Thursday, April 29, 2010

There are seventy people to my left, and seventy people on the right of me. Thirteen rows above me and thirteen rows below me. Four thousand people are gathered to pursue wisdom, knowledge and the experience of the speakers that will present effectiveness in the areas of student ministry.  My voice is drowned out among the hundreds around me praising our Creator with one tongue carefully orchestrated by the powerhouse of worship on the stage that sculpts the night into one heart lifted up to our God. A quarter of a million dollars pushes the sound beyond my ears and directly into my chest, I can literally feel the music, the bass and the drums. Another quarter of a million stares back at me on huge plasma screens and bright lights that dance tirelessly controlled by nimble, educated and pre-programmed fingers.
This is Orange.
Youth ministry, outlines, breakout group topics and leading talking points. The crucial do's and don't's of student ministry. "We've been there and done that so now we're here. Learn what success can look lke and watch God work. We have." Almost every single person in this huge arena has been in the ministry more years than I have, and most of them full time. And so with my eyes wide and unexperienced ear tuning into whatever I can possibly hear I walk, sit, and wait in lines listening to the lectures, speakers and conversations around me. No more than fifteen minutes goes by in the entirety of nine hours a day for four days when I don't learn something new, helpful or that I could really use.
I have yet to see more than one or two actual teenagers in this sea of pulses dedicated to serving them and leading the age group to know what it means to follow Jesus. This isn't that venue. This is for the people who will reach out to them, build relationships, listen to them, and take a pay cut for them. Most people around me recognize who the speakers are and have either read or know of their books. I don't fall in with any of the above, unfortunately. I'm walking down an aisle reading labels and descriptions of unfamiliar products I know nothing of, but as the speakers stand and share their hearts, communicating experience and professional perceptions of youth ministry, I savor the taste of what they share.
This is the Orange conference, it's about what you get when you collide. When you collide with God, the world, and people. When colors collide and bright orange happens.
So much is planned, prepared and arranged under the umbrella of stewardship and a healthy structure. When we all return to our respective cities, states and countries we will again dive back into a world where God is sovereign and people are hurting. The church will hit 63% of it's income for the month, a friend of a teenager will cut herself to gain a twisted idea of relief and attention, and two of the nine students attending will text during youth group. And yet God is sovereign not in a removed, impersonal way. He is sovereign in a present, real way. Every week, every day, in every conversation He is there, the only reason what happens at youth group is not a gimmick, entertainment or a waste of time.
It's Orange, when God, youth and their leaders collide.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I've just walked past nine booths lined up on either side of me displaying the pictures of hungry, dirty children with the most beautiful eyes and smiles you could ever hope to see.
In our marketing culture of small payment plans, redit lines, sex appeal and sales that draw us in, at the heart of it all is our culture. We are a culture that spends. We buy comfort, love, health, laughs, counseling sessions and new movies. Hand-in-hand with every taste or preference you have is an opportunity to serve or an outreach to join with. If you want to build a well, adopt a child, buy incredible photographs to support a given cause or travel the world in service, the opportunities are there. On this planet with networking now so extensive I can identify with someone four states away who just posted an update about doing their taxes at the last second possible just like I did, there is literally a limitless, infinite number of available chances to serve or give.
We pull up in our Buick Rendezevous careful to park with an even space nest to both sides of the vehicle, get out and lock it with the push of a button, then go inside to get our badge for the week having already registered online.
We walk by the ministry tables and smile courteously, making a mental note to avoid that section of the conferencing area from now on. I stood and watched over lunch, and so, so many people reacted that way.
Jesus said "there will always be the poor." This may or may not surprise you, but He was speaking the truth. I contend, however, that He was not providing an escape route. We are not called to serve everyone in the world tirelessly and care about every single outreach, He was also clear about that. We are given specific gifts, passions, intuitions and abilities. But what Jesus did say, and what I saw a startling lack of, is compassion.
"Caring" and "getting involved" are not synonymous with compassion. Compassion is sincere, scriptural, and an aspect of our faith that is both unique and powerful. What does it look like to be compassionate, to have compassion for those who hunger for and need it more than a well, medical help or an education?
Every single answer to life as we need is found in the bible, and we have it as an open book to refer to as often as we like, no holds barred. That should be where we learn to sift through hundreds of organizations, thousands of people passionate about them, and the millions of needs that are represented. What is it that God is calling me to, how can I encourage these people and what they do? How can I use the gifts I've been given for His glory and learn how to become more compassionate and full of grace?
I saw many people give the booths they walked by the same look I imagine they give homeless people asking for a dollar, and it was so apparent the difference between what a hardened heart looks like and what compassion comes across as. A hardened heart shuts out each booth and makes the person feel a slight twinge of guilt as they walk by and later push a button to unlock their 2009 SUV. A compassionate heart sees the unity in Jesus through grace and is open and honest as they interact with the individuals who are so drawn to those needs, joining them in prayer and through fellowship with the Holy Spirit whether or not they adopt a child for $38.00 a month.

