Advice to the Next Generation

I’ve spent more than a decade of my life investing in the next generation. While I’m no longer in full-time student ministry, investing in the next generation and the generations to come makes my heart beat a little bit faster. We must invest in the next generation because they need to make a Kingdom impact now. I still love being around students and their families, hearing their stories, and sharing wisdom when appropriate. If I were standing in front of a group of middle and high school students, saved or lost, the following is what I would tell them.

Walk in Truth. Your life is guided by the truths you deem to be true—it drives why you do what you do. However, would it be comforting knowing that circumstances or the changing times don’t have to dictate the way you live? Live in the comfort that you don’t create truth; Truth was established a long time ago. Furthermore, you are part of a greater mission and Kingdom that can guide your steps. It is impossible to walk in this Truth if you don’t know the Creator of Truth. Make it your life’s ambition to know Truth, embrace Truth, grow in Truth. Not walking in the Truth will allow the Enemy to steal your joy. In addition, the world’s idea of success will drive you. You will end up longing for more of something that will never satisfy. Walking in Truth will often not be the popular route; yet, it will always be the best one.

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16a, NIV)

The heart is deceitful. Our natural bent is towards our own sinful nature. When we wake up in the morning, our daily battle between spirit and flesh begins. Following our heart leads us down a road that begins and ends with ourselves. The danger therein is our heart—as tender as it may seem—will lead us no further than our own wisdom or feelings can take us. What if our heart is wrong…what then? We don’t know what is best for us. Our natural bent is what led to the world we now find ourselves in. What captivates our heart will define the man or woman we will become. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Be careful who you surround yourself with. We were created for relationships. From the beginning of humanity, we see man surrounded by perfection with all that had been created, yet something was missing—a companion, the woman. Whether we consider ourselves introverts or extroverts, we were all built for community. What community do we allow to influence our lives? We will become who we are around. Include people in your circle of influence who ask you hard questions, love you no matter what, and always have your best interest in mind. Have people in your life who tell you what you need to hear, even if it is not what you want to hear. Allow others to build into you; and you, in return, build into others. Ultimately, make sure you have people in your life who cause you to pursue the One who knows you best—the One who created you.

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 1:20, NIV)

Don’t settle for good; go for best. We live in a society that settles for just good enough. This idea of “barely getting by” leads to living a life of complacency and never going the extra mile. When we settle for good enough, we rarely give our best. And when we don’t give our best, can we really look at the person in the mirror and be pleased? The end result is we aren’t living in the fullness of which we were created to live. Giving our best means we show up before we are supposed to and stay later than we are supposed to, all for the betterment of the greater objective and mission. We should give our best to the One who gave His best for us. Why settle for good enough when best is achievable? 

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, NIV)

Serve, expecting nothing in return. Our attitude and actions toward others reveal our hearts. If we serve to be recognized, we actually aren’t serving. Rather, we are looking for self-gratification through the lens of good works. Serve others even if they can never serve you back. Love your neighbor as yourself, not just because it is the right thing to do but because it is the best thing to do. Serve the least of these and serve the greatest of these. You won’t change the world through teaching and talking; you will change the world through loving and showing. After you show love, then your words will be heard. Serve because giving is way more rewarding than receiving. Serve because the One who fashioned you in your mother’s womb came to serve you.  

“Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:4, NIV)

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My Plea to Christ-Following High School Students

“Daniel, I want to follow Jesus but what about my dreams and desires?” I’ll never forget that conversation I had with a junior high school guy over breakfast one morning. High school students are some of the most intriguing people to be around and work with. They are growing like crazy, usually want to live 2-5 years above their actual age, are learning to drive, think about life and dreams of the future all while still being a kid. For some, I love their drive and passion and their heart to simply want to do something. Their heart for more.

If you are a Christ-following high school student this blog post is for you. Here are four prayers that I have for you as you grow and mature into the young man or young woman who God desires for you to be.

