Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


butterfly or common flyThe other day I was looking across the yard and noticed a hummingbird going from flower to flower.  It immediately reminded me of my grandma’s hummingbird feeder when I was a kid.  She loved watching those birds.  I also remember that she had to label the pitcher of red feeder liquid she kept in the fridge in order to keep my sister and I from thinking it was fruit punch for us, not feeder for the birds.

Anyway, no sooner did the hummingbird leave, that a butterfly showed up doing the same thing, bouncing from flower to flower.  This didn’t send a rush of memories to me like the hummingbird, but it did cause a rather odd observation to pop in my brain: “I’ve never seen a butterfly land on something nasty.”  The more I thought about, the more true this became for me. I’ve never seen one light on something at the dump, a piece of dog crap, or a rotten piece of fruit under a citrus tree.  They simply don’t do that.  Evidently, at least in my experience, they avoid all the nasty they possibly can.

Contrast this with the common fly and the difference is radical and obvious.  In fact, if there is something nasty lying around, it tends to not only be a place you’ll find a fly, but it even attracts them too.  Sweaty people, smelly animals, dying stuff, poop, and all kinds of other grossness are like a dream come true for a fly.  It seems that the nastier the smell, the more likely the fly’s to gather around it.

Since I’m a visual thinker…. I found this to be a profound reminder and a bit convicting myself.  The truth is, I’m not very butterfly like and neither is the culture I live in.   In fact, it’s rare that I meet people who bounce from beauty to beauty, enjoying the best life has to offer and always seeking the good in the midst of difficulty.   Most of us are not like that.  We tend to be more like the fly, traveling from crap pile to crap pile instead of fresh flower to fresh flower.

Think about it:

  • News stations often goes from tragedy to tragedy as their program teaser to get us to tune in.
  • Even those who overcome addiction tend to replace them with another unhealthy habit
  • How many people live life in America primarily traveling from one financial debt to another?
  • Most of us tend to migrate from critical comment to critical comment, not from encouragement to encouragement
  • We describe daily life as the “rat race”, not the “marvelous marathon”.
  • etc…

Something has to give.  Despite the overwhelming pull toward pointless living, I don’t think this is God’s design.  In fact, Jesus put it like this in a verse that is probably overused and often only half-quoted:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

It’s the devil’s plan to steal and kill and destroy, not God’s.  I don’t see anywhere in the Scriptures were we are promised a painless existence by following Jesus through happy skippy days all the time.  No, on the contrary tragedy was part of Jesus’ story and it strikes us all.   So if I want to live my life going from God-sighting to God-sighting not just regret to regret, I have to be really intentional about my focus.

Sadly, I actually have to refuse the patterns of my fly-like soul and travel over the stuff of life that promises to provide but is only a chocolate covered turd.  Really, how gross is that?  I don’t want to waste my life on that which is of no eternal value, regardless of what it masquerades as first.

I’ve decided that I want to be a butterfly landing on the great things of God all around me, not the nasty things constantly calling for my devotion that I have landed on all too often in my past.  It’s time I took my cues from the right insect.  It’s time to be a butterfly.


Oh… and I just remembered…  if you want a bonus example of this in cinematography… watch the film “I am legend” with Will Smith and look for the butterfly theme in the movie.  It’s the director’s clue to where beauty is found in the hopeless midst of misery and despair that the movie takes place within.  Even in the final scenes, as the lead Zombie thing is trying to kill Robert Neville (Will Smith), the glass between them shatters into the image of a butterfly.   You have to look fast, but it’s there.  Here you go:




Today we had an all day “offsite” meeting with our pastoral staff.  We do this from time-to-time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s for goal setting.  Others it’s to complete a project or cast a vision for a new change.  But yesterday was all about soul care.  We do this specific offsite gathering about 6 times a year or so and this time, we went again to the house of one of our staff and met with our pastoral team’s spiritual director, Larry Warner.

