Troop Carrier or Luxury Liner?

In his book Radical, David Platt writes:

In the late 1940s, the United States government . . . construct[ed] an 80 million dollar troop carrier for the navy. The purpose was to design a ship that could speedily carry fifteen thousand troops during times of war. By 1952, construction on the SS United States was complete. The ship could travel at forty-four knots (about fifty-one miles per hour), and she could steam ten thousand miles without stopping for fuel or supplies. She could outrun any other ship and travel non-stop anywhere in the world in less than ten days. The SS United States was the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world.

The only catch is, she never carried troops. At least not in any official capacity. . .

Instead the SS United States became a luxury liner for presidents, heads of state, and a variety of other celebrities who traveled on her during her seventeen years of service. As a luxury liner, she couldn’t carry fifteen thousand people. Instead she could house just under two thousand passengers. Those passengers could enjoy the luxuries of 695 staterooms, 4 dining salons, 3 bars, 2 theaters, 5 acres of open deck with a heated pool, 19 elevators, and the comfort of the world’s first fully air-conditioned passenger ship. Instead of a vessel used for battle during wartime, the SS United States became a means of indulgence for wealthy patrons who desired to coast peacefully across the Atlantic.

Things look radically different on a luxury liner than they do on a troop carrier. The faces of soldiers preparing for battle and those of patrons enjoying their bonbons are radically different. The conservation of resources on a troop carrier contrasts sharply with the opulence that characterizes the luxury liner. And the pace at which the troop carrier moves is by necessity much faster than that of the luxury liner. After all, the troop carrier has an urgent task to accomplish; the luxury liner, on the other hand, is free to casually enjoy the ship.

The SS United States = The American church

Unfortunately, most churches in America resemble the luxury liner. Although God designed us to carry soldiers into battle, we’ve become more interested our own comforts during the journey – so much so that we’ve actually quit moving toward the battle! When you attend a service at the average church in America, you typically hear more about the programs/amenities you can find on the ship than you do about the mission which is ahead. I guess it is what they say it is: a service. Like the staff on a cruise ship, the church is there trying to serve it’s patrons/members. Unfortunately, those members are there selfishly “getting fed” and consuming those services when they should be thinking in terms of being transformed/trained by the Gospel so they can accomplish the mission of “serving the world” with the Gospel.

To borrow a phrase from James, “My brothers, this should not be so.” (James 3:10)

On the other hand, what if the church was coming together to equip it’s members/troops to take ground for the Kingdom of God? What if we didn’t have “services” but “training exercises?” What if we removed the luxuries from the church and focused on the mission? What if we saw our ultimate goal as sending troops into the world rather than catering to the whims of our members? What would it take to convert the luxury liners that we have into troop carriers again? What organizational changes do we need in order to make quick, in-the-heat-of-battle decisions? If we were to return to our “troop-carrying calling,” would the church be able to accommodate 15,000 soldiers who shared space as opposed to 2,000 patrons fighting for position and space? If we focused on this calling, would the church move at a faster pace unhindered by petty internal arguments?

Anyway, these were just a few of my thoughts after reading this section of Radical.

Sanctuary Bus

“The next time you enter the sanctuary, look around. Think of it as a big, beautiful bus…. Instead of waiting for the world to come to us … we’re going to get off the bus…. We’re going to look for anything that doesn’t look like heaven, roll up our sleeves, and go to work.” — Jim Somerville, When the Sand Castle Crumbles

Career or Calling

John Ortberg says, “American society does not talk much about calling anymore.  It is more likely to think in terms of career.  Yet, for many people a career becomes the altar on which they sacrifice their lives.
A calling, which is something I do for God, is replaced by a career, which threatens to become my god.  A career is something I choose for myself; a calling is something I receive.  A career is something I do for myself; a calling is something I do for God. A career promises status, money or power; a calling generally promises difficulty and even some suffering – and the opportunity to be used by God.  A career is about upward mobility; a calling generally leads to downward mobility.”

Many callings have been sacrificed on the altar of career. You see, it’s tough to leave the safety of a career to pursue a calling that doesn’t seem to come with any promises/guarantees. However, it makes sense to start chasing your calling today!! I have been blessed and always been able to pursue a calling.  I can’t imagine what it’d be like to simply go to a job or pursue a career that doesn’t really breathe life into me. A calling may be tough and there may be suffering involved, but the energy and life that is sparked within me, is priceless. It’s not tough to get up in the morning and work hard all day if you’re chasing a God-given calling ’cause He provides the energy and motivation that are needed. You also FEEL motivated and encouraged ’cause you know you’re making an eternal difference.

