Monday, February 28, 2011


My students are growing up in, and largely contributing to, a Biblically Illiterate world.  By that I mean, a large portion of the "American Christian" population, simply does not read their Bible regularly.

There are lots of reasons for this I'm sure, but at least one is the assumption that they "already know what it says."  How can that be you ask?  Well, because they assume the Bible is a list of moral do's and don'ts and proclamations that are still essentially the moral fabric of much of the judeo-christian based laws in our country.  In addition, they listen to politics and news casts and they hear the religious representatives of the faith getting upset about this or that, and they assume they know what it teaches by reverse reading into their responses.

Perhaps the most obvious way my students think they know is because they come to church from time to time and have heard a "proclamation" based sermon in which we read a passage of the Bible and tell them what it says.  I don't think teaching or proclamation or instruction are wrong... it is part of what the Bible does.  It also however is not the whole of it.  There is history and poetry and story and hyperbole and parables and way more teaching styles than simply proclamation inside.

But, for one reason or another, proclamation still is the dominate theme in churches and even in my student large group weekend gathering... and in my pursuit and passion to teach students how to think and not what to think, I'm increasingly aware that it is not the only style needed.

I have also decided, proclamation does not work when teaching sexuality.

So, in an effort to put my money where my mouth is, this last sunday we risked the accusation that we will be labeled wishy washy and avoided "telling students" what the Bible says on several issues.  It was the second weekend in our series we've titled "FLIRT" and it was titled "Flirting with feelings".  We discussed the classic, "If it feels good, do it" mindset and the "If you want it, try it" realities of our culture.

We challenged students to think through 2 grids.  The first had to do with sexual feelings and the second had to do with questions to ask about them.  We proposed that while all urges are real, not all should be honored.  We challenged students to evaluate their sexual desires and to put them into one of 3 categories:

  1. Desires we should fuel.  Like a wedding night, they are God given and God granted.
  2. Desires we should starve.  Like a wrong way sign, they are godless and lead to sexual and spiritual regret. 
  3. Desires we should delay.  Like a yield sign, they are neither right or wrong.  They are God given desires, but not God granted for action today. 
So then, the obvious implication would be that we would help students put various common issues in thsoe categories.  Like, what category should you put sexual urges like homosexuality or oral sex or dating/one day marrying someone who does not share your faith values or pornography or living together or whatever...   

Instead, we simply gave students some scripture to consider and invited them to wrestle with 4 questions in small groups or on their own:
  1. What does the Bible say about this urge?  Who cares what I say or you say or so and so says, can you as a God-fearing young adult, point to what the Scripture says to support this sexual conviction you're living by?
  2. What does logic bring me to?  Does my theory even hold water?  Is it logical to consider a thing called "oral sex" to not be "sex" and if so, why or why not?  We challenged students to be thinking young adults.
  3. What does a Godly couple in my life say?  We challenged students to wrestle with their convictions about sexuality with a couple whose relationship they observe reflects God honoring characteristics they want in their own romantic relationships.  Wise people seek wise advice.
  4. What can I learn from a general observation of the experiences of others?  I think there are 2 ways to learn things in life.  One is the hard way, the other is from those who learned it the hard way.  Wisdom says don't be the next guy to have an affair, go to someone elses school of hard knocks and save yourself a world of regret. 


Saturday, February 26, 2011


Today I've been reading the history of the church post the reformation.  All day.  For 10 hours straight.

In other words, I've been reading about some really ugly divisions, brutal killings, and wars between popes, bishops, "pastors", theologians, princes, and kings over spiritual beliefs and power struggles for centuries.  Yes, there are glimmers of hope in there and people who go across the grain and even people whose story I found really encouraging, but they get lost in the much larger sea of...

um... I have no nice words for it... let's just say of "horribleness".

Truthfully, if you've read your Bible, it's nothing new.  In fact, if you want to be absolutely appalled at what people can do in the name of God, then just read the history recorded in Judges 19-21.  But don't forget to put them in the context of the first verse and the last verse and don't stop until you've read all of it within that context.  Because it's unbelievable what people will do and say with what "they see fit."

But, I don't shy away from this in my Bible or in life or even in the history of the church. I know God doesn't author all that history records.  But there is a prevailing thing that I continue to run into that's been oozing in me for a while.   I think it's been surfacing more and more in recent years, primarily in a riff between what some call the "emerging church" of today and what many identify with as a "reformed theology" which dates back to the 1500's and a lawyer/theologian named John Calvin.

I would have continued to sit on it.  But for me, the ulcer just bursted:

I read this quote in my text book, The Story of Christianity Volume II.

"But this was no longer the time of great theological discoveries, leading up unknown paths.  Theologians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries zealously defended the teachings of the great figures of the sixteenth, but without fresh creativity of that earlier generation.  Their style became increasingly rigid, cold, and academic.  Their goal was no longer to be entirely open to the Word of God but rather to uphold and clarify what others had said before them.  Dogma was often substituted for faith, and orthodoxy for love.  Reformed, Lutheran, and Catholic alike developed orthodoxies to which one had to either adhere strickly or be counted out of the fold of the faithful."  (p. 174)
Sadly, this resonated with me.  I don't think we've ever stopped doing that... or at least we've radically returned to that same mindset in much of the American church today.  We have a long list of stuff that evidently was decided in the late 16th century that is no longer up for debate or discussion.  If you do wrestle with any of it openly, expect to be labeled a heretic.

Want proof?  Here you go: This is from Christianity TODAY.

