Friday, April 24, 2015

Zombies, Death, and Survival

Hello HS Parents!

This past Wednesday night we talked about Zombies. I realize that might seem like a strange subject for church, but zombie movies and zombie culture are really popular among high school students right now. It actually offers a GREAT platform for us to talk about death, the afterlife, and even people who came back to life in the Bible - like Lazarus and, of course, Jesus.

Most of our discussion revolved around the fact that the craze that is zombie culture right now has more to do with survival than it does zombies. The “real” story in all of the zombie movies and TV shows is that the people left alive are trying to stay that way. We discussed that this natural feeling to want to live is strong in all of us. In fact, when we see someone who fears living more than they fear dying (read: suicide), it is painfully clear that something is wrong mentally and emotionally. 

The bulk of our conversation focused on the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. My main point was that no one that I knew had actually met Lazarus…because he was dead. Well, wait a minute…didn’t Jesus bring Him back to life? Yes, but he died…again. That’s what makes Jesus different than any of the people brought back to life in the Bible - they ALL died AGAIN. But He is the ONLY person in history who died, came back from the grave, and is STILL LIVING!!

If you haven’t done so in a while, give John 11 a read this weekend. Talk about with your students the feelings of Mary and Martha. Talk about what Jesus might have been feeling. If your students are into it, grab a Zombie movie from Red Box or catch World War Z on Netflix. You might find an easy doorway to a conversation about death AND life, abundant life, using something that is a “known” in their world already.

- MIchael

Friday, April 10, 2015

I Like Stress In My Life!

No. I don’t, actually. But if you took a look at some of my decisions you might think I like to be stressed. I mean, seriously, why else would I say yes to some of the things I commit to? Why can’t I say no to things that really should be a “no” in my life? Well…I wish it were that cut and dried. Or maybe it is, and I’m just trying to justify it.

Does any of that sound familiar? If not for you, it certainly is for your students. In fact, I think those of us who feel stressed have something in common: we are not alone. Most everyone I know deals with some level of stress in their lives that seems to be too much to handle at times. It makes us react in ways we later regret. It shapes decisions we make and dictates outcomes for matters that should be completely and totally stress free.

I talked about this with high school students this past Wednesday night. I shared with them that sometimes we don’t “look” like people filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self control. And I shared a stressful story with them from the gospel of Mark. Verses 35-41 of the fourth chapter report the time that the disciples were on a boat with Jesus. They were stressed to high heaven because of a storm that came up. Waves were rocking the boat and even spilling into the boat threatening, or so they thought, their safety.

When they go to look for Jesus, they find Him asleep at the back of the boat with His head on a cushion…not a care in the world - again…so they thought. He tells the sea and the wind to take a chill pill - and they do. Then He looks at the disciples and asks them if they still do not have faith in Him.

You may be in a spot right now where you need the Lord to speak some calming tones into your life. Some of the stress in your life may be out of your control. Other stressors in your life could be of your own doing. Take comfort that Christ is well aware of all of them and is able to speak a peace into them that we can’t understand. He is just as much in control when you feel stressed as He is when you feel no stress at all in your life. 

Take a minute or two this week to have a conversation about stress with your students. Ask them what it is that stresses them out. Then share a little bit about your own stress factors. Read that passage from Mark’s gospel and talk about how Jesus feels and desires to speak into those areas of your lives. Personally, I could stand Him to take a look at the wind and waves around me and say, “Peace. Be still.” Let Him speak it to you this week.

Friday, April 3, 2015

It's Not Just "Any" Friday

Hello HS Parents!

I’m sure you have already decided which Easter service you will be attending this weekend. Those of you serving have already mapped out what you’re doing, when you’ll be there and all that goes with that. I’m certain the opportunity to share a meal, a family egg hunt, a nap or all-of-the-above are mixed in those plans somewhere as well. And as excited as I am to celebrate Easter (I like to refer to it as Resurrection Sunday) with you, allow me to talk about today for just a minute.

This is no ordinary Friday. It’s three days before Christ rose from the dead; it’s the day He was nailed to the cross. It’s the day that represents the innocent Son of God who, having never committed a moral or legal infraction, was arrested, mocked, ridiculed, beaten, tried, convicted, sentenced, and ultimately executed. Today.

Naturally, the inability for the grave to hang on to our Lord is the core of our faith. He conquered death and hell when that stone rolled away and he came out of the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. But that history-changing, life-transforming event happened because He was, first, willing to take on your sin and mine. He was willing, knowing all there is to know about your thoughts, actions, jealousies and prejudices - and mine - he was willing to go to the cross. Even after praying to His Father to see if there was another option, He chose to follow, willingly, the will of His Father.

