The Power to Speak Future

I’m getting older.  I’ll just come out and say it.  I turn 35 in a couple days.  That’s halfway to 70.  I’m practically dead.

The thing about getting older is that my childhood is slipping from focus.  The details are becoming blurry.  The photos don’t help either, mostly because time has faded them to weird orange/red color.  It’s not just an Instagram filter people.  This is my life.



The memories that come to me are odd.  I remember my grandmothers.  I remember the smell of one–an overpowering fusion of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume.  I also remember “wooba wooba.”  That was the word I used for my other grandmother’s ginormous flabby upper arms.  I was convinced that she could fly like Dumbo with her wooba wooba if she wanted.

Mostly I remember words, not mundane conversation but the powerful words.  I remember words shouted and whispered–phrases laced with emotion.  I remember a babysitter calling me a “little s***” because I peed the bed.  I remember an elementary school teacher announcing to my class that my life’s destiny was to be a “Lazy-Boy sofa tester.”  Apparently she wasn’t terribly impressed with my work ethic.  I remember a strange new sensation that flooded me the first time a girl told me I was cute.  I remember being called a “horse’s a**” for not doing something properly and I remember when my dad told me he was proud of me.  I remember the words.  I bet you do too.  The scenes are blurry.  The names escape me but the words and the faces that spoke them are as clear as yesterday.



There is a spiritual power in words.  According to the Genesis narrative God spoke the world into being.  With words he created a future.

If it is true that we are created in God’s image then it makes sense that our words are powerful as well.  With our words we can create a future.

Whether you realize it or not, words have shaped your future.  When you were young, the people around you molded you with their words.  You learned to trust or to fear through words.  Words told you whether you are beautiful or ugly.  You learned that you are talented or worthless.  You learned that you can or cannot.  Words created your future.

“The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21)

In fact, for years words have been breathing life into you.  Or, they’ve been killing you.  Words make you alive to who you truly are, to your talents, passions and dreams.  Words give you the sustenance to push on.  They create security, love and peace.  Or, words sabotage your identity, talents, passions and dreams.  Words crush your spirit and steal your will.  They create fear, mistrust and chaos.

Do you see how powerful words are?  There is a reason why we remember words.  It’s because they shaped and continue to shape us.  Words create future.



Each of us has been gifted with a tremendous power.  Words.  Regardless of what has been spoken to you, you have a choice in how you will speak.  The words you speak have the power to shape your child’s self-concept.  Your words will impact your friend’s future.  Your words will affect the culture of your marriage 5 years from now.  You have been gifted with the power to create future.  How will you speak?


How I Know I’m a Horrible Person

I don’t know about you but I felt great when I woke up this morning.  I felt amazing.  I just felt so comfortable in my own skin–just being me.  I was on top of the world, singing loudly in the shower like I didn’t have a care in the world.

And then I got in my car to drive to work.  I pulled up to a red light and looked to my left.  There, purring like a kitten tiger was a beautiful and expensive sports car.  It was gorgeous–so sleek and shiny.  I gazed longingly at all the fancy tech gadgets and luxury through the tinted windows.  Then the light turned green and that car flashed away like an angry rocket–screaming along with an intoxicatingly powerful roar.

That’s when I noticed the vastly different sound spilling feebly from my own car.  It was more like a death rattle than anything. And then I remembered how my car is about a hundred years old and how one entire panel is rusted, how my window and air conditioning are broken and how I have a tape deck.  A tape deck.  That’s technology from the 80s.  They don’t even make tapes anymore!

And suddenly, I’m not feeling so great about myself.  I’m not so comfortable in my own skin.  I’m not on top of the world in fact I’m feeling rather under it.  I start to feel sort of worthless and disgruntled.  I pound on my decrepit steering wheel.  Why can’t I have a car like that?  Why do I always have to drive around in a piece of junk car?  My life sucks.

It’s then that I pull up to the next stop light.  I look to my left and I see this car–an absolute disaster of an automobile.  A condescending chuckle erupts out of me.  Oh my!  What a piece of junk.  WOW do I feel bad for the person who drives that car.  I would hate myself.  There is no way I would drive that car.  How embarrassing.  I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing.