I'm sitting in a conference here in Atlanta, Georgia soaking up the warm humidity and words of people with many more years of experience and much more wisdom than I could ever aspire to attaining. These people read, live and communicate effective teaching and ministry. A little unorthodox, yes, but I cannot sit and learn. I'm wired kinetically; I need to be doing something, anything. And so I stand for a little bit, walk around some in a room filled with over fifteen hundred people. It's distracting for them extending maybe...thirty seconds, then they figure it out. Oh, he can't sit still. Sorry peoples. It's either that or I play with your hair or bring legos in.
The legos are noisy and make people jealous that they didn't bring their own in, and playing with someone else's hair could be an assault charge. Aren't you all glad I'm just walking around?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Squinting looking backwards.

At 22 I have no wisdom to impart to anyone, all I know is I've not only decided to not grow up, but I'm intent on making sure I don't. I have enough responsibility, my taxes are simple enough to be done in just over thirty minutes error-free, and although I am not a band with a Myspace page that has 29 million views, I've still managed to experience joy in more ways than I could have expected.
I have learned that there are consequences to my actions, sometimes good, and sometimes not so good. Occasionally it doesn't even matter what I've done, there are good or bad consequences attached that I couldn't have foreseen. Eggs have lots of protein and go well with many different kinds of food, so they're a cheap, filling investment on the table of "Nourishment and Prices." On that same chart is pasta and peanut butter.
I've discovered that while there is a more than significant amount of effort and work involved in beginning and keeping up a successful garden, the combined release of pouring myself into it and the resulting pesticide-free vegetables that abound in it are far, far worth whatever was invested in the small plot. Grandparents do not live forever, but their eyes do light up in a way when they see their grandchildren that cannot be equated with anything else in all of life.
People will never stop being amazed at creation, at the habits, behavior, and stories of the animal kingdom. As long as there is cinematography the world will continue to be floored by slow-motion shots of lizards and bugs, several large cats pouncing on a female ostrich, or the size of a whale. We will never be in short supply of incredible and jaw-dropping visual images and hearing about how intelligent certain species are, or what techniques they use to hunt their prey. We'll always be surprised, as if learning for the first time that God's creativity extends further than our own.
Music, like culture, evolves. Hairstyles, the ability to stand apart from society and give it the finger from a distance will always entice the younger ages and earn scorn from the more aged. It will always be romantic to rebel and the profit will be from those who are taken in by it.

The world creates something desirable, the government regulates it, and after several generations society strikes out against the government and moves on to something more desirable that isn't yet regulated.

I've learned that the people who hold the key to successful parenting are the children, not the parents themselves. With each generation it's the children who know how they should've been raised and not the adults who know how they should've raised them. The children grow up and learn how difficult it is sometimes to have a family and know how to make the right decisions, and the price of gas slides upward averaging a cent at a time.
The first snow is always the most beautiful and the last one the most unexpected. A lit baseball field at night never loses it's aura of magic. Strangers always want to know when their front tire looks a little low. Peace is found in the face of a sleeping baby and few other places on earth. It's easier to argue a point than agree that you're wrong. War is fought by young men single and married, the wives, sisters and mothers at home wear it, it's paid for by tax on groceries and the high-ranking older men know this as they make every decision.
There never was any less sin in the world than from the first day it entered the kingdom of Earth. As time goes on it may become more or less apparent the need for grace as a person is more or less sensitive to the Holy Spirit. The older I get the more I realize how little I really know and how so much of my life is out of my control, and I'm more thankful for it.
People have favorite ice creams, songs, places to visit and breeds of dog, but everyone agrees that centipedes are scary and straight up evil.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Not anything of mine

I set the iPod down, changed the phone from my right ear to my left so that my neck wouldn't be cramped, and pulled out my boarding pass.
Position 39-B on Southwest. Not bad.
I walked up to my place, waited in line, handed the ticketing agent my pass and boarded the plane.
Just short of two hours later I walked up to the Baggage Supervisor's office and put in my description of the iPod and informed them exactly where I'd left it in the Phoenix airport. The Denver personnel were more than courteous and apologetic for my loss. I got in the van, and hadn't yet reached home when I received a call from a Phoenix Southwest employee informing me they'd found my iPod, and were ready with instructions as to how I'd be able to have it Fedexed to my home.


