Star Trek Discovery

10 Oct
October 10, 2017

I’m four episodes in to the first season of the newest Star Trek show … and I’m really, really enjoying it. I’m going to keep this spoiler-free, so it will probably be somewhat short!

The production value is on par with the recent movies; the special effects, the costumes, the work they put in to making the show look good is incredible. The look and feel of the show is the best any Trek show has ever achieved and definitely equal or better than anything else I’ve seen on TV.

As far as the characters go, they’re growing on me fast. Initially it was a little strange seeing a crew I knew nothing about and had no emotional connection to, but that by the end of the two part premiere, I was hooked and curious to see where they would go with them. Over the course of the first four episodes they have done a great job of planting a lot of seeds and mysteries that I am curious to see play out in the seasons to come.

I will say that I am still getting used to the idea that the lead character is not the captain … but I think it’s a strong idea. The franchise has been around for more than fifty years; they have to play with the format to find new ways to approach Star Trek story telling.

Regarding the Discovery itself, I love the look of the ship more than I expected to. It’s actually a throwback to discarded design ideas developed in the 70’s when they were first thinking of bringing back Star Trek (see the image below for an example). At first I thought that was a weird decision, but the end result does a great job of blending that design style with current ideas.

My one complaint, and perhaps my nerdiest comment … I wish the show was set in the Kelvin Universe, not the Prime Universe. That would easily explain the design similarities to the new movies, the technological advances (in response to Nero’s arrival two decades before). It would also open the door for them to go anywhere with the story telling with no concern about contradicting the more than 700 episodes of Star Trek already out there – their only concern would be staying in line with (currently) three movies. However, I get it; the movie arm and the television arm of Star Trek are separate entities, and those separate companies (Paramount and CBS, respectively) most likely have some sort of legal concerns about overlapping with one another. But it would make continuity a far simpler affair.

That aside, I’m really enjoying the show and am excited to see where it goes!

Jeremy & Jerusha Clark’s “Your Teenager is Not Crazy”

06 Oct
October 6, 2017

I really, really like this book. It’s a must read for parents of teens, tweens, and those that work with them. Dr. Jeremy Clark and Jerusha Clark’s book, “Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent” is a strong exploration of the biological, psychological and spiritual changes and developments happening in adolescents. What makes this book stand out from others I have read like it is how the Clark’s have used some of the latest in brain development research help shape and inform their approach to understanding teenagers. Adolescence triggers explosive amounts of neurological development, a process that does not finish until the mid-twenties, and actually explains much of the conflict and misunderstanding between parents and their teens.

Their approach is simple; over the course of 26 chapters, the Clark’s tackle a wide variety of adolescent and parent issues, from emotions, to sex, to blame, selfishness, friends, food and more. With each topic they introduce the issue, then follow a pattern; Bio 101 is where they tackle exactly how adolescent brain development connects to the topic at hand, Psych 101 address the psychological aspects of the issue as well as how to approach it effectively with your teen, and finally, Faith 101 is where they give advice on how to point the teen (and parents) to Christ in this area. At the end of each chapter, they give a practical challenge on how to live out their advice in your home today.

The book is strong. It’s clear they have done their homework in researching the topics, and their years of experience counseling, as well as parenting their own teens, come through loud and clear through the stories and illustrations they share. As a parent of a fifteen and a thirteen year old boy, I found this book incredibly enlightening. As I understand more and more the psychological and physical development going on under the surface, it makes it far more attainable to understand what is going on with my kids and the teens I work with as a youth pastor, as well as help give me the ability to be more patient and confident in how I approach them.

I already said it at the beginning; this is a must read for parents and those interacting with adolescents. It is a strong resource, covering a wide range of adolescent topics – making it something that can be turned to as different issues and situations arise. It’s available as a book, digital book and audio book, so it’s very accessible. Check it out!

Thom Rainer’s “Who Moved My Pulpit?”

05 Oct
October 5, 2017

Thom Rainer’s “Who Moved My Pulpit?” is a great book for pastors and church members alike. Rainer has built a reputation for knowing how churches move, the latest trends, for solid research and great leadership advice. In this book he tackles the question of how pastors can lead change in their churches, giving an eight stage model for approaching and leading change effectively.