First we were asked to answer what has now become an bit of an infamous question on our staff that Larry introduced about 18 months ago.  It is simply this:  “How’s your soul?”  You’d be surprised at the depth of sharing we experience from that simple question.  But after about 90 minutes or so of all 9 of us answering that question, Larry released us with the following instruction:

Find a quiet space anywhere around here, inside or out, and spend the next 60 minutes listening.  Invite Jesus to speak to you and take note of anything you hear.  You can read Scripture or  just sit and listen or whatever.  If you hear from God, please write it down and then we’ll share what we heard.  It’s ok if you don’t think God gives you a specific word, but regardless of how deep or significant it is, please note what you hear and bring it back to us. Also, I’d like you to also share how you know that it was Jesus speaking to you and not someone or something else.

The first part of this exercise: simply listen and respond to the what you heard from God was great. We each had convictions and leadings and things we felt that God was saying to us.  Some more profoundly than others, but all of us enjoyed the 60 minutes of space we were given to just seek Jesus and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.

However, one of the most interesting pieces of this experience for me was the answers to the second question:  “How do you know it was Jesus?”  


To this end, I remember reading Henry Blackaby’s book “Experiencing God” while in college.  It is an amazing book on this subject and inside he has a diagram for how to know you’ve heard clearly from God. It was so life giving to me and I still refer to it from time to time.  The book is well worth the read if you have never picked it up, but you can find a brief transcription of the central idea from this diagram on this blog post I found here.

However, as we shared today, I was able to add an additional layer of qualifying questions based on the responses of our team to this question.  I’ll list them in no particular order, just something I noted as we all shared and offered our reasons.  So if you feel like God has said something to you and you’re looking to confirm if it really was God and not just last night’s dinner speaking… then here’s 7 questions our staff used to determine the source was in fact Holy Spirit of God.  The more of these questions that you can answer “yes” to, the more confident we are that you’re hearing clearly from God:

  1. Is it for Good?
  2. Is there NO condemnation in it?
  3. Is the word or leading going to benefit others?
  4. Did it cause a “snowball” of Scripture references and quotes in you that reinforced this idea?
  5. Is it true of who you know God to be?
  6. Does it slow you down rather than speed you up?
  7. Do other believers agree with you that it’s God you’re hearing?

What about you?  How do you know you’ve heard from God and what qualifying questions bring clarity for you to that?


As a youth pastor from time to time I’m asked to meet with a student when things aren’t going well.  If it’s a one way street and the student is “forced” to meet with me, the conversation is always super hard and rarely goes anywhere.  It’s better if I can meet along with a parent or two in those cases so I can address the whole picture.  However, if the teen is unhappy with the situation and looking for help themselves, then the opposite is true and it’s always good to meet one-on-one like I did with a student yesterday after church.

While I don’t use a paper or notes to guide the convo, I always follow this basic script of sorts in a fluid conversation.

  • I listen to the story and try and ask questions that get past emotions and to the root of the issue.  There’s no point in weeding the yard if we leave the roots and the same weeds just come back 3 weeks later.  I ask things like: Why do you think that is?  What made you feel that way? What motivated you to do that?  etc?
  • I then look for a chance to share this statement and come to agreement that it’s true:  “He or she did not intend to get where they are now and it’s not good.”  Essentially, he or she was misled and we need to figure out how to keep that pattern from repeating itself so the next time they can call out the lie instead of buy it.
  • Once we’ve established that while intentions usually sound good, “I wanted to be a good friend.  They made me feel loved.  I was trying to be happy” and that eventually, it produced the opposite results… then I try and lead the conversation to these two intentional questions.  1. Did you think you followed Jesus into where you are now?  2. Will you follow Jesus out of here?

Then, in an effort to answer the second question with some “How in the world do I do that” ideas and not throw rocks at the situation as it is, I just tell them the way they’re feeling is at least 2000 years old and there’s a set of verses Paul wrote in Romans that tell the same story.  I guarantee you they’ve never read them or haven’t thought about these verses in years.   In this way, Romans 7:14-25 is a gift from God for all of us.

If a student has an smart phone of any sort, I have them download the “you version” app on their phone for free.  I show them how to navigate it briefly and then we turn to Romans, bookmark this passage for them, and then read this together, pausing often to draw parallels with their own story.

