Don’t let my obvious command of the Spanish language fool you. I’m about as fluent in it as whatever secondary exposure to Dora the Explorer and Chipotle menus have made me.

Still, here I am writing you this quick post from the bed of my mission house. Perhaps that’s a bit too familiar, but it’s been  along day of travel for my 13-year old son and I.

20140315_091251It’s our first trip with Lifetree Adventures, and so far it’s been amazing. We left our schizophrenic Ohio weather this morning around 3am to get to our local airport at a reasonable hour. From there, we flew three hours to Miami, then another three hours to Honduras, and then drove another three hours by bus to our city. He’s been an absolute trooper, and our team has already started bonding.

Of course, there’s only so much you can do your first day.


We did note how “American” the area around the airport felt. Right when we stepped outside we saw a Burger King, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Church’s Chicken, and a number of other chains. A huge “CINEMARK” movie theater was also within walking distance, connected to a huge mall that puts the closest one near me in Ohio to shame. The real takeaway was when one of our guides said, “What you’re about to see in the mall isn’t accurate to who we are.”

I thought, “That statement could be said even in America.”


On the flipside, once we got on the road there were some notable hurdles to consider. For example, if you want to use toilet paper in a public bathroom you need to bring it in with you. That’s right – “personal budgeting” never mattered like this!

A big highlight was when we attended a local church service.


It wasn’t what I expected… in fact, it was oddly familiar. We sang songs that my son and I know from the radio back home. I tried using the Spanish lyrics that were up on the screen, but ended up reverting back to the English version… tunes by Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Hilllsong United. I even had a person translate the sermon via an audio device and headphones. It was like my own personal Acts 2 moment.

I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and appreciate your prayers. We’re going to begin serving tomorrow. Any tips to make the most of this time?



Abraham Lincoln once observed, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

That’s a great concept, especially when in a free market culture we’re used to “Apple vs PC,” “Coke vs Pepsi,” “McDonalds vs Burger King,” and so on. Even in Christendom, you can find yourself consciously or unconsciously at odds with another church across town. We talk a good game about how we’re all a part of the Kingdom together, yet still feel tense when someone is missing from our row of chairs and tags themselves online in a row of chairs at another church.

Aren’t we all supposed to be serving Jesus together?

We know that, right? Maybe that’s what keeps us from actually doing it.

It’s why I’m a huge fan of what Earl Henning wrote recently on his blog. Here’s a quote:

20140223-162632“Early in my youth ministry career, I learned something kind of bizarre. I tried to connect with respected youth leaders in my area in hopes of gaining a little help from their years of wisdom. I had hoped they might take this new guy under their wing to help expand some influence in our large community of lost teens.

Instead, what I learned was that they were similar to football coaches. They had their successful ministry playbook and did their best to keep it private. No follow up emails or phone calls, no follow-through on their “Yeah man, let’s get together” after an unexpected bumping in to. It seemed that this was their home field and they weren’t about to let some small-time coach come in and make their fans switch jerseys.”

Earl Henning

Check out Earl’s wicked, cool beard. If you ever meet him, ask him for the back story to it.

Earl goes on to observe how since he’s taken the other approach and reached out to younger peers he’s seen some benefits of it:

  • Venting!: “Consider it counseling without having to lay on a couch. And honestly, who can understand you better than someone who is fighting the same battle?”
  • A community playbook: “It took me a while to get used to this, but when my local youth pal and I started to share playbooks it was amazing. We’ve shared message ideas, stage design ideas, volunteer training ideas.”
  • Power in numbers: My buddy and I have kids who go to the same schools and live in the same neighborhoods. Honestly, why shouldn’t we work together to build a mega-team of soul-winners?”

You really need to read all of what Earl offers.

3D man near red question markThat said…

  • In what ways have you felt a conscious or unconscious tension with other churches/ministries?
  • Do you sense greater “rivalry” of “churches vs churches” or “youth ministry vs youth ministry?”
  • Is it fair to assume that if you’ve invested years into a student that they shouldn’t just “up and leave” one day to go to another youth group?
  • How do you view other youth workers around your city – as a network of peers who do what you do (but everyone keeps a safe distance from) or as true co-laborers that you can share life/ministry with?

Please chime in. Let’s learn from each other on this. Thanks!


“I am in competition with no one.”

(You may need to say that several times out loud, right now.)

If the Olympic games are merely a clash of competitors, then we won’t expect much more beyond “our team vs your team.”

Every once in a while, you see something even greater than that… where the focus shifts from what you expect to what you actually hope for.

ski1A recent story went viral when Russian athlete Anton Gafarov was served by a competitor during during the Men’s Sprint Free Semifinals at the Sochi Games. Gafarov had already fallen three times, which was perhaps only amplified in having it happen on his home turf. It led to him having a broken ski, which made it clear that he was out of the race for the men’s finals and wouldn’t be able to compete for medals.


Still, he wanted to finish in front of the home crowd, but his left ski was too badly damaged in the crash and its base had come off. Gafarov begin hobbling toward the finish line by walking… not skiing.

