Grace Encounters: Go With the Flow!

Last post I examined VGS, Vanishing Grace Syndrome. This malady masquerades in many forms but can be boiled down to believing the world’s inhabitants exist to do whatever they want as long as they meet “My” personal needs 24/7/365, and are quick to forgive “Me” whenever “I” fall short of their expectations. The next step into the grace foray plunges us into an ocean with two currents. Reconnect with Crash, the Sea Turtle from Finding Nemo. He understood how to Go with the Flow. We need to do the same in order to have more godly Grace Encounters.

The first current represents the grace people willingly pour out toward others. Jesus masterfully shares grace to the woman He meets at the well in John 4, to the mother who lost her child in Luke 7 and to the friends as well as the paralytic in Mark 2 to name a few. I quickly recall times I expressed grace: to a woman who needed help lugging her suitcase up a long stair case when the airport escalator broke down, to assisting a family moving its luggage with several young children. However, I also quickly recall my anger at less than gifted drivers and people who lack self-awareness with how they walk and talk in public. We are all a work in progress in the extending grace area. As challenging as this is, the second current presents even greater going with the flow struggles.

Current two depicts the grace that flows toward us. I want to begin this section by making a bold statement. This is not found in the Bible. In fact I encourage you to take this statement and hold it up against Scripture. Let God speak to you about whether or not you believe I am speaking truth. Here it is . . . standing in the way of people comprehending and living out the full extent of God’s grace is the ability they have to accept grace from people and themselves.  In brief, can you truly grasp God’s grace if you cannot give yourself grace for your shortcomings or the faults others point out to you? People catch God’s glimpses. This causes them to embrace Him as Savior. Knowing Him as Lord, however, involves a deeper surrendering. Think about the following phrase- “You are your own worst enemy.” Sound familiar?

Benefits flow from having an assiduous work ethic, but what happens when tasks are not completed? What internal thoughts emerge when others or you question your gifts, talents, and appearance? Scripture explains we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we do not allow ourselves to receive grace we create a barrier to loving ourselves. This barrier begins to make it difficult to believe we are worthy of receiving anyone’s grace. Begin to see how intimacy with God lies further down a path than we can walk IF we cannot receive grace from others or extend it to ourselves.

Reflect on what God sees and how He emotionally responds when He thinks about you. Add to this reflection the way you look at yourself and how you perceive others. Allow God to work in your heart bringing you to a place where grace can truly flow. Then Go With That Flow!

Rediscovering Grace

Finding agreement points across large cultural demographics requires keen judgment today. A verse almost every human being benefits from remembering is Luke 6:41, “Why do you look at the speak of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” We need more Grace! We see everything wrong with other people but want a free pass every time we fall short. Grace is vanishing from society. Absent from our homes, schools, and work environments; athletic arenas, and roadways; grace has disappeared! (The next several posts will look at rediscovering grace in these places.)

Recently a long-time youth worker friend described his youth group challenge. He found success for several years growing teen disciples by guiding them through the Christian Endeavor tenets, specifically the pledge and practices. These teens graduated and a new student core emerged. About twenty teens normally appear at the church’s weekly youth gathering. He diligently instructed the teens on the C.E. pledge and practices. This group’s defeated reaction toward the pledge over months of training confused him. Why was something so successful with one group having trouble getting off the ground with new students. As I asked questions about the teens, I learned the previous group had been primarily from families connected to the church. Both mother and father lived in most of their homes. Eighteen of the twenty new teens came from divorced homes who were also not “church kids” but came from the surrounding community.

After processing this we realized grace was one reason the C.E. approach stalled. Grace was missing from the new student equation! The previous teens heard the C.E. practices “Pray, Study, Serve, Share, Worship” and accepted a challenge to grow closer to God. The new teens heard the same words and recoiled feeling weighted down by authority and unrealistic expectations. In essence, the first group saw opportunity where the second group experienced what I am calling the vanishing grace syndrome (VGS). The C.E. practices are only what God asks of all believers, so how do we prepare youth for lives as Christ’s disciples?