That your heart’s desires would be driven by your affection for your Heavenly Father. I love the fact that you are ambitious and have dreams and passions. I love that you work hard at what you love most; sports, the arts, singing, helping others and so on. My plea to you is that you keep the main thing the main thing. That Jesus, His mission and Kingdom is forever on the forefront of anything and everything that you do. That whatever you want out of life, whatever dreams you have would be driven by your affection for the God that saved you, is working on you and is molding you. C.S. Lewis once said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

That you would have a hunger to be a life-long learner. My plea is that you would long to spend time with older Godly men and women and learn from them. Ask good questions. Take notes. Lean into wisdom. We are far from perfect, just like you, but we want to pour into you and invest in you. We, as adults, need people in our lives just like that as well. Never think you have “made it” or settle for where you currently are. Proverbs 1:7 reminds us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Spend time in God’s Word every day even if it is just for a few minutes. Billy Graham once said, “Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.”

That you would make purity a priority and live a holy life. My plea for high school students who love Jesus and follow Him is to be in this world but not of this world. That there would be a distinct difference in your thoughts, motives and actions. Simply put, that you would set the bar high for what is means to follow and love Jesus in a world spinning out of control. No doubt this is much harder to say than actually do. No doubt Satan is chopping at the bits to wreck you. Pursue Jesus and His ways- it is always better.

Guys, treat women with the up most respect and remember that she is a daughter of the Most High God. She is someone’s spouse one day. Lead well and not out of pride or arrogance. Be strong but gentle at the same time. Take that “fix it” and protector natural tendency and channel it for good and Godliness. Be a man but be a humble man.

Ladies, you are incredibly valued and loved and it is not based off of what you look like at all. Pursue holiness in your words, actions and physical appearance. Laugh a lot. Lean into who God says you are and not what the world pushes on you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him.”

That you would see people the way God sees them and love them the way God loves them. The “love your neighbor as yourself” commandment is really missing in today’s world. We have the natural bent to only be around people who look like us, think like us and ultimately make us feel good about ourselves. We don’t get to decide who our “neighbor” is. Every single human being is an image-bearer of God Almighty, including you and me. Love and treat others the way God does. Read the four Gospels and see how Jesus interacted with people like Him and how He interacted with people far from Him. Learn from it. Model it. The goal is not perfection, the goal is obedience. Pray for others, especially the people who get on your nerves the most. Matt Chandler once said, “The more you make this world about you, the more miserable you will be.” 

High school students, you are world changers. No doubt in my mind. Change the world by loving well, by leading well and by ultimately living a holy and pleasing life for the Heavenly Father. Praying for and with you.

Three Consistent “Asks” of Kids and Students

There are a lot of “asks” in life. As married adults, our spouses will ask for us to run errands, help fix something, or our opinion on different matters. Kids and teenagers are often asked to do homework, to help pick up siblings, help with yard work, to sit still and pay attention or potentially many other things. At times, it seems whether we are 8 years old or 88 years old that people are always asking something of us. Quite frankly it can get draining even if our true hearts desire is to serve and submit well.

With this framework in mind, I’m very careful how often and what I ask of my wife, my family and the volunteer leaders I serve alongside. I don’ want my reputation to be one of every time someone sees my name on their phone or sees me coming down the hall, they want to hit the decline button or walk the other direction because they know I need them to do something. As leaders, we always need help. People know this, it is no secret, especially in the local church setting. Volunteers want to feel valued and like they are making a difference. Therefore, it is important that even before we ask, they know we value them and love them no matter what. After all, that should be why we are asking them to help with something in the first place.

I spend most my days and weeks working with kids and students and with those that work with or parent kids and students. When it comes to asking of kids and students, I’m also very careful how often I do this and in the manner in which I do this. Especially students can often feel like you are just using them because they are gifted and talented in a certain area or because they are simply available.

There are three things I’m fairly consistent in asking kids and students to bring with them to church every week (outside of themselves, of course).

