Monday, December 31, 2007

balaam and boats

this morning I read numbers 22.
Israel is marching away from Egypt, toward the promised land
and they have transformed
from a weak band of slaves, to a burly wandering army.
the king of moab sees them coming
and knows that they will take him out-
so he calls in the world-famous sorcerer, balaam.
my study bible notes that some of balaam’s prophecies
are preserved in ancient Aramaic writings.
balak the king asks balaam to put a curse on Israel.
balaam said that he would talk to God about it-
and God answered.

God told him that they could not be cursed- they are blessed.
balaam told the men that the king had sent
that the curse wasn’t going to happen.
so the king sent more men.
and this time God told balaam to go along with them,
but don’t curse Israel.

so balaam did-
but on the way, God stopped him-
well-He stopped the donkey.
an angel stood in the road.
balaam couldn’t see him, but the donkey could.
the donkey stopped, and balaam beat her.
and then the donkey stopped 2 more times and balaam beat her again.
and then something funny happens-
God opens the donkey’s mouth and she speaks!
she asks balaam- “why are you beating me?”
and he answers her!
he starts arguing with her-
it sounds like a santa-cruz-junkie arguing with a tree.
finally balaam’s eyes are opened to see the angel,
and balaam chooses not to curse Israel.

I love what the NIV study bible
commentator writes about this verse:
“the internationally known seer
is blind to spiritual reality,
but his proverbially dumb beast is able to see
the angel of the Lord on the path.
as a pagan prophet, balaam was a specialist in animal divination,
but his animal saw what he was blind to observe.
in some ways, the opening of the eyes of the pagan prophet
to see the reality of the angel
was the greater miracle.”

reminds me of something that Philip yancey wrote
in “rumors of another world”:

“I have visited the tip of argentina, the region named tierra del fuego by magellan’s explorers, who noticed fires burning on the shore. the natives tending the fires, however, paid no attention to the great ships as they sailed through the straits. later they explained that they had considered the ships an apparition, so different were they from anything seen before.
they lacked the experience, even the imagination,
to decode evidence passing before their eyes.
and we who built the skyscrapers in new York, who built today not just galleons but space stations and hubble telescopes that peer to the very edge of the universe, what about us?
what are we missing?
what do we not see for lack of imagination or faith?”

Friday, December 28, 2007


lately i’ve been into playing freecell.
its kind of like solitaire, but a lot harder.
when you start a game the cards are all shuffled-
and the goal is to get them all back in order-
once they are all lined up, they magically fall into place.
i play it while jane is in the bath,
or when i’m listening to a message in my office.
it’s a fun challenge-
like unraveling a really complex knot.
it takes patience
it takes a lot of moves,
and some games are flat out unwinnable.
most seem unwinnable,
but if you stay with it long enough-
you can find your way out.

life is like a freecell game sometimes.
sometimes life is all knotted up.
it takes a lot of patience
and a whole lot of steps to unravel it.
some people think that just one big move
will make everything fall into place-
if they just got $100,
or back with their ex, or a better job,
or a house with a garage-
but most times it takes patience,
and a lot of little moves in the right direction,
and the choice to not make bad moves.

some people try to force their knots untied,
but that just makes them tighter,
or the game unwinnable.
sometimes the games that we play look unwinnable,
but if you stay with them long enough-
you can find your way out
and the cards will fall into place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

happy xmas

so this is christmas
and what have you done
another year over
a new one just begun
and so this is christmas
i hope you have fun
the near and the dear ones
the old and the young

a merry merry christmas
and a happy new year
let's hope it's a good one
without any fear

and so happy christmas
for weak and for strong
the rich and the poor ones
the road is so long
so happy christmas
for black and for white
for yellow and red ones
let's stop all the fight

war is over, if you want it
war is over now

merry christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2007

scandalous christmas

how did you react when you hear that Jamie-lynn spears was pregnant?
my first reaction was “wow- her poor mom!”
first brit-brit and now this.

strange timing isn’t it?
the news is buzzing of a teenage girl that is pregnant-
her sister denies it.
her management is trying to react-
her mom’s book on parenting is on hold.
there is a boy who says he is the dad-
and we all feel sort of sad and disappointed.
we know that she is going to be a mom!
and her life will change so fast-
and we wonder if she is ready and what kind of mom she will be.

its Christmastime-
it’s the time of year when we remember another scandal-
another teenage pregnancy-
I can only imagine how the gossip channels lit up
when mary’s little village heard that she was pregnant.
I can only imagine how her mother felt-
and how the people of her town must have felt and wondered about her future.
I can only imagine what happened to her reputation.
joseph was convinced that she had cheated on him and was ready to divorce her- which was the gracious thing to do (he could have had her killed!)