Traditional youth ministry practices use events and periodic gospel presentations to reach teenagers. Teens with VGS may attend events and listen to “the sinner’s prayer”, but what they are really longing for is authentic relationships over time. They need to absorb the gospel bit by bit gradually moving toward a place where they are prepared to hear more. This will be a place where they are encouraged to “Pray, Study, Serve, Share, and Worship.” Instead of recoiling from something that feels legalistic and wreaking with authoritative overtones, they will embrace a path toward intimacy with the God they are beginning to know.

So in the end youth workers, parents and pastors: reaching many VGS teens (and increasingly many adults are in this camp as well) requires patiently modeling the very grace people do not understand. Then what seems to have vanished, through Holy Spirit power, may become visible to them.

By the way, Christian Endeavor begins its work on the new resource “Grace Encounters” in 2017. Helping people guide VGS teens to embrace grace and take steps toward intimacy with Christ.

20 Seconds at the Gym . . .

Early last week two muscle massed men were working out at the community gym. One man said to the other, “Hey, I just went to that huge church (actually said the name of a local mega-church). It was like a movie theater! Lights, big screens, loud music . . . it had everything except a smoke machine.” Second man, “Yeah, that is better than all the old stuff that doesn’t make any sense. You know, when that church building was built, I was really hoping it would be a movie theater.”

It is amazing how listening to people for twenty seconds can provide a different perspective. I think it is fantastic that across God’s church there is room for all kinds of faith expressions. Some of these expressions are steeped in tradition with robes, choirs, candles and organs. Others are more modern with video projectors, lighted stages, bands, and movie theater stadium seating. Two things make these forms work. First is relationships. Organs yesterday, electric guitars today, who knows what the instrument of choice will be in the future.  One thing is certain; it will change!! When it changes, the church will remain in tact through the connections people build with one another. One reason Christian Endeavor works is because this youth discipleship process emphasizes relationships. Relationships are built between adults who coach youth in ministry tasks. Relationships are emphasized through students regularly gathering. Relationship with God is developed through emphasizing the C.E. Practices- Pray, Study, Serve, Share, Worship. Relationships make the church! There has never been a church without a relationship; at least two people are always required!

The second thing making churches work is God’s Word, the Bible. Stop following the Bible’s teaching, or merely suggest the Bible is a book of stories, and uncontrollable conflict ensues. Suddenly you have people ignoring verses that either don’t make sense, challenge them too much, or just disagree with the way people want to live. This is life by chaos. Unity in this environment is impossible. Each person governs life by their own rules. Imagine a gym where every person tried to grab the same set of dumbbells at the same time all claiming equal rights in the moment. Chaos! A church committed to Biblical truth is capable of communion, connection, and calm in the midst of life’s chaos. Teenagers do not see this kind of peace as they look at society at large. They see confusion. They see a world without truth. What we can model to the two men at the gym as well as women in the park and children at the playground is that we, the followers of Christ, have peace. Our peace comes from knowing the Truth. Psalm 119:32 reads, “I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.” Freedom comes from following truth. Finding relationship in Christ with other followers of that truth is what makes a church. It is a church that all the music, lights, and latest technology will never ever equal.

3 Reasons Your Church Needs Christian Endeavor: Part 3 of 3

Remember throughout this post- “You cannot be more relevant than youth!”  An entire generation has grown up with a “native” mentality when it comes to terms like Smart phones. Pretty soon the term “smart” won’t be necessary. Teens won’t understand that phones were ever “stupid”! Phones, tablets, the latest apps and other tech break throughs seem to be introduced quicker than the average adult can track. It takes a heroic effort by parents and care givers to be remotely in touch let alone relevant. It is a bold statement for Christian Endeavor to say it is Simple, Biblical, and RELEVANT. There are two reasons why C.E. makes this claim.

First, C.E. integrates the attitudes, opinions and efforts of youth into their discipleship journey. You cannot be more relevant than youth! C.E. helps youth serve. Service is specifically channeled through teens being trained to develop and carry out the church’s youth ministry. Adults need to take on an equipping mindset instead of an “its just easier for us to do it” mindset in order to do this. Look at the picture attached above. Inside the mind of most teens is a picture of clueless and out of touch adults. The pictures I’m describing are not always valid but they encompass the true feeling teens have toward many adults. Remember, you cannot be more relevant than youth! Having youth involved with planning and preparation as one component of their discipleship journey allows C.E. youth ministries to be effective while also being relevant.