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”  (Romans 7:14–25)

The beauty of this text is not only that Paul has expressed the struggle we all feel when trying to break negative patterns in our lives, but that he also expresses that the sole solution to our struggle is not behavior change. It’s not like you’re going to be able to pull this off yourself.  You don’t need to stop doing drugs, or stop meeting with so and so, or stop buying that thing so much as you need connection with God first.  This pattern happens in your life for a reason and it’s because of temptation and our natural desire to gravitate away from God’s best and do our own thing.

Paul is basically reminding us that we all make short term decisions that sacrifice our longterm goals all the time.  His long term goal is Godliness, but his short term reality is constantly falling short and filled with regret.

  • You’re trying to lose weight, but you can’t stop eating that ________ or exercise always gets trumped by _________.
  • You’re trying to get out of credit card debt but you can’t stop  ________.
  • You’re trying to change the way to talk to people when you feel hurt by their comments, but instead you still respond by _________.
  • You’re addicted to _______ and you tried to stop, even do for a while,  but eventually you keep doing __________ again anyway.
  • You have a set of friends who you need to change because of their influence on your story but even if you stop seeing them, then pattern repeats in a different genre with a new set of bad friendships.

You get the picture.

Paul says what every troubled teen and every one of us struggling with patterns to overcome in our lives needs to hear.  “Get to Jesus.  He’ll empower you to win this thing.  But apart from God’s presence and power in your life, the patterns of sin will destroy you daily.”  Period.   That’s it.

Every time I read this passage with a student, light bulbs go on, spiritual truth enters the story, and they’re reminded that this ancient book is not irrelevant or old, but alive and needed for daily living today.  And in the process, I’m reminded too.  Oh how desperately we all need God to be working in us, with us, and through us all daily.


Last week I hosted our local youth pastor network again and since I was in charge of the topic this week, I decided that after lunch, we’d just kick around this question:  “What have you been learning about ministry to teens that might be a great reminder as we start 2014? ”  So, in prep for that discussion, I scribbled down the first 5 things that came to my mind.

As I’ve thought about them, I probably should have titled this post, “My top 5 ministry truths for 2014”, but for the last 20 years I’ve been working with high school students and they were birthed in a conversation with youth pastors, so I left it as is.

But here goes.  You can be the judge.


Whether you’re planning a game, raising funds, giving a talk, or just trying to build a healthy group identity, there is nothing like momentum.  The best days and the biggest wins in life have come to those who have learned the fine art of knowing when to ditch an idea on the spot cuz it’s dying and when to load up a small fire with more fuel.  Especially when working with students, perception is reality and if they room feels dead, it is dead.  Period.  I can fight this fact or leverage it, but momentum moves people and I’d much rather steer a moving crowd than try and resurrect a dead one.  In 2014 I want to leverage all the momentum I can to make a difference.   I’m on the hunt for stuff that is already moving in the direction that God wants our ministry and lives to go already.


I know it sounds cliche, but I have to constantly remind myself of this.  No one like’s change. Seriously, everyone resists it and deep inside me, so do I.  I like to sleep on my side of the bed.  I like to eat what I like to eat.  Etc..   And yet, change is what moves us from mediocre to inspiring.  In youth ministry, the big danger here is that the longer you stay in a job, the easier it is to coast and do what you’ve always done.  But when something starts to slow down or stop working, are you willing to make the change that is needed even though it will be hard?  For me, most recently this has prompted me to make an entire teaching shift in our high school group.  On our weekend, we’re moving the lesson from one person giving a “sermon” to a new method where we teach the lesson from a discussion panel of 3-4 staff and students.  Kinda like the TV show “the view”.  This is worth a whole other post after I practice it for about 3 months, but for now… I’m just committed to keep trying new things to reach this constantly moving target we call the “teens in our culture”.


