"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Monday, December 22, 2008


Merry Christmas from the Stynsberg Fam!

Last night, our church had it's children's Christmas program once again. This is one of my highlights every year. The greatest message ever told placed in the hands of 3 and 4 year olds just seems so appropriate; not unlike those peculiar messengers who were first told by angels to go and proclaim the Messiah's birth, wandering out of breath, and with the smell of sheep on their clothes to the bed of a king wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.

After the program there were cookies and visiting, laughter and hugs, and Foosball (I had to school some little kids in some Foos). As we were playing, a little boy, probably five, ran to the table to address his friend,

"Owen, I have been looking all over for you! I want to play with you. We have a world to save! We must defeat evil!"
I bellowed,
" Yes! Go save the world! Defeat evil where ever it may lurk!"

They made me smile and laugh, and reminded me that Christmas is all about a little baby boy who came to earth to save the world, bring peace, and defeat evil.

Well done boys. Thats the Christmas Spirit.

Kids teach me a lot, but I learn from adults occasionally too. Pastor Pat talked about the significance of a single, simple word in the Christmas story: but.

"..and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."--Luke 2:18-19

You don't need to be a Greek scholar to catch the significance of this word. "But" always means there is an idea different then that which has already been presented. Notice that everyone who heard what the shepherds shared were amazed. It is easy to be amazed with such an amazing story! But it was Mary who held on to it all. When everyone else's amazement eventually faded in the distractions, and business of life; Mary pondered and continued to hold onto it all.

In the loudness of the Season, will the amazement of what Christ has done fade in presents, Christmas specials on TV, and to much egg nog, or will we continually ponder the Incarnate God in the body of a baby boy who came to save us?

God Bless, Friends! Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Getting to know my soul

I try to be careful how much of myself I reveal on my blog. The internet is a big frontier with many wandering and exploring eyes, and I don't know how I feel about letting my most personal bagage spill out for anyone to see. And yet, it is so easy to do; to make a blog a personal counselor. You can say whatever you want, be as open or closed as you want, and not have to worry about having to look into someone elses eyes in person-to-person vulnerability. And you still get to share yourself and have the satisfaction of imagining whomever you want reading your blog, and having sympathy for you.

At the same time, it is just as easy to only present your best face on your blog, only revealing the pieces you want others to see. Blogs are very strange things, and a fairly lousy way of really getting to know a person honestly.

I think a good question to ask while writing a blog is, "is this for my benefit only, or will someone else get something out of this." I confess, I was quite tempted to spill my guts on this blog, but gut stains are a horrible mess to clean up, and the only reason I would do it is to make myself feel good, and avoid the actual benefit of talking to real people about my real issues, and really sorting them out through real connections in real relationship. With real confrontation.

I picked up Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell Again, a book I started reading over a year ago, and never finished. I reread a chapter, and as a result, have been feeling pretty lousy the last couple days. If I can summarize it by memory, it basically deals with the masks we put on to hide all of the pain we live in; how salvation is a current state and not just a future state, but how so many people refuse to live in the redemption and salvation that Christ offers now, because we are afraid to connect with our souls. To connect with our souls would mean we would have to be honest with ourselves about the pain we carry, and to do that would mean we would have to be honest with others.

It is truly amazing how a guy who grew up in a Christian home with loving parents, good grades, good friends, and a good church could still have garbage in his past that stings in the present. I think we all have those things that hurt, those things that we don't want to admit to ourselves, things we pretend don't really matter that much. And so we disconnect ourselves from them, but the pain affects how we live our day to day lives, and we can't escape on our own.

We need to confess. It is easier to tell the whole world over the internet then it is to sit down with the one or two people who really need to hear our heart's pain, and who need to share with us as well. Brush your soul with someone else's, so that you can live freely, so that you can be healed and live in the redemption of Christ. Salvation is now.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I challenge anyone to watch an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and not cry. I suffice to say it is not humanly possible.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I won't be getting that shirt for Christmas

I am a self proclaimed music junkie. Like many people with my condition, I own quite a few band tee shirts. back in the day, you could expect to find a "fruit of the loom" or "Hanes" tag on your shirt, but know when you check the collar, chances are you will find a narrow tag that reads "American Apparel". The loom is a thing of the past, and Michael Jordan won't be getting his Hanes on nobody anymore, because American Apparel seems to be the new tee to print on. And apparently, for good reason. First, lets face it...their clothes are dang comfy, and heck! They look good! Second, they are made in the U.S. No Sweatshops. To a generation that is perhaps more socially aware then ever before and eager to fight for social justice, this seems like a pretty good deal. Hip, cheap, clothes that look good, feel good and don't exploit the third world. Sweet.

...to bad they exploit women. I won't be buying any American Apparel clothing ever again.

If you have a Facebook or MySpace Account, chances are you have seen an American apparel ad. American Apparel has garnered a reputation for its sexualized advertisements, but now they have taken it a step further--American Apparel now advertises with nudity.