As much as we need the money, I can’t settle for a career – just a job to pay the bills. I’m praying for someone to give me the opportunity to pursue my calling to teach. I’m willing to pay my dues and to make the sacrifices that are needed, ’cause I know I’ll be energized in the end. I know that pursuing a calling is far greater than having a career.

Rocks

My collection as it remains today.

As a kid, I collected rocks. The obsession followed me into adulthood and my first youth ministry job in Tomball. I think I like rocks, ’cause to me, they aren’t just rocks, they represent stories, times in my life, memories, etc. The movie “With Honors” also features a guy who collects rocks as symbols of his life. Anyway, I took a few pictures and thought I’d share a few of them with you guys. I’ll start with the oldest ones and move through my life:

Rose Rocks

As a child, my parents took us on all kinds of short little weekend trips where we could discover the world around us. I remember taking shovels to dig up salt crystals (Oklahoma Salt Plains) and collecting “rose rocks” another time. Although the salt crystals didn’t survive my childhood, I still have a few of the “rose rocks.” They will always represent my childhood and the adventures my family would take us on.

The first individual rock I remember finding and keeping was a piece of pyrite (also known as “fools gold”) in the bottom of a creek in Yellowstone National Park. I’m not sure if I really found it or if my dad dropped it in the water before I arrived, but nevertheless, I became a “rock hound” that day. It was the summer of 1978 and I was 8yrs old.

After that my collecting became more intentional. I also spent lots of $$ (well lots for a kid) buying polished rocks from every souvenir shop we ever entered. I also used my collecting as an excuse to hit my parents up for “rock candy” every chance I got.

Fossils from Meridian State Park

There are many more rocks I could show you, but these are quite possibly the most important. I found these fossils in Meridian State Park when I was in High School. These represent the greatest decision of my life. It was in that park that I began my relationship with Jesus Christ. I found them with my friend, Shayne Hackworth as we hiked around the lake with a group of friends. You just see rocks, but I can still picture the trail where we dug them up. I can still feel the weight of them in my pocket and remember the joy of my first days as a Christian. I’ll refrain from reminiscing more.

The next rock has a bit more of a story. When I was attending Texas A&M, I went on a canoeing trip with some great people from the Wesley Foundation. My friend Scott and I decided to climb the side of a cliff to crawl into a cave that we had seen. Once we were in, we couldn’t see the back of the cave, so we started throwing rocks to see if we could hear the back wall. One of the rocks slipped out of my hand and hit the ceiling which then crashed down in front of us. We realized then that the whole ceiling was crystal. We grabbed a few rocks and climbed out. I ended up using this rock many times throughout my Youth Ministry career to show students how the body of Christ works together. Each crystals fits perfectly with the others. Together, they make up the whole rock (Jesus is the Rock). If one crystal is removed, other crystals fall out. One time I was preaching and as I shared the story I dropped the stone on the ground in front of me. It broke. At first I was upset, but then I realized that the Body of Christ was broken for me too. Anyway, there’s are lots of great symbols in this one.

I found this rock on a beach in San Franscisco. I was with a group o youth ministers who were attending the National Youth Workers Convention. We had pooled our $$, rented a van, and taken a little trip to see the sites. I picked up this rock, cause I noticed the holes in it. Once I looked closer, I also noticed the small stone within one of those holes. I tried, but couldn’t dislodge the small stone from it’s position. If the rock is Jesus, then He was protecting that stone very well. It’s been at least 15yrs and that stone is still there. It remains because the larger stone remains. I think there’s a lesson in that for me. I will remain as long as I’m able to remain in in the hands of God.

The Fish Fossil was given to me by a student who was in the Youth Ministry in Tomball. Shane Sampson was the son of a science teacher and he and his dad actually dug this thing up. He contacted me on Facebook recently and to my surprise is very involved in doing ministry himself these days. He is an area director for Young Life – doing student ministry himself. This is not just a rock. It represents all the stories I’ve been able to hear from my ex-students about the things God is doing with them now.

