Monday, June 20, 2011


Well, for the last 6 months I've written 5 times a week on this blog and I'm heading into a very busy summer.   Tomorrow, I'm going to the desert for a spiritual retreat with 2 friends in ministry for a day of prayer and thinking in the calm before the storm.

Here's what the next 6 weeks holds for me:

ANNIVERSARY:  I'll be heading away to celebrate my 17 year anniversary to my lovely bride and do a wedding for some friends in San Luis Obispo.

CAMP AND MISSIONS TRIP:  a week of summer camp with our high school and college students will be then followed by a week of missions in Haiti- literally 3 hours after the first camp ends.

SUMMER CAMP FOR THE KIDS:  I'll be spending a week with my kids doing summer camp for kids at Journey.

CAMPING WITH MY FAMILY: I'm heading to 5 states with my family on a big ol 2 week road trip: doing a wedding and camping in Nor Cal while water skiing with friends, camping and bonding in Yellowstone, and then camping and hiking at Zion in Utah.

So... the next time I'll pick up this blog again with any measure of regularity will be early August.  Welcome to my crazy summer and to my faithful few readers... see you in the fall.  Enjoy your summer.  :)


Saturday, June 18, 2011


One of my favorite and most privileged roles in life is that of Dad, and in our house, along with it comes the role of "field trip Dad".  As a result, over the last 6 years of having several of my kids in elementary school, I've been to over 20 field trips in San Diego.  I've seen the same aquarium, the zoo, the park, sea world, and mission trails multiple times.  I've sat on yellow buses enough that I have the pre-trip speech memorized and I even know to be quiet when the teacher raises their hand and starts the finger count down.  I can pack a mean brown bag lunch with only stuff you throw away when you're done and have used my God-given whistle to grab the attention of the crew for the teacher on many an occasion.

About 75% of the time, it's me and a bunch of moms, so I usually just stick with my kid and whatever group of their friends I'm responsible for to avoid the latest mom gossip.  My joke with my wife is that I'm trying to avoid the dreaded "mom thong" sighting that happens far too often when at the tide pools or any other field trip that has mom's bending over to show a kid an animal and the rest of us her choice of undees.  I'm just sayin'.... way too much info ladies.

Anyway,  last week was the last field trip of Tyler's elementary school career.  I wrote about it here in a guest post on my friend Doug Field's blog.  The "cliche" phrase that "time does fly" might be the most truthful cliche in the world.  Dang it. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about all the stages we've passed and how few seem to really still be ahead of me.  I love my kids but their fast becoming young men and women.... too fast really.

Somehow, each time I went, I started snapping a "my kid and I" pic. I surfed through my photo pile and found a grip of them. I created an album in facebook of them for friends here.

In case you can't view those and in honor of my kids and Dad's day weekend, I grabbed the last 4 and put them here.  Thanks for making my life richer than it should be TJ, Tyler, Jake, Becky and Billy.  You each are a treasure.


Thursday, June 16, 2011


I told you yesterday that I'm not the hugest fan of graduation ceremonies.  Both of my boys who are graduating were also giving speeches.  They both did GREAT!!  I really couldn't be prouder of TJ and Tyler. Then today, shortly after TJ's speech, i got this twitter from Danny, a friend of mine who is also a youth pastor at local church in our community:  "congratulations.  TJ did a great job with his speech. You should be one proud dad."

That tweet was super encouraging and got me thinkin'... youth pastors often go to events for students in their ministry.  I have done my fair share of that, seemingly less now that my own 5 kids have so many things they need me at.   But nevertheless, when you do go to them, sometimes it can feel like an exercise in futility that no one will notice because there are often hundreds of people also there to watch.

So, here's 4 ways to make the most of a ministry obligation so it doesn't feel like a waste of time.

BE NOTICED:  This does not mean become a spotlight that everyone sees.  It just means that if you show up to an event and never make sure you're seen, the "wasting of time" feeling will rapidly increase. Don't come and then go away without first making sure your presence was scene by the one you came to watch. Danny's twitter is one way to do that.  I never actually even saw him.  It was specific enough and subtle enough to tell me, "Hey, I'm here" supporting this moment.

