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An Urgent Plea to Parents of High School Students (or those about to be)

March 22, 2017

Parents are a group of weary people.  We carry an unbelievable burden.  God has never given me a more difficult task than parenting.  Every which way a parent turns they are burdened with guilt that if they were a good parent they would do “this” more and “that” less.  The last thing I want to do with this blog is plug in to parent guilt.  I’m not writing this because I think you are bad parent.  I’m writing it because our kids are stepping on a spiritual landmine and something has to be done about it.

I am abundantly troubled to watch massive spiritual casualties among high school students.  I’ve watched the replay over and over again in which middle school students with vibrant faith lose their way, get mired in spiritual apathy, or moral disintegration sometime in the transition to high school.  Something is happening between middle school and high school to many of our students that has to be noticed by the church and by Christian parents.

Why is this happening at this age?

  1. They have new options of how to spend their time.
  2. They are faced with moral situations that they aren’t yet able to handle.
  3. They are at a developmental stage in which they are seeking independence from parents.

I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years and I am begging you as a parent to notice this pitfall.  I’m urging you, pleading with you, and begging you to listen to one simple challenge from me.  The independence your high school student is experiencing means they need you MORE, not LESS, as a spiritual anchor and guide.  We tend to think they are at an age in which their spiritual journey is their own.  Their independence means parents need to take their hands off the wheel, right?  Wrong!  High school students are at a hybrid time in their life where they have access to adult options but do not yet have the wisdom or discernment to handle those options.  At the same time they haven’t had enough life experience with its wounds and exhaustion to know just how much they need a relationship with Jesus to just survive.  Parents, don’t take your hands off the spiritual wheel!  Greater independence requires grater discernment, which requires a greater need for a loving and wise guide through these minefields.  So don’t stop leading them spiritually.  Don’t stop putting them in situations where they are invested in spiritually.

Parent, your high school student needs you to be a Christ following source of grace and wisdom more than ever!

Let me unpack this:

  1. We’re not talking indoctrination. Your kids can’t live off your faith.  Faith can’t be forced.  They have to own it apart from you.  I’m not talking more discipline.  I’m talking more spiritual investment, guidance, and roots in Christian community.  I’m talking being more intentional with their spiritual growth.  More discipline might be needed but that’s not my point here.  As I parent, too often I have reacted to my kids poor choices by trying to make up for a lack of spiritual investment in a quick and fierce manner.  That won’t work.
  2. However, parents are meant to set a culture for their family.  That means that you decide where your family spends its time and how you are going to operate.  When no spiritual priorities and expectations are set, there is a clear lack of Christian leadership in the home.  The kids can easily lead the home in the light of a lack of clearly stated parental priorities.  Trust that what you pour into your children spiritually won’t depart from them.  Don’t take your hand off the wheel.  Your independent teenager needs you more than ever!!!
  3. Parents, it all starts with your fellowship with Jesus.  Are you in God’s word?  Are you a worshiper who sings to Jesus with passion?  Do you live with a calling toward mission?  Are you being shaped through Christian community?  Your faith matters.  It is nearly impossible for followers (kids) to go where their leaders (parents) are unwilling to go.
  4. High school students rarely thrive spiritually apart from Christian community.  It’s common knowledge that during adolescence our peers become more important than our parents to us.  With that said, Parents, you should fight hell and high water to get your kids rooted in student ministry.  I am utterly amazed to watch high schoolers disconnect from student ministry with seemingly little urgency from parents.  Stop what you are doing right now and decide to do all you can to get your student plugged in to their student youth group!
  5. Be steady and stay gracious when faced with resistance.  What do you do when they have no interest in spiritual things?  Do they have a choice whether to go to Christmas or Thanksgiving with the family?  Do they have a choice about how late to stay out?  You set limits all the time.  This is no different.  It’s best to establish your family as committed to being regular and rooted in a faith community so that it isn’t a question whether you are going to church or participating in student ministry.  It’s expected.  It’s part of your family culture.  If regular worship attendance is “iffy” for your family then don’t be surprised if it is “iffy” for your student.  What kind of parental investment do you make so that your kids can be successful in sports, academics, dance/cheer, or other activities.  What if you invested in their spiritual growth with the same passion and commitment?  At the same time when they resist don’t react, but be steady and consistent.  Being a parent means doing what’s right, not what’s popular.
  6. Disciple with a long term plan in mind.  Often, the seeds we plant now don’t produce fruit for a while.  Only an insane person would plant a seed and expect a fruit-producing-plant the next day.  We are making spiritual investments in our high school students not because it is working in their life now, but because we only have about 18 years to pour into them and we are going to make the most of it.  Parent out of gospel conviction, not out of what gets immediate results.  It’s common to hear a mature adult believer talk about past rebellion and about those who refused to give up on their faith.  Your child’s story isn’t over.  God isn’t done.  Believe that what you do now can make a huge difference in the years to come.
  7. All that’s at stake is their life and their eternity.  What good will it do if your kids gain the whole world but their own soul is ruined and lost for eternity?  Make their spiritual journey a priority!!!