And suddenly, I feel pretty good about myself.  I’m feeling pretty comfortable in my own skin.   I’m glad I ‘m not that guy.  His life must suck.

Sound familiar?  Maybe it isn’t cars but I bet you’ve done the same thing about clothes, your house or grades.  I might not be rich but at least I don’t live there!



What are we doing in these moments of comparison?  Why do we do this?  I think it’s because lodged deep within each of us is a voice telling us that we aren’t OK.  There is a voice, sometimes quiet and sometimes screaming that tells us that we aren’t valuable.  And so, we look around at the people around us and ask, “Am I OK?”  When I look at his car I feel terrible.  When I look at her jeans I feel great!  And why, when something bad happens to him do I secretly celebrate?  This is when I know there is something horribly wrong with me.  There is a part of me deep inside that is broken.

This voice reflects the brokenness inside of us and I believe it reflects a broken relationship between us and our creator.  A toxicity pervades our minds and relationships.

This might sound strange but I find this brokenness in all of us to be one of the most compelling arguments for Christianity.  I don’t believe that any other worldview explains as clearly why we envy, compare ourselves to other people and why we constantly battle a little voice in our heads that tells us we are terrible people.  We’re broken people in need of repair.  There’s no self-help or enlightened path that can fix this.


image credited to Dan Iggers via Flickr

Why Small Groups Aren’t Enough

I recently realized that small groups in our student ministry aren’t working.  I found this insight surprising because I’m a huge fan of small groups.  In fact, I spent the last 5 years as the small groups pastor of our high school ministry.  I’m still a huge proponent of small groups but I’ve realized that they aren’t enough.  Unless these groups lead to something deeper we aren’t giving our student what they truly need.

What I’ve learned over the last decade of ministry is that in a culture that is largely void of adult support and care what our students need more than anything is mentors.  Our students need caring adults to show them how to live and follow Jesus.  They need a constant force of love, support and coaching.  That is what a mentor does.   I still believe that small groups are important but only if they lead to mentoring.

Perhaps the most important benefit of a mentor is that the mentoring relationship continues after students graduate out of our ministries.  I am convinced that long-term mentoring relationships are the most important thing we can offer a student.  So how do we facilitate mentoring?  The good news is that if your student ministry is based on small groups you already possess the framework for mentoring relationships.  Here are some thoughts on transforming your small group ministry into a mentoring ministry.



If a small group only exists within the walls of the church building or the home in which they meet then I would argue that it’s not mentoring.  Mentoring takes place within the normal contexts of life. Mentoring happens when a caring adult invites a student into his or her life.  Mentoring happens when adults invade the turf of students.  So, if we want to see mentoring in our student ministries then we must literally get into the lives and students and invite them into ours.  And, we must equip and train our volunteers to do the same.



A mentoring based student ministry requires that we make a shift in volunteer recruiting.  For the first half of my career I concentrated on recruiting the coolest, youngest, most relevant volunteers I could find.  My thinking was that I needed volunteers who would attract students and relate well to them.  While I still think that relevance is important and cool is extraordinarily helpful, there is only so much mentoring a young, hip college student can offer a high school student.  Mentoring requires experience.  I now believe we ought to recruit volunteers who have life experience because they possess more of the tools required of a mentor.  I want a volunteer who has the wisdom and life experience necessary to address some of the heavier issues facing teens.

Mentoring, at it’s most basic level is this: “Watch what I do and do it.”  Because of this we also need volunteers whose lives that are worth copying.  We need people of character and strong faith.  Character and life experience trump age and coolness.



A volunteer only has so much time in a week.  If you’re already asking your volunteers for two events a week (youth group night and small groups night) you may need to restructure your ministry.  I believe that the best strategy is to attach small groups to your large group programming and cut the extra night of programming.  This way all of your students get plugged into small groups and secondly, it frees your volunteers up for mentoring outside of the ministry structure.  I truly believe that outside mentoring is more valuable than another night of programming.  Feel free to disagree.