ENCOURAGE:  Send an encouragement note, a text, an e-mail, a twitter comment... pretty much anything will do. But just make sure you encourage those  who you came to see in a timely manner.  My friend's twitter did this too.

DON'T STAY FOR EVERYTHING:  Sometimes you have to, but most of the time, you can pick and choose.  Come for the first 30 minutes of graduation or the last quarter of some sporting event.  I have no idea if Danny left.  But I would have.  In fact, we sent one set of grandparents to go on a 35 minute walk to starbucks and bring some back while the name announcing went on and on.  TJ was called liked about 10 people into another 500 names- so we had A LOT of time to kill.  If you're not family, just come for part of an event.  It will still make a huge difference and save you tons of time.  Besides, most people won't expect you to stay for all of a swim meet or a 4 hour track meet or a 3 hour graduation.  Check with the student and come at the optimal time for them.

TAKE PICTURES: this is a great way for you to be "seen".   Send a picture you snapped as an encouragement.  Put it on facebook and tag them.  Lots of options here.

To that end, here's some pics I took today... that I'm sure will be great memories for TJ cuz I took them while I was bored stiff listening to hundreds of names being called. :))  Ha Ha.  My 300 mm zoom searched the audience for randomness. I have no idea who most of these pics belong to... but enjoy:


Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I'm not the biggest fan of graduation ceremonies.  I didn't even go to my own college graduation- which my mother is still a little annoyed about.  I don't like them cuz I think they are very long, usually overly hot in temperature, and very boring.  Kinda like watching my kid play baseball.  You really have to value the team, because most of the time, I'm watching someone else's kid play baseball or someone else's kid graduate.

But nonetheless, I have 2 graduation ceremonies to go to this week.  One was today as Tyler graduated from 5th grade and one is tomorrow for TJ's graduation from 8th.  I'm super excited for them and very very proud of them both.  I wouldn't miss it for the world, unless I could watch my own kids graduate and then peace out :))

Today, during Tyler's graduation, each kid was given a "scroll" (read random poem rolled into tube and tied with string) at graduation and asked to complete a sentence with a single word as it was handed to them.  Each of them was given a scroll and then they said into the mic,  "When I grow up I want to be a __________".   As I sat there and listened to something close to 100 5th graders tell me what they wanted to be when they grew up, here's what I learned:

NONE OF THEM WANT TO BE A "BLUE COLLAR" WORKER:  Not one kid said they want to grow up to be a contractor, plumber, electrician, finish carpenter, tile layer, concrete worker... nothing.  Not one. I wonder if this is just our school or if it's a symptom of a larger culture that does not value "work ethic". I don't know why I noticed this group necessarily, but I just found it interesting.  (No one said anything about working for a non-profit... religious or otherwise either)

WE HAVE MADE HEROES OUT OF ATHLETES:  3 students said they wanted to be teachers.  One said a cop. One said a fire fighter.  But the largest concentration (I bet at least 15 students) was to play some kinda sport professionally.   I listened carefully several times over as a 4 foot high boy told me that when he grows up (presumably really UP), he wants to be a professional basketball player.  Really?  It's crazy to me that playing a sport can be a vocation.  (My own son said he wanted to be a professional soccer player)  Awesome.  Unlikely, but awesome.  I love to play sports, but I still scratched my head at each of these.  Some I'm sure said it just cuz they love the game and presumably, they want to do what they love for a lifetime. It's kinda innocent on one side.  But, the other side is that many of these kids want to be athletes because deep down inside, we've told them in our culture, those are the real heros and they'll make you rich, famous, and happy.  And that's not true.

WE ALSO HAVE TAUGHT KIDS FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE THAT CAREER AND IDENTITY ARE ONE AND THE SAME.   And I don't think it's healthy.  It's logical. It's just not healthy. It's the natural answer to the question "When I grow up I want to be a ________".  But I still don't think the best answer to that question is a vocation or that it's the best question to encourage students to profess on their way out of elementary school in the first place.