I’m urging you to pray, stay vitally connected in conversation, and set a tone of spiritual commitment with your high school students.  Don’t make the mistake of believing that independence makes you less necessary.  It makes you more necessary.  High schoolers need a gracious but steady “home-base” to come back to that is helping guard them from pitfalls, live with wisdom, and set their eyes on Christ as a worthy prize as they explore the world.

There are no guarantees.  You might pour the truth and love of Jesus into your kids and they might reject it.  That would be bad.  But at least you would know that you did your part.  What would be worse is to watch them reject Jesus or spiral in life destruction knowing that when you had the most influence, Jesus was neglected.

Why Our Church Has Multiple Senior Pastors

January 25, 2017

Recently our church, at the direction of our elders, changed the title of Dax Hughes, who was our Senior Associate Pastor, to “Senior Pastor, Leadership”.  My title changed from Senior Pastor to “Senior Pastor, Preaching”.  Dax and I were college roommates 22 years ago and God has formed a special brotherhood between us.  Really, this title change makes clearer how we actually function, namely, we have shared the senior leadership role for years.  We aren’t trailblazers.  Many other churches have done this before us.  We aren’t evangelists who think everyone should do this.  In fact, many churches shouldn’t do it.

With that said, we’ve had a lot of people curious about this change knowing that it departs from the traditional norm.  So, I thought it might be helpful to express why we made this change.  So, here’s a list of reasons.

(1)  We believe plurality of leadership is biblical.  It’s a rarity to see Christian leaders in the New Testament alone.  Jesus sent disciples out by 2.  Paul makes it clear that he works in teams most of the time.  Even our one true God expresses Himself in trinitarian plurality and rejoices in the love and collaboration between the Father, Son, and Spirit.  This alone does not mean every church should have multiple senior pastors.  It simply means that God’s plan for all of us includes the plurality of life in community.  We can say then that having multiple senior pastors  is at least not unbiblical.

(2)  Because we have the option.  It’s an option for us and we believe it is the best option when it’s available.  We can do this because of the kind of brotherhood, trust, and compatibility that exists between Dax and I.  We realize not everyone has that.  In fact, churches would be better off not having multiple senior pastors than having the wrong chemistry.  Our harmonious chemistry gives us this option.

(3) Empowerment.  Our multiple senior pastor model reflects the strategy of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 where he describes the body of Christ functioning more powerfully as a unified but diverse group.  Diversity enhances the body’s ability and unity makes sure that it works in cooperation.  Dax and I have the same philosophy and doctrinal convictions but we do find that our unique gifting make us each more effective.  In other words, we have the belief that we are both better when working together than apart.

(4) Increases wisdom and decreases burdens.   We are an elder led church.  A lot of churches are scared of elder led because they fear that it will give too much power to leaders.  I think it does the opposite.  Every decision we make occurs among spiritually mature and trusted brothers by consensus.  When leaders are isolated they make many of their decisions on their own.  This increases the burden on the individual who is alone in convincing an entire church of their direction and it decreases the wisdom of the decision. The larger the church, the larger the burden.  I have no doubt that multiple senior pastors works better in an elder system than a congregational one because it is the consensus of the whole elder group that determines the path rather than two individual perspectives competing with each other.  If we are willing to share leadership in humility to trusted, proven people then we will also share the burdens and be less likely to burn out.

(5) Application of a kingdom understanding of power.  Some folks have not been able to understand my motives because they see me as someone who is relinquishing power.  However, doesn’t the teachings of the New Testament and the example of Christ lead us to a different understanding of power than our world’s understanding?  Christ taught that those who are great don’t “lord” their power over others but instead serve.  He lived this vision out as well, especially through the cross.  We have to be careful making a wholesale application of business models to church because we are a different kind of society in which those who are last are first, and those who serve are the greatest.  We have a different version of power.  I haven’t lost.  I have gained.