I don't even know if I agree or disagree with the opposers to the linked article above about the book Rob Bell has written... largely cuz isn't even published yet!  But oh my, I can't believe his words are already being declared heresy before the ink dries on the page.  I'm daily loosing respect for many gate keepers of "True Christian Theology" who have a knife to slit opposing view points in the throat.  Thank You Scot McKnight for being a voice of reason in that article.

It annoys me to no end to be told to "shut up, stop thinking, and sign on the dotted line" of this creed that a group of very capable and God-fearing people decided thousands of years ago.  I'm not saying what they decided is wrong, or that I should write my own systematic theology volume set.... but forgive me if I'd like to look into it before I sign.  I'm not buying itunes software, I'm choosing theology... and that road is a bit more significant and precarious.  I fear God myself more than that.

I really pray that the 21st century is marked by a renewed zeal among those in the church and those outside of it to wrestle with Scripture, theology, tradition, and the issues of our day with zeal and humility.  But if history has anything to say about that... then if that prayer is answered, it will truly be a miracle.


Friday, February 25, 2011


This week I've been blogging about some stuff that I've been kickin' around lately in my head in terms of student ministry.  I wrote four posts:

  1. Encouragement is too rare.
  2. We have an absentee adult epidemic
  3. Adolescence is becoming a lifestyle
  4. Why always trumps what.
This is the fifth and final one in this series: "Face time before Facebook".

I wrote about the power of the one on one convo in another post not long ago here.  Just like nothing can beat the one on one convo, nothing can beat the gift of face time.   And they kinda go hand in hand.

Facebook is still a technology toddler, but it's pretty clear, that facebook is not going anywhere anytime soon.  I mean look at these stats from this crazy article: 
Let's sum up: There are half a billion people on earth on Facebook, which amounts to 1 in every 13 people alive; in the U.S., a whopping 72% of the internet-connected audience has a profile.  [hey Jarred Benitez and Mark Campbell.... I love you guys but um... are you reading this? hello!!!! :) ]
Over New Year's weekend alone, 750 million photos were uploaded. Every 20 minutes, 10 million comments are made, and 2.7 million messages are sent. 
But despite it's obvious popularity for connection and web based social networking, and despite my harassment of friends not on facebook, the face-to-face convo is still the key to mentoring and facebook cannot replace it.

So, to that end, here's some more face to face/ one on one convo tips for parents and mentors of teens:
  • SCHEDULE IT:  if you value it, then plan for it.  Set a goal and a timeframe and decide how many one on one's you'll make time and energy for.  You can drop in on facebook at 2am. Face time usually is harder than that and doesn't happen by osmosis or accident very often or effectively. 
  • TURN OFF YOUR CELL:  the only thing that is worse than not having face time is to have your face buried in our cell in the middle of it.  Screens can ruin a one-on-one by causing us to give half our attention.  turn off your phone.  meet where there are not TV's on all around you.  Don't just put it on silent.  turn it off or put it in your bag and give your face time your face. 
  • EAT AND DRINK: I dunno why, but a meal or a cup of java or anything helps to get the convo flowing and keeps face time from being "lets just stare at each other time". 
  • SIT IN A VISIBLE, BUT LOW TRAFFIC ZONE: I prefer a one one one with anyone who is not my wife or kids to be in full view of the public.  I meet in coffee shops primarily, but rarely in our offices.  I try and find a place where I can be easily seen, but necessarily where we'll be constantly interrupted. 
  • LOVE ENOUGH TO CONFRONT:  if you're going to make time to talk face to face and one on one, then don't shy away from having the hard convo either.  It's really the best time to do it anyway.  There's no one to impress and nothing to hide. There are no voice tones to misread or non-verbals to miss like you get in all forms of screen based communication.  So when you meet face to face, have the hard convo there and there only.
ok.. there ya go.  my student ministry truth thread is done.  Hope you liked it and were blessed/encouraged by it.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  So feel to comment away.  

What did I miss? What would you add?  What did you like the best?


Thursday, February 24, 2011


When you're 3, you ask "why?"  Why is the sky blue?  Why do only mommies have babies?  Why did God make that monkey's butt look like that?

Then you get your questions answered and you trust everything you were told.  Adults know stuff kids don't and they don't need google, they have you... and you're super smart.

Then somewhere between 12 and 14... somebody flips a switch. (probably located somewhere on that monkey's butt) And virtually over night, you're not smart and they have questions again. Lots of questions.  And if you once told them Noah was a cute story about animals who went two by two into a giant floating boat Noah made, then they want to know why you lied to them.  Because they read their big people bible without the pictures and it said that God flooded the whole world and they have watched the news and seen floods and people drowning and the story's not cute anymore.

About this time, adults get sick of teens cynical questions, label them as rebellious misfits, and cast them aside, hoping they'll grow out of it soon.  They don't trust our answers verbatim anymore and they have questions about questions and then adults get fed up with it and start throwing around the "because I said so" clause... which only makes them more cynical and well... the path keeps on keeping on until they hit 30 when they may or may not return to what they once believed when they were 5.

So... if you want to know what teens need to know... it's not an issue of "what?", it's an issue of "why?"... and if that answer to why results in "because xyz said so", don't be surprised when they chuck it in search of something that actually holds water.  Don't teach students what to think, teach them how to think. 

If you have a teen in your home or if you're in any kind of mentoring relationship with a teen, here's some thoughts about helping them answer the "why" question.