I don't think the identity thing is helpful.  In fact, speaking from my own vantage point, I think a lot of pastors see their job as their identity.  It is a constant struggle for me to not do this. When we do, the result is that it literally destroys the pastor when ministry falls short.  Not just because the ministry fell short, but because there was so much riding on that decision.  When we are our career, everything becomes about "us" instead of the mission.  If a child is taught they "are their career", then when they lose a job or make a mistake, they don't just affect their take home pay, they lose a piece of themselves too.

I also don't think it's helpful in terms of vision.  I think I would have much rather the students told me a character trait or an issue they wanted to fight for in their future than a career goal.  How very different and even inspiring this moment could have been if it was more about them and less about a job.   Instead of,  'I want to be a teacher or engineer or fashion designer or police officer, etc", I think it would have been awesome to have heard student say, "When I grow up, I want to fight poverty, I want to be a peace maker, I want to show compassion in the medical field".  Maybe I want to be "a trusted friend or a trail blazer of new ideas or a man/woman of great faith."  Anything other than just a "job title".

Perhaps we'd all be better off (regardless of age or vocation) if we asked ourselves a fresh today, "who do I want to be when I grow up?" instead of "What job do I want to make some money doing".


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The hardest job I have as a pastor is getting people to integrate their lives together.

Everyone in leadership knows that the if you leave an organization alone, it will eventually go off mission.  People will gradually do what they want instead of what they originally signed on to do. Groups of people of like mindset will segregate and begin cliques.  Complexity will increase and apathy will set in.

It happens in retail, youth ministry, schools, churches... it happens all over the place.  In order to stay on mission, with clear goals and a simple vision, all organizations need good leadership that can call out all kinds of ulterior agendas.

This is a subtle art to master, especially if integration is the goal.

I think it's easy to call out dissenting voices: those that are anti the mission, because they self identify themselves as such. They are against the vision and want to change it.  Leaders confront this as a danger to organizational health. They are the whiners.

I think it's easy to call out segregated cliques: because they do their own thing in their own way on their own time frame.  They are not ream players and are not really trying to be.  Leaders address these groups because they threaten unity.  They are the lone rangers.  

It's however NOT easy to call out complementary groups:  because they seem like they are with you.  They are the flip side of your coin. They are the left hand and you are the right.  This seems logical and needed.  And in the church for example, it could be both good and needed... if we were talking about how two churches work together.  Church A is like blah and Church B does this other thing instead. So far so good.

However, in a single church, I think this a lousy way to operate.  I think it's cheap and easy.  I think complementary groups are segregated cliques that share a common collective mission but have their own agenda.  Like a small group that does it's own weekend retreats instead of joining the larger church trip.  It seems good, but it's subtly moving from "our" mission and into "their" mission.  

I THINK THE GOAL SHOULD BE INTEGRATED SPACES, NOT COMPLEMENTARY LEADERSHIP ENVIRONMENTS.   This means that I have to work hard to not just have small groups and weekend services, but to have them mutually working together.  It means that i have to do the hard work of creating a brand new union instead of just gluing two different programs together.  It means working hard to create a new normal... a new mutual space.

By way of a visual, this is COMPLEMENTARY programming.

This is INTEGRATED programming.

In my leadership, I want to strive for integration, not just complementation.  They might be a subtle difference, but they are significant and when we integrate, we truly transform lives.


Monday, June 13, 2011


Last Sunday was a mixed ministry bag for me.  I have some moments I loved and some that left me scratching my head wondering if this is working at all.  I've been in this place before, but it doesn't make this mental/emotional/spiritual trip here any more palpable this go around. The consequence of all that was that I had a grip of things on my brain today.  So, while I did this random painting project for my kid's school, I spend some time pondering life and ministry.

In the process, I was reminded that the voice in my head is not the most accurate gauge of reality.   Sometimes I'm content with stuff that is not good.  Sometimes I'm in a funk about stuff that's really not that funky.  Sometimes I see clearly. Sometimes I see fuzzy.  There's enough variation inside me to confirm that I can't really trust the mirror to be an objective source of evaluation.  I can try and convince myself I see thing unbiased and neutral, but it's not true... especially when the subject is me.