I love Hebrews 12:2 which states, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

And Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The ONLY thing the held Christ on that cross was His willingness to endure it. Soldiers, protesters, the Sanhedrin - none of them possessed the power to hold Him captive. It was His heart for those He died to save (you and me) that made Him willingly carry that cross up that hill to His death - so that we might have life…abundant life. I don’t know that you and I are capable of grasping the scope of a love like that.

I love how Max Lucado states it in his book Six Hours One Friday: "Nails didn’t hold God to a cross. Love did. The sinless One took on the face of a sinner so that we sinners could take on the face of a saint!"

As you prepare for Resurrection Sunday, take a moment today to thank God for the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

- Michael

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Gatlinburg Winterfest 2015 Update

Students - PLEASE make sure your parents have joined the Remind text update with the info I sent you. Also - please make sure they read this post.

Hello parents

As you know, safety is our primary concern for this weekend. We have no interest in putting our students and leaders in danger.

We have been watching very closely the conditions/forecasts both here and in Gatlinburg. I have also been in communication with Winterfest leadership as well as the local rental company supplying our lodging. We feel we have enough information to make a judgment call now, but we reserve the right to adjust our plans based on the weather.

Some roads in Gatlinburg are horrible, but the main roads and the roads to our cabins are totally clear. We believe getting from our lodging to the conference center will not be problematic for us at all.

The forecast on Friday predicts snow beginning here around 1:00 PM and snow/wintry mix in Gatlinburg beginning around 8:00.

We believe leaving at 9am on Friday instead of noon will allow us to keep ahead of bad weather and get to the cabins well before any dangerous conditions impact traveling safely. We are not scheduled to leave the cabin until after lunch on Saturday, and warmer temperatures/rain are predicted for that time. If the roads are bad, we will stay in our cabins. This means we may miss parts of the conference, but we feel it is the safest approach for the weekend.

We will be taking extra food with us just in case we do need to say in the cabins, but we do not expect to need it. We just want to be extra cautious.

It will be a good idea for your students to pack a blanket with them just in case we lose power while we are there so they can bundle up to stay warm. Again, we don't expect that...we just want to be cautious.

Please make sure your students confine themselves to ONE SMALL DUFFLE OR SUITCASE!! Space is a premium while we are traveling since we'll be taking extra food.

If you have any questions, please call, text, or email me.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's Love Got To Do With It?

I attended a wedding yesterday afternoon - actually, it was a re-wedding. The bride and groom are both friends of ours, and they had been married, divorced, gotten back together and decided to get remarried yesterday on Valentine’s Day. It was a very sweet ceremony where nearly 100 friends and family members gathered to show their support for the happy couple.

I always enjoy listening to another minister’s approach in officiating a wedding. The gentleman who performed the ceremony last night did a great job of talking about new beginnings and how the Lord never leaves us or forsakes us. He talked about how each of them was making a covenant, not a contract, before and to God. He painted a beautiful picture of what it means to LOVE each other - no matter what. I took comfort in his unique relationship with the bride and groom, and I thought of others whom I have been privileged to serve in a similar capacity. 

What struck me most, though, was how I saw Christ and His bride, the Church, in that ceremony. To use the officiating minister’s words, we live in a microwave age where most everything is disposable. Yet God, in His glory and grace, finds us to be worthy of saving. Worthy of sacrifice. Worthy to be loved. I took comfort in that because I feel like I don’t give Him a lot of reasons to love me. I took comfort because, thankfully, it’s not about me - it’s all about Him. What’s love got to do with it? Absolutely everything. And He offers it freely.

On this Valentine’s Day weekend, maybe we should be reminded to approach our spouses with that kind of love. To quote Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth - maybe we should be patient, kind, and gentle…maybe we should keep no record of wrongs. What if we loved our spouses with the agape love that God has for us - one that gives, and KEEPS ON GIVING, without expecting anything in return? What if we offered love freely, with no expectation that it would be reciprocated? What’s love got to do with it? Yeah, absolutely everything.

Don’t forget that this weekend a lot of our high school students will be heading to Gatlinburg. We’ll be leaving at noon on Friday. We also have our spring mission camp coming up to Coldstream Christian Retreat. Signups are going on NOW.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can pray about for you or your family.