The title of the book comes from an actual story; a pastor once changed the pulpit without giving anyone a heads up … resulting in massive controversy and ultimately taking two years to rebuild ministry momentum after the conflict. I’ll be honest, stories like that are frustrating to read; a part of me is shocked at the things that can become sources of conflict, but at the same time, Rainer does an effective job of using such stories to give extreme examples of how poorly implemented change can incredibly disrupt a church’s ability to ministry.

He describes the different types of church members and how to most effectively guide them through change, how to build a coalition of support, gives guidance on the pace of how change should work, coaches on how to communicate to the church as a whole and ultimately how to implement the change.

Ultimately, Rainer is a change advocate. He writes that “nine out of ten churches in North America are losing ground in the communities in which they are located. They are declining or growing more slowly than their respective communities” (Kindle location 366). He attributes that decline in part to many churches’ inability change with the culture, a result of a far too often inward focus instead of an outward focus.

It’s a great book. Over the last couple years I’ve become a big fan of Rainer’s work. It’s small, so it’s a fast read. It’s definitely a great book for pastors and their leadership to read together as they think through how to lead their churches. Towards that end, he includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter that can be used either by the individual reader to diagnose his/her church, or for the leadership team as they process the information together.

Francis & Lisa Chan’s “You and Me Forever”

28 Sep
September 28, 2017

Francis and Lisa Chan’s book, “You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity,” is a departure from most marriage books out there. The underlying message throughout the book is simply this; the best way to improve your marriage is not by focusing on your marriage, but by focusing on your Christian faith. In other words, the natural fruit of two people pursuing God as the Bible calls them to is a united, healthy marriage. In their words, “unity is the natural result of two people following one Spirit in a life devoted to the mission.” (Kindle location 1242)

I really like the book; I’ve read quite a few marriage books over the years. Most give traditional advice on building better practices, communication, ways to strengthen the relationship, usually with some side comments on the importance of pursuing God – but generally not as the core message of the book. To me, this is where the Chans have met a real need in the church with their book. They write, “Our marriage problems are not really marriage problems. They are heart problems. They are God problems. Our lack of intimacy with God causes a void that we try to fill with the frailest of substitutes. Like wealth or pleasure. Like fame or respect. Like people. Like marriage.” (Kindle location 227)

Having said that, they do tackle some practical relationship areas; learning to communicate and fight well, giving a message of hope, advice on parenting together, and a call to really make the marriage count. One of their challenges is rooted in the passages that describe the church’s relationship with Christ as a marriage; that “we are called to paint such an attractive picture of marriage that it causes people to long for the coming marriage with Jesus.” (Kindle location 566)

I thought it was well written; if you’re familiar with Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love,” it almost felt like this is Crazy Love for Marriage. His (and his wife’s) passion for calling people to an all-in pursuit of Christ comes through loud and clear in all of his writings. It’s a shorter book, an easy read, and comes with questions at the end of each of the seven chapters for couples to discuss together. It’s definitely worth checking out for those who are married or for those headed to marriage.

Lamentations

08 Sep
September 8, 2017

The other week I finished teaching through the book of Lamentations in our Sunday morning student hour. It was a part of our larger, seven year teaching plan that includes walking students through every book of the Bible. It is a fascinating book, one I have not been able to stop thinking about. Essentially, if you’re not familiar with it, it is five poetic laments written and/or collected by the prophet Jeremiah, which the Israelite people would gather each year to read out loud together as they processed their grief from having been utterly defeated by the Babylonians. They had lost their independence, their capital had been destroyed, and perhaps the most devastating to their identify, the temple had been reduced to rubble. Over the course of three weeks we explored three significant themes that are throughout the poetry of Lamentations; God’s judgement, God’s compassion, and God’s sovereignty. What is particularly powerful about Lamentations to me is that it does not wrap up with a happy ending; they are still just as ruined at the end of it as they are in the beginning. The writer(s) are brutally honest with their pain, their loss, their suffering and their grief. And its final words – recited together as a community annually – ends with the question of whether or not God will help them or has He completely rejected them.

It’s powerful because it puts into words what so many of us feel during our times of suffering but are often times afraid to speak. Lamentations gives us permission to take all of our pain and suffering in its fullness and bring it out into the open to God. It gives us words to our heartbreak. Ultimately, it is a powerful lesson on how to grieve, something that I think our culture does not do well at. We tend to bottle things in, to celebrate those who are able to get back to normality quickly with comments like, “Wow, he’s handling it really well,” when in reality, that burying of pain is the opposite of handling it well.

