needs to be. And you’ve gotten a hint of how to make it be. Whether that means praying before a service for freedom to express yourselves in worship, holding hands to gain courage to lift your hands while singing, or walking up to an “old person” and asking them why they frown and stick their hands in their pockets when they’re singing “joyful joyful we adore thee,” you’ve found something that you feel needs to be changed. And there are others there behind you, both itching to see what you care about succeed, and at the same time a little apprehensive to jump in with both feet because they too, are afraid of being let down again.

When did you become a leader?

When you discovered what should be, thought about how it could be, and invited others to join you to make it be. In other words… When you started leading.

I loved hearing that question last night, and even more now that I think about it. So many “leaders” get there because that’s what they want to do… “Lead.” They become leaders because they want followers, not because they’ve discerned a passion on their heart and choose to follow it wholeheartedly, regardless of their following. Wholehearted people attract others, because most of us are wandering around with empty hearts, half-filled hearts, or hearts filled with false truths and lies that we’d just love to see replaced with a truth that inspires and motivates.

I’ve found one of the main things that causes me to want to follow someone is just that: their ability to motivate and inspire me. Not with some fancy idea or great sales pitch, but with a life that is 100% authentic and sold out to a cause bigger than themselves. They do what they do because it’s important. To them. To their understanding of life. To their understanding of eternity. What they do now matters for eternity, and they “get that.” Whether people follow them or not, they know what is important, and they go after it, abandoning all else that might hold them back.

So to my good friend who may be a little discouraged or let down that nobody except little old me showed up last week, I hope I can reassure you: What you are doing is important. Others want to do it as well, and you are an inspiration to them to the point that they’ll do it.

Each of them will come around or they won’t, but they’ll have to do it in their own way. You, on the other hand, can only determine the actions of one person… and those decisions you make to stick with it or go find something new to do will greatly affect the influence you have over others… because they (we) are watching you.

You have what it takes. God is jealous for you to the point that He wants your whole heart, and won’t let you live a life where you share it between Him and others. He wants to be your portion, your strength, and the motivation that drives you each day.