It was 4:15am on the Sunday morning of my monthly duty weekend in Colorado Springs. The small Canadian man I ride with down to base each time was all smiles. "Are you ready? Let's get this day over with!" I always knew that I could count on Sergeant Budding. Good or bad, whether it was a beautiful bright shiny summer morning or cold blizzarding wintery one, he would find a way to bash it relentlessly. That and the traffic.
86 miles. From my front doorstep to the clinic we worked at, it was 86 miles.
Sergeant Budding was almost out of gas, didn't have his wallet, and I'd left my card in my lab coat pocket the day before while covering for one of phlebotomists. Between the two of us, eighty-five cents.
The math didn't work, there was no way we should've made it. I prayed much of the way while Sergeant Budding cursed hills, stoplights, slow vehicles and the slowly fading bars on his gas gauge. Eighty-six miles on little more than fumes, and we made it.

Psalm 139:1-3
"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Occasionally I'll remember something that startles me, sort of like an "after the fact" scare. As in "I really thought that?" or "what was I thinking?" As is with most people, often this thought is tied to something I did or said in high school or the early years of my college. Let's call those the "Indestructable Years of Immortality", for that is how I inevitably viewed myself at that time.
What shocks me to this day, is how haughty, narcissistic and aggressively prideful I was in relation to others. (Galatians 5:17 "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.")
Lying in some primordial stew of judgement, my "theology", "good" opinions and best of intentions, were my gifts and passions. Not that they were something anymore special or unique than the rest of the world's, but just that they were stagnant, atrophied.
Just there.
God grew silent.

And for so long in my own abilities, reasoning, empowerment and selfishness I called them out, attempted to use them for whatever good I in my empty and volatile wisdom deemed worthy. Like in Greek mythology, I was man. Rebellious, strong, and a challenge to the gods.
Then something that crept up in my blind-spot leapt me from behind and threw me violently to the ground, pinning me and demanding submission. Over, and over, and over again. To my right and left I looked frantically, but still I was attacked. I was mortal.
Over, and over, and over--letter after phone call after job after friendship after relationship after family after came at me. I wasn't submissive, patient, respectful, honest, compassionate, loving, mature, thorough, responsible...the list went on and on. These things I failed, these things I weren't...THERE'S NO WAY.
Yes way. I wasn't.
I didn't.
God began to whisper.

And still like the man in the doughnut shop with the glass front who knows he's being watched by hungry, eager eyes, I realized that it was only I who was limiting me. No other excuse, conjured reason however legitimate, or circumstance of any kind. And at the moment when I was the weakest, wounds open and bleeding profusely, a blurred figure moved from behind the glass where I'd been watched and stepped in front of me. He said "James."
(John 20:16 "Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' She turned to him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' which means Teacher.")
He said my name.

Who was this? Up until that moment, I didn't know who he was, but when he said my name, there was no turning back. "I will not let you live on the street. No, I have something better for you. Not better for the you I'm going to make you someday, not better for the you I want you to become, but better for you. Right now."
I found myself led in a direction I couldn't have dared to hope for, towards places I would never have believed could be mine if someone had told me. And I had been told, over and over, and over again, I just didn't believe it could be meant for me.
(John 8:47 "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.")

I watched in awe as my future unfolded a day at a time. I was now no longer responsible for myself, for who I became, what it was I was supposed to be...all that was taken care of.
( 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!)

And so it began. I was to be so many things I could never have been on my own, can never be in my own strength, and more was required of me than I ever could have required of myself.
(Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.")

I was to be changed in so many ways I never desired, was frightened of, and I was to see who I was flipped upside-down and completely on it's head. Over, and over, and over again I took back what I'd made myself, glanced at it, then handed it to the one who saved me.
(Zechariah 3:4 "The angel said to those who were standing before him, "take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "see, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.")

Who I was supposed to be was so much more than I ever could have imagined. What was required of me was so much more challenging, so much more unattainable, and so much more the attractive for it.
(Philippians 1:9 "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.")

It was not just an adventure, it was the epic journey written about, studied, and lived by so many millions before me, but this time not them, me. I was to go on it myself.
That is where I stand.
(Isaiah 43:1 "But now, this is what the Lord says--he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.")

What I walk on is a road that never ends with views that never cease. Still I fail, fall short, and am not who I need to be. But instead, my life is not my own. Shadows and shapes of what I once was and what threatens to distract me from the battles ahead dance on the walls, they're always in my vision when I look down. No longer are those flickering images me, no more do they taunt and guilt me, they're not mine.
I'm not mine.
Imperfect, fallen, guilty, and undesirable in every sense of the definition--I am a commissioned warrior. To a world so filled with suffering and hurts, wants and needs, pain and fleeting pleasure...I was fought for, and now I fight. Every day I stand alongside my Redeemer and loving Savior and I fight.

I am His.

(1 Timothy 1:17 "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.")

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I finally downloaded what I needed to, cut and pasted, and made a video of some of the most cute moments from my trip with my brother Ricky to Seattle this Christmastime. It was so much fun to hang out with my little niece and nephew, as well as spend lots of time with my sister and brother-in-law.
Family rocks.