Cherish your spouse

I remember having a conversation with my wife a few months after we were married that hurt. She had been hurt by something I posted on Facebook that painted her in a bad light, and I was hurt because that hadn’t been my intention at all. But then, what had my intention been in the first place?

One of the things I love about my wife is that she is extremely intelligent, she has a great mind, and she loves learning as much as I do. But especially when we were first married, I wouldn’t post about the amazing things she said, but only share the times she made a mistake, because they were funny to me and I had an “audience” on Facebook, be it friends and family or my small number of readers on my blog.

But I didn’t realize I was hurting her. More than that, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t cherishing her like a husband is called to do.

Recently, I saw a newly wed man post something on Facebook that his wife said that was in the same vein as what I used to post, and I really wanted to just comment “wow, your wife sure is dumb.” Not because I believe it, but because that’s what he is basically saying. He may not realize it, and she may not either, but the message being communicated when you post something like that is not that you cherish your wife.

Something I’ve learned over the last few years is that the world doesn’t need to see every memory, hear every story, know every struggle. I’ll admit, I over-share, especially when it comes to our son, but I still have cut out a ton in terms of what gets shared online and what doesn’t. And it’s thanks to something genius my wife said a few years ago, while we were walking around on a visit downtown and I went to take a picture but my phone died, she replied “Oh well, I guess this memory will have to be just ours.”

I think we could all use more memories in our marriage that are just ours. You don’t have to completely get rid of your phone and social media, but you can choose to cherish your spouse more than your audience.

 

How To Do Ministry and Still Have Time for Family

Everyone has heard and probably stated some form of the flippant saying, “I do not have time for this or that. I want to do it, but I just can’t.” I myself had said that very idea a couple of months ago when I was justifying putting camp plans together at the cost of my family time. Was it right or wrong, it seems to not be as black and white as I would like it to be. Of course, I made this comment in front of a friend and mentor that has permission to speak into my life, saying:

You have the time to do it, you just have not given it the priority that it should have.

The concept hit a nerve that I knew was there. I say I value family, but I have not put the “currency or the cost” of time to what I say I value. In some ways, I have allowed my ministry to become the false priority in my life, letting the urgent or the perceived urgent to override by personal boundaries. I let the job, not the calling from God, and the busyness of administration and self-inflicted duties to run my life and given up power to a vague sense of self.

The foundational question is, “what do you value and what are you willing to do to protect it?”

We want to promote a model that has helped us.

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6 Ways to Have a Great Vacation

In my last post, I discussed three ways you can fight off the “Summertime Blues.”  I’m currently dealing with the blues, but this time around I was smart and planned ahead to take a vacation, which starts next week! I’m really excited about this; and of course, I’m making all the preparations for everything to run without me while I’m gone. At the same time, I’m also preparing myself for vacation. One thing I learned from my last vacation is you that can do it wrong. Vacations are like ministry; if you want it to be good then you have prepare and be intentional about what you are going to do. So here are six intentional things that you can do to have a great vacation!

Disconnect

I’m just as a bad about social media as my teenagers, and my wife lets me know it. So this year I decided to disconnect from social media for the week. This also includes giving up my phone so that I’m not tempted to get on my social media outlets.

Moreover, disconnect from the office. It’s really easy to take work with you because of all the things that have to get done. If you’re working on vacation, then you are doing it wrong. Make sure everyone you work with knows you are on vacation. If you have to, change your voice message to make sure those who missed the memo know what’s going on. If a church member, student, or staff member (except my pastor), calls then decline it. My rule of thumb is: if they leave a message, then it is something important and you should give them a call back. If they don’t leave a message, then it really wasn’t important and there’s no need to call back.

Read

Reading is one of the best things you can do to grow as a minister. If you’re like me, then you have a ton of books starting to pile up on your desk. If that’s the case, take a few books with you on your vacation. If you don’t read, then consider getting a book to take with you. Reading makes you sit down and be still for a little bit, something we all need to do to gather some rest.