How many students can one person mentor?  Truthfully, it’s probably around 3 or 4.  This means that we need more volunteers!  It also means that youth pastors needs to change their focus.  Mentoring is simple and yet terribly draining.  Mentors are constantly pouring themselves out so they need someone to pour into them.  I would argue that the role of a youth pastor needs to shift toward caring for and mentoring mentors.  If the best thing our student ministries can offer a student is a long-term mentor then the primary role of the youth pastor may need to shift toward recruiting, training and encouraging godly mentors.


It’s my belief that small groups aren’t working anymore because students desperately need adult mentors.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this especially if you’ve found success in promoting mentoring relationships in your student ministry.


image credited to Matt Peoples via Flickr

Why I Lie

I know a family who recently adopted a little girl from an impoverished nation in Africa.  The girl has been living with her adopted family for several years and has been functioning quite well except for one area.  You see, this little girl barely survived her first few years in Africa.  She was alone living on the streets–starving.  She would wait in line for days to be served a meager ration.  Food was the one thing that was constantly on her mind.  She barely survived and was always hungry–ravenously hungry.

Thankfully she was adopted by an American family who has provided her with love and plenty of food ever since.  But, she can’t seem to shake her old habits concerning food.  Her parents have found that she eats everything.  She will take seconds and thirds and eat until she nearly bursts.  At school, she will ask to visit the restroom and instead she will slip into the communal cubby area where all the kids keep their backpacks, coats and boots.  There she systematically opens each backpack and rifles through each lunch box eating everything she can until she is caught.  Although most of her other social behaviors would go by unnoticed she will eat, steal and hoard food at every opportunity.  Why?  She is fighting to survive.  Her little mind convinces her that she must eat.  She needs to eat.  Her very life depends on it.

Her body is with a loving family who has plenty here in America but in her mind she is still a starving child living on the streets in Africa.  Her mind hasn’t caught up with her present reality.  She isn’t alone anymore.  She is deeply loved and cared for.  This is her new reality.  Her mind just hasn’t embraced it yet.



I do this same exact thing and my suspicion is that you do too.  So much of what I do is designed to win your approval–to convince you that I am valuable. The jokes I make, the stories I tell and the clothes I wear are chosen to impress because I have a fierce need to be accepted and valued…and so do you.

My problem is that I haven’t embraced my present reality.  Like the hungry little girl, I was an orphan and so were you..  Not in an physical sense but spiritually.  You see, we are designed to find our belonging and value in a close relationship with our Creator and Father.  When this relationship is estranged it is impossible for us to function as whole people.  The brokenness within us will drive us to behaviors that don’t make sense–like eating everything in sight or in my case being funny, buying a pair of jeans I can’t afford or stretching the truth in a story to make myself look a little more impressive to you.  I do this because I don’t feel like I belong.  I don’t feel like I am loved.


I love that the Apostle Paul described our new relationship with God through Jesus as adoption.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”  Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. (Galatians 4:4-6)

I can’t help but think that God looks at our behavior the same way that we look at the starving little girl–with pity and sadness.  Don’t you realize that you don’t have to act that way anymore?  You don’t have to lie.  You don’t have to sleep with him.  You don’t have to run to that addiction.  Don’t you know that you are loved?  Don’t you know that you are mine?  Who cares what everyone else thinks?  I love you.

I have a new reality.  I am accepted and loved.  I’ve been granted the privilege to call the Creator God, “Dad.”  No offense but I’m going to stop caring about what you think of me.  I don’t need to be funny, stretch the truth or dress a certain way to gain your approval because I don’t need it.  I have the approval of my Father.  I choose to believe my present reality and I invite you to do the same.


image credited to Even Earwicker via

Parenting Through The Porn Minefield

I believe that pornography is  the greatest challenge facing parents in our culture.  Boys and girls of younger and younger ages are developing dangerous addictions to pornography.  I ran across an article recently that describes specific situations of tween age porn addictions.  It’s hard to read but if you are a parent you really should.  Porn addictions are far more prevalent than we want to admit.