Second, C.E. provides a structure where adults and youth build meaningful relationships. Adult coaches have the opportunity to get to know youth in the midst of guiding them. You probably know some adults that form relationships with teens easily. These people are rare. Most adults need help. C.E. provides adults a starting point. Teens plan events, chart attendance patterns, develop schedules, teach, lead groups in prayer, all as the watchful eye of an adult coach walks beside them. Adults that coach youth effectively make sure they invest time getting to know the youth outside of the youth ministry tasks. I did this as a youth worker but I also did it as a youth sports coach. Investing time outside of tasks takes relationships deeper. C.E. creates a structure making it easier for teen/adult relationships to be fostered. Relationships are pivotal as 1 Thessalonians 2:8 reminds us, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”

C.E. harnesses the relevance of youth and combines it with meaningful adult relationship. C.E. is Simple, Biblical, and Relevant . . . and is ready to help you and your church build God’s Kingdom!

3 Reasons Your Church Needs Christian Endeavor: Part 2 of 3

Last Post I talked about three reasons why your church needs Christian Endeavor for its youth ministry: It is Simple, Biblical and Relevant. Then I explained how C.E. is Simple. This post focuses on how C.E. is Biblical.

Puppies need to learn boundaries. Boundaries help them know where they can roam, eat, bark and go to the bathroom. Puppies are cute, cuddly and make people smile. However, over time they are not that much fun to have around if they have not been taught appropriate boundaries.

C.E. provides Biblical boundaries for how teens should live out their faith (Pledge and Practices), how youth ministries should function (Principles and Priorities) and how the overall church should think (Position). The church is an incredible gift from God. So many lives are being touched for Christ through the organism the Holy Spirit breathed into life so many years ago. C.E. comes alongside the church to inspire, equip and encourage its youth ministry development. The end result is nurturing an atmosphere over time where youth can be developed into Christ-centered leaders. All of these areas can be studied with better detail by going to, clicking on “Get Started” and reading through the C.E. Quick Start Manual that will be electronically sent to you. May God guide you and your ministry with youth for God’s glory.




3 Reasons Your Church Needs Christian Endeavor: Part 1 of 3

There are three reasons why your church needs Christian Endeavor. I’ll explain one in each of the next three posts. Explaining the first reason begins with three letters . . . Meh! I was introduced to this word by the older of my two lovely daughters. She was home on break, slept till Noon, then staggered downstairs looking like America’s Got Talent had a dance party in her hair. I looked at my bedraggled offspring and asked how she was doing. Her response? “Meh.” (Abrupt guttural reptilian tone.) Never had three letters in one monotonous syllable communicated such heartfelt meaning.  She could have used several sentences to communicate how she felt. Instead she just said, “Meh.”

Meh is a simple word for a simple time. It simply communicates disdain, displeasure and general feelings of “get out of my face and stop smiling you ignorant, Nerf brain.” Our culture in all its complexity evidenced in technology, academic advancements and medical breakthroughs is screaming for simplicity. People have filled the open slivers in their schedules with texts, Smart phone app use, and desperate attempts at remembering everything their minds cannot recall because of life’s clutter. The drastic result of our advanced society? “Meh!!!” (Said with a sustained, almost melodious belching sound.)

Christian Endeavor started as a tool churches could use to have a simple way to introduce young people to Christ and give them clear guidance to grow as His disciple. As culture has become more complex, churches are saying, “Meh!!” to the student ministry models that require adults to do all the work while teens sit on the sideline. Churches are embracing a structure that gives them direction with simplicity. The Gospel is simple, “God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Our method to reach students for Christ should be simple as well. If three letters are describing how you are feeling about life, your schedule or the youth ministry at your church . . . stop saying MEH!!!!! (This time use a rough higher pitch with sound reminiscent of your great grandmother calling you for dinner) Instead, embrace Christian Endeavor. Three words describe this ministry approach. You will read about words two and three in my next two posts. Today I leave you with the first word describing C.E. In a world of Meh!, Christian Endeavor is Simple.