Their Bible. This may seem like a no brainer or it may even seem as if we are only desiring the “committed Christian” to show up. However, in the ministries I lead I want it to be no secret we are a people of the Bible. It is the most important book you can ever engage with. Period. If we can get a Bible in every kids and students hands that they can read and understand and instill in them and their parents the importance of daily Bible reading/engagement, then we are helping lay a crucial foundation in their life. It is impossible to disciple a person without Bible engagement. Therefore, I often say, “Be sure and bring your Bible with you. If you don’t have one or one that is easy for you to understand, come see me or one of the leaders and we will be sure and get you one as soon as possible.” 

A friend. The local church should always be a safe, fun and exciting place for kids and students to bring their friends. The big picture is we want to instill into kids and students  the importance of building healthy relationships with others. Then they/we have an opportunity to share the Gospel with others. Also, especially in the next generation, they want to be where their friends are. We don’t want to be event-driven, but we do want create environments that foster community. Therefore, I will often say or social media things like, “See you Wednesday at 6pm with a friend!” Also while promoting an event I will say something like, “This is an incredible thing to bring friends to that may not go to church or are looking for a new church.”

A willingness to learn and grow. I realize this is not a person or object but it is still very important. We want kids and students to know, in a very age-appropriate way, that we are a ministry and we desire for them to grow spiritually and learn all they can about God, His plan of redemption, the Church, how to live on mission and many other things about the Christian life. This is the age they are most eager to learn so we must capitalize on that. Therefore, I will often say something like, “Be ready to learn something very exciting this coming Sunday” or I will give them a well crafted, short, catchy phrase and then say, “You want to find out what this means… we will see you at church tonight!” This helps create a little bit of curiosity and an eagerness to learn more.

We don’t want to “ask” just for the sake of asking or sounding like a broken record. We have intentional asks because we care about the next generation and their walk with Jesus.

 

Three Prayers for Graduates

Graduation is an exciting time in the life of families. When students walk across the stage and receive their diploma, wave at family and friends, it closes one chapter and begins a new one. Christ following parents pray for years that when their high school senior reaches this season of life that they are equipped to engage the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They pray that would not simply know Bible stories but that they would know the story of the Bible. They pray that they would know exactly what they believe and why they believe it.

This is also a season of the unknown to a graduate. Sure they may know where they are going to school and what degree program interests them. Sure they may have a job lined up. However, for many graduates, it is their first time to have this much independence. The first time to experience what life is like in adulthood. So what should we pray for high school graduates entering this season of life?

“God, reveal yourself to me.”

Psalm 25:4a, “Show me your ways, Lord,…”

Every single believer in Jesus Christ should pray this often and with a sincere heart. If you have no desire for God to reveal Himself to you, then you are not walking with Jesus. You may know a few things about Him, but you are not walking with Him. What was the first thought you had this morning? What was the first action that you acted upon? For me, I answered 2 text messages and 4 emails before I even said hello to my family or got ready for the day. Don’t get so busy with life, work, and relationships that you place the most important relationship in your life on hold. When you wake up, may your hearts’s passion be: “God, reveal Yourself to me in a new and refreshing way.”

Then, be ready. If you really want God to reveal Himself to you, it will change your life. It will change your head, your heart, and your hands. 2 Corinthians 4:6 reads, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 

“God, refine me through Your mission.”

Psalm 25:4b, “…teach me your paths.”

There is a ton of self-help philosophy out there these days.  “3 ways to be a better you!” “4 things that must be accomplished today!” “6 ways to climb up the latter in life!” “5 ways to get what you want!” You know what the difference in philosophy/life theories and walking with Jesus is? Philosophy is connected to a system. Christianity is connected to the Savior. Systems, as good as some of them may be, will fail you at some point. They will let you down. Jesus will never, ever fail you, even in your worst moments and on your worst days.

The second half of verse 4 says, “teach me Your paths.” Don’t walk in your own strength and in your own wisdom. Jeremiah 6:16 encourages us by reminding us that, “This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

 “God, ready me to live my faith strong.”