If you want, you can find the audio to all three weeks on our iTunes podcast feed, or on our podcast website.

Celebrating the Reformation

07 Sep
September 7, 2017

This summer we tried something new with our adult Christian education program by having a unified theme and offering it during both worship hours (my role expanded a few months back to include adult Christian education). Essentially, we tackled the Reformation in honor of its coming 500th anniversary. Over the course of ten weeks we had local seminary professors, members of our congregation who work in area colleges, as well as our former senior Pastor and myself, each tackle different aspects of the Reformation. Overall, I think it ended up becoming a really solid resource for those who want to know more about the Reformation and its impact on modern Christianity and the world. I’ve also been recommending it to parents who homeschool as an option to consider as well; there were several middle school and high school students who attended the series and enjoyed it. We did record each of the sessions, as well as save all the powerpoints/handouts from the series. Here’s where you can find it all:

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Mark Oestreicher’s “Leading Without Power”

30 Aug
August 30, 2017

As a youth pastor, the title of Oestreicher’s book, “Leading Without Power: 9 Paths Toward Non-Coercive Ministry Leadership,” immediately grabbed my attention. I never have any power!

When I was first beginning in ministry, my then senior pastor once explained to me that “leadership is getting people to do things they don’t want to do.” He didn’t mean challenging them to get sin out of their lives; he specifically meant that our job was to manipulate, guilt, push – whatever it takes – to get people to do what we wanted them to do.

The thrust of the book is simple and opposite to that approach; that coercive, hierarchical leadership is not only unbiblical, it’s dangerous and unhealthy. Towards that end, Oestreicher identifies nine ways to lead rooted in scripture, ways that use our ability to influence in far healthier, God honoring ways.

I appreciated his challenge to readers to not try and take on all of the ways he suggests, rather, he suggests finding one or two to try and implement, and then build from there. I know for me, two jumped out immediately as being ways that fit with my wiring and approach that I want to continue to develop; the first is what he calls a “Storytelling Host,” the second is a “Uniqueness DJ.” Yes, he has unique names for his paths to leadership. The storytelling host uses stories that embody values to challenge, inspire, teach, and guide the listeners. Our ultimate example of this approach, of course, is Christ, who frequently used stories to lead those around Him. The Uniqueness DJ is someone who is able to blend different people together in forming a team, using each person’s uniqueness to form a great team – rather than trying to get everyone to fit a specific mold.

“Leading Without Power” is a great book. While Oestreicher is a well known youth ministry expert, this is not a youth ministry book. It’s a quick read – you can probably finish it in one sitting. His style is fun to read and packs a lot of powerful truths. I love his honesty about the appeal of power and the very real temptation and ease of leading in coercive ways, and his challenge to find a different way is incredibly relevant. I bought copies of the book for each of my student ministry staff, and will be going through it with them in the coming weeks. This one is a must read for all believers; its lessons applicable in all areas of life.

Eclipse Road Trip

28 Aug
August 28, 2017

It was a little bit spur of the moment, but Heather and I decided to take a road trip to Tennessee with the boys to see the eclipse last week. It was kind of a wild ride; we left on Sunday right after church for what should have been a nine hour drive. It ended up taking twelve hours on the way down, we spent the night in Pigeon Ford, then traveled over to the Foothills Parkway to watch the eclipse … then hit the road back home not realizing between eclipse traffic, road construction, and college traffic we were starting an 18 hour drive home.

So, in case you missed it, we spent 30 hours driving round trip in about 48 hours so we could see less than two minutes of eclipse totality. And it was totally worth it.

What an amazing thing to see. I thought I knew what it would be like, but words really don’t do it justice. It is no mystery why ancient civilizations were shaken by them. Without the knowledge we have today, how could it be interpreted any way other than the gods bringing judgement or warning of doom?

I took a ton of photos; a few turned out pretty good – certainly better than my camera should have been able to do. I essentially held my eclipse glasses against the lens and snapped away. I used a Nikon Coolpix L340.

And yes, we’re already planning our 2024 solar eclipse trip.