Jamie is 13 and hasn’t even kissed a girl.  But he’s now on the Sex Offender Register…

Now that you are sufficiently terrified, here are three strategies to help win this battle in the hearts of your children.


1.  Keep Screen Public

I think this is one of the greatest mistakes parents make.  Do not allow your kids to keep devices that can access the Internet in their bedrooms.  And yes, I’m even talking about cell phones and iPads.  Porn addiction is a massive problem for an adult but especially devastating for a kid.  In the words of John Woods, “For many young boys, this [porn] means their first sexual experience is not a nervously negotiated request for a dance from a girl at the end of the school disco. It is watching  grotesquely degrading images of women, all too often mixed in with violent abuse.”

This reality is tragic because it is often avoidable.  Keep screens in a public place in your home.  The Internet is dangerous and kids are curious.  As parents we need to protect them.

2.  Get in the First Word

People often ask when we they should talk to their kids about sex and porn.  My answer is that you want to get in the first word.  You want to be the one who starts the conversation–not a friend from school, a health class teacher or far worse, a website.  Sure it’s going to be awkward but it will be awkward in a safe way.  We need to embrace awkward!

I would recommend talking to your kid about the dangers of the Internet in early elementary school and then gradually talking about more and more as your child progresses through elementary school.  Middle school is too late.  By that point you have lost the advantage of the first word.

You don’t need to be overly graphic with little kids.  I tell my 2nd grader that the Internet isn’t safe.  There are pictures and videos on there that can hurt your mind.  I also tell him that if he ever sees an image that makes him feel dirty or something he knows he shouldn’t have seen, that I want him to tell me and that he won’t be in trouble.  A key strategy is to pave the way for honesty by removing the need for shame.


3.  Get in More Words

I also strongly believe that “the sex talk” is the wrong approach.  Instead of one conversation, I would argue for 1,000 conversations.  Someday I’m going to write a really weird book that doesn’t sell called “1,000 Sex Conversations.”  Actually, no.

The sex talk approach is like dumping a semi-truck size load of intense grossness on a terrified kid.  There’s too much information all at once.  If you’re like me you just remember being completely grossed out and overwhelmed.  There’s so much information that you don’t even know what questions to ask. All you know is that you’re never, ever going to do that!  Or, if you wait too long for the sex talk, which I would argue happens most of the time, your kid will just be bored and think you’re out of touch.

i’m not saying to skip the sex talk because it’s absolutely necessary.  Just don’t have it come out of nowhere.  A better approach is 1,000 conversations about sex with one of them being the talk on the mechanics of sex.  Gradually reveal what sex is to your children and then don’t stop talking about it.  As tweens and teenagers your students will be bombarded with information on sex.  Most of it will be misunderstandings and lies.  Culture is teaching us.  Media moguls have an agenda.  Our society is incredibly open about sexuality and so we have no choice but to do the same.

We as parents need to realize that we are competing for the hearts and minds of our children.  We need to constantly talk about sexuality and it shouldn’t be all “no, no, no!”  We need to recapture the beauty of sex.  I often tell our students, “Look, this was God’s idea.  He invented sex.  It’s amazing and awesome.  It’s not dirty.  It’s beautiful.”

And then, we need to constantly reinforce the boundaries God has established.  And, if we can’t sufficiently explain the “why” of the boundaries, we shouldn’t expect our kids to buy what we’re selling.  It’s the same as the “because I said so” argument that didn’t work when they were 5.


So, get that screen out of his room, get in the first word and many more after that.  And if you think you’re too late, you’re not!  Just dive in and be awkward now.  If you have any other genius ideas, I’d love to hear them.



image credited to H Berend via

Free Teaching Series

Who doesn’t love free stuff?  Especially when that free stuff involves doing less work?

We recently did a teaching series called Gravity that I loved.  It’s a series about boundaries.  In the series we taught on boundaries with sexuality, media, friends and time.  In my opinion, the series was awesome enough that you should use it in your student ministry.