I cannot speak of my rock collection without mentioning these. On January 3, 2004 I married my beautiful bride Miranda. We asked each of our guests to grab a stone as they entered the sanctuary. During the ceremony, we had them hold the stone and say a prayer for our marriage. You may see rocks, but I see prayers. I see friend and family who are encouraging us in our commitment to one another. I see hundreds of voices who joined together to request God’s intervention on our behalf. Our marriage has been great! The past year and my job/financial struggles have certainly tested us, but the truth is that we are probably stronger than ever in our love for one another. I believe these rocks are part of the reason why. Well, not really the rocks, but the prayers of our friends and family are priceless. They are able to touch us with God’s hand even when we don’t know we need a touch. This vase sits in our living room. I see them every day and I’m grateful for such amazing friends and reminders.

So there you have it. A few of the rocks in my collection. I have enjoyed this little walk through my life and hope somebody out there is actually still reading. (I probably should have started with my wedding rocks if I had wanted people to read about them, but. . .well, it is what it is.)

Singing Your Song

I am grateful for the people in my life who have been singing to me lately. They are reminding me of who I am. And quite honestly, I’ve been struggling with that a bit. I have needed singers in my life, and God has provided them for me. Let me explain:

The other day, I heard a story about a song. A story about identity. It is supposed to be true, but I can’t verify it. Either way, it’s got a great message. Here’s how it goes:

There is an African tribe where pregnant women go out into the wilderness with their friends to “hear the song of the child.” After hearing the song, they return and teach it to the tribe. When the baby is born, the whole tribe gathers to chant the song. As the child grows, he/she hears the whole tribe singing their song many times: when they start school, when they pass into adulthood, and when they get married. When they die, the tribe gathers around the death bed to sing them into eternity. Another time that the song is sung is when/if the child commits a crime or horrible act. The tribe calls them into the center of a circle and then sings their song to them – reminding them of who they are. It’s not sung with judgment, but with love and concern for the child who has forgotten who he is.

Alan Cohen (who I believe authored the original story) writes, “A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.”

I love the idea of reminding each other of our identity during those precious times of transition in our lives. And also when we have done something wrong, but I think there’s a crucial element missing in this story – Jesus. As a Christian, my identity is in Him, and Him alone. When I need to be reminded of my beauty, my wholeness, my innocence, and my purpose, I need to be reminded of Jesus. For I am only beautiful, whole, innocent, and given purpose as I find myself in Him. The “friend who knows my song and sings it to me” is Jesus. He knows me better than anyone and can remind me by speaking/singing through the voices of my brothers/sisters in Christ.

And for me, that’s exactly what He is doing in my life right now. I’m down and so He is using all my friends to remind me of who I am. My friends are singing to me and I am grateful to both them (the singers) and Jesus who is the one behind the song.


Other Stuff:

By the way, here’s a short list of what I know about my identity in Him: Who I Am in Christ

And here’s a song I wrote for my kids: Fade Away Lullabye

P.S. – If you’re interested in the original story I read, you can find it here: http://www.motivateus.com/stories/thesong.htm

Fruck in Fractor

Here are a few funny words that my kids use. I hope you’re not easily offended. (especially with the 1st one.)

Kasen:

“Fruck in Fractor” = “Truck and Tractor” – Example: As we drive down the highway, Kasen says, “Hey daddy! There’s another one “fruck in fractor.” (He also uses the phrase “another one” instead of just saying “another.”)

“Bwink” = “Drink” – Example: In his most whiny voice, “I wanna brink.”

“Yesday” = “Yesterday” but it also means any day that has already past. – Example: As we read a book about Jesus, Kasen says, “We saw Him yesday.” referring to the live nativity we saw this past Christmas.

“Chawket” = “Chocolate” – Example: “I want some chawket milk.”

“Yogurt” = “Ogre” – Example: “Daddy, Why Shrek is a yogurt?”

“Pissin” = “Fishing” – Example: “Daddy, get my biderman pissin pole.” (“biderman” = “Spiderman”)

“G-aired” = “Scared” – Example: When he’s stalling and trying not to go to bed, he says, “Daddy, I’m g-aired somebody.”

“Uh-wy-ee” = “Hawaii” – Example: “Daddy, we go kating in Uh-wy-ee someday?” (“kating” = “skating” which also = “surfing”)

“Opane” = “Airplane” – Example: “My opane is fying!” (“fying” = “flying”)

“Mintin” = “Mint” – Example: “Mommy, I want a mintin?”

“Meese” = “Please”

“Kee-in” = “Skiing” – Example: “Daddy is kee-in with mommy in that picture.”