Seven Year Teaching Plan

25 Aug
August 25, 2017

We are moving into the seventh year of a seven year teaching plan I put together back in the day. Essentially, I wanted to tackle three things with our Sunday morning teaching time over the seven years we have a student in our youth ministry (6th-12th grade); core truths that we really want to drive home, topical issues relevant to the group’s needs, and biblical literacy. You can check it out here.

Having stayed committed to this plan for six years now, I’m increasingly happy with it. It’s flexible enough that we really are able to roll with what’s happening in culture, needs of the group, and strengths of the teachers. At the same time, it gives enough structure that we have to give our topic selections a lot of thought and care so that we can meet our big picture goals. Finally, I love the thought that as of this years’ rising twelfth grade students, any graduate that has been at our church for middle school and high school will have graduated with teaching from every book of the Bible.

Where do I get the materials? Primarily through a handful of companies I’ve come to trust over the years; Youth Specialties, The Live Curriculum, The Youth Cartel, and Download Youth Ministry. In addition, we’ve created some studies for books of the Bible that I couldn’t find materials elsewhere for.

Here’s the overview:

  • Core Truths (yearly, 11 weeks). These are the teachings we land on every year – if teens don’t remember anything else when they graduate, at least they’ll know these eleven lessons. Within this broader category, there are two main themes; our church values and purpose (Know, Grow, Go) inform us of why we gather, while the HABITS series gives the spiritual disciplines that tell us how to follow God.
    • Our Purpose
      • Fellowship (‘we are real people’)
      • Worship (‘in love with a real God’)
      • Discipleship (‘in love with a real God’)
      • Evangelism (‘making a real difference in the world’)
      • Service (‘making a real difference in the world’)
    • HABITS
      • Hang time with God (quiet time)
      • Accountability
      • Bible study and memorization
      • Involvement in church
      • Tithing
      • Sacraments (communion, baptism)
  • Topical (yearly, 17 weeks). This is the category that gets the most flexibility year by year. Basically, it’s age specific, felt need topics (e.g., the place our group is in right now leads us to talk about this). Some topics will probably be repeated every year (dating, sex, peer pressure).
  • Biblical Literacy (23 weeks). This is the bigger picture piece of the puzzle. One of our church values as a whole is Biblical literacy, and our concern that as a culture we are becoming less and less familiar with the scriptures. Towards that end, over the course of seven years we will give students an overview of the whole Bible, working our way through every book (in varying degrees of depth). If you look at the plan,, you’ll see that we’re working our way systematically through the Old Testament while bouncing around the New Testament.

Our Crooked Ways

12 Aug
August 12, 2017

A nationwide deja vu, what my people ‘posed to do?
Go to schools named after the Klan founder
Word ’round town is y’all don’t see why we frownin’
Native American students forced to learn about Junípero Serra
How is that fair, bruh?
Some heroes unsung and some monsters get monuments built for ’em
But ain’t we all a little bit a monster? We crooked!
Man, your heroes are worthless
And man can sure try, but only God gives purpose
You crooked!
Be humble or be quiet
Your kingdom can catch flames as effortless as riots
Entire empire’s a card castle, chill
And the strength of your whole team is crumbled with one meme
It’s crooked!
Your whole works is twisted

I was listening to Propaganda’s latest album this afternoon while running errands with the boys, and was completely caught off guard by how spot on his song ‘Crooked Way’ is to the events of this weekend. We live in a horrifically broken world with twisted values. Until we can begin to show the love of Christ, to put other’s first, these tragedies will only increase and grow.

People are so perplexing
Perpetuating the same hate they out protesting

I hate cherry picking lines; the song is long and full of powerfully convicting stuff that would overwhelm this post. There is a growing tension in our country when it comes to issues of race and the church has been far too silent in this arena. As a group, we need to grow both in empathy and in speaking out. The explosions this weekend did not happen overnight, they are the result of growing hate and abuse. If we fail to speak out and advocate for change in the every day moments, we will never see the unity we need.

You can read the full lyrics here. He’s part of the Humble Beast label, which makes all their music available for free online; you can download the album here. His music is consistently challenging, thought provoking, and beautiful to listen to.

Me – just an Allstar Chuck Taylor rhyme sayer
And the fact I ain’t get lost on the way here is amazing
Me – just a crooked stick in awe of His goodness