  • Resist the temptation to answer hard questions with easy answers.  "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is not simple or even solvable.  Don't be trite or flippant.  Pull back the ugly covers and wrestle in the real mud of life with them.  It's time for the deep end of the pool where those who don't drown, must humbly learn to tread water.  It's a myth that their are rocks to stand on down there.  It's faith for everyone. 
  • Don't judge their questions.  It doesn't matter how certain you are of the answer, if you don't help them honestly wrestle with their own uncertainty, you've just put a bandaid on an ulcer.  It's not gonna do much beyond cover it up.
  • Celebrate doubt.  When a student starts doubting, they start thinking.  I honestly want students to doubt.  I want them to doubt what they hear on TV, what the media spews, what I say, even what the Bible teaches. I want them to wrestle with it to the core. It's a critical thinking skill. Until they do, they have nothing worth defending and no honest conviction to live by. Without it, they are naive and susceptible to any smooth talking charismatic sales pitch of fads or faith. I'm convinced that healthy adults see doubt in the life of a teen as tool God uses to shape faith. 
  • Spend less time telling students what to do or what God says they should do and more time asking them, "why do you do what you do?"  In their teen years, it's way less important that they know what you think than it is that they are forced to figure out what they think and why they think it.  If a student is dating someone, ask them "why are you two dating?"  Don't ask in front of their date, but don't be surprised if you get a blank stare like you're crazy for asking such a question.  But don't settle.  Really... seriously, press them for what they see in this person, what they hope to get out of this relationship, and why they felt like they were ready to date. You may not agree with their answers, but your goal isn't to get them to stop dating or to take your position.  Your goal is to help, even force them, to wrestle with the real issues of life.
  • Redefine failure.  Failure in the life of a teen is not avoided by constant success.  Failure is not falling short, it's failing to learn from it... or worse yet, failing to be given a chance to fail in the first place.  Failure is not a poor choice, it's the inability of adults and mentors to seize that opportunity as a chance to wrestle with they "why" question that is the true failure.  Failure is part of life.  Those who succeed learn to deal with failure, wrestle it to the ground, learn from it, and move forward wiser because of it.  When adults only tell students what to do, we are doing so because we fear what will happen if they get it wrong.  When adults help students decide "why" we do what we do, then we don't operate out of fear, but out of license.  Failure becomes a teacher of why, not a mistake to punish.   (SIDE NOTE THAT MIGHT HELP: I have this phrase I use when talking to parents about this, I tell them, "give your student enough rope to trip on, but not enough to hang themselves. Be wise. But be risky too.") 


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Adolescence has become a lifestyle instead of just a life stage.  You can read about this in study after study in America.

  • I wrote about it here back in August where I referenced a book and a New York Times article I had recently read. 
  • Last week the Wall Street Journal hosted another article called, "Where have the good men gone" in which college age women complain about dating "men" who are merely boys in adult bodies.  One author writes:
... "guys" are males who are not boys or men but something in between. "Guys talk about 'Star Wars' like it's not a movie made for people half their age; a guy's idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends.... They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home." 
Truth is, this is not just a "young man" problem.  While I'm most annoyed by it in the young men I work with, it is clearly seen in both genders, across socio-economic barriers, and across races.  At first adolescence was largely considered to be a simple, couple of year window from childhood to adulthood.  Then it went to a 5-8 year life stage with an entire subculture of music, movies, and fashion attached to it that business fought for the market share within.  But more recently, adolescence has moved beyond a life stage and a subculture and into a permanent mindset that can be embodied and lived out indefinitely.  

In light of my previous two posts, it's clear to me that an absence of access to adults and a lack of encouragement toward maturity are not necessarily the source, but have definitely contributed to an entire generation that has begun to embrace childlike behavior and ditch adult responsibility at epidemic levels.

It has caused me to ask a slew of questions as a pastor and a parent.  Here's some you can kick around with me on this blog or just in your own head if you want.

  • Is my leadership empowering students to truly lead themselves?
  • What have I done to foster an environment where teens are challenged to truly step into adulthood?
  • Is adulthood my clear parenting goal? Am I daily working myself out of a job? 
  • What are the essential character traits of an adult and how do I help teens understand, own, and live out those traits/values? 
  • Am I perpetuating spaces and expectations that permit men and women to behave like boys and girls? 
  • What theological reality must be understood and embodied by this generation if they are to avoid being perpetually trapped in the mind of a 13yr old teen? 


    Tuesday, February 22, 2011


    I guess I can't really speak for all of America or all of youth culture or whatever on this one.

    But I will simply say from my own experience over the past 6 years at Journey at least... we don't just have an absentee dad issue, we have an absentee adult issue.. and it's at Epidemic levels.

    Here's some cold hard realities of my world:

    • it's simply not possible to have the lasting faith impact we desire in a student's life in a 1 on 50 ratio, like what we often have in our Sunday program.  This is ridiculous. 
    • the prevalence of our teen subculture has resulted in the reality that students no longer have consistent access to caring adults
    • just when we most need adults to be stepping into the lives of students, the vast majority are stepping away out of fear, annoyance, or ambivalence to them.
    • students don't need peers as much as they need mentors
    I could give you example after example of hurting student.  I could lead you on any given Sunday morning in our program to a student struggling to understand their sexual identity or feels lonely or is dealing with divorce or just needs someone to listen.  

    It's time to sound the alarm again.  We need your help!!!!