“Pwate” = “Plate”

Kesleigh: (Isn’t too verbal just yet, but she’s learning more everyday.)

“Yeah – sssss” = “Yes” – Kesleigh used to say “Yeah” until Miranda began correcting her. Now she still says “Yeah” but then remembers and adds the “ssss” on the end.

“Rash” = “Trash” – Example: When Kesleigh finishes her gogurt, she grabs the wrapper and says, “rash” as she heads to the trash can.

“Icccccce” = “Ice” – She says it correctly, but hangs on the “sss” sound a little long. Example: Holding her cup up when I’m standing at the fridge, she says, “Iccccce.”

“Yight” = “Light” – She points to the light fixtures and says, “Yight.”

“Bubba” = “Brother”

“Case” = “Kasen”

“I Want You”

We’ve been in the car a lot lately. Kasen and Kesleigh are pretty good travelers, but on our way back from Ft Worth recently, Kasen had a little meltdown. He was tired of being in his car seat, and kept repeating, “I want you.” to Miranda and I. It’s a phrase that he says quite often when he wants us to hold him, but the number of times he repeated it that day in the car was overwhelming. Sometimes we can get away with just holding his foot, but he was having nothing of it that day. By the end, he was screaming “I want you!!!” over our explanations of why he had to stay in his car seat. He asked. He cried. He yelled. He squirmed. He mumbled. He kicked. Whatever it took – he was willing to try anything to be with us. Unfortunately, for his safety we couldn’t allow it.

Do I scream “I want you!” to God like that? Am I willing to do whatever it takes to be with Him? When I feel trapped, do I cry to Him at all? Or do I just squirm around trying to get myself out of the mess on my own? When I do cry out to Him, what if He remains silent ’cause He sees some sort of danger or purpose that I can’t see?

The Ditch

My brother and I. I'm in blue w/plaid pants.

I lived in Enid, Oklahoma when I was in elementary school. It was the 70s and I wore plaid pants. (My mom dressed me.) I walked a few blocks each day to Hayes Elementary School and played in “the ditch.” If there was a movie like “The Sandlot” about my childhood, it’d be called, “The Ditch” ’cause some of my greatest memories from those days (K-6th grade) are from of the things we did there. Here’s a list of those memories:

Rock fights – There was a section of the ditch that was full of rocks. W used to build “forts” with them and then throw rocks at each other. I never said we were smart. (My brother got stitches in his lip once as a result.)

Sledding – When the ditch filled with snow, it was perfect for sledding.

Bobsled rides – In the place where the drain pipes (from under the streets) entered the ditch there were concrete sections which would fill with snow. We carved paths through these sections to make our own bobsled runs.

Wind & Frostbite- Sledding in the ditch is the first place I ever got the wind knocked out of me. I hit a bump with my sled and lost it. I also remember falling through the ice at the bottom once. It was only a foot deep, but my whole body was frozen. (OK – not really, but I can still remember the “heat” of the cold water in the bathtub when I got home.)

Cardboard Rides – When the grass grew tall enough in the summer, cardboard worked as well as a sled.

TG&Y – Mom wouldn’t let us walk most places, but when were got old enough, she allowed us to walk the trail by the ditch to go to TG&Y (like a dollar store today) to get Star Wars Cards and candy. I actually still have a full set of Star Wars cards. (I need to put ’em on ebay to see what I can get.) The trip to TG&Y was a huge adventure to us – sort of like the journey in the movie “Stand By Me.”

Crawdads – In the summer, we caught crawdads in the little creek at the bottom of the ditch.

Tunnels – From the ditch, we entered and crawled through the drain tunnels which ran under the streets of our neighborhood. It was our way of facing our fears – like exploring the caves in “The Goonies.”

Hayes Elementary School

Some other memories that weren’t in the ditch:

We had rubberband gun fights in the cul-de-sac where we lived. We jumped the back fence to go play with Jeff & John Schlarb. Zhan Stephens also lived behind us and he had a pool in his backyard. I remember how great our neighborhood was for getting candy on Halloween. I had a fishing birthday party at Meadowlake Park and took golf lessons in the summer. My dad helped coach little league football and t-ball. We also played basketball at the YMCA and went swimming there in the summer. I always bought “Hot Fries” in the vending machine at the Y. (Strange what we remember huh?)

Dream Apnea

I’ve had sleep apnea for years.