I am not a fan of blog rants, but for this case, I will break my own code, and let the steam fly. How any company can be irresponsible enough to have their web page laid out in such a way that any random person can stumble upon nudity without a single written warning is beyond my comprehension. How they can get away with it is even more boggling. But this is what really stokes my fire--why is it that so many Christian bands, causes, organizations, and schools are printing on these tees? Granted, American Apparel hasn't always used nudity, but they have always had sexualized advertising, and it only takes a quick Google search to see that American Apparel CEO Dov Charney is a bit of a shady character. In an effort to make this blog less uncomfortable then it already is, I'll give a couple links for those who would like to read up on this guy.

So, I end with this question; what kind of message are we sending as Christians when we buy clothes from a brand that identifies them self in such a way? What behavior are we condoning by buying a shirt with an American Apparel tag? No one may know its an American Apparel shirt, but they are still making money. Price, comfort and fashion...even "American-made" ethics cannot balance the scale when the exploitation of 50% of the human race sits on the other side. So, I encourage you to take off your American Apparel clothes....that's what their models are doing.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Simple Pleasures

The last couple of days have been beautiful here in southern Manitoba. I have been told that tomorrow it is supposed to be 16 Celsius. For my American friends, let me delve into my knowledge of the last 4 years living in Canada and convert that for you. That is….pretty nice out. The other day, I sat outside on the bank of the river down the bridal path in the sun reading a book, and I was reminded of the simple pleasures I find in this place.

One of those most definitely is the Bridal path; a beautiful path through the woods along the river. I love to wander the paths in those times I need to be alone, to think, to pray, to procrastinate (let's be honest here), to yell at God, to praise God, to be myself before God. It’s amazing how often I will see deer or other wildlife. Just the other day as I was sitting on the river bank, I saw what looked like a log floating along…until I realized it was swimming--towards me. This muskrat (at least I assume it was a muskrat) swam right towards me to within a few feet, starred quizzically at me for a couple of seconds, and then dove beneath the murky waters. I heard the knocking of a woodpecker, the rustling of branches, saw the glint of sun on the water, and was struck by the beauty of the moment.

Walks. I love walks here at Prov. Whether it be late at night under the shining stars, unpolluted by city light, or during the day, trudging out past the lagoon and through the woods, or simply walking to and from my apartment building to the school. I walk back and forth a lot living in Prov house, and though at times it becomes tedious, and I choose to hope in my car and drive the distance instead, I am trying to be a bit more environmentally (and wallet) friendly and walk often. One of my favourite parts of this walk earlier this year was a bush I would walk by. It was thick with green leaves, and every time I would walk by, about 20 or so birds would fly out. It always boggled me; like natures version of how many clowns can you fit in one car. Some of my best conversations at Prov have been on late night walks with friends.

The Cafeteria is another joy of mine here at Prov. I love when all of my friends are gathered around the table laughing, sharing stories, and patiently enduring my puns. The cafeteria is what makes Prov what it is. I can spend hours in that place talking and nursing a cup of tea. Some of my dearest friendships have been formulated in that place.

Tea times are another simple joy. It’s amazing how a nice warm drink, dimmed lights, and some quiet music can bring out the best of conversation. I miss those stories with Mike Quiring and Dom Gagne that would teach and make me my sides hurt with laughter. I enjoy the fellowship I have with my friends now every Tuesday night. These people are some of the most precious friends I have.

Simplicity of life in the middle of nowhere. Over the years, we’ve had to make our own fun here at Prov, and I’m sad to say that I think we may be slowly loosing this ability…or at least maybe I am. I remember the joys of the apple hucking club…simply finding the fun in chucking rotten apples from the cafeteria at trees, dumpsters, or straight up into the dark night sky and then running to dodge the mushy missile before it splattered on the ground. Or games like “can’t touch the ground” where we tight rope across the railings from the student center to the well. Stick races in the Rat River when the water is high enough to move them, and of course the Human Bridge. My all time favourite is boys against girls charades, however. Where else are you going to get a girl to act out “urinal cake” or “nothing”?

There are many young couples in Seminary here at Prov with little kids. I love watching these little ones when they are in the school. As everyone moves busily above them with a destination and goal in mind, they stand there low to the ground, wide eyed and full of wonder, drinking it all in, eager to learn what the environment can teach them. I am continually amazed at a child’s ability to find joy in a piece of string, or a rock. There is so much we can learn from a child, so much we have forgotten with age.

What would a simple pleasures list be without music! When I am washing the dishes, it is always nice to have some sweet tunes in the background, or a good sermon. My current favourite: Bob Dylan. The man is a genius. Sure he is a bit of an acquired taste, but so is coffee, and there is a reason that Starbucks rules the world. Same reason that Bob Dylan will always be remembered as one of the greatest American musicians ever. I think Bob found joy in simple pleasures too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

In search of my socket

Like bent up rungs in search of a socket.

A worn out photograph found in a pocket,

that just doesn't bring a smile anymore.

A fly with his wings plucked crawling around.

I want to fly, but I'm stuck on the ground.

Just like the lone ranger,
been made a stranger,
feeling the danger,
and anger!

I'm spinning in circles, but don't know where to go. Mind moving fast and at the same time slow....I don't know. no.

When will this depression reach a recession?

Lost and loss

Lonely and phony.

God, do I have your permission to feel this way?

I have all the friends in the world, but no where to turn. oh I Yearn!

I yearn for Community, true immunity.