This when Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth bolted onto the course, bent over and served Gafarov. 


“I went over and gave him one of Alex’s [Harvey, a member of the Canadian team who didn't qualify for the sprint final] spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn’t have to walk to the finish area,” Wadsworth said in an interview to the Globe and Mail from Canada.

The Canadian coach didn’t just give a ski to the Russian, he even fastened it himself to Gafarov’s foot.

Remind you of anything?

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:3-5)

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

What is your sense of this story? Any applications in your life?

  • Who seems to be one of your competitors, enemies or “thorns in your side” that you have the chance to serve?
  • In what way do you feel like you have a broken ski? How do you need rescue?
  • What do the people in your relational circle need to hear about a God who doesn’t just clap from afar but runs in, bends down and serves them?

cholutecaIn less than a month, my 13-year old son and I will embark on a mission trip to Choluteca, Honduras with Lifetree Adventures. We’re totally stoked for this, and have plenty of wisdom from project leaders Jobe and Robin on what to expect, how to pack and so on.

What I’m looking for are some “secret” travel tips.

It will not only be my son’s first trip out of the country, but also his first time away from my wife for that long of a period. It’s not like he’s even just a state away somewhere – he’ll literally be in another culture.

I think it’s why she asked me, “Um… what can I pack for you guys? I need to do something.”

So I’m looking for your travel tips.

  • Any food/snacks that I can bring cross-culturally that would be good in a warm climate? For example, fruit snacks with real juice in them versus dry granola bars.
  • Any mini-packets I should take with? “Shout” wipes? Disinfecting wipes? etc
  • Any sense of what to do to make this trip a win logistically, as well as spiritually?
  • Any apps for my phone worth having that would work without data?

I think you see where I’m going with this. I’ve been around the block on this with students before, but this is the first time I’m taking “my kid” on something like this. Know what I mean?

If it helps, here’s a quick glimpse of the partners we’ll be working with: http://www.greatcommissionla.com/churches/honduras/choluteca/

How about it? Suggestions what we can do today for a “father-son-experience-meets-a-warm-climate-we’ve-never-been-in-before-while-mom-hangs-back-home?”

We already started a personal prayer group for the trip. I now need your expertise or suggestions on the details.

Any help?


How do you get students to start serving and affecting their culture in the name of Jesus Christ?

Maybe it begins by being in the loop on past and current trends.

You’ve probably heard all the flashy headlines on Miley, Duck Dynasty and more… but what about the more obscure things that reflect the true trends?

christmas_googleFor example, Google again sidestepped saying “Merry Christmas” in its on Christmas Day “Google Doodle” in order to take on a more neutral ”Happy Holidays.” Keep in mind, these are the same drawings that will on some days honor everything from the “100th anniversary of the first aviation ‘loop de loop’” to the unique features of a Zamboni. (Admittedly, I do think the game on Dr. Who’s 50th Anniversary was quite fantastic.)

Maybe this is only news, but I bring it up as an example that illustrates trends in our culture. An L.A. Times Article summarized a recent poll on the subject:

A majority of Americans — 67% — say that they prefer people to say “Merry Christmas,” with only 18% saying that they’d rather hear “Happy holidays,” according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll. (Another 15% say that they’re indifferent, or would rather people not say anything. Grinches!)

However, when poll results were broken down by age, the numbers shifted.

“Support for ‘Happy Holidays’ is greatest among young people: 30% of Americans under the age of 30 say that they’d rather hear the more neutral greeting,” according to the poll results. By comparison, only 15% of people age 60 and older preferred that neutral greeting.

All that said, the traditional holiday greeting is still preferable by both the young and the less young.

The poll found that 58% of Americans ages 18-29 and 70% of Americans age 60 and older still prefer “Merry Christmas.”

Again, that’s one example – the real thing to look for is how the emerging generation has its own share of trends that will only continue without Christian teens serving and speaking into it.

So here’s the lesson…

  • Read 2 Timothy 4:1-8 together.
    • Ask what they think this challenge means and why it’s in the Bible.
    • Brainstorm ways their peers or culture tries to get us to not care about something like we used to or water down our beliefs.
  • Talk about the Google’s “Christmas/Happy Holidays” Doodle as an example.

    • Take a poll in the room of how many people prefer “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays.”
    • Ask which expression they think their friends or family prefer and why.
  • Explore other trends with students from 2013. Look for some appropriate ones to talk about through these social media websites (these will show things you may not want to go into, so preview and select your topics with sensitivity to your church and through the Holy Spirit). See if students can identify why certain things were popular this year and how these topics might look in five years if their generation doesn’t serve culture by speaking truth and offering Jesus Christ into it:

  • Circle back to 2 Timothy 4:1-8 and debrief how if the conversation you just had did or didn’t honor this passage.

What do you think?

    How would this go over with your students or in your church?
    Would you do anything differently?

signlanguageforJesusImagine being a non-deaf child in a deaf household.

Lori Koch posted this video to YouTube of her daughter Koda (who isn’t deaf) signing the lyrics to some popular songs of the season. Lori and her husband are both deaf, and yet they were able to enjoy the concert through the extra efforts of their daughter serving them. You can tell Koda’s quite the ham – check it out.