For those who don’t know: (If you already have an understanding, skip ahead to the “bold” section.) Sleep apnea keeps you from entering REM sleep (when dreaming occurs) and eventually causes heart problems. Someone with sleep apnea holds his/her breath while sleeping which causes a lack of oxygen to the brain. At church camp one year, my “friends” (thanks Throne Together) recorded me holding my breath for up to a minute. I went for years without dreaming ’cause I wasn’t really sleeping. I used to fall asleep at the strangest moments too. I walked around tired all the time since I wasn’t really resting at night.

Since our health insurance wouldn’t cover a sleep test or any treatment, I ignored it for over 5 years. Eventually a good friend gave me a CPAP machine to try. I’ve been using it for a year or so now and it has changed my life. The CPAP gives me a constant flow of oxygen which doesn’t allow me to hold my breath during sleep. In turn, it has allowed me to sleep well again and to actually enter into the deeper stages of sleep. I wake up and remember having dreams again.

OK – here’s my question. What else keeps us from dreaming?? (not actual sleep-dreams, but imagining-a-better-future-type dreams) Does your busy life allow you time to dream? Do you imagine what life could be like if. . . . ??? Do your fears keep you from dreaming?? Are you held back by something else? Do you believe in the person God made you to be? Is there someone else who holds you back or keeps you from dreaming?

Personally, I think we all need a steady flow of down-time to really dream. We have to be intentional about thinking/dreaming/imagining. Mike Ayers, my Biblical Leadership professor, describes it as “staring-out-the-window” time. This world will keep us crazy busy if we’re not intentionally seeking out “smell-the-roses” time.

I also think we’ve gotta have a healthy understanding of who we are in Christ. How can we dream God-sized dreams if we don’t think enough of ourselves or of God? What will it take for us to begin imagining a better future?

A machine helped me dream again. I wonder what other dreams I’ve missed out on??

A Perfect Ministry Storm

We were a part of an amazing time of ministry while we were in Tomball. It was a perfect ministry storm. No man could have orchestrated it, but God’s ways are higher than ours. (Is 55:9)

Here are some of the pieces I’ve been able to assemble:

  • He used Pastor Mike Mathews to begin a process of teaching and training/opening up the eyes of leaders (including myself) in the church. Mike was also the man God used to safeguard the work He was doing with the students.
  • Through Mike, God exposed me to a few different ministry models which resonated within me. (Experiencing God, Saddleback’s Baseball Diamond model, and the Navigators leadership training) He also began to reveal a specific group of students that He wanted to reach. He was birthing a vision within me. God was inviting me to join Him in His work.
  • He worked within the community to place a longing for real spirituality within a group of students – some of them were skaters.
  • He assembled a group of adult volunteers who would connect with students and have a real heart for reaching these “tough” kids. They would also eventually rise up to defend the ministry against all kinds of critics. God worked to make these adults into a real family – they shared more than ministry but their very lives together.
  • He gave a special group of students a passion for doing ministry to their peers.
  • He used a few fringe students to invite their skater friends and spark a movement of students to become a part of “The Wave.”
  • He moved the right people into financial positions within the church who got behind a vision for reaching these students and tripled the youth budget – eventually even adding another part-time youth position.
  • He used the week-in/week-out efforts of preparing for this program to help raise up students who would develop into servant-minded leaders. Most are very involved in ministry even now. A few of the current roles that these students are involved in are: Pastor, Worship leading, church planting, small group leaders, missions, Christian artists, Sound/Video/Photography tech, etc.
  • He used the program to reach some of the toughest students in the community. We saw the fruit of some of these efforts during those days, but many have tracked me down and contacted me since that time to express their thanks and tell how “The Wave” impacted them. Some who were lost have been found and are following Jesus now.

I recently attended a wedding for one of the students who came to Christ through this ministry. The wedding was full of students who were a part this special time. The pastor, the worship leader, the wedding party, etc were all familiar with this ministry storm I’ve described. Each one of them was another piece of the “Perfect Storm” that God created. Many expressed their gratitude to me that day so I wanted to paint  more realistic picture of what really happened. Yes, I was a part of the storm, but it was truly God’s work. I’m grateful to God for inviting me into His work and feel like I’ve been able to see some of the fruit of my labor – however, my labors were only worthwhile ’cause they were joined with His labors. In reality, it’s the fruit of His labors that I’ve been able to witness and because I joined Him, it feels like my labors were fruitful. Truth is: They were.

Because of Him, they were.

And I am grateful.