(6) Displays Christian community and brotherly love.  I’m afraid our strict hierarchies are a reaction to sin not a reflection of the heart of God.  Since we are sinful and full of ego, we think have to have one dominant leader or there is a lack of harmony.  It’s a safeguard because of pride.  However, shouldn’t we long in our church leadership for a modeling of humble, selfless, submitting, cooperating brotherly love that looks more like Christian community and less like the power structures of the world?  I realize sometimes we can’t have that because we still live in a fallen world and church leaderships are not immune to it.  However, when it is possible, it seems to me that it should be the goal.


3 Possible Spiritual Reasons We Love to Be Scared

October 31, 2016

It’s a strange custom.  People pay good money so that someone else can scare the living daylights out of them.  Whether it’s through a movie, TV show, haunted house, a roller coaster, or just jumping out to surprise someone; our culture has a tendency to enjoy being scared.  Being scared is an uncomfortable feeling.  So why would we seek these experiences?

Believe it or not our fright seeking ways might have some of their roots in our spirituality.  Here are 3 biblical perspectives about our nature that might contribute to this phenomenon.

(1) We were made for relationship with a supernatural God leaving us with a longing to connect with something beyond the natural world.  Ever wondered why we are so fascinated with zombies, vampires, ghosts, and wizards?  We were made for something more than the natural world and we know it.  We long to touch the mysterious.  We aren’t satisfied with natural explanations of the world because when God made us He put a longing in us for something more.  Namely Him.  This longing will only be satisfied in Him.

(2) We are either now living in or have lived in a bondage of fear that lives underneath the surface buried by pride.  Christ has come to remove the bondage of fear, and through the Spirit, give us a spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15).  Sin has left us in fear but perfect love cast our all fear (1 John 4:18).  Even though in our natural state we carry deep seated fears, our culture will not allow it to be expressed due to pride.  So…maybe these fearful moments are our way of expressing it without feeling ashamed.

(3)  We were made for adventure and risk.  Risk is at the heart of faith.  Ask Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and especially Jesus.  You can’t stay safe and go with Jesus.  Our risk taking tendencies can be redeemed through the calling of God when He gives us enough faith to answer His calling in spite of the fear it might cause.

10 Small Behaviors that Kill Your Soul

June 16, 2016

Some actions might seem small in one sense, but can have a huge impact on our lives.  What we do and do not do chisels our hearts into a certain shape.  Your soul never remains the same day to day.  Your habits are shaping who you are becoming.  Here are 10 behaviors that seem small but have made a murderous impact on my soul.  Maybe they have done the same to you.

(1) Looking down on other people.  Maybe they don’t dress or act like you.  Maybe they drive a terrible car, wear pajamas in public or just act like a fool.  Maybe all logic says that what they are doing is ridiculously ignorant.  It doesn’t matter.  When we look down on someone (or speak down about them) our souls are filled with pride and move further from the heart of Jesus.

(2) Taking a second look.  It might seem like a harmless thing to see someone who you find physically attractive and take a second look, but it’s a dangerous thing.  Sexual sin never remains stagnate.  A second look leads to a third and fourth.  You will always have to up the ante whether through pornography, affairs or some other illicit sexual behavior.  Not to mention the fact that someone made in the image of God is being objectified.  Paul tells us to “flee from sexual sin” and the second look is a great place to start.

(3) Walking by trash.  Someone told me about a pastor who purposefully left trash around the campus when interviewing potential staff to see if they picked it up while touring the campus.  If they didn’t pick up the trash then the interview was over.  OK, so maybe trash isn’t the end all.  But, the question is whether we are willing to do small acts of service.  When we stop doing those things we lose our humility and servant heart.  .

(4)  Skimping on tips.  Pinching pennies on a tip can hurt your soul.  The debate whether to leave $1 more can rage in your mind.  Meanwhile your heart can become more stingy and less generous.  This, of course, isn’t just about tipping.  It’s about generosity of all sorts.  Acts of generosity teach us to love generously and frees us from the fear or greed that imprisons us and makes us miserly.

(5) Withholding expressions of love.  Anytime that we can share love and resist it is more than a missed opportunity for the hearer to receive love.  It is a missed opportunity for your heart to become more loving.  We tend to think that love is a matter of feeling something and then expressing it.  However, the practice of expressing love creates a greater capacity for love.

(6) Worshiping labels.  Let’s be honest.  We pay more for labels.  We pay more because of the status that labels bring rather than the function the object brings.  Now, I’m not rebuking buying quality things and often certain trendy labels are popular because they are high quality.  Nothing wrong with that.  Paying for cheap objects that will quickly deteriorate can be bad stewardship.  With that said, when we get an emotional charge because of the status of a label, our hearts are that much more resistant to being humble and living low.  Low is where you will find Jesus.