Psalm 25:5, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

Then, what is the action item? David prays in verse 5 that the LORD would guide him. Our world does not love Jesus. What is one of the best things you can do for a world that does not love Jesus? Ready yourself, in and through the Holy Spirit, to live a strong faith. What are some ways you can tell you have a strong faith? As a result of your faith, do others ask you about your faith often? Do you lead well in your home, church, and in your circle of influence? When things don’t go well, what or whom do lean on? Your faith in Jesus or what you can simply figure out? 2 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us of an incredible truth we must live by daily, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” In life, you may not see what is coming around the corner but, you serve a God that knew it was coming before you ever even existed. Trust Him, with all your heart.

Congratulations class of 2017.

Making God-Honoring Decisions

Some people love to take charge and make decisions. Others hate it and avoid it at all cost. No matter what end of the spectrum you find yourself, we all have to make decisions. No matter if you are asking, “Where will I take my family to eat tonight?” or if you are asking, “Who will I marry?” decisions, big and small alike, are very crucial in life. THE most important decision one can make is accepting Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. All other decisions don’t even compare to this one.

After begin a youth pastor for almost a decade now, I have seen incredible God-honoring decisions made and I have seen terrible decisions made. Decisions tend to make or break us in one form or fashion. They have consequences and rewards. They mature us.

So the question, and one that many people struggle with, is “How do I make God-honoring decisions in my life?” The question behind the question is, “How do I know if I’m making the right decision that will please God and cause me to pursue Him more?

I believe Philippians 4:8-9 gives us an incredible framework and lenses to go by. Here we see eight characteristics that Paul is telling believers to “think about such things.” These can serve as a lenses in which we filter and make God-honoring decisions.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

1. True: Am I prayerfully grounding this decision in the truth of God’s Word?

2. Noble: Is this in line with Godly character?

3. Right: Will this encourage and help others?

4. Pure: Are my thoughts, motives, and actions pure in this?

5. Lovely: Will this help build community?

6. Admirable: How will this effect my testimony?

7. Excellent: Am I choosing best over good?

8. Praiseworthy: Who gets the credit, you or God?

Click HERE for an expanded tool that includes these eight questions and more content to equip you making God-honoring decisions.

Small Groups and Student Ministry

The fall semester began this week for many students all over the nation. This means getting back into regular routines that seem to go away during the summer months. Parents are waking up their kids in the early morning hours, school teachers are preparing lessons, coaches are lining the fields, and you can hear the marching bands once again as they prepare for Friday nights. All of these things are exciting things to look forward to and be a part of.

In the life of the local church, student ministries all over the nation are gearing up for their fall launches as well. Student pastors and leaders have the incredible opportunity to partner with parents in developing students to be salt and light on their school campuses. To take what they learned during the summer months through camp, retreats, and mission trips, and leverage it for Gospel influence.

Also, new small groups are gearing up to launch and existing ones are beginning to get back into their regular routines. Whether these are on campus groups or off campus groups, these are crucial in the life of a Christ follower. Of all the things student ministries do, small groups are one of, if not the most important, aspects we can build into. Allow me to give you a few reasons why I believe this.

Biblical small groups faithfully engage in the Word of God. Students have the incredible opportunity to engage in God’s Word on a more intimate level with a caring adult. While the preaching of God’s Word in a worship service is very important, it is almost impossible to digest the content of God’s Word outside of a small group community. When we sit down with a group of people to read and study Scripture, we have the opportunity to get to know God, our Heavenly Father, more intimately. It is important to remember that without the Word of God small groups are simply social clubs. Discipleship is key.