So as I thought about it, I was reminded of a couple of verses:

(Proverbs 26:5)   "Do you see people who are wise in their own eyes?   There is more hope for fools than for them.”
 (Isaiah 5:21) “Destruction is certain for those who think they are wise and consider themselves to be clever.”
Reading those verses again today in this season of ministry was a great reminder for me of the need for multiple voices and the power of community to help me sort out my sense of God's direction.  It is clear that as I make changes and assess problems, there's a few others that I need to get involved and be the mirror for me.   A team of people are a much more accurate reflection than my own eyes staring back at me will ever be.  Here's my list of where I go for insight:

  • PRAYER:  I ask God for divine insight that only God can give. I ask God to speak to me about my issues and his plan.
  • STUDENTS:  I ask students for their feedback. I might grab someone who brought a visitor or a key student who I believe will give me honest feedback.  
  • VOLUNTEERS: I ask some volunteers in my ministry to tell me if my funk is their funk or if it's just a mirror thing. I ask them to confirm or disconfirm what I'm thinking seems right to them.
  • COACHES:  I go to a few hand selected friends and mentors. I tell them my situation, how I'm feeling, and the course of action I think I'm being called into and ask them to confirm it, caution it, or correct it.  
  • RESOURCES:  I might read a book on the issue I'm wrestling with or seek one out that someone recommends, but sometimes a neutral voice I can trust can be found easiest by going to someone not in my community at all.  


Thursday, June 09, 2011


If you're a parent, then you know there are plenty of times when stuff doesn't go right in your kids life.  Maybe it's cuz they got in a fight at school.  Maybe their teacher said something to them and when you heard about it you felt judged and so did your kid.  Maybe it's a neighbor who is unhappy or maybe it's your own kids not getting along with one another and fists are flying.

But, regardless of what the issues is, the problem remains the same.  You're need to figure out, "Do I step in and save the day or do I shut up and let this play itself out?" 

In the last week, I've had to step in twice.  That's not normal for me.  So it got me thinkin'... "when should I speak up or step into help my kids?"  I came up with 3 answers:

WHEN MY KIDS HAVE EXHAUSTED THEIR OWN RESOURCES:  If they already went politely to the teacher or the friend to get the issue solved and it only got worse or was completely ignored, then I'm willing to step in.  But not until then.  We never contact a teacher about an assignment for example, until our own children have gone back and done so themselves. Sometimes I won't go until a third solution on their part fails, and then maybe I'll step in and figure out what the issue really is. 

WHEN SOMEONE WILL MOST LIKELY END UP IN THE HOSPITAL:  If the problem is that someone could end up with my kid being hurt, I usually won't step in.  Truthfully, there's never a time when my kids aren't one wrong move away from a hospital visit.  Even when they sleep.  My kids have amazing abilities to wound one another.  But if the danger is severe enough that they will likely get seriously hurt. then I step in. 

WHEN ADULTS ARE AVOIDING ME AND GOING THROUGH MY KID:  Occasionally some adult will actually avoid talking to me and send a message through my child.  I that case, I never send my child back with the info requested.  I always step in if my kids being used as a pawn in someone's political chess game.   If you want to get at me and you go through my kids, I promise it will work. It might not turn out like you hoped, but you'll get my attention for sure.

ok.. that's my 3.  you got any?  


Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Seriously, have you ever looked at your life and noticed how the string of the will of God makes a crazy unpredictable web?  I was thinking today in light of some changes that were happening in the youth ministry world about how crazy it is that my life is woven into them. I mean really, I couldn't dream this stuff up. 

God is crazy like that.  Check this craziness out.  I owe each of these people a HUGE debt of gratitude for their influence in my life.

ED NOBLE:  A friend who we had brought 3 or 4 times to come and speak to our high school students (at a summer camp run by myself and another friend of mine) invited me to come and be the youth pastor at Journey Community Church.  We said yes and 6 years ago we moved to San Diego after serving 11 years in Northern California.  I had no idea what kinda web that God would start spinning in me with that decision.