(7) Holding a grudge.  This isn’t a small thing at all.  Holding a grudge makes you more imprisoned by your emotions and in greater opposition to the gracious gospel of God.

(8)  Ranting on social media.  What’s the big deal?  After all, we rant because it is just and because we are on the “right” side.  The big deal is that ranting makes you a more bitter and angry person, it makes our world more full of hate, and frankly it makes you look bad.  Research shows that we are not soda bottles who let off some steam and then are calmer.  Angry outbursts lead to higher levels of anger.  Furthermore, ranting is a direct violation of Matthew 18:15 and Ephesians 4:29.

(9)  Applying the sermon to someone else.  Elbows fly during sermons.  I know because I’m a preacher.  I have a birds-eye view.  With each elbow jab someone is saying, “this is for you” and they are essentially saying “and not so much for me.”  When we defer the Word, we no longer have ears to hear and hearts that are poised for transformation.

(10) Isolating from community.  We all need time alone.  But we all need community.  People who are struggling with depression isolate themselves and their isolation further depresses them. I’ve seen minor shifts away from community be the first step toward spiritual disengagement and a shift of heart away from God.

What are your thoughts about this list?  Does one particularly speak to you?  Is there another small act that you would add to the list?  I would love to hear from you.


How To Be a Little League Parent And Still Act Like a Christian

April 26, 2016

It’s the bottom of the last inning of the game.  Bases are loaded with one out.  We are winning 6-5.  My 9-year-old son is on the mound.  If I had a pacemaker it would have needed new batteries after the game.  I am praying, “Lord, let him come through so that he can go home feeling good about himself.”  I pray with intensity.  When is the last time I have prayed in worship or on behalf of the lost like this?  It’s hard to say.

Maybe you have been in a similar situation as a little league parent.  It’s not an easy thing to watch your child on the line and to deal with the residual stress.  Unfortunately, the little league field is a place where the worst of adult behavior is seen – even by Christians.  Furthermore, our world has made such an idol of sports that Christian parents are struggling with how to be involved with sports without it supplanting Jesus as the Lord of their life.  So, here are a few suggestions to help Christian little league parents be…well…Christian.

(1) Don’t make your kid’s performance about your self-esteem.  This is really difficult.  So easily we feel that how are kids perform says something about what kind of parent we are.  We get embarrassed and really angry when they fail.  We swell with pride when they succeed.  But this isn’t healthy.  It’s called enmeshment.  The reason parents overreact is because their self worth is at stake.  Take a breath and remember.  IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.  There’s this thing called humility which means that we don’t approach every situation in terms of how we are effected.

(2)  Don’t let your passion about sports surpass your passion about Jesus.  If your kid sees you yelling, pumping your first, clapping, and shouting out at the ball field and then stand like a statue during worship then your passion has revealed your priorities.  Your heart is in sports but not connected to Jesus.  I don’t think it’s wrong to be passionate about sports, as long as it isn’t sinful behaviors.  But your passion must be greater for God who we are called to love with all out heart, mind, soul, and body.  So sing…loud…pray with your heart, and let your affections for Jesus flow. Let your kids see that Christ is worthy of all our praise.

(3)  Monitor your investments into sports versus your investments into your kids discipleship.  How much time, money, conversation, and instruction do you give your kids about sports and how much into their relationship with Christ?  Anything that receives more than Jesus is an idol.  I don’t adhere to the idea that Christians must disconnect from the world to follow Jesus.  That is called asceticism and it can be dangerous.  We are meant to be in the world but not of the world.  With that said, if our investments in sports out rank our spiritual investments then what message are we sending our kids.  What good does it do to gain a championship but lose your own soul?

(4) See your little league as a mission field.  You will come into contact with kids and family who need the love of Jesus.  You aren’t there ultimately to win a game, you are there to take the gospel in word and deed to those who need Christ.  You sit with people and get to know them week after week.  What if those are divine appointments?

(5) Our  kids need humility as much as self-esteem.  Making our kids feel special has become our primary goal.  Sports is one of the ways this happens when our kids thrive.  We want them to be winners and to beat the competition.  What we fail to realize is that winning can have its own spiritual trap, namely pride.  Pride is the source of great destruction, personal blindness, and vulnerability to moral decay.  Basically pride will chew you up, spit you out and make you a horrible person.  If your kids are amazing athletes, their spiritual challenge is to guard their hearts from pride and to seek humility.  Pride comes before the fall.