    IF YOU HAVE A TEEN IN YOUR HOME, it's critical that you set a weekly time to talk face-to-face with them.  Put away the cell phones and unplug the screens.  Grab a meal or a cup of starbucks or whatever and just talk about life and faith and whatever comes up.  Just genuinely care for them. In so doing you will instantly become an influential and very rare voice in their reality.

    GIVE A COUPLE OF  HOURS A WEEK, cuz it's time to dive in.  WE NEED YOU in student ministry in churches all around the country!! WE NEED YOU. Please come and worship along side students, sit with students, talk with students, and generally encourage them in their pursuit of God and relevant friendships.  Be an adult who is with them and for them.  In so doing, you will instantly become an influential and very rare voice in the faith of a student. 

    IF YOU TALK TO A TEEN, assume the best.  Assume their intentions are good.  Assume they want to change the world.  Assume they are who they are, largely because of the choices of adults around them (both positive and negative) who helped shape them, not just the face in the mirror.  Strive to understand their reality and why they do what they do before you tell them how to fix it.  In so doing, you will instantly become an influential and very rare voice who breathes life into students in ways so very very few in our world today do.  


    Monday, February 21, 2011


    This week I'll do 5 posts on 5 recent convictions I'm reinforcing in my own life about those who work with and minister to students.

    First up: encouragement is too rare... and very powerful! 

    (side note: I'll be really honest in this post.  But please hear this, I'm not fishing for an encouraging word.)

    Here goes:

    For the past few years I've had the privilege of teaching a seminar at a couple of national youth ministry conferences.  Each year, I'm asked to pitch some thoughts on seminars that might be of interest to the audience of my peers.  This last fall I pitched one to YS that I'm teaching again in a few weeks at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference called "You Suck: Enduring, Learning from, and Responding to criticism and conflict".  I cannot begin to explain to you how refreshing this seminar was for those who attended it and how sad it was that we all have this wreckage of harsh criticism in common.

    Truth is, I have a super long list of illustrations for this one. In fact, over a decade ago, after a particularly hard season in ministry, I actually went into my senior pastor's office and resigned.  I'm in ministry today in part because he refused to accept my resignation, but I was definitely down for the count.

    Student ministry can be brutally hard in certain seasons.  Ask any parent of a teen, and they'll tell you it feels like a roller coaster of emotions and confusion. Cuz it is.  And therefore, it's hard on everyone, including the students.  No joke... without fail, I bet any single weekend in our youth ministry, I could find you at least one teen either crying in our room or on the brink of a breakdown.  Every single Sunday.  Some Sundays, it's more than I can bear.  I just leave and cry myself.

    When I first arrived at Journey about 6 years ago, we had an 8:30 am and a 10:30 am service at church and in our high school program too. Our 8:30 was shockingly much larger than the 10:30.  So much so, that of the 15 or so students who came to the 10:30 service, about 14 looked and acted like they were forced to be there.  I used to go into the bathroom between services and look myself in the mirror and at 32 years old, psych myself up to enter the room.  I quietly called it "preaching to detention center".  And each Sunday, after service I'd walk across the parking lot and quit... and then re-hire myself on Monday morning.

    More recently, a mom came to observe our high school group on the weekend because her daughter was playing in the band.  A few days later, she sent me a very sincere and encouraging e-mail.   I decided to send it to my lead pastor as an encouragement to him, that God was working on our church campus.  He then blogged about it.  The following day, seemingly independent of that, I received 4 more affirmations.  One from a dad who sat through our weekend "sex talk" and thanked me for how I dealt with the subject.  Another parent sent me a facebook message for the same reason after hearing her kids talk about it in the car ride home.  Then another mom thanked me for a convo I had with her daughter and finally, another mom called my cell to say, "ditto 100 times over" to what the mom said in Ed's blog post.

    Super nice. Way powerful words my soul drank deeply from.

    But honestly, super rare.  I seriously think this much independent encouragement in such a short window of time was a ministry first for me.

    My wife and I are "joking" that it's the calm before the storm. I must have a pile of criticism coming around the corner.

    Regardless, just know this:

    If you have a teen in your life, they desperately need an encouraging word from you.  Seriously, NO ONE, is regularly telling 90% of the teens around me how much they are loved.  But that's another post.  Please, encourage a high school teen today. They already get plenty of criticism from their peers anyway. They are largely encouragement starved as a generation.

    Second, if you know someone who is making a positive influence into a teen: either a parent or a teacher or a coach or a pastor or a small group leader or... you name it.  Trust me.  It's hard. And IT'S WAY TOO RARE that anyone says "Thanks.  You are making a world of impact. Keep doing what you're doing. We need you."  

    I can't even begin to tell you how desperately our souls need it.


    Friday, February 18, 2011


    Every weekend for the past 3 years we have challenged our high school students to bring in a $1 a week for an offering.  It's stupid really, like American chump change. It's a dollar. It's really not a stretch for 99% of our San Diego crowd.  But believe it or not, it's a rare weekend when our high school offering actually amounts to $1 times the number of warm bodies in the room.  But we keep pushing it every week and reminding them of the difference they can make with just a little effort to help us stack hands together in this.

    We use the dollar a week to sponsor 3 kids through world vision (Zambia, El Salvador, and India), an orphanage in Uganda, and a child we visit once or twice a year in Tecate, Mexico.  With that money, we can provide monthly food, shelter, education, and medicine.

    This year, I vowed that at Christmas, none of these kids would go without a Christmas present.  So, for the world vision kids, we sent $75 each.  We also were told that this gift would be used to bless not just the kids we sponsor, but the community they live in via the World Vision workers too.  But I had no idea how true that would really be.