I want to be whole, and fill this hole.

God, Its so hard to come to you when I need you the most, so could you come and get me?

I want to talk, but don't know what to say...don't even know how I got this way.

I know people are waiting for this thing to be "happy" and "sappy"...but dang anyway, I'm feeling CRAPPY.

Please pick me up!
I'm watching this reel that feels so real, so cut the film of this horror flick!

feeling sick.

change the perception of this man in deception.

Sometimes grief just can't be brief, but when it feels like hell...You are there still.

When he hung there, you turned away. Let me not forget that you know deep pain.

We'll hurt together, and you'll hurt with us too. Right now, that just about all we can do.
Father bring me deep into you and to them. Can't be alone, when I'm drowning again.

I can't be alone.

please plug me in.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A single thought

I was in two of my best friends weddings this summer, and went to a couple more.

With a nauseous stomach and two smiling faces, some friends informed me they are expecting their second child.

Every time I open facebook, it seems that someones status has changed to "engaged".

In light of all this, I have spent a considerable amount of time lately eating wedding cake, as well as contemplating the life of the single adult.

As I stood on stages in uncomfortable shoes and rented tuxes watching my friends gazing intently into the eyes of the women they will spend the rest of their lives with, I couldn't help but feel as if there was something wrong with me. Am I not good enough? Am I faulty, immature? Am I worth some one's time? Next, I felt a sense of urgency. Boy I got to get on the ball. I am falling behind. I better find my "other half." But now I ask myself this question: Why? Why is it so important to get hitched?

Single has become such a loaded word. "Single" often translates to "romantic opportunity"(i.e. "She's cute and single, go for it!). Instantly a persons identity is found in his or her availability rather then in their character and purpose. I often feel as if my maturity is being sized up by my relationship status as well. Whether intended or not, I can't help but feel as though when people back home ask, "So, are you seeing anyone right now?" it is no different then if they were to ask, "So, have you grown up yet?"

In a culture that has demonized the single life, I began to realize that I have bought into many of the lies...along with the rest of the church. Singleness is often viewed as a trap to escape rather then a gift to appreciate while it lasts, or a calling to embrace for life. I laughed (a sad laugh) to myself when I recently visited a well know christian singles website only to discover that it is sponsored by eHarmony as if to say, "There is still hope!"

It is fairly easy to recognize the gift of married life. One pastor explained that marriage is God's way of helping us understand what it means for God to live in perfect community with Himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), as well as to teach us about the love between Christ and his bride, the church. Likewise, one of my pastor friends preached one Sunday from Genesis, pointing out that the only thing that wasn't good before the fall of man, was that man was alone. I find this fascinating. Adam walked in the garden with God, yet he was created with a need for relationship with other people. In essence, marriage is all about community.

So while marriage is all about community, singleness is all about...community. I will say flat out that I hate the term "single". It implies being alone, but no man is an island to himself. Whether married or not, we were created for community. God calls us to himself and into his church. In a sinless world, where man met face to face with God, he still had a need. That need was community with people. Our community is the Church.

Yet it isn't a struggle for most singles to recognize that they need people, the problem is when that truth is skewed: the lie, "When I meet the right person, then I will be fulfilled," or "If only I weren't single, then I would be happy." It's this problem of putting all our hope in one person. I have dated a couple of very wise, very kind, and very godly women, but no person could ever fulfill the deep longings of my heart. I long to wander through the garden with my creator, feeling the grass between my toes, the sun on my face. To breathe in the lilac sweetened air and learn from the One who knows me better then I do. I am not single, I am the bride of Christ, walking through the garden with Him, and the rest of the church walks with us.

Just as being married opens a person's eyes to see and understand God in ways others can't, being single opens opportunities to see and understand God and this world in ways that a married person can't. One of my favorite books is "Who's Child is This?" by Bill Wilson, the story of the the beginnings of Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, New York. Bill started a Sunday school ministry to 22,000 children who would have never heard Jesus name outside a swear word; children who hear gunshots and screaming more often then laughter and singing. Children who know what it means to be hungry, and how it feels to be hit. Bill has loved kids in a neighborhood where he has been stabbed and had his face bashed with a brick. He lives right amongst the people he has chosen to love and serve, rather then in the safety and comfort of the suburbs. He is surrounded by violence as he lives ministry. A tough question can be asked: how would Bill's life and ministry look if Bill was married and had children? I am not saying that at no time would it be appropriate for a family to live in this type of neighborhood and minister there, these are the type of questions couples must decide together, but a single person has more freedom to go where the need is without concern for the safety of family.

Paul puts it this way to the Corinthians,

"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband."--1st Corinthians 7:32-34

To be married is a blessed and rewarded life, a special gift from God. It is time for the church to embrace and recognize singleness as a blessed gift as well. Singleness is not a disease that needs to be cured. Rather, God is using brave single men and women to "cure" broken people with his love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clear skies and sunny

It appears I will indeed be spending one more year in Canada! My study permit still has not come, and I have had no luck with any phone calls, but my dad and I swung on over to the Canadian Border crossing today to see if they had any thoughts. I talked with Jerry for a bit (good ol' Jerry, I like that guy) and he gave immigration a call for me. It turns out that as long as I carry my old permit and a copy of my receipt for the new one with me, that should be sufficient until the real deal arrives. Beautiful!