MARK OESTREICHER: a long time friend of Ed Noble, was the president of Youth Specialties when I moved to San Diego.  He was a volunteer in our Middle School ministry and was eventually my son TJ's middle school small group leader (today was their last group mtg) and has since become a treasured mentor and friend.  Somewhere in there joined the YS Core and the launch of the Youth Ministry Coaching Program due to Marko's influence in my life.

TIC LONG:  a president and founder of Youth Specialities recently resigned his post (sorta) and is working 1/2 time there and 1/2 time at my church... soon to become my full-time boss as the Executive Pastor at my church.  I knew Tic well from my interactions with YS while Marko was president.  Now he's in my office. That was crazy fun.  Who coulda dreamed that up?

MARK MATLOCK: a friend of mine who I have served with through YS, became the president of Youth Specialties as a result of the Tic Long move.  The other day he e-mailed me and asked if I would join the YSPalooza team.  That was more crazy news.  Of course I said yes.

DOUG FIELDS: Doug's name coulda gone at the top of this list because I met Doug like 15 years ago when he was teaching the first ever "purpose driven youth ministry seminar"- at that time it was a single day add onto the "purpose driven church seminar" that my church staff was going to at the time.   We talked, started a friendship, and it has grown ever since.  I've taught at several seminars for conferences that he's hosted and last year he asked me to come to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference and teach some seminars.  I did and loved it.  This has led to a column I write for Group Magazine and even a couple of book deals. But I put this at the bottom of the list because today, they announced he was coming onto the team of Youth Specialities.  Ok... now this web is getting really crazy twisted and funny.

God, what are you up to?  Oh yeah... spinning crazy God webs. My bad.  I forgot.

Thanks Ed, Marko, Tic, Mark, and Doug. I owe each of you BIG TIME and I can't wait to see how God will use each of you in the future.  I'm just blessed to score a fly here and there caught in the web God is spinning in and through each of you.  


Tuesday, June 07, 2011


I had to write a theology of preaching for a theology of preaching final tonight.  I didn't want to forget, so I made up an acrostic.

Turns out, I kinda like it. I want to preach from the H.I.P.  I want to preach with:


I believe that there is something way bigger going on when someone is bringing God's word to the forefront of people's hearts and minds.  As a communicator, I'm humbled that God let's me.  I'm humbled that God ever uses me to say stuff to people.  I'm humbled out of fear because James 3:1 says God holds teachers to a different accountability level- for we are responsible for where we lead people.  And lately, I've been humbled as I wrestle with the certainty of it all too.  The last thing I want to do is be unbudgingly confident about that which I gotten even slightly wrong.  I'm trying to walk softly and let God carry the stick- painting my theology in an occasional black and white, but mostly a more honest set of shades of grey.

I read two quotes recently that have shaped me a little:

Perhaps the greatest temptation of preachers is to think that only they have a theology and to believe that the best thing to do is to convert all those who listen to their way of thinking.- Henry Nouwen in "Creative Ministry"
Tolerance isn't about not having beliefs. It's about how your beliefs lead you to deal with people who disagree with you. - Tim Keller via twitter.
hmmm.  Neither Nouwen nor Keller are saying they are wishy washy.  They are just saying, before you go telling people how right you are and how wrong they are, take a big humble look in the mirror first.  Then talk to yourself before you talk to anyone else.


If it was a universal law that no one could speak a word unless they were fully living that word in their lives, there would be a lot more silence on the planet.  Maybe it would just be plain silent.  I mean really, everyone's a hypocrite at some point.  But our world is full of far too many fakers- especially in the preacher department.  Again, this one scares me to death because I know I have to call myself and to those who will chase after Jesus with me to a higher level.  That means preaching what I'm striving for instead of what I've achieved at times.  But with that said, the honest truth is the same.  If I don't want to practice what I preach, I should shut up and stop preaching.


Just as if we're not going to live it, we should shut up; I think if we don't think it matters, we should shut up too.  Like why waist anyone's time listening to someone preach about what is ultimately just a take-it-or-leave-it issue.  That sounds horrible and horribly boring. Jim Rayburn, the late founder of an organization called Young Life is famous for saying, "It is a sin to bore a kid with the gospel".  I think he's right. But maybe it's a sin to bore anyone- not just kids- with the essential core of faith.  No, this doesn't mean we jump around yelling and screaming and get the crowd to do the wave... but it does mean that if the message is not significant enough to rouse your emotion as a communicator, maybe it's not worth communicating.  