    We have started receiving letters and pictures back telling us what they did with the money and each time I read a letter and see the pictures, I cry.  I can't believe how much difference a mere $75 can make.

    See for yourself.

    LUYANDO IN ZAMBIA, AFRICA got a new umbrella, new clothes, and new bed for herself, a goat for her family, and several other gifts that were given to her community.

    RUBY IN INDIA.  Well, the letter said it's cold there now and people need blankets.  So, we bought Ruby one.  Oh... and EVERY KID in her village got one too!!  I have 2 pictures like this.  Are you kidding me?  EVERY KID got a blanket!  I sent how much again?  Oh yeah....  75 stupid bucks.

    It's crazy what $75 can do.

    It's crazy what I normally do with $75.

    It's awesome that our world is so small that we can change the life of a kid 10,000 miles away.

    It's ridiculous that living standards are so varied on this planet and that I have the power to radically alter that. 


    Wednesday, February 16, 2011


    We're starting a new series this weekend in Encounter.  It's our annual sexuality and dating series and like many youth ministries, we tag team on February's love temperature to chat about this with students.  This year it's 5 weeks long and is called "Flirt"

    I have taught a series like this way too many times to count now.  Every time we do so, we try and give fresh eyes and ears to the subject.  We consider our current culture, survey the latest music and media trends, ask our students about the pressures they are facing, and look to the Bible to speak to those issues in relevant and truthful ways.

    As the series goes on, I'll try and use this blog to update you on what we're teaching and how it is received, but at the outset, let me say a few things you won't be hearing.

    WE DON'T DO PURITY PLEDGES.  I've done them before.  I participated in "True Love Waits" lots of times and had my students sign cards and sent them to some national gathering where they would pepper the great lawn in DC or lift to the roof of some super dome in a long string or something.  But while I suppose they helped say something in mass, on a personal level, they just don't work.  No one in the heat of some opportunity to explore the sexual intimacies of the human body stops to ponder the commitment card they signed in youth group.  Plenty of rings and necklaces and pendants all with good intentions have been worn during plenty of "activities" they did not propose to support.  We will give students a chance to covenant their heart to God- to love God and love others with all their being.  We'll encourage them to talk that through with friends, family, and mentors and to be open and honest about it.  If they do that, their sexuality will follow accordingly; with or without a signed card.

    WE DON'T ANSWER THE "HOW FAR IS TOO FAR?" QUESTION.   Some prefer the proximity limit thing and say you should "leave room enough for the Holy Spirit" (which evidently means the Holy Spirit is a fat guy who wants to sit between you).  I've told students in the past that if a bathing suit covers it, you shouldn't be touchin' it.  I heard someone this week say, "If anything is in anything, then you crossed the line".  Come on people, now that one is funny!

    Regardless of what arbitrary rule or cute quote we throw at this subject, for the past several years, I have simply refused to answer the question out of principle.  It comes up all the time.  But despite the fact that rules don't motivate, it's also not a question that is rooted in devotion to God.  By default, the question is "how far can I go without making God angry?" A better question is "How can I honor God with my sexuality?"  One is about pushing curiosity with God in the rear view mirror.  The other is about celebrating sexuality in cooperation with the Creator.

    WE DON'T CATEGORIZE SEXUAL SINS OR SINGLE OUT THE ISSUE.  We love to do this in our society.  My guess is you think rape is worse than funding a porn addiction. I'm an American so I do to. My problem is, I don't think God does.  I also know that in our society we talk about our "sex life" as a separate entity of it's own.  But I don't think that's Biblical either.  I don't have a "sex life", I just have a life of which my sexuality is part of it.  We will teach students that sexual desires are an intimate and integral part of their life.  We also will challenge students to discern which desires should be fed and which ones should be starved to death.  We all have both.

    WE DON'T TEACH STUDENTS WHAT TO THINK.  We teach them HOW to think.  As a goal, I have no desire to get students to adhere to my standards or even to Biblical commands regarding sexuality.  I'm really not primarily interested in students knowing what the Bible says about sexual behavior.  Truth is the average person on the street, even in a largely Biblically illiterate America could get pretty close to telling us what the Bible says we should or should not do sexually.  What I don't think they'd even come close to getting is WHY it says that.  I believe that knowing WHY is the critical task of adolescence.  If we don't help students answer WHY, then the what becomes merely arbitrary rules that have no value... especially when it comes to sexuality.  Ironically, I think a failure to understand and own the WHY of sexuality is WHY we see so much disregard for a Biblical concept of sexuality in the first place.


    Tuesday, February 15, 2011


    I'm sorry overflow. You're lovely and nice and I like you, but like 12 people in the world follow you. So I confess, I cheated on you.

    I wrote two posts for a friends blog.  He was in Kenya and asked for some guest posts and I thought... hey, that might be fun.

    The first was called, "LIFE IS HARD, TAKE A NAP AND FIGHT BACK."

    Life is hard. Ministry is hard. Balancing ministry and family and school and my own soul is hard. It just is… and it’s so hard, that life has a way of knocking good people out of the game. I’ve been in ministry long enough to have seen first hand the casualties of marriages, careers, families, and personal faith all destroyed by hard stuff and poor choices that followed.
    In an effort to not become a casualty of the same statistics, I had to confess this past December that I was becoming a victim of my own bad habits and neglecting the care of me for the care of others. I know this to be theologically and practically wrong, but I still was doing it. First to go was exercise. Then reading. Then sleep. Then eating right. Then…. I started kicking the dog. It was bad.
    So I have had to make the following adjustments before my kids call dog protective services on me:
    you can read the rest here.