As long as we are on the topic of God's provision, I am now the owner of a car, a 99 Mitsubishi Galant. I have named him tentatively Quick Silver. I know, I know...I haven't had the best of luck with cars, The General's engine ceased on me, and his rear suspension fell out...as I was driving. Ol' Blue would die in the middle of intersections, and Death Cab For Cutie had no breaks. Then there was mom and dad's car that I crashed into an abandoned van parked facing me in my lane on an icy country road with its lights off (WTCrap!). But I remain hopeful with Quick Silver. Once I drove him home, ...he died, but he now has a brand new battery and is puring Gallantly (ha!, get it Galant-Gallantly...).

Quick is in good condition which according to Carfax.com means he is worth about $2,990. The people I bought Quick from were selling him for $2,500, and were prepared to come down to $2,250 (already a steal). Not knowing how much Quick was worth, and knowing I couldn't afford more then $2,000 I made the offer, and they accepted. It wasn't until I was home that I realized how blessed I was to get such an amazing deal. Those car keys were prayed into my hands. God provides.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Slight Chance of Rain

I am afraid I have some unfortunate news to share with you all. You see, I died yesterday in a tragic vacuum cleaner accident. I know, really sucks....

No, just kidding (August Fools!) I am alive and well, but I do have some potentially bad news. There is a slight chance I may not be able to go to Providence College this year. I know, bummer, eh--but far better then being dead, I gotta say.

Let me fill you in on my current state of being, and how I came to this realization:

I had returned from an amazing summer in Arkansas, stretched and challenged, and full of God's grace, a few fun stories, and a heart ready to look at life with new eyes. I also came home with a question...

"Mom, Dad, did my study permit come in the mail yet?"

At the end of last school year, I had to renew my Canadian study permit, being that I am returning as the not so common fifth year senior (permits are only good for four years, I guess). The permit has not yet come in the mail...it should have come 2 months ago. I don't think I will be allowed to start school without a valid study permit.

I have made a couple calls, and in order to check on the status of my permit, my Client ID number is needed. Here is where it gets really messy. When I look at the study permit I received four years ago as a beardless, trembling kneed freshman, someone forgot to fill in the blank that says "Client ID #" which means I have no clue what that number is.

To be honest with you, I have no idea how serious this is, or if this situation can be remedied easily.

This summer, one of the talks we gave was on Mark 4:35-41. In this passage, Jesus is with his disciples in a boat in the middle of a storm. The water is beating down, the wind is ripping at their skin, their clothes are drenched and plastered to their bodies. Waves crash against them as they cling to anything they can, fearful that they will be swamped. And then there is Jesus. Asleep. Utter chaos; complete peace. The disciples are like, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?!?"

Then Jesus blows them away by calming the storm with his own voice.

But the most intriguing part of the story is how Jesus responds to his disciples. "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Unbelievable--the disciples have this near death experience and Jesus is asking them where their faith is at, why they are afraid. Deadly storm...I'm thinking I would be a bit uneasy as well.

But the question makes more sense when we put it in this context.

God was in the boat.

Jesus created the rain, those waves, that wind. He created the storm. He was with the disciples in the utter chaos, and he was at total peace. God was in the boat, and he is greater then the storm.

This week has been stressful and exhausting, with all the uncertainties that come wrapped in a silly piece of paper and a few numbers that seem to hold my future in their grasp. I have worried as I think of the possibility of not being able to walk the graduation aisle with some of my dearest friends this year, and not having the opportunity to room with one of my best friends. But the truth is that God holds my future in his hands, not a study permit and ID number. I have been telling young people that God is with them in their storms all summer long, and now He has given me this opportunity to remember that He is with me in this boat. God's hands are present in this storm, and it is His voice that will see me out of it. I may not know what the other side looks like yet, but it is far greater then I could ever imagine.

So, this may be nothing. It's possible it could all be settled by tomorrow. Yet there is the ever so slight chance that this could keep me from college. Whatever the case, I am choosing to trust the one who is at peace in all storms, and would appreciate your prayers.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


"May God Bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, sot that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
And the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you forever.
--a Franciscan blessing

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lord, fill my heart with desire for you

"I have had at times such delicious thoughts on the Lord, I am ashamed to mention them."-- Brother Lawrence

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seeing God

God has been stretching me in ways I did not expect this summer. I knew I would be taken out of my comfort zone, but I did not know that God would begin to stir questions deep in my heart; radical questions...soul questions.

One thing that God is revealing to me this summer is how deceitfully wicked my heart is. I know that is a sentence most people wouldn't have seen coming...

"What did God teach you this summer as a staff for YouthWorks?"

--"That I am deceitfully wicked."


That just doesn't seem to be the number one response to that question. But this is the message that God is placing in my heart.

Every four evenings a week, I share God's word through talks with youth. This is my job whether my heart and mind are in the right place or not.

When I was working as a part time youth pastor, I never fully grasped what God was trying to teach me in that time, but I think I am beginning to see some of that now. I think one reason I could never stand to be called "Pastor Tyler" when I worked at the church in Warroad was because somewhere deep down I couldn't stand to recognize that a deceitfully wicked man was given the responsibility of speaking truth into the lives of young people. I felt I had no right.