how was mary feeling about all of this?
how did she feel about the gossip that was being spread about her
and about her future?
it says right there on the page:

“and mary said:
"my soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
from now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.”

she wasn’t afraid- she was thrilled.
she was just a teenage girl-
but God was convinced that he could trust her to take care of the child.
she was just a small town girl-
but God knew for certain that she was the best person for the job.
maybe God has more confidence in teenage girls than we do.

happy holidays

here are some holiday traditions that I’m getting over:

1. the holiday economy-
there was a time when Christmas was about giving gifts to the people you love. now it feels like we’re buying presents to keep America alive and the economy rolling. black Friday is now a national holiday and the stores are opening earlier and earlier. there is no thanksgiving anymore because the Christmas decorations go right up after Halloween. is this so people can make sure they get those gifts for their loved ones? nope! its so the mall can boost their profits. poor thanksgiving!

2. presents for grown-ups-
I’m all about giving presents to kids on Christmas (heck- everyday is Christmas for jane!). and I’m ok with giving a gift at Christmas to appreciate a co-worker, or your favorite, hard-working, and handsome youth pastor; but gifts for grown-ups is weird. here is how it plays out: no one knows what to get for grown-ups, they don’t want to just trade gift cards, so they take a risk and buy them something that they hope they’ll like or that they hope will fit. they usually don’t like it, or already have one, or it doesn’t fit. so the giver feels bummed (and a little poorer,) and the receiver feels awkward at trying to appreciate this gift.
my solution is the no-present-christmas. this year at thanksgiving, I had some great food and enjoyed the company of my family- what more do you need?

3. Christmas trees-
ummm- trees are from outside. who decided to cut them down and bring them inside? and what do they have to do with jesus? they probably have more to do with jesus’ competitors than jesus Himself. and- yeah- they are a fire hazard! and they make a mess! and they are expensive! and sappy! if you want to enjoy the smell of pine, get a candle! or go to the forest! (I know- I’m the grinch). by the way, we have a little fake tree-

4. presents the mall.
I haven’t been to the mall in weeks, and I don’t regret it. going to the mall will kill your holiday spirit instantly. we drive huge cars around these overcrowded parking lots and get road rage while we wait in car-lines for people to slowly get in their cars and give up their precious parking spots. then once you get inside, more crowds, lines, and ticked off shoppers and employees. yeah- I’m over it.

5. lights on the house-
I’m surprised that the green people have not raised a stink about how much energy that Christmas lights use. unrolling Christmas lights and getting on a ladder and stapling them in, and then taking them back down because one of them is broken is a DRAG! I leave it to the professionals at Christmas in the park or something like that. (I know- I’m Ebenezer scrooge).

6. gift cards (or as I like to call them, GC’s)
these solve a big problem- because you’re letting the receiver pick out what they want. but they aren’t all that fun to open, and you can’t use them until after Christmas, and you can’t really use them until WAY after Christmas, because all of the stores are empty until February or something like that. but if you are going to give a gift card, be a little more creative than starbucks. (for those of you that got me a starbucks card- really- I’m grateful for it!)

7. cleaned-up nativity scenes-
the whole birthing deal is pretty messy, scary, and PAINFUL! mary had no hospital, nurse, drugs, boiled water- she wasn’t even indoors! (it was probably more of a cave than a well structured barn.) she is lucky to have lived through this!
and what about the hay! there is no hay in the holy land! so what did jesus lay in if it wasn’t a manger for hay?
probably a watering trough.
and the place where Jesus was born was made for animals! there was poo everywhere!
and the donkey that she rode in on- donkeys were for the wealthy. mary walked into Bethlehem at nine months pregnant.
oh- and doesn’t the bible say that there was a price on the infant’s head?! and his security team was mary and joseph?!
we keep cleaning up the story- maybe its too filthy for us to handle.

8. “the holidays”
the whole “happy holidays” thing has gotten to me this year. I know its not that big a deal to not say “merry Christmas,” but what holidays are people referring to when they say “happy holidays?!” Christmas! jane and I were just at Chuck E. Cheese, and they had their “holiday songs” on. it was a downer. they sang jingle bells and “O Christmas Tree.” and there were people on the screens wishing me a very happy holidays and hoping that my family would enjoy the spirit of the holidays. ugh.

Christmas is about Jesus.
not shopping, not decorations, not the economy or sales or the mall. its not about out-giving your relatives or lame songs about trees.
its about the word becoming flesh dwelling among us-
its about the almighty choosing a new name for Himself:

so this Christmas remember that jesus came from heaven
to be born in a stinky, filthy cave-
all so that He could be born in our stinky, filthy, hearts-
Merry Christmas.