    The second was called, "RETHINKING RETREAT PLANNING."
    Like many of you, when I signed up to be a youth pastor, I signed up to help students do life with God. I also believed then, and still do today, that there is no shortcut. It simply takes time. I also know that there is no greater way to spend big chunks of quantity time with students than the retreat setting.
    So far, so good.
    But what I didn’t know was that in order to do those retreats, I’d have to sign contracts that would cause me countless nights of stress leading up to them. I had no idea that 12 months out I’d be asking my church to leverage thousands of dollar on the belief that students will eventually express interest and sign up. And for me, times have been a changin’…
    you can read the rest of it here.

    Ok overflow. I'll keep spilling my thoughts on you. But come on... like 10 billion people read that other blog. I had to cheat a little.


    Monday, February 14, 2011


    I've done a ton of trips to the snow with high school students and firmly proven that no two are identical.  For starters, there's massive differences in mindset and expectations between a snow trip in Nor Cal and San Diego. I've had trips to the hospital, weather craziness, and everything from 10 students in a day trip to 140 in buses and cargo trailers.  But this last weekend, despite 20+ yrs of going to the snow with high school students, I had 3 firsts.  

    1. WE DIDN'T RUSH.  This is borderline sinning what I'm about to say, but we were in Big Bear for 2 days and only were on the slopes for one and um... it was nice.  Hear this:  I LOVE snow boarding and the reason we only did one day was because not enough of us could afford to board 2 days.  But it allowed us to have a truly lazy Sunday.  We got up... many of us sore.  Had breakfast, enjoyed a "chapel" time together, then packed up, went to starbucks, stopped for lunch on the way home and got back in town around 3pm.  Normally, we rush to pack early in the morning, slam down some breakfast, and hurry back to the slopes.  Then I'm not home until 10pm and we're all seriously dragging.  I thought to myself, "I must be getting old or finally getting smart. I really liked this pace."  I think I had better convos, my soul was filled, and I really enjoyed myself.

    2. I DIDN'T DRIVE.  I don't really know why.  But for the last 17 years, I don't think I've ever been on a high school student retreat where I didn't drive at least part of the trip.  For years it was because we had buses and I was one of the only drivers.  Other times it's because we have limited drivers and I needed to drive.  But this time, I had 3 vehicles and way more than 3 very capable and trusted adults. I asked 3 of them if they wanted to drive.  They all said yes. So, I sat down for the very first time, all weekend in the passenger seat.  I NEVER touched the wheel... and it was nice. I played digital DJ.  I looked at the map.  I laughed with students and talked to people with eye contact.  I think I might do it again :)

    3. WE PLAYED MINUTE TO WIN IT.  I know, I'm late to the party.  But oh my did we have fun.  I went to the minute to win it website and downloaded instructions for 20 games.  I gathered supplies around my house, the church, and a couple of quick trips to the store.  Then Saturday night after dinner and some rest, we divided up into 4 teams of 7 and then we laughed so hard the people "praying next door" at the camp we were at told us we were too loud.  Been way too long since my youth ministry laughed hard enough to disrupt praying people next door! Thank you NBC for making my life super easy and for creating a "print button" on your page.  Simply amazing and dang good times.


    Thursday, February 10, 2011


    Tonight I went to a local charter high school in our area to learn about sending TJ there this fall as a freshman.  In the process, after all the talking and slide shows were done, the entire crowd of about 400 parents and students were lead around campus in groups of 25 or so for a campus tour.  But not just any campus tour.  A campus tour led by students who are ginormous fans of the school.

    So I wandered around for 45 minutes listening to Amber, an active sophomore high school student in our youth group RAVE about her school.  She bragged about how her teachers were her friends.  She claimed the place is like family and how she loves to spend hour upon hour there in all kinds of activity.  She really did a great job.  I almost enrolled myself in high school when it was over.  Seriously, she's gonna sell a lot of something some day for sure.

    About 20 minutes into it though, I started wondering if I have students that would say the same things about our church's high school ministry?  Would they brag and tell their friends they eagerly can't wait to go?  If I handed several of them the chance to tell others about our ministry, would they walk around our campus backwards enthusiastically talking to a crowd of parents about every facet of our ministry, virtually begging them to get their incoming freshmen involved in our program next year?

    Seriously, is there any better press than the honest joy of a raving fan?  Is there anything more compelling than a word of mouth testimony?

    Here's what I was reminded of tonight.

    1. there is no more powerful voice than the changed life of a raving fan. 
    2. students are eager to lead their peers.
    3. when students get excited, it is contagious.
    4. ownership of a vision is a beautiful thing people will sacrifice all kinds of stuff for. 
    5. students long to be passionate.  I need to give them ample opportunity to express their passion. 
    6. I know lots has changed since I was in high school.  But... the whole scene was intensely familiar too.  Lots has not changed as well. 


    Wednesday, February 09, 2011


    Nothing in all the world beats a one-on-one conversation.  NOTHING.

    You can't top it with a seminar.  You can't top it with a nice family dinner. You can't top it for focus.  You can't top it for influence.  You can't top it in investment.  There simply is nothing more powerful in all of leadership than a one-on-one conversation.