Here’s the title package…



While we’re at it, here are all the teaching scripts…

The Law of Magnets

The Law of Screens

The Law of Glue

The Law of Robots


And here’s a link to title slides, blank slides, and the title package.


Feel free to borrow/steal this material and let me know if you found it helpful.


The Law of Magnets

Have you ever found yourself in a crazy situation and wondered, “How in the world did I end up here?”  When I was in middle school, I hung out with some crazy guys who had a fondness for destruction.  We TPed the same girl’s house every weekend for six months.  We forked yards, egged cars and carried out other adventures of moderate destruction.

One night I found myself miles away from home, lying prone in a farmer’s field in the dead of winter as a spotlight scanned the field a few inches over my head.  Why was I there do you ask?  Well, my friends thought it would be a good idea to light a roll of 500 fire crackers and toss it into some guy’s satellite dish.  Afterward we ran like cheetahs until the aforementioned spotlight forced us to the frozen earth.

It was in that moment that I asked myself, “Self…How in the world did you end up here?”  Then, lying there, teeth chattering, I clicked my heels together and repeated, “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”  Turns out that doesn’t work.

But for real, how did I get there?  I was following the crowd.  I was doing what everyone else was doing.    I didn’t know it then but it was the Law of Magnets.



Throughout the Jesus story there are crowds.  Jesus was extremely popular and crowds followed him everywhere.  They were usually for Him.  But in one crucial moment, they were violently opposed to him.

Near the end of his life, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples and handed over to the religious leaders—guys who hated him and wanted him dead.  Not having the power to execute Jesus themselves, they took him to Pilate who was the Roman governor of the region.  They accused him of leading an insurrection.  Pilate investigated the accusations and found that Jesus had done nothing wrong.  But then things got ugly.

“You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent… I will release him.”

Pilate isn’t a bad guy.  He’s a government official trying to do the right thing but then the Law of Magnets got him.

Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!”  (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.)  Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus.  But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time he demanded, “Why? What crime has he committed? I have found no reason to sentence him to death. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.”

But the mob shouted louder and louder, demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their voices prevailed.  So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded.  As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder. But he turned Jesus over to them to do as they wished.


This story blows my mind because Pilate wasn’t a bad guy.  Jesus was 100% innocent and yet a crowd, influenced by the religious leaders convinced Pilate to release a known murderer and execute an innocent man.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  It doesn’t make any sense, that is, unless, you understand the Law of Magnets.

The Law of Magnets has everything to do with crowds because crowds are powerfully magnetic.  They have a way of influencing people–magnetically pulling them toward the will of the crowd.   Maybe it’s because we are afraid of what they think or that we want to fit in.  Whatever the reason, crowds powerfully influence the way we think and act.

This is what happened to me with the firecrackers and the satellite dish and this is what happened to Pilate in Jerusalem.  This happens to you too.  I’m sure you can think of times in which a crowd magnetically pulled you into its orbit and you joined in with whatever it was doing.

Maybe it was with words.  It was degrading but everyone was doing it and suddenly you threw in an ugly but hilarious one-liner and everyone was doubling over with laughter.  Afterward you thought to yourself, “Why in the world did I say that?”  It was the Law of Magnets.

Maybe you were at a friend’s house and one minute it was video games and the next it was, “Hey let’s watch this, or smoke this, or drink this and you were like shocked but the crowd was doing it so you joined in.  It’s the Law of Magnets.



I have a question for you:  Who is your crowd?  Who is the group that influences you?  Maybe it’s your circle of “besties,” your team, or the cast from the musical.  Who is your crowd?

Here’s an even better question:  How is your crowd?  Where does your crowd pull you?  Does it pull you to a healthier place or does it pull you in a darker place?  Is your crowd leading you closer to Jesus or further away?  After spending time with your crowd do you find yourself regularly asking, “How in the world did I end up here?”

Take a good look at your crowd.  Is this the direction you want to be pulled?  The Law of Magnets says that the more time you spend with them the more you’ll become like them.  That’s just how life works.  Maybe it’s time to evaluate who is influencing you.  Maybe it’s time to pay attention to the Law of Magnets.