This past week, I was preparing for a message that I was giving on Sunday night; and a prayer from Jacob really hit me. The prayer’s context is pretty important. Jacob was a sneaky, sneaky guy. Earlier in his life, he was the kind of person who would sell a dead parakeet to a blind kid. One of his antics got him in a ton of hot water: stealing his father’s blessing from his brother, Esau. When Esau found out that Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing by tricking his dad, he intended to kill his brother. So…Jacob, being the smart kid that he was, bolted from his home to spend many years as a fugitive– in fear of Esau’s wrath.
Maybe he would have stayed away for his whole life. Who knows? There’s was just one wrinkle in this whole story. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham. Since he was, this meant that he was the heir of the promise that was given to his grandfather, namely that he would be the father of a “great nation” and prosper in the Promised Land.
According to God, living like a fugitive was not the plan. God promised Jacob that, if he returned, he wouldn’t die. God’s promise would endure– in spite of Jacob’s bad behavior.
This prayer comes up right before Jacob is about to dip his toe back into the pool of a relationship with Esau. After years of being away, Jacob was ready to go home– and hoping that Esau would literally bury the hatchet.
Here’s the prayer (with some stuff left out for focus):
“O God…you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’…Save me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me…But You have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.”
Let me pull out stuff from this awesome, real prayer.
1. Jacob goes to God with his problem. Do we model this in our home? Where do we take our problems?
2. Jacob knows what God has promised. Do we know God’s promises? Kind of hard to know if we’re not reading His Word.
3. Jacob is totally real about how he’s feeling. Yes, Jacob knows that God has said he will not die– but he doesn’t feel it; and he’s being honest before God about those raw (very understandable) feelings.
4. Jacob falls back on God’s promise, in the end. Jacob’s prayer doesn’t end with his feelings. Instead, he goes back to God’s promises.
How do we model prayers to teenagers? If we skip step two and four, we’re just praying through our feelings– with no knowledge of God. If we skip step three, though, we’re never really laying our hearts before God. So, how can we model this kind of promise-motivated vulnerability to the next generation?
In case you missed it, here are some great things to stimulate your thinking…
On Tuesday, I talked about prioritizing time-out with your family, especially in the form of a vacation. You can find the post here. This has been a journey for me because I do love working at my job and am kind of (really) cheap. Maybe you need a kick in the pants too, and I hope this helps!
Speaking of that vacation, I finally got some pictures to share:
I just loved seeing what stuck out to her, like these gas pumps that were like fish bowls in Toon Town.
This is me carpe saltare-ing, seizing the dance with my little one. My favorite memory.
I like this picture because we both open our mouths wide open when we’re taking in new information, like the Alice in Wonderland ride.
I do want to share a post from Orange Parents as well that talks about taking on a big project with your kids. Whether building a treehouse, consistently reading through a chapter book, or going through The Truth in the Tinsel, I’d love to have Evie say to me one day, “I don’t think it will ever be finished. We can always keep going, can’t we?” Check it out.
On Thursday, I switched gears to compare teenagers to dwarves from Middle Earth– both searching for “home.” You can find it here. It’s just the way I see the world, and I hope that it encourages those of you who love and serve young people.
Also on a church-leadership front, check out Orange Leaders, who are treating us this week to a grab-a-cup-of-coffee-and-settle-down-to-listen podcast about introducing effective events for married people that matter. Why is it important? How can we really provoke life-change through a married people program? This is solid stuff to get you thinking. Who knows? Maybe you could be the catalyst for this kind of change in your church!
Recently, my wife and I did something we rarely do. We went to go see a movie. A movie like “The Hobbit” will definitely draw me out of my normal balking about movie prices, “we have a one-year-old” excuses, and general distaste for what comes out these days. I’m a huge Middle Earth fan (as is my wife), so it was a no-brainer that this had to be the first movie we went out to see since having Evie.
So, we lined up one of our friends to babysit; and we were off to see the wizard (Gandalf, that is) and the amazing tale of Bilbo and more dwarves than Snow White has ever seen. First off, I really liked the movie and thought that Peter Jackson did a good job of creating some background and motivation for certain characters that just isn’t there in Tolkien’s book. One aspect that was tweaked a little bit was the dwarves motivation for raiding the Lonely Mountain to take on the evil dragon, Smaug.
In the book, it seems like the dwarves are only concerned with getting rich off of the gold that Smaug stole and is guarding. But, the movie really emphasizes this idea that the dwarves are essentially homeless wanderers because of Smaug. He destroyed their kingdom (in the Lonely Mountain) and plopped down on their gold, basically bullying the dwarves out of their home.
There is a key scene that got me thinking about youth ministry (well, any ministry for that matter). In it, Thorin (the leader of the dwarves) challenges Bilbo (a hobbit) as to why he doesn’t just leave this difficult quest and go home to his comfy home in the Shire. Bilbo responds that it is exactly because he has a home that he wants to stick with the dwarves. Because he knows what home is like, he wants to aid the dwarves in having that feeling of home.
In the movie, the dwarves are rough and grumbly because of sixty years of wandering (ok, and maybe just some due to dwarvishness). And maybe that’s exactly why teenagers can be rough and grumbly, that classic “angst.” Yeah, I’m sure some of it is just par for the course (because it’s just teenageness); but I think part of it is because our teens just don’t know the feeling of home.
I see teenagers pretending to be something they’re not all the time, trying to impress whomever they can to get attention that they crave, pouring all their emotions into love interests, trying on new personalities and points of view, and generally demonstrating the behavior of wandering souls.
And that is precisely why, as a youth leader, I am staying on this quest. I know what home in a relationship with Jesus feels like (being where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to be, and with whom I’m supposed to live life)– and I want to share that with these dwarves…I mean teens.