The Force Awakens!!

The Force Awakens!! OK, I loved Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens. Yes, it drew numerous parallels from previous Star Wars installments, but it was incredible story telling and masterful character development. I recently spoke at a Christian high school and over half of the 800 students had already seen the film. Many of them had watched the movie more than once after less than three weeks at the box office. Since students are seeing this film; hopefully parents, care givers, youth workers and those involved with youth discipleship have also been in theaters to see what this movie has to say about The Force Awakening in today’s generation.

My focus is on the very last scene. (Spoiler alert if you have not yet seen the movie!!) Luke Skywalker is finally found on what appears to be a deserted island in a remote corner of the galaxy. Luke ran away. Why would he run away? He was a hero that saved the Republic (the good guys!). He was the last remaining Jedi and arguably the most powerful person standing on the side of the Light. The movie explains why he ran away. He ran away because he was training up the next Jedi generation when one of his trainees turned on him. Luke ran! He didn’t run because of his failure. He didn’t run because of disbelief in his abilities. Discouragement made him run.

As we begin a new calendar year, have you “run away”? If so, it is time for God’s “Force” to awaken inside of you. I watched Star Wars with one of my best friends yesterday. He mentioned how we can wake up one morning and find ourselves on a deserted island like Luke Skywalker; discouraged, searching for meaning and purpose in our daily lives. I have found myself at this same place just as many youth workers, parents and students have.

Turning to 1 Kings 18 and 19 we read how Elijiah faced the prophets of Baal. He watched God miraculously rain fire from heaven showing His incalculable power. Then Elijiah led those faithful to God in slaughtering the pagan priests as Israel’s people watched. One would expect Elijiah to do his own version of a touchdown dance (or Wokie shuffle), instead, HE RUNS AWAY!!! Queen Jezebel threatens Elijiah and so he takes off running! On the surface this doesn’t make any sense. Elijiah just watched God do the unthinkable in front of thousands of people. Then he runs because a cranky witch of a woman threatens him. God gives Elijiah just enough time to wallow in his fatigue, loneliness and discouragement before revealing Himself. Elijiah’s true force awakens as he is reconnected, not with his own powers and abilities, but with the boundless power God wields through the life of those who are fully committed to Him.

Maybe you have run away. Maybe you know talented and gifted people who have turned into hermits on their own deserted islands. Let the power of the Holy Spirit be the force that awakens inside of you. Let him work in and through you to bring courage and strength from the Lord to others as well. This, my friends, will be a Force worth Awakening!!





Selfie Stuck: Part 5 of 5

I believe that our culture is “Selfie Stuck.” People are increasingly moving themselves and their interests to the center of their world. Those who choose to follow Christ have been swept along with the cultural current. As believers in Christ swim up the culture’s river, hundreds of daily messages compete to pull them toward deeper selfishness. During the last four posts the focus has been to Pray (part 1), Study (part 2), Serve (part 3) and Share (part 4). Today the focus turns to Worship.

Our culture worships every single day. The nature of being culturally “selfie-stuck” demonstrates this point. When a person worships something, full devotion and admiration is given to the object being worshiped. A survey by the Huffington Post in November 2014 found that the cosmetics industry brings in $55 billion annually. June 2013 from the same source found $671 is being spent per parent per child for youth sports. This amounts to a $5 billion industry. We could continue this discussion and scrutinize everything from house wares to pet products. The point is that we know all about worship in our culture. We demonstrate worship by placing our most valued possessions on an altar daily. We give our time, talents and treasure to the things receiving our devotion. It is so easy to get sucked into a place where we believe in God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit- but give all we value to lesser “gods”.

Psalm 95 beckons for people to worship. Verses 2-3 read, “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.” As this year comes to a close, I encourage you to join me in the following worship challenge. Pull out your calendar and pull up your bank statement (hard copy or online). Imagine you are an outside person studying these two documents. What would the person say that you worship? You will try to justify your choices in several ways. Before you allow this to happen, ask God to speak to you. In my opinion it isn’t dishonoring God to buy cosmetics or pay for youth sports, but ask yourself where your heart lies. What are you quicker to put on your calendar? What will you more quickly spend money upon? Worship regularly with a group of people who continually challenge you to invest your life and yourself in God.