Matthew 5:8 stings when I read it, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." It hurts because where does that leave those with dirty hearts; people like me? It leaves us blinded to God. Our eyes, hearts, minds become so focused on the dirt and the clutter that it is all we see--its all we want to see. How can I help others see God if I am blinded to him?

There are some very obviously impure things that blind us to God, but then there are those things that are pure until we let them have a thrown in our life before God. Matt Chandler reminds us that Paul in Philippians 3:8 counts all things rubbish that don't give us more of Christ. God has been calling me to examine what is on the thrown of my heart. If my heart isn't pure, and if I am not seeking Him, then I am not seeing God. And the scary thing is that I and a lot of people think we are seeing God when we really aren't. Our hearts are to wicked to see Him, and we can be deceived into thinking we know Him when we really don't. I referenced Matthew 7:21-23 in an earlier post, and I reference it again because this is what God is stirring in my heart, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven." It scares me to know that it is possible to think I know Christ, to think I have experienced Him, but to not truly know Him or see Him because my heart is impure, and disobedient. It scares me to think that I invite the creation onto the thrown of my life before the Creator. Have I ever truly put the Creator first, or have I just pretended to. Have you? I pray that I truly know Him; that I haven't made up a fake god that satisfies me, but isn't real. I pray that you know him too.

I know that I can't see or know God fully this side of Heaven, His face is now but a poor reflection until that day I see Him face to face when I am fully reconciled to my king. But I now believe that its not possible to "just get by" with Christ. We either love and serve him as our Lord and Savior, or we don't.

We cannot save our souls, we can only give them to the God who can. A soul cannot be divided, we either give ourselves to Him or we don't.

My heart is deceitfully wicked, keeping me from seeing and knowing God the way I could. I want to humble my heart, surrender my sin, turn from all wickedness, and seek his face. I want to be pure. I want to see God.

"Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land."--2 Chronicles 7:14

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Carrot Top and Chris Martin do not look alike

Here are a few of the people I have been told I look like this summer:

"You look like Jesus"--(though Jesus is not Scandinavian and we really have no clue what he looks like)
"You look like Moses from the Prince of Egypt."--(Once again Moses wasn't Scandinavian...and I'm not a cartoon...but I'll take that comparison.")
"You look like Carrot top."--(hey now, don't be saying things like that)
"You look like Shawn White" --(I am a very pathetic snowboarder...and landed on my back trying to ollie a skate board once)

"You look like the guy from "Twenty Eight Days Later"."--(Just because we are both skinny and have bad hair cuts does not mean we look alike)
"You look like Ryan Seacrest"-- (Seriously? Really?)
"You look like Chris Martin from Coldplay"--(I'm OK with this. He is brilliant...and married to Gwyneth Paltrow)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Arkansas Favorites

Favorite Arkansas words:

Y'all-- as in; "Y'all can go to Sonic for a smoothie during free time if you bring an adult leader and at least one other participant with you."

Fixin-- as in; "I'm eight, fixin on nine" (this example is taken from a girl at VBS today) or "I'm fixin on eatin me some craw fish."

Warsh-- as in "Go throw your clothes in the warsh." or "Go get warshed up for supper."

MY favorite YouthWorks pastimes:

Licking gummy bears, sticking them to the ceiling fan, and then turning it on and seeing how far they fly. (Don't worry, I clean up after myself).

Playing "Hey Cow!" on our way to and back from Mt. Magazine and Fort Smith (For those who don't know this game, when passing a field of cows, you roll down your window and yell, "HEY COWWWWWW!!!!!" as loud as you can repeatedly in an effort to see how many cows you can get to look at you).

Throwing lake weeds on Kevin's back at Cove lake and seeing how many I can get on him throughout the evening without him noticing.

Smoothies at Sonic. Sonic is a beautiful thing.

Favorite YouthWorks moments:

Adult leaders who ask to pray for me.

Washing others feet and praying over them.

When youth come up to me and ask, "can I talk to you for a minute?" and share their pains struggles, hopes and dreams, and then having the opportunity to pray with them.

peaking into my "Happy Fun Note bag", and reading the encouraging notes.

Putting notes into others "Happy Fun Note" bags.

Asking Youth about their goals and dreams.

Playing Ultimate frisbee in the pouring rain. Wonderful.

Leading talks every evening. I love it! This could never grow old for me.

When a group buys me a Sonic smoothie. delicious.

Listening to the sniffles of the snotty noses and the sobs of teens who are broken before God as their feet are washed by their adult leaders and they begin to understand what it meant for their Creator to wash the feet of sinful men. I have never witnessed anything so beautiful.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Lord, Lord?