Furthermore, make sure you include your Bible as one of your books. It’s really easy to skip out on your time with God while you’re on vacation, but don’t do that. God provides the ultimate nourishment our souls need so we can come back refreshed and ready to serve.

Workout

Its really easy to throw your workout routine out the window while you go on vacation. That’s a no-no. If you like to run, which I find very weird, then find some running routes people use where you are going. If you’re staying in a hotel, make the most of their gym and take an hour to pump some iron. Or if you have workout DVDs, take them with you so you can continue your regiment. The best part about working out on vacation is, there’s no rush to wake up early in the morning to workout. Set your alarm at a later time so you actually get to sleep in for once!

Take a Nap

Do I really have to write a paragraph on why you should do this? My spiritual formation professor told our class one of the most spiritual things you can do is take a nap. While on a retreat, the speaker said, “Naps are like hugs from Jesus.” Get your Jesus hug on– take a nap!

Do Some Activities

Vacations are about family time, so make sure you plan to do some fun activities with them. Get on the website of the city you’re visiting and find out what they have for recreation. Do something out of the norm, that you and your family would never do on a regular basis.

Moreover, take time during the vacation to make sure each member of your family gets some time with you. My wife and I will be going on some dates, and my daughter and I will be hitting up some ice cream time together. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have some serious one-on-one time with your family!

Have Sex With Your Spouse

Family and work life can get busy, so busy that we become too tired to want to have sex. If this is the case, use your vacation to re-establish intimacy with your spouse. Having a healthy sex life is crucial to having a successful marriage, and it’s easy to go on vacation  and forget about this part. Sex is a good thing. I’ll even go as far as to say it’s a godly thing because God created it for marriage. If you and your spouse are not having sex the way you think you should, talk to them about it and let them know how you feel. If necessary, plan out which nights you two will have sex and commit make sure it will take place. Don’t let broken intimacy continue on in your marriage. Have sex on your vacation; it will do you and your spouse some good!

 

In the end, everyone needs a vacation. More importantly, everyone needs to have an intentional vacation that fills the souls of everyone who is involved. We give too much to let our vacations go to waste, and we owe it to ourselves and our family to make sure our opportunity to rest isn’t lost because of bad planning. Take your vacation seriously so you can come back refreshed and ready to serve!

 

Balancing Family and Ministry

I am a busy person.  So is my wife.  So are you.  To be honest, I don’t know if I have ever met a person who isn’t busy, running from one thing to the next, trying to stay sane in the process.  And living a life of ministry doesn’t make it any easier – meetings, conferences, retreats, staff gatherings, and church obligations keep us hopping.

In addition to all these church-related duties, I am also a husband and a father to three boys under the age of 10.  Sometimes, finding a balance between ministry and family can be very difficult.  Here are a few ways I balance my ministry and my family.  Maybe they can encourage you as you seek that balance.

1.  I honor my day off and protect it with my life.  Thursday is my day to unwind, hang with Matthew (my 2-year old), do some graphic design, run some miles, and mess around.  I guard it hard, and don’t plan any meetings on that day.  It’s my family day, and I try really hard not to let people infringe upon that. Do you guard your day off so that your family knows that day is theirs?

2.  We make it a point to try to eat dinner together every evening.  Even when things are busy at the office, I come home for dinner and some family time in the evening.  I may get out the computer again when my boys go to bed, but building that consistency in to our family has been a big deal.  I even come home and eat on Wednesday at about 4:30 or 5, then rush back to the church for Wednesday nights at 6:00.  Though they never say anything, I think our boys appreciate the time together each night.  Do you have built-in time every day for your family?

3.  We try to be deliberate with evening time.  Our boys come home at 4, and we give them about 30 minutes to unwind, eat a snack, then do homework.  After homework, we make and eat dinner, clean up, and then usually have some family time before bed at about 8:30.  Some see routine as boring, but I see it as sanity.  What is your routine?  Is it working?