“for to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
and he will be called
wonderful counselor, mighty God,
everlasting father, prince of peace.
of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
he will reign on david's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
the zeal of the LORD almighty
will accomplish this.”
-isaiah 9

Saturday, December 15, 2007

my latest caffinated-obsession

at least its not red-bull!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


last night at youth group this small group leader looked over at me and then pointed to a boy. he said, “this guy. take him.”
I guess “that guy” was having a hard time sitting still or staying quiet in small groups.
I pulled him aside and took a walk with him through the church.
“what happened?” I said-
“I dunno.” he answered.
“well- how are you doing?”
“fine.” he answered.
we chatted a bit about school and his family for a bit.
I found out that he was adopted-
but then his adopted parents got divorced
and now he lives with an adopted-step-dad.
I was about to send him back to his small group,
but first I said, “how I can pray for you?”
he said, “you can pray for the courts.”
“yeah- my real dad- well, not my REAL dad, he beats me when he’s mad at me, and so my mom is trying to get custody of me.”
I was a little stunned.
I asked a few more questions and then we prayed.
before he went back to his group I said,
“I think that if I was going through what you’re going through,
I think I’d have a hard time sitting still in church too.
You’re not in trouble bro.”

the more I pull students aside like that,
the more crazy stories I hear.
love, rob

seems simple

for the last several years I’ve been working with youth for Christ on a project called campus life. campus life is a club that is run by local churches on middle school campuses. its evangelistic and lots of fun for students, and usually meets at lunchtime. there are some 35 clubs in town, each with as many as 100 to 200 students in each club. I oversee one of those clubs (with a youth pastor named Will), and I’m looking to start another one at another local middle school campus (with a youth pastor named Chris).

my contact at youth for Christ organizes resources, volunteers and youth pastors to oversee these clubs. she keeps us out of trouble and gets us out of trouble when we cross a line- and she handles all of the legal and paperwork.

we were talking about the new club, and she said that another ministry had also targeted this school and was going to have a another local youth pastor oversee the club. we figured that is this was the case, then it made no sense to have 2 clubs on the same campus. so I called this pastor to get some more information.

it turns out that he is new in town, and the ministry that he is working with has never launched a club before. he would be responsible for the club, not the ministry. and if he got into trouble, he’s have to find his way out. he asked if I would like to help him, and I told him that I would prefer to work with youth for Christ. he wasn’t interested in that. I’m not interested in going forward without YFC.

so I was driving this morning and thinking about this thing-
and I was thinking, “if this guy chooses to work with youth for Christ and Chris and I, then he has all of the resources of youth for Christ to protect him. he has all of the resources of Chris’ church and my church (which adds up to 6 youth pastors and 2 interns) and who knows how many parents that would also like to volunteer.
but if he chooses not to, then he’s in it all by himself.”
(I have done it by myself- its enough to make you want to find a new job.)

it seemed simple:
work with YFC and have all the resources you could ever want,
or go without YFC and try to do it all by yourself.
and then the Lord laid this on my heart:
“yeah- its like that with Me too.” whoa!
I can choose to do life,
ministry, family, marriage, and parenting with Him,
and have all of the resources
of the Creator of Heaven and Earth available to me-
or I could give it my best shot all by myself.

it seems simple.
but there is a pride issue involved.
there is credit on the line.
and this whole thing requires humility.

there are those days when I look back and think,
“I was doing it all on my own today- and that’s why I was so frustrated!”
and there are those nights when I can consider how much I let others do, and how much I trusted the Lord to accomplish.
There are those nights when I prayed,
“God- I can’t do thing on my own- I need You to show up,
to come through, to change the outcome of this story.”
and He does.
seems simple!

but how often does He show up, and I take the credit?
how often does He long to assist me, but I want to do it myself?
if its so simple, why don’t I lean on Him instead of attempting to do it all by myself?

jesus foresaw this whole dilemma and said,
“i am the vine; you are the branches.
if a man remains in me and i in him, he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.”

with Him or without Him?
it seems simple.

