Teens Can Make it Happen

Made It Happen!
Made It Happen!

I believe in the ability God has given teenagers to make a difference today. I also believe society at large underestimates young people’s talent, initiative taking potential and general ability to make it happen.

A few weeks ago a fifteen-year old boy, who plays for a soccer team I help coach, discovered we had been placed in a tournament’s second flight. Our team was about to play for the Eastern Pennsylvania State Cup championship, had won tournaments in Virginia and Maryland besides going undefeated in winning the regions strongest fall league. Getting anything less than the top flight felt like a slap in the face. Instead of pouting or complaining about the team’s tournament status, the boy decided to make it happen. He sent an email to the tournament director and spoke with swagger as he listed the team’s accomplishments. Within the next few days the team was moved up to the top championship bracket! Not only was the team moved up, it beat three highly ranked teams to win the title that goes along nicely with its State Championship.

I could miss the point and use the rest of my lines to talk soccer, but there is a much deeper principle to be reinforced than how to appropriately kick a ball. One of the most difficult leadership characteristics to develop is initiative. Every leader needs it. Every leader trying to nurture other leaders needs trainees to want it. Ultimately, if the person being trained doesn’t have a “fire in the belly” to make it happen then action doesn’t take place.

Jesus recognized this and spoke about it in Matthew 7:7-8. The Bible reads, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.“ When we knock on doors we receive direction. When we ask questions we receive answers. God, through the life we live does not always give the answers we want or the prizes behind the doors we are looking to find. Knowing us better than we know ourselves, He provides exactly what is needed at exactly the right time so He can make it happen through us.

So the next time you see something in the world that seems out of place or just plain wrong, remember to Ask the Lord God to make it happen. Seek to make the world a better place. Knock on doors that hold opportunities for you to experience. Take the initiative. While you’re at it, don’t be surprised if God uses a teenager in the process!

Houston, We Still Have a Problem!!

Less than six hours into a nine-day journey and my daughter, Kendra, and I had already seen God at work. We landed in Houston’s International airport en route to Merida, Mexico. Houston, the famous home of NASA’s station where Apollo 13’s mission went awry bringing the famous line, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Exiting our plane we found our bearings and headed straight for the international terminal. 744px-Apollo_15_launch_medium_distanceBefore long our trek took us to a long escalator. We looked up in time to see an elderly woman crumple on the escalating steps and begin tumbling toward the bottom. Fortunately she stopped after several steps but blood gushed from the sharp steps that cut into her lower leg. Jumping several steps at a time I dashed toward the woman and was able to lift her before sustaining further damage as the escalator stopped at the top. The amazing thing . . . no one else reacted except us. The grandmother’s family didn’t react, other people didn’t react, the woman herself barely reacted! Blood was visibly seeping through her wounds and soaking her pant legs and all she could say was, “We need to catch our plane.”

I processed what we had witnessed there in Houston. I began to rationalize the other people’s lack of action. They must not have seen her fall. The woman must be in a state of shock and embarrassment from her accident. Or . . . did Houston Still Have a Problem?

Kendra and I boarded a train for our next terminal while my brain continued processing the event. We exited the train, walked a few hundred yards, and then, “BANG!!!” Startled, we twirled toward the sound finding a young Latino man pushing a Famiglia Restaurant food cart. The cart contents had tipped and slammed to the floor spilling lettuce, pepperoni, garlic dumplings, large Chocolate Chip Cookies and other food containers over the terminal floor. Kendra and I rushed to help. Two other men joined us. The five of us worked feverishly while dozens stared and scores of others turned and acted as if nothing had happened at all. Houston . . . what are you doing?!?

OK . . . after the first incident I gave people the benefit of the doubt. But after the second incident I needed to say, “Houston, WE STILL HAVE A PROBLEM!!” What has occurred in the hearts of people that we cannot stop the rush of our precious lives to help a person in need? Houston, What goes through your minds? I’m too busy. Be more careful next time! I’m not getting my hands dirty! Luke 10:25-37 is a story where Jesus describes a person being brutally beat and left for dead along side the road. Highly respected people begin to pass the person’s mangled body until a foreigner sees him, stops, and does everything he can including spending his own money to help the person be safe and healed. Houston, we don’t have to live with our problem. We can choose to open our eyes and see the needs of those around us. Houston, you have everything you need to make a difference. Houston . . . Houston . . . Hello? . . . Houston, do you read me? . . . Houston?

