Epilepsy, Faith, Family, Life

Walking A New Path

A New Path

Today our family begins a new chapter in our story. It’s an unexpected chapter, one we never saw in the Table of Contents, one we didn’t choose or wish for.

Today, Sophia, our middle child, was diagnosed with epilepsy. She had a seizure on Monday morning, three months to the day since her first and up to now only episode. It has been a long week, but now we have some answers. And yet, at the same time we have even more questions. I’d like to say that this post has some great point, but frankly at this point I am just processing.

Epilepsy? Really? Isn’t that when you have convulsions frequently? My mind is running with stories of people I know with epilepsy. Interestingly, Christina told me that she learned from the doctor that Epilepsy is kind of an automatic diagnosis when there is no other known cause of seizures. Epilepsy is not a one-faceted disease. It is varied and encompasses numerous and diverse symptoms and reactions.

So, we’ve begun a medical regimen that will last at least two years. Two years! That’s half of the life she has lived so far! Hard to fathom.

But I’m glad we have an idea of what’s going on. I’m thankful for all the love and support our family has received just the past few days. The texts, the calls, the visits, the offers of help. They mean a lot. Frankly, we’re tired. Christina and I are at just drained. Trying to understand this as best we can, while raising three kids and all while in the midst of the busiest week of the year for me (Holy Week). It’s an adventure that I don’t recall having signed up for.

But that’s the way it goes. Life is a continual unfolding of God’s story for us. He’s not freaked out by this. He knew what He was doing when He formed Sophia. He knew this would happen before time began, and somehow He will be glorified in all of this.

Sophia obviously doesn’t have a grasp of what is going on. But she’s brave. So many kids her age are scared of doctors and hospitals. But not Sophie. Oh, she’s not the biggest fan of them, but she has been a real trooper this week. 

By the way, I’m not going to call Sophia an epileptic. She will not be defined by this. This doesn’t change who she is, it just affects her. She is defined by God’s love for her. She’s defined by her piercing blue eyes, her love of animals, her love of families, and her love of all things purple.

It’s only fitting that the color of Epilepsy Awareness is Purple… It’s her favorite.

Each of my kids have taught me so much. May Sophia teach me to be brave. And to trust God more each and every day.

Faith, Ministry, Money, Sermons

Twisted: The Root of All Evil

This past Sunday at Mount Hermon Church we finished the series “Twisted” where we looked at the most some of the most commonly misunderstood Bible passages. 
You can listen to Sunday’s message here: Twisted: Root of All Evil.

One of the key thoughts I shared was this: When we think “What I really need is more money,” we’re deceived. Money is not the answer to our deepest needs. JESUS IS! We don’t need more money, we need more Jesus.

So as you go through the week, and maybe think, “I need more money. More money would make my life easier right now.” Remember, Jesus is the answer to your greatest needs. Money isn’t bad. But loving it is more dangerous than you can imagine.

So let’s pursue Jesus instead of money. He’s the real answer to our problems, the real source of our joy, the genuine provider of security and forgiveness.

Hey, are you a pastor, church leader, or Bible study facilitator? You need to check out Open.Church! They are a group of several churches who give away everything they do for free! From sermon outlines, to teaching videos, to church graphics, to original worship music. Open.Church has saved me countless hours of detail work. For this series, Twisted, I was able to use graphics and other media to give the message some extra oomph. I was able to take the outline for this series, and customize it to make it my own. Again, you need to check them out.

Critics, Faith, Life, Ministry

What About the Lies?

As the church where I serve, Mount Hermon UB, has grown, so has the amount of criticism that I and our church face. And while I’m all about constructive criticism, because I want to get better at what I do, there is one thing I don’t handle as well: lies about me or the organization I serve.

I’m not talking about differing opinions, or even differing interpretations of the facts. Those aren’t lies, those are opinions, and like bellybuttons, nearly everyone has one. And like bellybuttons, just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you need to tell and show the whole world. Congrats. We get it.

But lies. What do you do about the lies? In our era of social media, they go viral, are shared dozens of times, or at least seen dozens of times by people before you even have time to see them for yourself, let alone react. Don’t we have a duty to correct, to rectify an injustice?