"I'll be with him
on that midnight train to Georgia
I'd rather live in his world
than live without him in mine."
-gladys knight

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

church//gym: entry02

for awhile I was doing tae-bo videos in my living room
to work up a sweat.
I thought that I was pretty good at them.
one night I was at the gym and saw that there was a tae bo class going on in one of the studios. I peeked through the window in the door, but I was too nervous to go in. it looked like a lot of fun. they were all watching a video and there was a leader in the front of the room calling out encouragements just like billy blanks.
one of the gym workers saw me peeking through the window and he said, “go inside!”
I said, “aww- no thanks…”
he opened the door and shouted “LLOYD! YOU GOT ANOTHER ONE!”
and tried to shove me in.
I ran away afraid. I felt like a middle school boy that was too afraid to go to youth group, even though he really wanted to.

I went next week- Lloyd the instructor had his sparkle lit brightly.
he was like, “GOOD EVENING!
“let’s open with a word of prayer.”
and he prayed with joy- and He thanked God for the joy of being together and healthy.
then he had us all introduce ourselves-
and he remembered all of our names.
while we were working out with the tape,
he walked up to me and said, "you know what you're doing don't you?"
I just grinned.
before and after the tae-bo dvd, we stretched and did aerobics to funky dance music.
it was so much fun-

I went for weeks and weeks. I was like a middle school boy who idolized him middle school pastor and just wanted attention from him. I just wanted to be around Lloyd- his enthusiasm was rubbing off on me. there were a lot of nights where I was too tired to go to the gym, but my wife would ask, ‘aren’t you going to go see Lloyd tonight?” and I’d hop out of my chair and into my gym clothes.
he was always glad to see me and always remembered my name.
and of course, I was always glad to see him.
every now and then he would announce that he was having a sub in the coming weeks- I didn't go on those days- the class was just as much about being with Lloyd as it was being with billy blanks.

so what does this teach me about church?
its always appropriate to be happy to see someone.
its always appropriate to be full of joy and enthusiasm.
as a leader of a group, your demeanor rubs off- and your demeanor and attention can be enough to get someone to decide to come to church.
its important to remember names! and say them!
and its ok to have fun and laugh while you’re leading-
what are you like when you lead- or when you’re at church?
are you down? depressed? emo?
light up your sparkle- and you’ll light up the whole room!

“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
-philippians 2

Monday, December 10, 2007

church//gym: entry01

so this is the first in what will hopefully become a series of fun blogs about what I’m learning about church by going to a gym- which ironically is at a church.

going to the gym at a church is a trip because everyone is dressed modestly, there is praise music on the speakers, and its closed saturday night for evening service and on sundays.
one time I was in this aerobics class and the instructor introduced himself as the healing minister at the church. he said that before class started that he would ask God to heal anyone that had any aches or pains. he asked me to be ready to catch anyone that fell over when they were healed (since I was the biggest). as I was standing behind people waiting to catch them I thought to myself, “this is definitely NOT 24 hour fitness!”

so I signed up for this gym like a year ago. I went for about 6 months and then I was busy for a few weeks and then just got out of the habit. well, I went shopping for jeans last week and it took me about 2 minutes to decide to renew my membership to the gym.

I had my first work out in a while a few days ago. on my way over I started worrying.
I began to think, “what if people see me and think that I look bad?”
“will they wonder where I’ve been? what should I say?”
“will they be all fit and trim? will I feel dumpy next to them?”
“will the friends that I made a few months ago be there?”
“will they remember me?” “will they be friendly?”
“will everything be different?” “maybe I should just turn around- I’ll go next week!”

and it dawned on me, “I’ve heard this before!”
I sounded like so many people that I have run into who haven’t been to church in a long time.
when I encourage them to come back they give me all of the fears that I expressed:
“what will people think?” “will I know anyone?” “will they accept me?”

well I went to the gym.
I walked through the front door and the young man at the desk smiled and said,
“hey there young man! long time no-see!”
I said, “yeah- this is my first time in a while…”
“good for you! now go get to work!”

that gave me such a boost!
it sounds goofy, but that made me want to come back again soon and give it my all.

what does this teach me about church?
when you see someone that hasn’t been there for a long time, remember that it was a big step for them to come, and that needs to be celebrated with enthusiasm. and a smile, an encouraging word and remembering someone’s face (and even their name) goes very, very far- and can be all that a person needs to get over the hump and make church a habit for themselves all over again.
its so easy to see someone that you haven’t seen for awhile and make a mental note of it, and that’s it.
it could be their last sunday if you don’t welcome them-
but imagine how much they could grow and be encouraged if you do?

“physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
-1 tim. 4:8

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

tokens and tickets

I have to admit, when jane and I go to chuck e. cheese or the jungle and we play the games, something comes over me when I see those tickets piling out of the machine. it feels like I hit the jackpot- like I’m the world’s best skee-ball player.

one day we scored a mountain of tickets. we went over to the counter to see what we could redeem them for, but we were about 100 short of the really cool chuck e. cheese ball.
the worker said- “oh no problem- you just pay a penny for every ticket that you’re short- it will only cost you a dollar.” I gave her a puzzled look.
she said “yeah- if you see a prize for 500 tickets, you can just buy it for five dollars.”
I said “so each ticket is really only worth a PENNY?!” she just smiled and gave us our ball.
I was mad- because that ball wasn’t worth $5, but I spent a lot more than $5 getting the tickets to pay for it! I got ripped off!

this has really made me think each time I go to one of these arcades. I spend 25 cents on a game, but I’m really only winning if I get 25 tickets or more per token. but that’s crazy- most games you only get about five, maybe 10 tickets per token. if you’re really lucky you can score twenty; but any way you do it, the arcade always makes more than they lose.

I’ve seen middle school boys get bags and bags of tokens as if it were an investment or something. they’ll say, “but think of all the things I can buy with all of the tickets I’ll earn!” I don’t have the heart to tell them that they could get so much more from the counter if they skip the entire token and ticket process.

life is like that too.
we get ripped off.
we spend a lot, and get little in return sometimes.
its sad when we get ripped off financially,
but its even worse when we get ripped off in other ways:

like the middle school girl who trades her faith, her friends, and her relationship with her parents, only to discover that they boy didn’t live up to the hype.

like the boy who trades his innocence just to fit in, only to discover that those friends that he worked so hard to impress were as worth about as much as chuck e. cheese tokens at the supermarket.

like the man who gave up so much to impress his boss or to get that raise or promotion, only to discover that more money just means bigger bills and more stress.

like the preacher who just wanted to be rich, or bad, just like everyone else; and wakes up each morning wondering “what if I stayed in the ministry?”

one time when I was a kid, I went to the movies with my friends. my mom wanted to give me money for video games, but all she had was a twenty dollar bill. she gave it to me and she asked me to make sure that I didn’t use all of it- she needed to use the change to buy things for our house. I thought I would play a joke on my mom and put the 20 in the change machine and give her the change in quarters. only it wasn’t a change machine, it was a token machine- and it spit out $20 in tokens. I freaked out. I asked the manager to refund me, but she wouldn’t. I called my mom and she knew that there was nothing I could do. I was stuck with a pocket full of tokens and a heart full of regret.

is that thing that you are pursuing worth what you’re spending to get it? U2 has this song with a line in it, “you wanted to get somewhere so badly, but did you lose yourself on the way?”
are you falling for the myth that the tickets are really worth something special, when in reality they are not? do you have this sense that one day you might regret the decisions that you’re making now? like you’re spending money, but you’re only getting tickets worth a penny? are you spending money,, time, affection on stuff that just isn’t worth it? are you getting ripped off?

now that I know about the whole ticket scam, I’ve learned not to be seduced by the tickets or the prizes. we’re getting a safe, clean, indoor place to play, loads of fun, and all for only 25 cents a token- maybe we’re the ones ripping off chuck e. cheese! now we just go and play and understand that we’re not getting anything for the tokens we spend- other than a fun time together;
and you can’t put a price on that.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

children's show theology:: entry 01

who is pooh-bear’s best friend?
is it piglet?
is it christopher robin?
does he have 2?
I was watching the pooh-bear movie with jane
and i was struck by this thought.
the story isn’t clear on who his best friend is-

pooh looks after piglet,
and christopher robin looks after pooh.
christopher influences pooh
and pooh influences piglet-

maybe there is something to that-
we need a friend that looks after us-
and we need someone that we’re looking after-
we need someone to lead us
and someone to lead.
in the bible the apostle paul had a timothy-
someone that he built into-
and he had a friend named barnabus-
that encouraged and inspired him.
it made sense to paul-
strangely- it made sense to pooh.

for some people, its easy to find mentors, and people that they look up to-
but could they also find someone to mentor?
for others- its just the opposite-
they have all kinds of people that they inspire,
but haven't asked anyone to build into them.
both relationships are important-
because both leave a person better and leave the world better.

students ask me all the time about friends of other faiths-
or friends with no faith at all-
is it good to have a friend like that?
maybe a better question is
"am I the christopher robin in this friendship or the pooh bear?"
who influences who?
who leads who?

who is your best friend?
are you the piglet in the relationship?
the follower?
the christopher robin?
the leader?
who is influencing who?
who leads who?

maybe you’re like a bear that’s stuffed with fluff-
and you’ve got 2 best friends-
a timothy and a barnabus,
a piglet and a christopher robin.
both are vital-
just ask the apostle paul
and winnie the pooh.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


happy birthday jane!