What Saved Mr. Banks

 

 

Saving_Mr_banks

Everyone loves a good story.  Last night my bride of nearly twenty years and I went to an evening showing of “Saving Mr. Banks”.  This movie was a fantastic story and I recommend it to every parent and youth worker.

This story portrays characters brilliantly with all their strengths and flaws. I found myself making judgments regarding whom I could relate to and which people I would like to never meet. As the story unfolds, the two lead roles, Walt Disney played by Tom Hanks and Mrs. Travers played by Emma Thompson, reveal secrets about their past that influence who they become as adults. Once the secrets are revealed I began to empathize with the pain the lead characters endured. Minor characters revealed secrets as well causing me to care about them and understand them because I knew their story.

Every person has a story. Mr. Banks, the main character in Mary Poppins written by Mrs. Traver’s, was believed to be mean and grouchy by the Disney artists. Mrs. Travers helped them see they had totally misunderstood him. They didn’t know his story.  What saved Mr. Banks was an author willing to explain his story. People usually don’t have an advocate to explain their story today. Judgments come quickly based on how people look and dress, what people say, how they act, and upon what they spend their money and free time. The challenge is that until a person’s story is known, “X doesn’t always mark the spot.” The behaviors a person reveals do not always make sense because their story is not known.

Parents and youth workers benefit by pealing away the layers and seeing the story that lies underneath their own kids or students they serve. Instead of complaining about your child’s behavior, seek to understand what is going on that is causing the behavior. Instead of being critical of the student who annoys the rest of the group, seek to understand more about that student’s story.

God directed Samuel as he was choosing a king to anoint for Israel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” The next time you interact with students, look at the heart. Take the extra step, invest in their lives, and learn their story. It saved Mr. Banks. It saved Mrs. Travers. It might just help you save the students you love and serve.

A Tale of Two Leaders

Many things impressed me about the Chinese and Korean cultures when I traveled there in October but the most impressive was age.  In the US we can travel to the earliest settlements and find a few that began in the 1600’s.  Without effort I visited landmarks dating to the 1300 and 1400’s while in Asia.  An amazing Tale of Two Leaders emerged as I walked through ancient Asian history.

First there was a culture where the emperor was seen as a God.  The people went to great lengths and exorbitant expense to meet his every need.  The emperor desired to have a summer get away.  The people went to work and developed an amazing complex on hundreds of acres of land.  No expense was spared.  The longest covered walkway in the world was built with impressive paintings on each beam. The emperor’s wife decided she wanted to be able to have the feeling of shopping in a normal market place.  So the people built an entire market place where the stores could be staffed with products and storeowners. While people were starving in the countryside a boat was built out of stone and marble that would never be able to float.  The emperor’s wife wanted it so questions were not asked.

Contrast this tale from history with that of another land.  Here a summer palace was also built with pavilions and beautiful gardens where people could relax and enjoy nature.  At one section of the garden the tour came to a place where the emperor would grow rice every year.  The king would do the planting, weeding and all the care of his small rice field.  The king didn’t need to do this.  He had all the rice and riches he could have ever wanted.  His reason for growing the rice field and caring for it himself was because of his people.  This culture was mostly agrarian meaning most people survived through farming.  The emperor grew rice because he wanted to know what his people were experiencing.  If his rice wasn’t growing in his garden then the people of his empire were hurting.

Effective leaders understand the needs of the people they serve. As youth workers, pastors, parents, and volunteer ministry leaders do you truly recognize the needs of those around you?  Consider the time Jesus invested with his disciples and how He challenged them by understanding their world.  He did this when he encouraged them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, when he challenged them to feed a crowd of at least five thousand, and when he told them to go forth two by two.  Jesus never detached Himself from the needs of the people He served.

Let’s learn from the tale of two leaders and more importantly from the life of Jesus Christ.  If you are a youth reaching out to other youth, understand their needs.  If you are an adult reaching other adults or reaching youth, understand their world.  Let’s invest ourselves in understanding the people God has given us to serve, and for God’s glory, may we impact their lives.

Unfiltered

Unfiltered! The air was so thick I could taste it.  Yesterday as I walked Beijing’s streets the air quality was rated 321.  Consider what the “air quality” rating is for your spiritual life?  In the US any rating above forty breaks the law and throws people into utter panic.  Unfortunately, industry grew so fast in China’s capital that the concern was for growth and boosting the economy without concern for the inevitable environmental results.  Unfiltered!  It is believed that the long-term health results for these people will be devastating.beijing smog

Let’s consider the long-term result of an unfiltered spiritual life.  Every day thousands of messages thrust themselves onto the screens, pages and billboards of our lives.  It is virtually impossible to avoid the visual traps the world daily sets to snare our hearts and minds pulling them toward deeper depravity.  Though these traps are waiting to snatch our attention and pollute our souls we do not have to choose an unfiltered life.  The importance of beginning each day with reading God’s Word and praying to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has never been as critical.  This practice does not eliminate the pollutants waiting to impact our spiritual lungs, but it gives us a filter through which to bring protection.