    Honestly, as a youth pastor, if I could do nothing but line up one-on-one conversations and never "preach another sermon", I swear I'd get more done for the Kingdom of God than ever before.  On Sunday, I had two one-on-one conversations with students after church that were significant.  I know they grew out of the "preaching" or "weekend service" they experienced that morning, but I honestly believe that if I had not had them, the most significant moment of life change this past weekend would have been missed.

    So, here's my reminder to me and my encouragement to you...

    MAKE TIME FOR ONE-ON-ONE TIME.  It won't happen by accident.  It requires ruthless devotion to the priority.  So....  take your kid on a ride with you to run an errand and "accidentally" end up having a convo over ice cream while you're at it.  Take a spouse on a date and skip the movie in favor of a meal you can enjoy at a place with really great food and lousy service so it takes forever.  Grab a friend and say, "hey, got some time for java this week?"... and then make it happen.

    BUILD ONE-ON-ONE TIME INTO "GROUP TIME".   When planning a retreat or even a family vacation, I can make sure to make time for this.  This might mean having intentional conversations on the bus or van ride on a retreat.  This weekend, in our high school program, we'll have almost a 1 to 2 ratio ration of adult to students on our trip to the snow.  Truth is, if we don't maximize this trip for significant and intentional one-on-one conversation time, then we've missed it.  My most significant student ministry moments as a teen myself were one-on-one times I had with my leaders at summer camp, retreats, and weekly meetings.

    DON'T SUBSTITUTE ANYTHING FOR PRESENT TENSE ONE-ON-ONE TIME.  I simply cannot allow facebook or a txting conversation or e-mail or a phone call or anything else to replace a face-to-face one-on-one conversation. It is the most powerful and focused tool in my leadership influence toolbox.  I cannot allow that to be replaced by any modern technological impostor.  Good ol' fashion one-on-one time simply cannot be faked or trumped.  EVER.


    Tuesday, February 08, 2011


    I started reading blogs again.  I had stopped reading them consistently, mostly because I could not find a way to do it that fit my routine.  I had feeds at the bottom of my mac mail inbox, but they were out-of-sight-out-of-mind and piling up like a guilt trip and fast!!!  But, thanks to this little iphone/ipad gem called reeder that seamlessly merges with google reader, I'm back in the game.

    In the process of my blog roll feeding frenzy, I realized something.  I'm not sure who sent out the memo,  but somewhere in the blogosphere there's wisdom that says, "you should end all your posts with a question."  I probably would get more comments and better interaction if I did.

    This got me thinking.

    I wondered where else I would get better interaction if I asked better questions.  Counselors are masters at this.  Jesus was the inventor of this.  Some blog writers have reinvented it. So, I made a list of places I think I'd be well served by asking some good questions:

    IN MY OWN SOUL...  it may be the hardest place to get unbiased clear answers to good questions, but it's a critical place to ask them nonetheless.  Maybe I should ask others to speak into them.

    • how am I really? 
    • why am I doing what I'm doing? who am I trying to please?
    • what should I do right now?  what should I stop doing?
    • am I going to regret this decision I'm about to make? 
    IN MY LEADERSHIP... I think good leaders ask good questions.
    • is this the best way to do this?
    • are we doing the same thing for the wrong reasons? 
    • what kind of ethos am I creating without saying a word?
    • who around me is ready to lead if I would just give them the opportunity?
    IN MY FAMILY... good questions inspire conversation. 
    • am I asking my kids engaging questions? 
    • am I listening when my kids ask questions? 
    • am I becoming the husband and father God created me to be? 
    • am I fully present? 
    IN MY TEACHING...  good questions inspire genuine faith.  I heard Rob Bell once say, "the problem with most preaching today is that when the sermon is done, it's done." Maybe we should leave some questions unanswered... Maybe we should end each sermon with a few questions instead of a few propositions people might adhere to.  So... 
    • am I teaching with genuine conviction? 
    • am I teaching with creativity, giving each week my very best?
    • am I obedient to the holy spirit's leading? 
    • am I inspiring more questions among my listeners than I'm answering?
    OK... so there's 4 sections and 4 questions.  And, in the theme of my blogosphere question asking friends, I'll end with a question :)  Let's see if this inspires you.  

    What questions are you asking and in what environment are you finding them most powerful? 


    Monday, February 07, 2011


    that's what Becky said to me right before she ran and jumped in her brother's arms at Pacific Beach last Saturday evening and I snapped this pic.

    This girl is seriously loved and she seriously loves her big brother.  

    I'm super lucky as a Dad to get to love on and join in the family I do.  It's a HUGE privilege.  It makes we want to say to God, "Daddy, take my picture." How amazing is this story I get to live.  Dang I feel lucky.

    Here's a few more pics I snapped in Pacific Beach at Sunset on Saturday.  They are proof I'm blessed beyond words. 


    Friday, February 04, 2011


    I'm going to a lot of weddings these days.  I'm doing a few too.  The process is stirring up in me some stuff I've been thinking about for a while. So here comes a couple of things I'd like to change about weddings.

    NO FREE LUNCH:  Back in the day, I assume families saved up for weddings.  Back in the day before that day I guess only the family of the bride shelled out big money.  Now a days, here's how most people pay for them.  #1. Someone relative takes out a big loan or writes a check against a home mortgage.   #2. The couple themselves take out a loan or pay for it because people are getting married later in life these days and you don't ask your parents to help you like you're 20 when you're not. #3. Those people lucky enough to get asked to be in the wedding party will offset some costs and shell out about $1000 each on gifts, clothes, hotels, food, and travel.