We all need home.
My family and I went on a trip to Disneyland for Christmas this year. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a series of thoughts from the trip.
Here’s thought number two:
Vacation gets a bad rap, but it’s worth it.
It’s always going to cost money to go places. It’s never going to make sense. And, yeah, traveling through the Grapevine or driving through LA traffic can cause tension; but I want to make vacation a priority. It’s just a part of creating a rhythm in my own home. I want Evie and Mary Kate to know that they’re important to me.
So, even though I’m terminally cheap and kind of lazy, I realized that this vacation thing has to be a part of Evie’s childhood. We will always remember the moments that we had together. I think of the sappy song that Disney uses in their commercials, “You and me, together, forever.” I was thinking to myself, “Evie at fourteen months. Now showing for a limited time.” Might as well take advantage of this time when she thinks Minnie is real and she actually wants to be held by her daddy.
I never went to Disney World when I was a kid. I did go on a couple of vacations, but I didn’t feel like it was a rhythmic part of my life. Some years we went (which was awesome); some years we didn’t. I used to envy families who prioritized vacation.
Then a weird thing happened: as I was trying to figure out what following Jesus looked like, I started to equate vacations with “excess” and somehow spiritualized not taking a vacation (as if real Christians can’t spend money on fun with their family). As with anything, I think we can take things too far. First things first, followers of Jesus should at least tithe to their local church; so you’re think about your vacation budget with the other 90% of your money. [I think a lot of people do vacation (a great thing) above tithing (a way more important thing), so we do need to check our priorities.] But, after that, why wouldn’t you invest in memories with your family?
I think of all the “stuff” I could buy Evie, and I found that nothing can replace the time in a magical place for children like Disney Land. I remember thinking a few months ago while on vacation with my in-laws. I was thankful that they were paying our way to have this experience; but, simultaneously, I was thinking, “Self, why can’t I prioritize doing this with MK and Evie?” I know we could have done the more logical thing and made more progress in reducing our debt instead of going on this trip, but I made a judgment call: that can wait– these moments won’t. We went.
How do you prioritize vacations in your family? I guess the conversation is somewhat appropriate considering that you could start saving now…
In case you missed it, here are some great things to stimulate your thinking…
On the parenting front, check out my post from Tuesday about “seizing the dance” in your relationships with your kids. In response to the post, one of my good friends mentioned what it would look like to “seize the dance” as a parent of an older boy:
“This post reminded me of two weeks ago at church, I’m lying on the ground in a pile of artificial snow as my son drags me round by my boot laughing as other little boys also throw snow at me. For a moment I thought what am I doing but the look on my son’s face and the kids around me was priceless and worth it!”
Also, I highly recommend Carey Nieuwhof’s piece on Orange Parents about getting our hearts in the right place as parents. There, he lists five practical ways to fight through hardness of heart.
For ministry, check out Thursday’s piece on the “long view” in ministry, reminding us that sometimes things take time. Sometimes we need to be reminded that God’s story and schedule is different than our own.
Also, check out Orange Leaders’ piece about setting reasonable goals for the next year. It’s amazing to think how much a person could accomplish if they just set small goals for each week (like writing two personal notes of encouragement). In the end, that would be over 100 notes in a year!
Finally, I want to recommend to everyone I know My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen. So far, it’s really gotten me thinking about my “new year’s resolution.” If you check it out and choose to participate in coming up with one word to focus the change in your life, share it with me (and I’ll share mine).
I had one of those good phone calls recently. As a youth pastor, there are definitely phone calls you dread, Facebook statuses that make you cringe, and emails that get your heart racing. But, once in a blue moon, you get a really cool phone call that puts the other stuff into perspective.
A “kid” called me after me not hearing from him for ten years.
This was a kid that I always felt bittersweet about. In one sense, I was proud of the fact that I had invested in him, sharing the Gospel, sharing how to have a relationship with Jesus, etc. This was a kind-hearted kid who I’d spend a lot of time with, wrestling with life and faith. In another sense, though (and this is probably compounded by there being no social networking ten years ago), I was very sad that we had lost touch. He slipped out of my life when I was a young 24-year-old youth pastor, and I hadn’t talked to him since. Since then, I’ve moved to California from North Carolina. Seriously, what were the odds we’d ever talk again?
Yet it happened. And it was cool.
Reconnecting was fun. It was cool to hear that he was reconnecting to church because HIS KIDS (geez, am I getting this old?) were dragging him to church on Sunday morning. ”Daddy, we have to go to church!” Love it. It’s awesome to hear that he’s going to be getting into a small group where he can grow in his faith. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
I got to pray with him on the phone, knowing that this wouldn’t be the last conversation we have. It’s amazing to think that he is now a veteran dad (with an eight-year-old and a four-year-old, I think), and I have much to learn from him.
This “kid” (who is now 27-years-old and a dad!) reminded me that sometimes we need to realize that God is writing a story with our lives. And, yeah, sometimes there are some chapters that make us wonder what’s going on; but some of us with short-term gratification issues (most of us youth pastors and parents, more than likely) need to realize that there is a longer story that God is writing.
I’m excited to hear about this young man as he continues to grow in his faith and becomes an instrumental part of his children’s faith. His story encourages me when I’m discouraged. When students slip out the backdoor of the ministry I’m entrusted to lead, I have to remember that, for some people, it takes time– but God IS writing a story. And I’m sure that for parents who are struggling with a teenager who’s just not “feeling church” right now, it could be an encouragement too.
Sometimes things take time. Ten years maybe. Maybe more. In the end, though, the only thing that matters is a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. This boy/man is back on track. Amen.