(6)  Being right does not give you the right to act wrong.  If you are right in the wrong way it is called sin.  There’s a reason that many of the virtues and spiritual fruit the Bible lists have to do with how we treat people:  patience, gentleness, sacrifice, etc.  If you yell, threaten, and attack on the little league field you are sinning and are bringing shame to Christ.  Period.

I struggle with many of these.  My prayer is that we won’t be different people in church and on the field.  Christ wants all of us everywhere we go.  Don’t check your faith at the door…or the court…or the field.

I’m Sick of Hypocrites at Church

March 9, 2016

“I’m sick of hypocrites at church” is a sentence I am sick of hearing.  Has there ever been a more ridiculous excuse to disobey God in the history of the world?  It’s a smokescreen that carries no weight and yet Christians often accept it as a valid reason to avoid church and, even worse, to not follow Jesus.   Here are three thoughts that blow away the smoke from the “hypocrite”smokescreen:

(1) A Christian that sins is not a hypocrite.  A lot of people have tattled to me about misconduct from church members over the years.  They say, “You’ll never guess what I saw one of your members doing.”  In reality, I could give them a list of sins that I was aware of that would blow their minds.  I’m quite aware that sin is a battle in the lives of the people in our church. For goodness sakes, it’s a battle in my life.  Christians are not people who never sin.  They are people who have recognized their sinfulness to the degree that they are desperate to be rescued from it.  That’s why we need forgiveness in the first place.  Yes, we take sin seriously, but we also realize that we are a work in progress.  There are groups of people at some churches who don’t struggle with sin anymore- these groups are called cemeteries.

(2) A hypocrite is a Christian who pretends that they don’t sin.  Hypocrisy in church is an issue.  It’s a big one.  But the issue isn’t that we struggle with sin.  The smokescreen has got it all wrong.  The issue is that we don’t get honest about our struggles.  We pretend that we don’t sin.  It’s that we put on a good show and a good face.  If you are breathing, you are dealing with a struggle.  God isn’t asking for perfection, He already has that in Jesus.  He is asking for honesty so that He can sanctify our lives.

(3) God won’t accept the hypocrisy of others as an legitimate excuse for your own disobedience.  Can you imagine standing before God to explain to Him why you weren’t obedient to be in community with His people, love His word, worship His name, and do His mission?  Can you imagine responding that the reason you were disobedient was because there were too many hypocrites in the church?  Can you imagine God saying, “Well, then, I guess you’re off the hook for your rebellion and sin because of those hypocrites?  Of course not.  He will say, “It wasn’t their job to make you obedient, it was your job to obey.”

The Secret Scandals of the Andy Griffith Show

February 10, 2016

My favorite sitcoms of all time:

5.  Tie:  Everybody Loves Raymond and Fresh Prince of Bel Air

4.  Frasier

3.  Seinfeld

2.  The Office

1.  The Andy Griffith Show (black and white ones)

That’s right!  The crew from Mayberry is at the top of my list.  This show might be old, but it has been able to stand the test of time for one reason- It’s funny, really funny.  It’s still the king of comedies in my book.  Maybe I’m an old soul, but I don’t think this show has ever been topped.

Recently I have been watching Andy Griffith in order on Netflix.  I’ve never done that before.  I watch an episode every morning while I eat my breakfast.  It starts my day off right.  However, I have noticed some scandalous and quite disturbing trends on the show.  Here they are.

(1) Disappearing women.  Female characters, especially girlfriends of Barney and Andy, just vanish without any explanation.  In season one, Barney is dating Hilda May and then an episode or two later he is dating Thelma Lou.  Ellie the female druggist, and Andy’s love interest in season one (she also played on Father Knows Best), is gone without a trace as season two starts and we never hear what happened to her.  Even worse, who is Opie’s mom and what happened to her?  Apparently she is mentioned on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show that Andy appeared in.  But I need more – I need closure.  Did they move, die, or breakup with their male counterparts?  Were they abducted by aliens?

(2)  Multiple Personalities.  Many of the actors on the show play multiple characters.  Rafe Hollister is also rummage sale customer and Luke Rainier who operates an illegal still.  Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

(3)  Driver’s door on the squad car.  Why does everyone who gets in a car parked at the curb in front of the sheriff’s office get in the car through the passengers side and scoot over instead of going through the drivers door?

(4) Bye bye Barney.  I know many of you will agree with me that Barney’s departure with the arrival of color episodes was the end of an era.  The show never recovered from it fully.  It went from an outstanding show to a pretty good show.  That’s why my favorite sitcom of all times is the black and white (first 5 seasons) episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.

I feel better now that I have that off my chest.  Any other scandals stick out to you that I failed to mention?  Maybe I missed something.  I’d love to hear from you.


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