Speaking of change, oh my… teens today type or text 10x more than they speak. When I was in high school, no one had a camera on them to snap a picture of friends eating lunch and a “text” was a book you didn’t want to read for class.  No more.  Teens are a typing machine and the really odd thing is… they’ll type or text stuff they would NEVER say out of their mouth.  There’s literally another world behind the thumbs of most teens than the one upon their tongue.

And for me… and James 3, this is a major problem.  I don’t think I can create a healthy, God-honoring culture of teens who follow Jesus without talking about the incredible power of language.  And not just what we say…. but what we type, text, and demonstrate with our lives.


Dang I wish I could.  I’ll let you know when this one changes. The closer you get to a “customer service” job or the more you try to succeed at “pastoral care”… the louder this truth will be.  Seriously, don’t set out to make students happy and to be cool. You’ll quit working with teens and be all discouraged and frustrated, feeling like a loser in no time if you do.  Pleasing people is a horrible God to live for.


I think the rarest and most treasured gift in American culture today is the precious gift of “undivided attention.”    When I meet one on one with my own kids, a student, volunteer, or even a neighbor, it is always impactful.  When I turn off my phone and give even 10 minutes to a student after a youth group event… I swear it’s more influential than the 2 hour program they just went through.  I’m more committed than ever that the coffee shop lunch, the after school meeting, and even the parking lot conversations of 2014 will be the most valuable conversations and ministry moments I’ll have all year.  Nothing trumps the one on one.

If you need a small reminder from our culture today, listen to the prophetic words of Rhett and Link in this video as they challenge us to be present in a culture that is so distracted by so much all the time.



Nobody likes that statement.  But it’s true.  Try as you may to NOT judge others, you WILL do it.  I do it.  We ALL DO IT all the time. Guaranteed.

  • body weight, shape, gender, age  (so and so is fat cuz of this habit)
  • socioeconomic status (that guy drives that car cuz he’s a “rollin’ in it”)
  • religion or faith (only a fool would believe such and such)
  • job  (I shoulda known… that’s surely why they behave like this)
  • passions  (only xyz kind of people like to do that)
  • hobbies  (because they do this, abc is true of them)

And those are just a few of the judgements we make every day.  Some are spoken. Some are merely thought.  Some directly affect our actions and some are so subconscious and ingrained in us that they shape us in ways too subtle to identify directly.

Not by accident,  I’m writing this post on Martin Luther King Jr day in the United States where we honor MLK’s unique contribution to American society and culture.  Much has been and could be said about him… but he has one quote I hold dear and am quick to ponder on a day like this.  It is this from his infamous “I have a dream” speech where he said:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

i have a dreamAs a father of 5 children with 2 different and “opposite” skin tones, I live this dream daily and am so thankful for the guts, convictions, and faith of the men and women like Dr. King who gave and continue to give their lives and resources in pursuit of racial equality.  I’m literally living this dream all the time in my own home.  But as I pondered his words anew and afresh today, I was reminded that it doesn’t say “I have a dream, that one day, my children will grow up in a nation without judgment.”  It doesn’t say that.  Instead he dreamt of a day when they would be judged by the right things. By God-honoring things.  You see, maybe the problem is not that we judge one another.  The problem is that we make assumptions that we know stuff we don’t know and that we use the wrong standards to judge.  Bottom line, we’re lousy judges.

The truth is, I even judge myself by stupid standards.

  • the shape of my body, especially in comparison to others
  • the amount of money I make in a given context
  • my ability to please people or not
  • my level of “success”
  • the actions and attitudes of my own kids
  • the popularity or lack there of in the things I write or teach

…. and I could go on for days.  I’m a self-professed jacked up judger of myself and others.  Dr. King however dreamt of a day where his own kids would be afforded opportunities and value based on the content of their character.  For him, it was character over color.  He longed for a day when people would judge one another by standards that truly mattered.

So, I think I’ve concluded that

#1. God does and will judge all justly and sovereignly, so I don’t have to.

#2. The only judgment I can trust is the one in which God would agree.

#3. I’m not God and neither are you.

#4. Despite the truth of #3, we all judge and we do so poorly.

#5. I want to care more about embodying a Godly character than I do about giving or receiving the judgment of others.