4.  I communicate to my church as often as possible that family comes first.  Whether through verbally saying this in a meeting or from the stage, or taking off early to go to a school program, meeting my wife for lunch, or whatever, I TRY to make that priority list clear.  How do you communicate to your family and others that family is a high priority?

These are just a few ways I try to put my family first.  I don’t always hit the mark, but I try my best to let me family know that they are valued and loved, not just by my words, but also by my actions.

What would you add to the list?

Pregnancy in Youth Ministry

Pregnancy in youth ministry:  Nope, I am not talking about your teenagers, I am talking about your ministers.  Starting a family is an intimidating thought to begin with, but trying to balance it with ministry is even more difficult.  Imagine being a woman in ministry: having to deal with morning sickness in Sunday School, the pregnancy leave from the ministry, the breastfeeding at church camp.  Trying to figure out the whole pregnancy thing brings so many questions, but mainly How can I do this?  

Women ministers, are you pregnant or thinking about starting a family?  While I have never been pregnant myself, I have done some research and talked with the fine ladies in our Facebook group.  Please chime in with additional advice in the comment section!

 

While You’re Pregnant

  • Decide how you’re going to inform your pastor, the church, and the youth group.  It is probably not the best idea to post it on Facebook and let everyone go crazy.  It will be much more professional and personal to do it in person.
  • Start preparing your volunteers to take charge of the ministry while you leave on pregnancy leave.  As the pregnancy progresses, you are going to have days where you are not going to be as reliable as you once were.  Prepare them so that if you have to leave the lesson to relieve your bursting bladder, they will be able to pick it up.
  • Make a plan with your husband.  How is this all going to look when the baby gets here?  Will one of you take a little extra time off?  What is your schedule going to look like once the baby gets here?
  • Realize that you can’t do the same activities you could before.  But just because you cannot zip-line or ski does not mean your students cannot!  There are ways for you to be able to go on trips with them without having to do the activities; and if you just can’t go, no one will blame you.  Do not feel like your level of commitment lessens—your students will understand why you do not want to tube on your pregnant belly (well, you might have to explain it to the middle school boys).

 

The Pregnancy Leave

  • Know your laws about maternity leaves.  Investigate what that looks like and talk to your church about how they will accommodate that.
  • Do as much preparation as you can in as much advance as you can.  Will your church hire a temporary youth minister, or will you have to equip volunteers to run the ministry while you are gone?  Whatever you choose, you will have to decide early on in your pregnancy; you do not want to have to decide these things and prepare volunteers to do your job when your hormones are raging, your back is hurting, and you feel exhausted and burned-out from a baby kicking your insides.
  • Decide your level of commitment beforehand—how involved will you be?  Will you be around and available to volunteers, or will you be strict about your maternity leave?  Will you even come near your church during this time?  You will need to decide these things.  Typically a maternity leave means “no contact,” but will that work for your ministry?  Most importantly—stick to your plan!  There will be people calling you up while you are still in the hospital unless you make it clear exactly your level of involvement during this period.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help; you are performing life’s greatest miracle and need time to recover as well as spend time with your precious newborn.  You do not need to worry about a ministry on top of breastfeeding.  Relax and trust that everything will be fine while you’re gone.

 

After You’ve Returned to the Ministry

  • Realize that it will take some time to adjust, even after you return to the church.  Many women struggle with their emotions following having a baby.
  • Do not be discouraged when you find you cannot commit the same way you used to.  Fortunately you work for the church, a building full of God’s saints.  Even though the church may not always be pretty, no one can resist a baby.  No teenager will be mad because you missed the mud tug-o-war because you were taking care of your baby.  In fact, having a baby might unite your students in ways you never expected.  Realize that you have a youth group full of babysitters who will take your baby off your hands (and if not your students, their parents will be willing to help).  Every woman I have talked to has talked about how great their church was to them throughout their pregnancy and after the baby was born.  Trust that it will be fine.