When the lie is about you, or even your organization, I’m going to say, under most circumstances, NO. Yes, that goes against every instinct we have. That goes against our pride, our righteous indignation. But it’s usually the right call.

See, getting into an argument with someone who is lying about you is like wrestling a pig. You both get dirty and only one of you is going to like it. Reminds me of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (ESV) I know that may not be the proper exegesis of this passage, it just reminds me of what happens when you engage a person spreading lies about you.

So what do we do? Here’s 5 STEPS to deal with lies and the lying liars who lie.

1.  Recognize This Isn’t Personal, But Spiritual.

“But Adam, of course it’s personal, they’re talking about me!” While technically correct, remember the words of Paul the Apostle to the church at Ephesus: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (NLT)
I know Billy Bob may be telling a lie about you, but the issue isn’t Billy Bob himself. It’s the forces of the enemy, Satan, trying to take you down or to discourage you. See, if the Devil can get you to give up, or to sin while trying to defend yourself, he wins. The problem isn’t the person who’s lying. It’s the underlying spiritual issues.
Is that person saved? Is that person going through some sort of traumatic life circumstance? After all, hurting people hurt people. I’m not saying that they have a pass to say whatever they want. No one ever has a pass to say whatever they want (including you). But the issues are deeper.

2. If There is a Specific Accusation or Attack, Refute It Once And Move On.

But if it’s specific enough, refute it ONCE. Don’t be constantly trying to defend yourself. Again, then you find yourself in an argument that you can not win. But if you refute it, then the people whom are closest to you can say, “Nope, Jane didn’t do that. She refuted that charge.” I believe that your character will show the truth, at least to those open minded enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.

We have to be very careful about continually insisting on our innocence, because it then becomes very easy for us to think we are fighting the battle. It becomes easy for us to insist on our own righteousness. It becomes about our justification.

And for the Christian, we recognize that a, we’re not always innocent, in fact we have sinned just as everyone else has. B, It is God who is to fight for us. Vengeance is His. He promises to deal with it. C, apart from Christ, we have no righteousness. Sorry but without Jesus you might as well be guilty of what they’re accusing you of. And lastly, your justification comes only from what Jesus did for you on the cross, not from the opinions of others or the reputation you or your organization enjoy.

3. If You Have a Personal Relationship with Them, Reach Out. 

Now this can be tricky. But if it’s someone you have had a decent report with in the past, someone whom you have been in relationship with before, try to reach out to them. Humility is key here. Don’t reach out with a “What the heck are you doing” attitude. But humbly, kindly, ask them what is going on. Do they have a misunderstanding of what occurred? Perhaps they aren’t mentally well, and are lashing out? Ask them to correct the matter to the best of their ability.

They likely won’t listen. But you have fulfilled your obligation as stated in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all.”

4. Keep Going. 

If the enemy can get you distracted, he’s won. You’re likely getting attacked because you are doing something worthwhile. Keep reaching people for Jesus. Keep being kind to others. Keep making the difference in people’s lives.

In the Book of Nehemiah, there is a guy named (wait for it) Nehemiah who is rebuilding the walls around the desolated city of Jerusalem. And people don’t want him to continue. They try to discourage him by trying to scare him and his workers. That doesn’t work so they resort to telling lies. “Hey Nehemiah, come down from the wall so we can talk about all the stuff you’re doing.”

Nehemiah’s response is great: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you.” (Nehemiah 6:3b ESV)
Did you catch that? “Sorry guys, I am too busy to play your game or get caught up in your little drama.”

Man, if more of us would keep going, imagine what we would get accomplished!

5. Bless Them.

 Yep, you read that right. Bless them. Jesus told us repeatedly to love our enemies. Bless those who curse you and lie about you. Why? Because that demonstrates the genuineness of our faith in Christ. It shows the world the power of God’s love.

Paul tells us to repay evil with good in Romans 12:14-21. In verse 20-21 Paul says, “To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I hope I have given you some steps you can take when people say false things about you. It hurts. And it’s okay to hurt. But allow God to use this to shape your character to more reflect the image of Christ. He is for you. And you are never alone.