- Michael

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Driving Faith Home Pays Off...Sometimes

I was able to attend an event at our church on Friday night that was focused on young families. It was called “Family Experience” and was an incredible learning experience for me in several ways. Jared and Bridget had done an excellent job of preparing a night where moms, dads, grandparents, and kids could get together and learn about three different countries: South Korea, South Africa, and Greece.

I learned a lot about the culture of these three countries, and I even took away some thoughts about how I can better pray for both the Evangelicals in those nations as well as those who do not yet know Christ. But a bigger “a-ha” for me came with some intentional time with my son. I had decided that I was going to (on purpose, mind you), spend this time with him learning about our faith and how it is practiced in other countries. But I came away with something extra - confidence in how my son is practicing his faith here.

Now, hear me, ours is not a perfect home. For everything we get “right” regarding faith in our house, I feel like we get at least two other things “wrong.” But we are intentional about our faith. We pray together at meals, at night before we go to bed, and we read God’s Word. I have been better about this recently, but Carver and Kelley read Scripture together almost every morning. We do our best to find ways to connect our faith to things that happen to us every day. The fruit of that came out when I listened to Carver praying at the Family Experience.

As we “visited” each country, we ate food from that nation, played a game that kids play there, and watched a video about how we might be able to pray specifically for Christians and non-Christians there. When we got to South Africa, it was Carver’s turn to pray. I asked him what he saw in the video and then asked him to pray for South Africa however he felt led. What I heard was a beautiful prayer to God from Carver that sounded like he was talking to his Friend…maybe even his Daddy (not me, the other One).

I hope you’re not reading any degree of spiritual “have-to’s” in this. Do I think my son can pray well? Well, I’m not even sure we should be talking about it in those terms. Rather, my comfort came from listening to a little boy who already has a growing relationship with the Lord. No, he’s not a perfectly still young man who does the right thing in the wrong situation every single time. But his little heart is soft to the things of God. That broke me. 

I believe that Carver’s spiritual maturity at this stage in his life is directly related to mine and Kelley’s as well as our influence on him. It’s not magic; it doesn’t “work” the same for every kid or every family. And just because it’s like that now doesn’t mean it will be like that in the future. But for now, it would seem that the attention we are paying to “Driving Faith Home” is paying off. It is certainly setting a foundation for Carver that lends itself to a growing relationship with Christ. I’m thankful.

Don’t forget that Life Groups start back next week. Please let me know if I can pray about anything for you or your family.

- Michael

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Final Step from New Orleans

On Monday, our high school ministry will take the final step in concluding our work in New Orleans. I will be traveling there to retrieve the Gladeville Baptist Church Mobile Shower Unit - or as we’ve lovingly called it for 10 years - The Shower Trailer. 

When we began this work in New Orleans a decade ago, we could not have known the impact it would have on our students. Our focus there became a critical part of our missions strategy for our high school ministry. And when I made the final arrangements this week to go get the shower trailer, I must tell you that it was a bittersweet experience - certainly an emotional one. There’s a finality about this last step in the journey that makes our God-led decision to move away from NOLA a reality.

What’s interesting is that it is the same for our host church, Metairie Baptist. Their pastor, Thomas Strong, told me that it is bittersweet for them as well. While they have treasured their relationship with us as much as we have treasured ours with them - that trailer is one of very, very few remaining icons reminding them of Hurricane Katrina. Clearing that small patch of ground where the shower trailer has rested for so long is another step their church can take to move forward - past the memories of such a horrific time in the lives of so many.

So while this last step has a bit of sadness attached to it, it is also a happy time. We are so grateful for what has transpired in a city that was for so long a second home to a bunch of high school kids and leaders from Gladeville, TN. Please join me in thanking God for the tiny role He allowed us to play in serving the people New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. He is still shaping the future of our next long-term missions efforts for high school ministry at The Glade Church. I’m looking forward to following His lead again.

Please let me know if there’s something I can pray about for you or your family.

- Michael

Friday, January 16, 2015

I See Myself In My Son

From the title of this post, you might imagine that this is going to be a heart-warming moment for you…a moment where I share about the beautiful ways I see my son following in the footsteps of his daddy. I wish that were true. Actually, what God has revealed to me lately in the mirror image that my son is for me is how much I’m “getting it wrong.” Hear me, I do my best to model a life of Christ for my eight year old, but it sure is difficult to do all of the time.