This video is obviously inspiring and easily creates all the right warm fuzzies.

There’s something deeper here, though.

  • What if Koda represents what it means for you to share Jesus?
  • What if Lori represents what it means for someone to “hear” the message because another person (who can actually hear) explained it to them?

Around 3:08 in the video, you’ll notice something different happens for a few moments. According to Lori:

“Yea…that one was a whoopsie…obviously [the video] was done by a deaf person.  Ha.  I edited those few HA HA HA moments to slow motion because I loved how she acted it out, but didn’t think it would skew the audio.  That’s the one and only thing I would change, but a little too late now. ;-)

This is a great example of how we all flub a bit sharing the message… and yet, “So what?” Do those few seconds matter? Or is the greater win that Koda rocked the rest of it?

This Christmas you’ll have the opportunity to just go through the motions like everyone else around you.

On the other hand…

You’ll also have the opportunity to put in just a little bit more effort (and enjoy doing it) so that someone you love gets to hear what you hear.

Go… tell it on the mountain.

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:17-18)

westjetThis is a great video to show your students.

The Canadian airliner WestJet made some Christmas wishes come true. They asked passengers on a flight what they wanted for Christmas and then went out and got the gifts. When the flight landed, the surprised passengers were greeted with the wrapped presents.

Seriously awesome.


Show the video, then ask:

  • How did you “feel” after watching this? Why do you think you ended up feeling that way?
  • Who do you think had the most joy in this?
  • Who do you think had the most regrets in this?
  • In what ways was the value of serving present here?
  • How is this like or unlike what it means to tell God what’s on our hearts?

You just don’t have enough time for everything.

It doesn’t matter how well you manage your schedule. Someone is going to demand more of you than you’re able to give.Wasting-Time

One of the best books I’ve read is Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley. Its summary is simply that you’re going to cheat people out of your time, and you have to choose who that will be on a daily basis. The challenge is to make sure no one feels “cheated.”

I first thought that meant I needed to develop a personal value statement as my personal filter for how I spent my time. I later realized that the ministry I served in needed its own values statements for the same reason.

Note how that’s a plural concept. A good one-line mission statement will get you rolling in what you try to do, but several value statements help you foster the culture you’re going to do them in.

Here are our church’s 12 “Family Values” that help us figure out what’s worth spending time on.

    • We put God first in all things. God isn’t just the cherry at the top of our lives—he’s the spoon through whom we approach every part of the “sundae.” Instead of just turning to him about some things, we will follow him in everything.


    • We love people and will share Jesus with them. It’s up to us to make the next move that lets others experience God through us. We say nobody’s “no” for them—we give them reasons to say yes. Like Jesus, we receive people where they are and speak truth that guides them out of sin and into life.


    • We embrace the tensions of the Bible. The Bible wasn’t given to make us know-it-alls, but to foster wonder and wisdom that leads to conversation and conversion.


    • We reclaim what’s Normal and reframe what’s common. There is an “original good” in all people and things that we join our Creator in recovering…we won’t settle for the way things are. What’s common isn’t Normal; what’s Normal isn’t common.


    • We create as many on-ramps as possible. Everything we do will help outsiders become insiders so the lost can become found and the young in faith can become mature.


    • We learn how to feed ourselves and others spiritually. We’re not going to stay baby Christians but will take hold of what it means become disciples who make disciples who make disciples.


    • We own and overlap our circles. Every person has a unique life-calling and care-network they’re to discover, take hold of and overlap with others for an epic impact.


    • We form community instead of waiting for it to happen. Proximity doesn’t equal intimacy.  We won’t  wait for community, but will make intentional investments that make it happen.


    • We work stuff out with a stubborn love. When we get upset, we don’t exit. Reconciliation honors Jesus Christ, especially when it’s hard, in our relationships and church.


    • We are intergenerational and age-appropriate. Every person, regardless of age, has something to offer another person, regardless of age.


    • We spend our words and our stuff generously to further God’s Kingdom. We go above and beyond what feels comfortable to see life change above and beyond what feels expected.


  • We are a growing church. Our size is determined by God’s calling to reach more people with him. We cannot become small-minded or comfortably sit back when he’s called us to be open-hearted, carry our cross, and join him locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

I’m well aware how hard all of that would be to memorize. Someone would argue that we should distill those down and have 3 to 5 phrases that sum them up. Perhaps one day we will, but right now we don’t need to. Our leadership team spent a year meeting with every household in our church and we discovered these phrases have become “sticky” church-wide based on messages I’ve shared, things others have said, and initiatives we’ve taken part in together.

cultureIn other words, everyone knows these values even if they can’t fully articulate them.

We’ve created a culture where we know what’s worth “wasting time on.” Where that comes in handy is if I have to spend time on one thing versus another thing, I have a community who understands why. They’ll compensate for me in other areas as needed so I can do what I need to do in what’s most needed.

Do you think this is possible in your ministry or church? What have you learned in this process? Maybe we can teach each other something.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*