Selfie Stuck: Part 4 of 5

We live in one of the most sharing cultures the world has even known. Through the internet’s expansive reach people share about themselves, their kids, their friends, their hobbies, their emotions, their hopes, their dreams, their grief stricken challenges and even item’s on their bucket list (I saw one person post the picture you see above for a resort in Finland with glass igloos so tourists can watch the Northern Lights). We are incredible at sharing information as long as it is related to “ME”. Unfortunately, we are not as gifted at sharing what is most important.

Our “Selfie Stuck” culture has reached new limits of sharing personal information in an impersonal way. We are challenged when it comes to sharing matters of substance to truly meet other people’s needs. Most items one sees on Facebook, reads on Twitter or views on Instagram have not been posted for your personal edification. It is the rare post that is truly shared for you. Most often, social media allows people a window to see into the life of the person who posted.

Dangerously this carries into face-to-face interaction. People must be cautious to monitor how significant time invested with social media reprograms the brain. Christians are charged with the important task of “CARING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK”, what people think about them, what people think about their actions and attitudes, and what people think happens after they die. So as Social Media has many fantastic benefits; it can also lull people into complacency. Be careful not to watch for the latest post on what people are doing, watching, or saying without moving any deeper toward helping people process life’s most important questions.

Philemon 6 reads, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” We need to have as much concern to share our faith as we do to tell the world on social media our child has just made the honor roll at Podunk Middle School in Jabip, Kansas. Do you believe our culture is Selfie Stuck? If you answer “Yes”, consider sharing the only information that helps Selfie Stuck people; information from the one who says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Share about Christ, His life, His death and His desire for all people to know Him. Share about Him with a broken world focused on sharing self but needing a Savior.

(Part Four of the series relating to the Christian Endeavor practices- Pray, Study, Serve, Share, Worship.)

Selfie Stuck: Part 3 of 5


Recently I wrote about Prayer (Part 1) and Study (Part 2), two critical practices of the Christian life and Youth Discipleship. Chewbacca provides a model for the third practice, Serve. You may wonder how an overgrown fur ball who doubles as a warrior and Mr. Fix-it demonstrates this. For those of you disconnected from the Star Wars cultural saga and the release of the epic journey’s 7th installment December 2015, Chewbacca is a Wookiee and Han Solo’s best friend. Han happens to be the character who demonstrates everything in attitude that Christians hope to avoid except for courage and leadership. Han is self-seeking, greedy, rude and manipulative. Chewbacca, on the other hand, models loyalty, hard work, compassion (though he does have a nasty temper) and service.

How could any creature serve alongside an ego like Han Solo? How are we supposed to serve alongside imperfect people who consistently fall short? How can anyone serve alongside us? How are we supposed to be part of churches that constantly show their faults? And Why is it worth it? It is worth it to us because we know the story’s ending! Many people would like to read ahead and know how the upcoming Star Wars movie ends. We have that advantage. We are told several places in the Bible that Jesus is returning. When He returns, He is coming for His church . . . and His church will appear to Him like a spotless bride or one beautifully dressed (Revelations 21:2). Incredible how what appears significantly flawed to us will one day be accepted with a vision of perfection.

God sees immeasurable value and worth in the church. Yes, it has flaws, but it is the vehicle God chose to take the saving message of Jesus Christ to a broken world. Church youth ministry allows young people to grow into understanding how God sees them by allowing them to exercise service in the student ministry, church and beyond. It starts with the youth ministry (or even the children’s ministry if the church is bold enough). Find the students willing to make a commitment pledge then gradually begin turning over the keys. Allow them to learn how the student ministry works. Before long, with proper coaching, they can be running the show. They will be learning skills they can use in ministry for their lifetime while having their attitude shaped for Service. Imagine if Chewbacca sat and never did anything valuable with his talents. I’m not sure how the next movie will go, but look for Chewbacca. See if his servant’s attitude can still be seen on the Big Screen.

 (Part Three of the series relating to the Christian Endeavor practices- Pray, Study, Serve, Share, Worship.)