Be sure to share this post if it has helped you, and leave a comment.

Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry From Scratch: Part 2 (Not Complicated)

In the last post, I laid out 3 compelling reasons why you need to start a youth ministry from scratch in your local church. But if you’re like me, you probably already know why. Many of us don’t struggle with the motivation. Instead, we’re clueless of what step to take.  This leaves us in an emotional state of limbo, desperate to make an impact, but feeling lost and confused when it comes to making that difference.

Youth Ministry is hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Yep, ministry in general is difficult, and youth ministry can be especially messy. You’re dealing with hormones, questions about life’s purpose, conflicts with parents, peer pressure, experimentation with lots of stuff, and limited understanding of spiritual issues. Before you run away screaming and pulling out your hair, get this: It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Most of my vocational ministry experience has been as a lead/senior pastor. And in that time I’ve created some pretty complicated systems. Stupid me. Lots of times, dealing with adult ministry or even church-wide ministry can be difficult. Different challenges present themselves for every ministry. Even the simplest small group model still presents challenges to me (What do you do with the kids? How do you create a reporting system to measure metrics?).

Youth ministry, especially from scratch, does not have to be complicated. In my next post, I’m going to share 3 steps on how to do youth ministry from scratch. But, for now, let me share with you 3 reasons Youth Ministry doesn’t have to be complicated, and could be the simplest ministry you start.

3 Reasons Youth Ministry Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

1. Students Have Basic Wants

Now, I’m not calling Students basic, which is apparently a new insult among Generation Z. No, I’m saying students have a simple hierarchy of needs, that most of the time has yet to be complicated by the pressures or expectations of adulthood.

If you give students a place to hang out, be real, have fun, and free food, they are going to come back. And they are going to open up to you. And you can open up to them. There are fewer expectations with student ministry. As long as you have pizza, no one is complaining.

2. Most Students Have Simple Schedules

What? Adam, are you feeling ok? Students are on the go all the time! Yes they are. But for the most part, compared to adult schedules, they are easier to move around. See, much of the activities students are involved in (sports, 4H, scouting organizations) are voluntary organizations.

What I am getting at is this: while students are busy, they have fewer life-essential demands on their time than most adults do. Most students aren’t having to work 40 hours a week. Some are, but its not that common. Most students don’t have to come home from work and try to raise their kids. Let’s be honest, when homework is done, its time for Netflix or massive online gaming.

Students have hobbies, but they can be flexible with their time.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s easier to get students together at a certain time than adults. While this is not always the case, I have found it to generally be true. I rarely have an issue getting many students to show up for youth group as opposed to trying to get adults to show up for small group.

3.  Students Value Authenticity

Sometimes in ministry, we get so focused on the production, the show, the flash. And yes, the church down the road from you may have fog machines and guitar led worship. They may sing their own worship songs with some awesome graphics on the screen. Good for them. Seriously. Celebrate that students are engaging elsewhere.

Our church doesn’t have the budget for that. Or the volunteers gifted in design who have 40 hours a week to devote to the team. But what we do have: authenticity.

Students like the show, the production. Who doesn’t? But when the shows over, they want some to see someone genuine. I’m not saying you can’t be authentic if you have the “total” ministry package. I’m saying without authenticity, everything else falls flat.

Our church isn’t the cool church. It would be nice if we were, but that’s not us. It would be fake to try that in our context. And it’s hard work being the cool church. Very hard work. In our youth ministry, we have some students who attend the cool church but still participate in our youth ministry. Why? Does the other church lack something? I don’t think so. But they found something here in our context, and I think they connected because of our type of authenticity.  

Being genuine is free. Sure, it means you have to vulnerable, but the payoff is worth the risk. Being real with students is going to attract and keep them, and most importantly, DISCIPLE them more than focusing on the big event or the big show.

Youth ministry is difficult. But for the reasons I outlined above, and more, it shouldn’t be complicated. Provide a safe space, show love, and be real. Next post, we’ll dive into 3 steps to starting Youth Ministry from Scratch. As always, leave a comment and share this post with others.