Consider whether you need to be cleansed. What pollutants have your unfiltered life allowed to build inside of you? What steps can you take toward purity?  How can you follow God’s command written by Peter in 1 Peter 1:16 to “be holy because I am holy” while reducing the unfiltered days that lie ahead?

I’ve enjoyed my time in China. I have learned a great deal spiritually as well as numerous leadership lessons, but I am eager to return to air that will treat my body more kindly.

Overcomers

Overcomers

            You face challenges each day.  They vary greatly in magnitude, but each day you will face some kind of challenge.  Cultivate a leadership atmosphere in your life with the teens you lead at your church or home by seeing these challenges as opportunities.

On Saturday September 20th terrorists stormed Nairobi, Kenya’s Westgate Mall.  This attraction, popular with foreign residents, became a death trap.  Non-Muslims were commanded to stay while Muslims fled the danger zone.  Days later the hostage situation is over.  One hundred thirty-seven lay dead and dozens of others are wounded.  How should a leader respond?  How can we be overcomers in a world filled with evil?

I walked out of my office after I heard about the incident in Nairobi.  My wife, Jen, was teaching history to our younger two children.  They just happened to be discussing the Suez Canal and the ongoing conflicts happening in the Middle East.  Our 11 year old innocently asked, “Daddy, why are there conflicts there?” My response, “Two words- Jesus and Mohammed.”  I then explained my response and unpacked what had just happened in the Westgate Mall.  Our eight year old who is usually pretty gentle and mild mannered wrinkled up his face and said, “I hate Muslims!”  This provided a great opportunity to talk with him and his sister about being overcomers.  First I helped him understand how we shouldn’t be angry at a whole group of people just because a few of them did something evil.  Second, I explained how evil actions make us want to hate people, but hate isn’t the reaction that honors God.  In fact, God encourages us to do exactly the opposite.  Luke 6:27-28 says “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Romans 12:21 provides this encouragement, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I sat down next to my son, put my arm around him and explained (in a way he could understand) how the image of God is carried in every person.  We can hate a person’s actions, but we must love the person no matter how difficult that step may be.  Hating anyone causes us to grow distant from God because we hate something He created.  I prayed with my son that God would help us both treat all people with love, especially our enemies.  My daily plan did not include cultivating an attitude of godly leadership in my kids, but I seized the teachable moment so they could understand God’s Word provides specific direction for people facing evil.

Consider your reaction toward evil.  You have faced evil in your home, at work, in your community, and especially through the media’s depiction of what is happening around the world.  How have you overcome evil in your heart?  How have you modeled an attitude for those around you that Christians overcome evil with good? What actions have you taken?  Are you an Overcomer when the unexpected ruins your day’s perfect plans?

Every youth worker’s and parent’s i-pod and phone should include the new release from Mandisa’s most recent album.  The album title and the song I’m recommending have the same name, Overcomer. When you face evil, remember Romans 12:21 and play this song.  When youth you serve face challenges and appear ready to break, read them Romans 12:21 and play them this song.  On your journey, you will face evil and hardship.  Be ready.  You’re an overcomer!

Dangerous Beauty

Dangerous Beauty

Two hikers experienced Dangerous Beauty last week then they were mauled by a sow grizzly bear.  Earlier this summer my family hiked some of these same trails in Wyoming’s beautiful national park.  As I read the article about the two unfortunate victims I was taken back to Yellowstone and the wildlife we encountered.  Bears of any kind are stunningly beautiful and frighteningly dangerous.  While driving on a mountain road a black bear sauntered in front of our vehicle.  A few minutes later we pulled into a parking lot where a female was flailing her arms and pointing down the mountain to another bear.  I walked over a small ridge to tell others about this Dangerous Beauty when someone else saw a bear.  I figured the one I had seen, minutes before, must have walked around the mountain.  The group stood on a rail fence trying to get a better look.  I could not spot the bear.  Frustrated, I asked the others and I was the only one who couldn’t find it.  Figrizzly bearnally, a man spoke, “You’re looking too far down the hill.  It’s right there.”  Much to my amazement I was standing 25 feet from the bear!  I quickly moved to the car!