 

Remember: You can be a minister AND a mom.  You will show your youth how to prioritize and balance God, your marriage, your new family, and your ministry.  Allow the Holy Spirit to lead your motherly senses. :)

Guard Your Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  -Proverbs 4:23

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” -1 Timothy 4:16

The Word of God is clear – God requires holiness, integrity, and virtue of His people.  The pages of the Bible are full of reminders, admonitions, and exhortations to remain holy as God Himself is holy.  To add to the resounding echo, God’s Word makes it clear that those who hold positions of authority in the church are to be particularly careful with their integrity.  James 3, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 remind us of that the bar of church leadership must be set very high.

Perhaps you’re wondering what has prompted such a straightforward opening to this post.  As I write this post, I currently have three friends (2 fellow tennis coaches and a fellow Youth Pastor) in jail for inappropriate sexual behavior with students.  Another friend was recently let go from his position at his church because of moral failure.  In each case, I was blown away.  How did this happen?  How did they get to this point?  What compromises did they make along the way?  How did they get from “helping” students to such a violation and betrayal?

My hope is to encourage you to dig in and re-commit to personal integrity for the good of you, your family, and your church and ministry.  As I issue this challenge, here are some things to think about.

1.  The foundation doesn’t collapse overnight.

I don’t believe for one second that a moral failure happens in one huge compromise.  Moral failure that costs ministry, family, and freedom comes through a long series of choices that chip away at the foundation of integrity.  Perhaps it starts with an addiction to pornography, or some compromises in a physical relationship.  But you don’t go from devoting your life to students to sexting a 13-year old in one swoop.

So I ask you – are there any areas where you have made compromises, no matter how small, that you need to repair and guard against?

2.  Sin always has consequences.

Whether spiritual, emotional, or physical, our sin always has an impact.  I once heard a speaker compare our sin to a rock being thrown into a peaceful creek.  He explained that our sin causes “ripples,” just like the rock.  The problem, he continued, is that we often WANT the first or second ripple.  But we rarely think about the ninth ripple.  Our sin WILL have effect, and more often than not, those later ripples are not ones we considered or wanted.

So I ask you – what has your sin cost you in the past?  If you are captured in sin now, what is that later ripple that scares you to death?

3.  Our sin always affects other people.

Remember the story of Achan in Joshua 7?  The Israelites won a major victory over Jericho, but Achan stole some of the things that were supposed to be devoted to the Lord, and he kept them for himself.  In the next battle against the tiny city of Ai, thirty-six men lost their lives as a direct result of Achan’s sin.  Our sin ALWAYS affects others.  Think of the Youth Pastor who betrayed trust at his church.  What about his family?  What about his church?  What about the young girl involved?  What about her family?  What about the NEXT Youth Minister at that church?  What about the atheist who lives across the street?

So I ask you – what impact might your sin have on those you love and care about?  How might your failure affect the Kingdom work in your community?

4.  Confession is biblical and healthy.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for one another.”  We don’t do this well as Christians, because we want everyone to think we have our act together. We don’t want people to know that we struggle, fall, and sometimes fail.  But one of the greatest ploys of the evil one is to isolate us, to make us think we are all alone in our battle, and to separate us from our community.  Confession combats that isolation, and leads to healing, forgiveness, and restoration.

So I ask you – is there anything you need to confess today?  Who do you have in your life to confide in?

5.  Grace and forgiveness are the result of repentance.

After David’s moral failure with Bathsheba, he wrote, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”  When you are truly repentant, when your heart breaks at the thought of your sin, then you will find the forgiveness and grace that God alone can offer.  And what a joyous place to be – the arms of the Only One who can cleanse you and restore you.  Acts 3:19 reminds us to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

So I ask you – are you ready for the grace of God?  Where does repentance start for you?

May we be a people who seek after God’s holiness.  May we be people of integrity.  May we recognize the impact our sin will have on us and others.  And most importantly, may we rest in the loving arms of the One who loves, saves, forgives, redeems, and restores.