Monday, June 06, 2011


I love photography.  I started taking pictures in middle school with an old film camera from the WWII era, a pentax with screw on lenses that I bought at a camera swap meet as soon as I was old enough to learn the ropes.  I took a photography class in high school... back in the day when you had to go into a dark room and develop your own film.  

So, if you love photography. Today's post is for you.  Here's 2 links from 2 crazy pictures that totally baffle and stretch my mind as I ponder God and this thing we call creation. 

You can read more about this one on Time's site here.... but it is evidently some crazy galazy pic.  It is NGC 6744, a galaxy located about 30 million light-years away— or 170 million trillion miles.  They claim that this is actually pretty nearby in cosmic terms, and of the galaxies in our immediate celestial neighborhood, NGC 6744 is probably the most similar to the Milky Way.   Of course it is.  Dang I feel small.  

This is the Puyehue volcano in southern Chile that erupted on Saturday, shooting a column of ash and gas six miles into the sky.  This picture and 13 more crazy photos like it can be found here.  Crazy stuff. 


Sunday, June 05, 2011


I've been called passionate when I teach. I've been called loud.  People note that I use lots of props in my messages.  I've had negative and positive feedback.  I've could list lots of both after countless messages over the last 20 yrs.

But it wasn't until I saw these pics from teaching at the mens retreat from Neighborhood Church that I realized, evidently I'm fairly animated.   I have no idea what I was talking about when they took these pics. But clearly I was trying to embody my teaching moment.  The third one cracks me up.  Ha!


Thursday, June 02, 2011


I have been asked to write a book on balancing ministry on family life.  I had my first meeting about it today with the publisher.  I'm pretty stoked.

I can't wait to share stories of my life where I got it wrong and a few places where I things turned out right.  But the truth is, in good and bad, I really love my family.  I feel really really really blessed.  I also was reminded as we talked how deeply I really want my family to know they come first.

Here's some pictures from the latest events and my attempts to tell them as much with my time:

At a mens retreat, where I was the guest speaker and got to hang with my Dad and my oldest son TJ.   I also got to be with one of my best friends and my high school youth pastor too.  Love the generations and stories behind these pics.

At Becky and Billy's 8 year-old birthday.  Billy went to inflatable world, in-n-out burger, and to see Kung Fu Panda 2.  Becky went to the American Girl store in LA to get a doll and take her to lunch. She's super cute..

Jake played Tex in his school play.  I took my small group guys to go see him cuz it was a one night play and it was at the same time.   So myself and 5 high school guys went and watched a 3rd grade play before heading to pizza for the night.  Just trying to keep my family my top priority and modeling it with my students when I can.

Dang I'm blessed.  Love those kids.  Hope they know it.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I hate saying no to good stuff.

Saying no to bad stuff is hard enough.  Anyone who has ever tried to kick a bad habit can testify to that.  But turning down a really great opportunity kills me and I think it is almost harder.  It's certainly harder for me to justify.

I had a really great opportunity come across my e-mail today.  I really wanted to just say yes immediately.  Yes, I'd love to do that thing.  Only problem is, saying yes to too much can kill me too.  I know this.  But I'm not the greatest at doing what I know is true in this area.  I really want to just be a yes man.

But I can't.

So, to that end, here's how I'm trying to decide what to say yes to and what to say no to these days.  Perhaps these five questions will help you decide what is best too.  They are in no particular order:

  1. DESTINATION:  Where do I see my life headed and will this opportunity move me further towards that goal?
  2. FAMILY:  How will this affect my wife and family?  Can they go with me?  What else am I inherently saying no to if I say yes to this? 
  3. MARGIN:  Where does this opportunity fit in the grander scope of my calendar?  Do I have the margin in my life to do this? 
  4. MOTIVE:  Is saying yes to this opportunity about a calling from God or a desire for approval from people?
  5. F WORDS:  how do I foresee that this could affect my friendships, my finances, and my faith?



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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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