I missed something beautiful but dangerous even though it was right in front of me!  I was working as hard as I could to see it, but it took the eyes of another to point my attention toward its presence.  This example could be applied in two ways.  The first application is sin.  Satan excels at making sin attractive.  Read Genesis 3; Eve and then Adam succumb to his temptation.  The problem is other people’s sin appears large and scary to us but our own sin escapes our attention.  Paul calls out in Roman’s 7 for this very reason, “Why do I do the things I do not want to do?”

The second application is leadership choices.  I may think I am viewing a situation clearly.  What I am really seeing is Dangerous Beauty unless I move around and see things from different perspectives.  Trusting my limited vantage point places me, and those I serve, in danger.

Excellent leaders surround themselves with eyes capable of seeing Dangerous Beauty before it is picked, plucked, harvested, or harnessed.  Whether it is sinful choices or ill-informed decisions, accountability protects leaders from Dangerous Beauty’s wrath.  God’s Word tells us in the book of Proverbs how iron sharpens iron and in Hebrews how we should not give up meeting together.  Jesus regularly hung out with his disciples so they could learn about life from Him.  Consider the accountability you have built into your own life and be on the look out for Dangerous Beauty . . . it is closer than you think!

 

 

 

A Voice to Hear and Obey

YUM 2013

The Coryell Clan recently fulfilled one of the items on its “Bucket List.”  Jen and I identified a few things we wanted to do with our four kids before they begin leaving the nest in a few years.  One of the more challenging items was a western US trip including a stop in the Yellowstone and Teton National Parks.  Following hours of driving across our great nation we arrived in the Tetons.

            Several people had given advice regarding what to see and where to go in this beautiful park.  Unfortunately, our time and the kid’s energy were limited so we needed to hear and obey some expert advice.  We pulled the family van into the Jackson Hole visitor center just south of the Tetons.  Walking inside I found a young man working for the chamber of commerce.  I explained our situation including the time we had available and energy the family had left.   We had hiked 10 and 7 miles on the previous days respectively.  The man, who had been a ranger for seven years in this park, gave us his insight and several maps to guide our way.

            All of us receive advice, some times multiple times a day.  Often this advice is helpful. On a few rare occasions the advice we are given is amazing, life altering insight.  The young man’s advice was in this category.  We asked to see scenic non-crowded sites.  We saw lakes reflecting mountains, 360-degree views, and enjoyed hikes the whole family could complete with the strength that remained.  We asked for advice on where to see wildlife.  By the day’s end we encountered two moose, three black bears, and two grizzlies.

            We listened to stories many people shared about their trek through the Tetons.  Many were disappointed by their experience because they didn’t hear and obey an expert voice.

            Christian Endeavor’s heart is helping youth daily hear and obey God’s voice.  God is the ultimate expert ranger.  He not only created the world but also allowed His Son to take on flesh and walk upon it.  Guiding people toward hearing and obeying God’s voice requires two steps.  The first step is encouraging daily scripture reading.    The Coryell Clan received amazing advice from the man at the visitor center.  This provided everything we needed to have a fruitful experience.  God speaks to His children through His written Word, the Bible, providing a fruitful life for those who plug into His advice.

            The second step is obeying.  We could have listened to the ex-ranger’s advice and ignored most of what he said.  Instead, we trusted his insight, experienced amazing sites, wildlife, and even an incredibly kid-friendly dinner with a pile of nachos a foot high!  Youth and adults need to daily hear God’s voice speaking through the Bible and then obey what we hear Him telling us to do.  Isaiah 30:21 reads, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”  Wayne Grudem explains in his Systematic Theology, “Day after Day, year after year, Christians find that the words of the Bible are indeed the words of God speaking to them with an authority, a power, and a persuasiveness that no other writings possess.” Allow youth in your church to hear and obey God’s voice.

Seek

Glance at your favorite news site and you’ll come face to face with a human obsession, SEEKING!  That is right, seeking.    As I scrolled through the news on one small screen people were seeking information in two court cases, seeking a ship’s location lost in Lake Michigan, seeking championships in several sports, and finally, a grand search for health and beauty.  We are obsessed with seeking!

News sources know in the Internet world they have a millisecond to capture a viewer’s attention.  A person’s very presence logging onto a news site represents a search, a search for what is happening in the world.  But news sources know connecting people with a deeper search inside their mind causes them to linger on their site.