This summer has been full of new and exciting experiences. So far I've, swam in a mountain lake once a week, hiked a mountain, swallowed two live earth worms, relearned how to do a flip off the diving board, got a Mohawk (another post for another time), seen a tarantula, learned how to line dance, and chopped wild bamboo from someone's yard. These are all fun experiences that make great stories, but the real rewards come in the relationships made. the special moments are in praying with youth after something has just clicked in them and they have seen God, those still, soft moments when God points out something in my own life that I need to work on, and in those moments when I share conversations with others in which God speaks to my heart. As I go into my sixth week of participants coming to our site here in Booneville Arkansas, I want to write about an adult leader from our very first week who blessed my life. Every week we have amazing people here. Every week I get to see God in others, but I am a simple man with a simple mind...it doesn't take me long to forget names even of the beautiful people I've met this summer. Sam is an exception. I have loved all of the people who have come through Booneville this summer, and I pray that God will work in each of their lives. With close to 60-70 participants each week, there are bound to be some who "don't get it". I can say this, because I know at times, I was one of them (and often, I still am). Those people that view their trip as a vacation rather then an experience preparing them to better live as Christians through seeing practical ways to live out our faith through loving service, and taking that home with them. Sam was different. Sam was an adult leader who jumped at the opportunity to share the hope that he has found in Christ. We were painting bathrooms in a park, Sam walked up to complete strangers and shared his faith with them. He challenged the youth to do the same. He lived the example. I don't believe these were nothces on a spiritual belt, but rather an obedient heart to God's prompting. Sam and I had a bond, we both love a preacher named Paul Washer. Paul's sermons have challenged both Sam and I to look at our faith in very new ways. Paul speaks on what it means to be a Christian, and how we can know we are saved. Many North American Christians base their faith in their salvation on a prayer they have prayed one time, rather then the fruit that is evident in their lives. I know that I too have fallen to this fault. Paul says that we cheapen our salvation to make it look like a flu shot...pray a prayer once, and we are set; like an eternal vaccine. But I don't think this meshes well with scripture. It doesn't matter if we know Christ, what matters is that he knows us. Matthew 7:21-23 says,

21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

The key is that we live a life that is submisive to the will of the Father. We are not saved by our good works, rather the way we live is evidence of the relationship we have with Christ. Paul uses this analogy. If he walked up to me and said that he just got hit by a cement truck, but he didn't have a scratch on his body, I would have to assume that he is either insane or lying. So then how is it that someone can say they have met God (who is much larger and a much harder hit then a cement truck), yet walk this life with no evidence of his presence in thier life? Perhaps they are mistaken. I believe a sad truth that we must abolish in our country is that their are many who believe they know Christ, and that Christ know's them, yet their hearts are far from him and they are lost.

Sam got it. He knows the purpose of his service, he knows who he serves, and he knows the hope he has...and he shares it with anyone who has ears to listen. This is evident because he lives it.

I pray that my heart will be in tune with Gods, that I will remember why I am here this summer, that I will surrender myself to the Father, that I will live a life of obedience and repentence. The condition of ones heart is what shows one to be a Christian, not simply a prayer said once upon a time.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Who He Is

This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.
- 2 Timothy 11-13

Friday, June 13, 2008


I have been in Booneville with YouthWorks for four weeks now and have yet to write about it. Part of this is my lack of time, but the other is that it is so hard to know where to begin. God is stretching, teaching, and blessing me in so many amazing ways that it feels overwhelming every time I consider sitting down and sharing. I've decided that my first few posts will be about a few of the relationships I am making here in Booneville and with the participants who come each week. YouthWorks is all about seeing Christ in others, and God is blessing me with beautiful relationships this summer. He is showing himself to me. (I've changed some names for privacy's sake)

I want to tell you about T. T is one of the first few people I met here in Booneville and we became quick friends. T is a thirteen year old boy with a developmental disability. Though none of us know for sure what his disability is, we think it may be a form of autism along with attention deficit disorder. Everything about T screams out his love for life, and for people. He is constantly smiling. He calls me "Buddy", and when he sees others he points at me or puts his arm around me and says, "That's my buddy". Like many young guys, he likes to play guns....but T likes it to the extreme. The other day he "held up" one of the adult leaders, and every now and then he lops off a participants head with an imaginary knife. We are trying to cut back on some of the violent imagery T constantly carries with him, but I did laugh the other day when after telling T I have a force field so he can't shoot me, he came up behind me, opened the back door to my force field and got me with a knife. The back door to my force field sounds a lot like a squeaky screen door apparently.

One of my favorite T moments happened in Church one Sunday. T loves hugs, putting his arm around you and the such, so in church I hardly noticed while T played with my hands--that is until I looked down and realized that T was putting my hand on Kevin's thigh. This was probably the closest I have ever come to screaming in church.

T's family doesn't have a lot of resources. There house is without electricity simply because they can't pay the bills. They don't have lots of food. One day when T was playing at the church with me, he brought a few toy guns. T is very creative, he makes a lot of his own guns out of sticks, and little things lying around, and he does a dang good job. T gave me one of his nice plastic toy guns and told me to keep it at the church where I am staying. It touched my heart knowing that it was probably one of only a few toys that T may have at home, and he wanted me to keep it for him. He also gave me a toy robot to stand guard for us. It is currently keeping guard over our big Astro Van, Pierre (named for the lovely stenciling that resembles a French mustache on its hood).