Biblical small groups give students a safe place to ask questions and seek Truth. Students have hard questions about life issues and what the Bible communicates to these issues. To many times in the local church we want to avoid hard issues and answer with the typical, “Read your Bible and pray more.” While these are definite spiritual disciplines, small groups are an incredible opportunity for students to ask questions and seek Truth on a deeper level. Students should not feel inferior or “lesser” of a Christian because they have doubts. We all have doubts, every single human being. Small groups also allow students to see caring adults as they walk through life, with their own have struggles and victories. Within this, the accountability factor is a huge part of small groups. Relationships are key.

Biblical small groups give students an intentional place to be known. Students thrive on having small group leaders they know they can trust and are available to them. Parents love that they can have other trusted adults impacting their kid’s lives. It is a win-win situation. “What is God teaching you through His Word right now?” “How are you making Jesus famous in your circle of influence?” “How are you glorifying God in your thoughts, words, and actions?” These are great questions for a caring small group leader to ask students they are in a discipleship relationship with. When the local church loves on the next generation and reinforces the truths of God’s Word to them, we see students sent out to make a difference and invest in younger believers with the same passion. Intentionality is key.

May student ministries all over be purposeful in developing healthy small groups for students to engage in. When leaders and students dive into the mission of God together, incredible Kingdom work takes place.

Families and the Summer Months

Summer is here!!! What an exciting time for families to connect with each other and do Kingdom work! What tends to happen within the summer schedule is we allow our spiritual growth to drift a little bit due to different schedules, vacations, camps, and so forth. For many of us this can be done very unintentionally but yet very easily. Satan is “crafty” as Genesis 3 teaches and he may be getting your heart by getting your calendar. If you are consistently going to bed at night exhausted and worn out from various activities, there is a chance you might be falling into this category. You might be involved in really great, moral, activities but are you engaged in Gospel-centered, Kingdom work? Allow me to make four suggestions that you and your family can do over the summer to enhance your spiritual walk both as individuals and as a family.

Share the Gospel. Find a family in your neighborhood that is lost, on the fringe, or unchurched, and make a connection with them. Invite them over for a meal and fellowship. Take them a plate of cookies one afternoon and invite them to a family event at your church. The key, however, is to do all this with the intention of sharing the Gospel with them. A neat thing to also do is pray for the families in your neighborhood by street.

Connect to a Daily Bible Reading Plan. Make sure you and your family are in the Word every single day. Parents have to be the ones setting the example and modeling this. Kids will model what they see. There are TONS of great resources available to help out with this such as bible apps, websites, and printed materials are all very accessible. My encouragement to families is to find a time, a place, and a resource that works for them and be diligent to see it through.

Spend Quality Time Together. I know spending quality time together as a family is growing more and more difficult simply due to schedules, especially if you are raising multiple kids. Make it a point to spend quality family time 2-3 times a week. In this time talk about what God is doing in your hearts and lives. Spend time together by seeing a movie, grilling out with other families, going to a local ballgame, or getting some ice-cream after dinner one night. All of these things communicate a key truth: I care about you and you are worth my time. Kids, whether they want to admit it or not, want to know we care about them and love them. One of the best ways to do this is to simply spend time together. Jesus modeled this in His ministry- He was all about people. He also took time to be alone- to rest and relax and spend time with the Heavenly Father.

Engage into Ministry Outreach. Simply put, be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around you. Serve during VBS week and/or get plugged into a mission opportunity through the local church. Find another family that is in need and if you are able to, meet it. If you don’t have the resources to help them do what you can, God will honor your heart and effort. One of the best ways we can reach families with the Gospel is simple acts of service. We model this because Jesus modeled this.

Summer is often seen as a time of rest and relaxation. While we definitely need to take time to do this, that doesn’t mean we put evangelism and spiritual growth on hold or make it an after thought. This summer, whether we have a lot of free time or we find ourselves so “busy” we literally can’t fit everything in, Jesus and Kingdom work must be our top priority.

Here is a simple way to think about ministry as a family:

Sharing: Who are we telling our faith story too?

Growing: How are we growing in our faith and as a family?

Caring: When are we spending quality time together?

Engaging: Where are we plugging into ministry?