Humanities obsession with seeking propels men and women toward incredible joys or deep depravity.  Jesus’ words recording in Matthew 7:7-8 encourage us, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  A person who seeks depravity, will certainly find it.  A person knocking on the door of things yielding temporary fame or victory will find him or herself wanting more in the near future.

Pause and consider what you have been seeking.  Is it beauty, health, fame, victory, financial security, justice, freedom?  Pause again.  Now consider a question from Oswald Chambers in his brilliant “old school” devotional “My Utmost for His Highest.”  He asks, “Have you ever sought God with your whole heart?”

This question cuts to the heart.  I love God.  I’ve tried to honor and serve Him.  I’ve prayed; I have read my Bible almost every single day of the past several decades.  I’ve even had patterns of fasting, journaling, and sitting in contemplative silence . . . but have I ever sought God with my whole heart?

The second half of Chamber’s sentence may require pulling out a dictionary, but when understood the sentence brings stark conviction.

Chamber’s wrote, “Have you ever sought God with your whole heart or have you only given a languid cry to Him after a twinge of moral neuralgia?”  I pondered that statement and recognized too often I seek God because I know I should.  I know it is the right thing to do.  Sometimes love acts that way.  Love is commitment and because I love God I commit to daily have time meeting with Him. But Chambers challenges our seeking to go far beyond this.  He challenges us to seek Him with our “whole heart!”

As you have read these thoughts consider three steps:

Step 1:  Take a look at your life.  Understanding your thoughts, actions, and motivations, what are you seeking with your whole heart?

Step 2:  Consider how you would answer Chamber’s question- “Have you ever sought God with your whole heart or have you only given a languid cry to Him after a twinge of moral neuralgia?”

Step 3:  Visualize what seeking God with your whole heart looks like.  Determine the first step you need to take to move in that direction.  Seek God, and take the step!

Uncertainty

Uncertainty

Unexpected devastation struck the people of Moore, Oklahoma leaving them with pains of uncertainty.  Tornadoes rained down from heaven wiping out people and the possessions they held dear.  Read on to reflect on this tragedy, the hope we find in Christ, and the optimism we discover in knowing Youth can make a difference in uncertain times.

I’ve never lived in the mid-West.  The closest I’ve come to tornado chasing is having a youth group student do a summer internship-studying twisters across the US heartland.  I’m certain you won’t catch me doing that!  One time a tornado touched down in my parent’s woods leveling everything in a one hundred yard path.  I remember how the plant life bowed in the same direction.  The twister flattened every simple weed and complex tree. I stared in awe at the awesome power unleashed upon the innocent forest.

Moore’s tornado was estimated to be two miles wide.  Two miles wide! My brain went back to that childhood scene when I saw what 100 yards of devastation looked like . . . two miles wide!  Uncertainty fills people as they grapple with what they experienced.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 blasts away uncertainty explaining we grieve with hope unlike those who grieve without hope in Christ.  It is common to ask why natural disasters occur.  We can develop some pretty strong theological statements to provide an answer.  These statements deal with the entrance of sin and death into the world through Adam’s sin, but the pain experienced through tragedy is still raw and very real. Stop and think about the people of Moore, Oklahoma.  What plans did they have for the rest of the day, May 21, 2013? How about the next week, month or year?  It is uncertain how the people will piece their devastated lives back together.  What remains certain is that God who masters the wind and the waves, is also master of the tornado.  We’ll never know why He allowed this event to happen.  We can watch for the good He will bring out of tragedy.

I have had the chance to stare at hundreds of teenager’s lives.  Many of them seemed steeped in uncertainty.  Yet God did miraculous deeds through their lives as they fully devoted themselves to Christ and His Church.  One teen comes to mind who in 8th grade was so disruptive in Sunday school his teachers were considering kicking him out.  They came to me in desperation.  I didn’t know what to do with him, so we started getting together.  We did everything from watch field hockey games to play laser tag.  Eventually, God began to break through.  This boy eventually became the leader of the youth ministry and led many youth to Christ through his verbal witness.

I don’t know how and I certainly don’t know why God chooses to work this way, but God consistently does amazing work during the moments when our lives are unsettled and uncertain.

Christian Endeavor is a tool God uses to help bring certainty to churches with uncertain discipleship efforts. CE raises the commitment bar, provides excitement, and challenge through leadership opportunities.  Our time on this earth is short, I’m certain of that! Be a catalyst to unleash God’s power through creative youth genius.  Then watch time and time again as God brings something amazingly beautiful from the land of uncertainty.