I am hoping that T and I can teach each other as we befriend and love one another this summer. Jesus lives here in Booneville. He likes to put his arm around my shoulder, share his toys with me, and calls me buddy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the LORD,I will be joyful in God my Savior.--Habakkuk 3:17-18

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Leaving Spiritual Bulimia to Follow the True Bread of Life

In church last Sunday my pastor spoke on Ephesians 4. Even as he spoke, I couldn't get the words from the very first verse out of my head.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.--Ephesians 4:1

I had my 23rd birthday yesterday, and I asked myself a question. It may sound like a mid life crisis, but I hope that's not the case, otherwise I'm going to have a pretty short life. I asked myself what did I do in my twenty second year of life that has eternal significance in the Kingdom of God? Granted, the Lord doesn't always reveal to us what kind of impact we are making in his Kingdom, but shouldn't I at least be able to peg some significant moments of striving to make a difference? Didn't I like all other Christians receive a "Great Commission"?

Living in the US, I have many friends who have fought for our country in the Armed Forces. There are many Americans that would say they would be willing to die for our country. I wonder how many of us North American Christians would say that we are willing to die for the calling Christ has given us.

It saddens my heart when I see "Jesus is my Homeboy" t shirts, and "Jesus Saves" piggy banks, bobble head Jesus figurines, and Jesus Action Figures, because I think that it detracts from that calling. Our culture is good at seeing Jesus our friend, but falls short in seeing Jesus our Lord. Friends are people we walk alongside, and Jesus does walk with us, that is true. But our Lord, we must follow. I wonder how many of us are truly willing to follow Jesus in the difficult path he leads us on, cross weighing heavily on our back as we sweat, bleed, and follow.

I've been reading Shane Claiborne's first book, Irresistible Revolution. I am only on the second chapter, so I can't comment to much, but from what I've read, and have heard him say online; I can say that I have been greatly challenged and inspired by the hands and feet he puts to his faith. Shane writes about Christian consumerism, how there are christian books, movies, music and t shirts. There are Test-a-mints (so we don't covet our neighbor's fresh breath, perhaps?), and I have even seen in one Christian store, the "bread of life", that's right....Christian bread, coming in several different heavenly flavors. Not all of these things are necessarily bad (although, the idea of Christian bread makes me gag a little), but what Shane recognizes is that we can create this spiritual bulimia, in which we consume and consume and consume so that we have the the perfect words to say, but never truly digest it all, being left spiritually starving.

Christianity is not about the words I say. Its not about the books I read, or the music I listen too. It certainly isn't about the t-shirts I wear or whether or not the law is contained in the mints I suck on.

Its about putting the word of God into action in the things I do, in public and in private. Its about the people I serve, and the Lord I follow. Its about the love I show.

As we live out our faith, may we strive to be worthy of a holy calling from a holy Father.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Summer Plans and Prayers

Summer vacation has come again. Currently it seems more like Christmas break then Summer vacation. Strange to look out the window in April and see almost a foot of snow on the ground. much of it has melted in the last two days, but we are supposed to get more this weekend. Crazy. (JaNae be aware, these hands are snowball magnets, and it is common knowledge that little sisters are snowball targets).

This week I was offered a contract with YouthWorks (http://www.youthworks.com/) as program staff for the summer starting May 26th. I am stoked, the most amazing summer opportunity I could possibly wish for. YouthWorks is a youth missions trip Organization with 75 sites in the US, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. I can't wait to be part of something so beautiful, watching youth step out of their comfort, and learning to be the face of Christ to others, even as they see Christ in others. The YouthWorks trips I've been on have greatly formed who I have become, and I am excited to be stretched again. I know that this will be a summer to grow in trust and in discipline.

That trust is already being greatly challanged, and so I ask for your prayers in some specific areas.

First, I have already committed to speak at a youth retreat for my friend, Chris's youth group. I am pretty pumped for this opportunity too. The trouble is that the retreat ends a day before my YouthWorks training, and since I don't know where exactly I will be placed, I could really be pressed for time. Please pray that everything works out smoothly. It would be great if my training site would be within driving distance so I don't have to worry about booking a flight.

I have to get CPR and First Aid training before May 26. My small town doesn't offer the training, so I'm probably going to have to drive to Bemidji. Please pray that I can find a class and get all of that taken care of in time.

I am also in a wedding during training week. YouthWorks is ok with me leaving for the wedding, but once again, if I am on the other side of the country then the wedding, this could make things a bit difficult. I am trying to trust that God will allow everything to fall into place and work out the details. I would love if you would pray with me in this.

Lastly, this will be a very stressful, busy, and stretching summer. Please pray for my team and I. Pray that we will grow and learn as we help young people to do the same. Pray that we will obediently follow Christ in all things, and that God will use us this summer. Please pray for all the youth groups we will encounter this summer, and the community that we will be working in too. May Christ's light shine in dark places, and may glory be given to his name. I look forward to sharing stories with all of you. I know God has all of this in his hands, and I can't wait to see what he has in store. Hopefully I'll have a chance or two to post some summer highlights. I treasure your prayers. Love you all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Death, Vanity and Valentine's Day

I feel as though I have had so much to say, yet very little time to say it these last few months, hence my lack of blogging. But another holiday has come and gone and so I will sit down long enough to share my Valetines day thoughts.