    • Instead, I think you should have to pay to go to a wedding reception.  Yup, pay.  It's like getting invited to a private event months and months out and expecting there's no cost.  I mean really, high school students pay to go to their prom!  Why is a wedding reception free?  That's ridiculous.  
    • I think it should be normal for you to pay $35-50 a plate for an epic party where you celebrate a once in a lifetime moment with friends and family.  Maybe if you invite their kids, you can make exception.  
    • Maybe it means people give fewer lame teapots and towels and give the gift of their presence at your party instead.  
    • Subtly, it will weed out your casual invites from your friends unwilling to pay to play.  
    • Maybe then you could say it's free to your wedding party.  That would be awesome. 

    PRE-ENGAGEMENT COUNSELING INSTEAD OF PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELING:  Once a couple is engaged, they essentially are married in terms of the pressure they feel.  Facebook messages have been sent, engagement pictures taken, reservations made, save the date cards sent, and deposits given for all kinds of things. The pressure is HUGE!
    • I think counseling should not only be about "how to succeed in marriage", but should help a couple answer the "should we get married?" question too.  The first can be helpful post engagement, the second is a waste because breaking off an engagement is almost as stressful as a divorce.  
    • I think churches and counselors should start offering pre-engagement counseling for serious dating couples. 
    • I think the only reason we don't is because no one wants to admit their considering getting married publicly before a ring is on a finger.  That's just lame cuz everyone talks about it first.  It's a myth that people just pop the question.  Those who "surprise" their soon to be spouse with a "will you marry me question" are still single.  Everyone talks about it first. For most, the question is a romantic formality of a predetermined result anyway. 
    There's my top 2.  What's yours?


    Thursday, February 03, 2011


    ... is super hard.  Yet lots of people try to do it.

    "Christians" try to do it.  It's a primary bi-product of the "personal Lord and Savior" jargon of evangelism tracts. They say, "I don't need anyone.  I have Jesus and that's enough." (bypassing entire chapters, themes, and books of the Bible that clearly say otherwise)  Nevertheless, in church it manifests itself every Sunday around our country with tens of thousands who are just sitting in a seat, taking notes, maybe even giving... and then leaving.  I blogged about the dangers of this a couple of years ago here. 

    "Others" try to do it alone too.  Christian or not, the pursuit of a "solo faith" is popular today.  This crowd claims, "I don't need others to help me connect with God, my faith is private."  Perhaps we even affirm this belief when we simply watch "christian church" in our house, hear it on the radio, or live-stream it on the web and call that community... and perhaps it's even borderline arrogant to claim I don't need anyone else to help me.   Besides, it's really really hard to keep a private faith private cuz faith has it's way of leaking out into every area of our lives.  We bleed our spiritual convictions in our behaviors.  So we might as well invite others to explore them with us anyway.

    This has been spurred up in me recently because our entire church has been doing a series called "Jesus Creed" in which we've been memorizing and repeating a passage in Mark in which Jesus summarizes the entire Bible in.  In this text, Jesus was famously asked just one question, "What is the greatest commandment?"  To which Mark records:

    ““The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.””  (Mark 12:29–31)

    As I've memorized this answer and repeated it and tried to live this call out in my life these past few weeks.  It has become crystal clear to me that while the essential core of "Love God and Love others" is as simple a bumper sticker calling as one can get, it is radically other and intensely hard to honor.  It is SIMPLE. But it is NOT EASY.

    ... AND I cannot go this thing alone. (obviously there's a philosophical irony here too, cuz it's impossible to "love others" alone anyway. That's an oxymoron.)  I'm radically aware that I desperately need others to do this with or I simply won't do it.  Loving God with all of me and loving others like I want to be loved, requires all of the grace from God I can muster and all of the help from my community of faith as I can gather.


    Wednesday, February 02, 2011


    The other day I saw this article/info graphic on sleep deprivation.

    It initially struck my interest because when I ask students these days how they are... especially on Sunday morning... I swear, 95% of them, 95% of the time will give me the same one word answer: "tired".   So, I got to thinking, maybe this lack of sleep thing is a major problem. Or maybe only a moron would offer church for high school students before noon... but let's not go there.

    In case you're still asleep yourself and still haven't clicked on that link... the info graphic says that getting less than 8 hours of sleep is not just a teen Saturday night problem.  It's a massive adult in America problem.

    In fact, getting less than the recommended sleep a night increases your stupidity level, your risk for heart disease, decreases your life span, and makes you on average 14+ lbs heavier.  This explains a lot about me and my gut.  Well, since I quite often can fall in to the orange section of this sleep graphic they creatively labeled the... oh nevermind... you can go see for yourself what they labeled it.... it is suffice to say that I get way too little sleep way too often.  (We're not going to talk about the fact that I'm typing this at 12:23am and that I have to be up and ready to go out the door by 6am for an all day staff offsite meeting.  Cuz that would be proof of my problem.)

    It even said that if you pull an all-nighter, your body behaves like you're drunk.  DRUNK!?

    This would explain the intoxicated feelings I've had a few times these last few months.

    Ok kids.... let's just say, it's time for me to go be friends with my pillow.  I'm already dangerously close to being labeled an idiot by my bodies infrastructure and immune system yet again tonight.  So do yourself a favor... GO TO BED!



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    San Diego, CA
    Husband. Dad. Jesus Follower. Friend. Learner. Athlete. Soccer coach. Reader. Builder. Dreamer. Pastor. Communicator. Knucklehead.

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