This week in particular I have noticed how he responds to things that he does not like. There are the eye-rolls, the deep sighs, and the unhealthy way that he tends to handle confrontation…all things that when I see them - it’s like looking in a mirror. It makes me think of how many times he has watched me do those same things. Or even worse - it makes me wonder how many times he has been the target of that behavior from me. Real encouraging, right? I think not.

I’d like to challenge you to look at the lives of your high school students and see what characteristics you see in them that remind you of you. Then take a chance on being vulnerable with them and tell them that you struggle with those same things. Let them know that when you respond or react in a way that is unfavorable, it not only does not honor Christ, it’s setting a poor example for them. I think they might be relieved at your naming what they probably already know about you. And it would do them good to see you attempting to rectify those reactions…it might even motivate them to do the same.

Don’t forget that signups are going on right now for our weekend trip to Gatlinburg in February. Space on this trip is EXTREMELY limited, so please get your deposits in this Sunday. 

Let me know if there’s anything I can pray about for you or your family.

- Michael

Friday, January 9, 2015

I'm Reading The Bible

Hello HS Parents!

Well…it’s been a while. I hope those of you actually read these emails/blog posts will forgive the hiatus I took last quarter in sending/posting them; I am sorry. I’ve climbed back in the saddle, though, and I’m ready to go with the first email/post of 2015: I’m Reading the Bible.

As a Twitter user, there are several different people whose lives I connect with (at least digitally) on a daily basis. Students, pastors, friends, organizations, churches, comedians, bloggers, musicians - there are TONS of Twitter accounts begging to be followed, and I choose to follow a select, but rather eclectic, sampling of them. One of these accounts spoke directly and profoundly into my life last year.

An old friend of mine who is also a student pastor was using a Bible reading plan in YouVersion…similar to the one we are using as a church this year to read through the Bible. Every morning when I would check my Twitter feed, I would see a Tweet from this guy’s account that he had completed the daily reading for the plan he was using. And for some reason, I found it SO encouraging! 

Now, hear me - I read the Bible. Sometimes I read LARGE chunks of it in one setting. Sometimes I read it to research a question I’ve received from a student or parent. Sometimes I read it to study for a message or Bible study. Sometimes I even read it because I enjoy re-reading an old story I learned as a child (David and Goliath…I mean, come on! Now THAT’S a story!) But something struck me every time I saw this guy’s daily Bible reading post/tweet. 

I wondered, for example, if other people were encouraged by it like me. I wondered if some people found it convicting because reading God’s Word was not a regular practice for them. I also wondered if people thought he was being a little “holier-than-thou” by posting it. I suppose that was possible. But his posts always left me encouraged, AND INSPIRED, to grab a copy of Scripture and give it a read. 

This year I’ve started in on the Bible reading plan that our church has adopted for 2015. I started with two specific intentions: 1-reading it, AND 2-tweeting that I had done so. I read the first three days before I was finally able to click the “Share” link on the fourth day and share my progress. I must admit - it’s a little intimidating. I mean it took me three readings to get the courage to do it. I was pretty fearful. What if I can’t keep up? What if people think I’m trying to be hyper-religious or self-promoting? I guess those are great questions. But here are some others that have lodged in my spirit:

What if people are challenged to read God’s Word because they know I am? What if people are encouraged to “catch-up” if they’ve fallen behind in their reading (because I’m sure I will)? What if they, like I was with my friend, can be encouraged and inspired to read God’s Word because they know I’m reading it? What if my posting every single day can communicate what I really believe about God’s Word - that it changes EVERYTHING…that it speaks to every situation in life and offers Hope (in Christ) that no other medium can provide?

I want to ask you, as a fellow parent, to join me in reading God’s Word in 2015. I want to give you permission to ask me if I’m keeping up with the daily reading when we pass each other in the hallways at church. I want to challenge you email, text, or send a smoke signal of thoughts, questions, and insight provoked by your reading of His Word. I’d love to do this - together with you - for 2015. Would you join me?

Here’s a link to the YouVersion plan we are in for January.

To catch you up on what’s going on in our high school ministry:

This Sunday we will be continuing our focus on The Story of God’s Kingdom. We’ll be answering questions like:

1 - Why is it important to not only have faith, but to have faith in Someone with the power to save?

2 - How much attention to you give how you look on the outside versus how you look inside your own heart?

3 - In what ways could you offer hope to someone who has a hard time believing in God’s forgivness?

Signups will begin Sunday for our Gatlinburg trip in February. You should be receiving something in the mail about it today or tomorrow.

As always, please let me know if you have anything you’d like for me to pray about for you or your family.

- Michael