This Valentine's day I spent alot of time thinking about death and vanity. Not because I am jaded against the Holiday. I really like Valentines day. I think any excuse to express love to those people who are special to us is good in my book. No, I have been thinking about death and vanity because I have been watching a John Piper video series, "The Blazing Center", and looking at a few of his sermons (desiringgod.com, you should really check it out!) in preparation for care groups and speaking engagements, and John Piper is really messing with my mind (in a good way, I should add). The things he has said have challenged the way I look at God, and strive to please him.

One of the video series' sessions was titled "God's Vanity" and those words sitting next to each other rub me like a toddler on an ornery old cat. They make me uncomfortable.

But John Piper points out (most of the rest of this blog is his wisdom, not mine--thanks Pastor Piper!) that many Scriptures make God sound vain. God seems to have a pretty strong desire to bring himself glory. Glory is a priority to God.

Look at this passage Piper points out,

"For my own sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you that I may not cut you off. Behold I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another." --Isaiah 48:9–11

When we look at passages about worship, and honor and glory being brought to the Lord, It can sound vain. But is it?

Then we read passages about Jesus bringing glory to the Father, and the Father delighting in the Son. But if the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one, isn't this vanity?

Here are some words from Piper,

"Since the Son is the image of God and the reflection of God and the stamp of God and the form of God, equal with God, and indeed IS God, therefore God's delight in the Son is delight in himself. Therefore the original, the primal, the deepest, the foundational joy of God is the joy he has in his own perfections as he sees them reflected in his Son. He loves the Son and delights in the Son and takes pleasure in the Son because the Son is God himself.
At first this sounds like vanity, and has the feel of conceitedness and smugness and selfishness about it, because that is what it would mean if any of us found our first and deepest joy by looking at ourselves in the mirror. We would be vain and conceited and smug and selfish.”

I think of it like this: If I were to have walked up to a girl on Valentine's day, and handed here a card that said,

"Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

I'm pretty awesome,

so you should date me."

the response would be less then positive. First, I used the "Roses are red" routine.....WAY over done. Second, the poem didn't rhyme. Third, it is horribly vain, and doesn't showcase love at all.

So, the question is-- how does God's pursuit of his own glory show his love to us?

I love that John Piper uses this story to help us see this. John 11:1-5 ESV

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

I love that. If one of my buddies was on his death bed, I would be booking it home to be with him, especially if I knew I could heal him. I wonder what was going through Lazarus's mind. But because of Jesus' love, he stays so that the glory of God may be displayed.

John 11:32-44 says,

32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?"

38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." 40Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

A couple things strike me about Christ's love here.

First, Jesus believes that the best way to love his friends is by allowing Lazarus' death so that he can glorify the Father through raising Lazarus back to life.

Why is it that God's love is best displayed through his glory being shown? This is because God invites us into relationship with him, and John Piper points out that the best, most loving gift he can ever give us is himself. Why? because our God is perfect! He is glorious! He can't be vain because to not recognize his perfection and call us to recognize it as well would be sinful. There is nothing greater than God. God could (and does) give us any number of gifts, but putting any of those gifts before him is idolatry. Piper points out that God must bring glory to his name because to do any less would be idolatrous.

He loves us so much that he, the creator of the universe, gives us himself in all his beautiful glory! and thats what makes the next words so significant.

Jesus Wept.

What alongside Gods glory could point out his love more?

As I prepared to speak on this passage for Valentines day, I was suprised to randomly come across a Relevantmagazine.com blog that spoke of Lazarus' story in light of Valentine's day as well. wierd.

The author, Billy Roberts says,

"When Jesus shows up on the scene, what does scripture say that He does? It doesn’t say Jesus remained firm and held His emotion in. It doesn’t say that He assured people things would be fine in the future (though He knew they would be, as things would change very shortly.) It says two simple and yet unbelievably profound words, “Jesus wept.” Two short words, but they hold greatly significant truths within them." (A Valentine's day Loss, Billy Roberts)

I find this to be of amazing sigficance because Jesus hurt with them. He knew the loss they felt. Martha and Mary expected Jesus to come and stop Lazarus from dying. There desires weren’t met. Instead they felt the emptiness of death. And, I believe whether we have experienced death or not, we have all felt the pain of emptiness and unmet desires. Empty dreams, empty relationships, empty promises. Loneliness and loss.

Roberts reminds us that Jesus is there with us in our loss. Jesus stands beside us weeping in our pain. But he also longs to bring us past that pain to something great. He shows us that he has got something so much better for us; Himself. And his glory shines. He invites us to turn away from death and towards life.

Mary got it. She saw that in giving himself and revealing God's glory, Jesus gave the greatest gift he ever could. In response, six days later during a meal, she anoints Christ's feet with nard, an expensive ointment she spent a year's wages on. Judas, who was also there didn't get it. He was focused on money (a whole flippin years wages!). He didn't see that all the money in the world couldn't buy the best gift he could ever have. And that gift was sitting right there in the room with him, defending the woman who got it.

Do we get it? Jesus weeps for our pain and longs to give us so much more. Do we realize that if we are in Christ and Christ is in us, we have the beautiful glory of God in us and on us and around us and that we couldn't possibly ever have a greater gift then to be in intimate relationship with our Creator, Lord, and King?

"Delight in the Lord, For he is good! His love endures forever!"