Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.50.39 AMJesus announced the Kingdom (or literally, God’s reign) being at hand in Mark 1:14-15. At it’s core, this is simply saying, “You are now seeing God’s reign firsthand in the life of a human being.” According to Jesus, this is the good news (or “gospel”) he declares for the world to believe in. Jesus was the perfect example of a human being showing the world what God’s reign looks like, 100% of the time.

I think it’s safe to say that leaders in the Church want (or at least verbally express) the people they lead to have God reign in their lives. This may be worded in a number of different ways. Leaders say they want people to:

  • “Be on fire.”
  • “Surrender their lives.”
  • “Live for the Kingdom.”
  • “Be gospel-centered.”

Whatever language is used, the desire is to see God reigning supreme in a persons life. As it should be.

Okay, so here are 3 questions I think every leader who has this desire should ask themselves:

  1. How am I allowing people to see God’s reign in my life, firsthand? (following Jesus’ example)
  2. What boundaries do I need to set up so that I am not trying to reign in people’s lives? (avoiding a Messiah/power complex)
  3. Who is seeking God’s reign in their life and who do I know that can learn from that person? (cultivating discipleship)



I have a confession. For years I had no real grasp on what “apologetics” were–not as a youth, but as an adult and even as a youth pastor. It had the word “apology” in it, and it had to do with my Christianity. Did it mean I was telling people I was sorry for being a Christian? I felt like people tripped over helping me understand. Then someone finally explained it to me this simply: It’s knowing HOW to defend your faith in Jesus. Ohhh…Now that made sense.

I thought of all of the questions my students have when it comes to Christ.

How do I know other religions aren’t the “right” ones?

How can Jesus be God and the Son of God all at the same time?

My friend is a Jehovah’s Witness. What do I say to them?

These fall in the category of “apologetics,” I discovered.  Then there came a strange fear in learning about other religions from my youth. I had students who weren’t sure about Jesus, but thought it was “wrong” to know about what else was out there. What if they wanted to start believing that? I always seemed to have at least one student who knew someone who had become a “blank” when they found out about that religion. Would it be OK to be this too if they wanted to be?

There were so many confusions for all of us between evangelism and apologetics we could no longer just answer questions of this type, “on the side” . It was time for me to figure out, how to have focused conversations with my students on understanding what they believe, why they believe it, and what it means for their worldview. They understood the idea of having a relationship with Christ, and about sharing what it meant for them, sort of. They did not realize that Christianity is the only “religion” that offers a personal, close relationship with the living God. More so, they still had a lot of questions.

I think I had avoided this topic before, because I thought that apologetics were really too deep for my students. What had never struck me was that by actually delving into the topic it answered so many questions. Sharing the good news that Jesus is close and offers us a relationship is important. Knowing why you believe what you believe keeps you grounded. This would help them combat outward questions, but more so helped with inner debates.

Knowing what the Bible says is vital. Understanding why it is the truth, guiding us in daily life is transformational. As we embarked on understanding Jesus, our worldview, and other religions, I assured our students they could rest. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” There is nothing else that offers for us to KNOW our God and comprehend what it means to BELONG to Him. In short, the Lord is big enough to handle these questions.

I believe confidence grows in our students as they grasp hold of their faith in a way that is definitive. Evangelism is being able to tell others about who Christ is and what our relationship with Him looks like. Apologetics is about being able to understand the world around us, what they think, what we believe exactly so we can answer questions.

I am finding my students want the deeper answers for themselves just as much as they want to be able to tell others. I think I used to misunderstand that this was a topic only important for those who had a deep faith. Instead, it’s helping those who falter stand on the truth.

Shameless Plug: Want to explore this topic deeper? My friend Rezah did an AWESOME job with LIVE Apologetics. It explores our own thinking, answers about Christ, and then the most popular world religions and how they are different. Click here to learn more

Expect God to show up and He will.

Do you think our students need apologetics?  Yes or No?

– Leneita

I suppose it’s sort of the new version of the “put your oxygen mask on first” story that we have heard a bizillion times. You know the airline attendant will always runs through the safety precautions before a flight.  They inevitably make the statement, “In the event of unexpected pressure drop in the cabin an oxygen mask will drop before you. Make sure to put yours on first before helping others.” We have heard it referenced often in Christendom as well. Take care of your relationship with Christ before reaching out to others. Now we look to Facebook (for those of us still using it) for analogies. It too has been “played out,” I’m sure. On our profiles, under the about section there is the space for you to declare a “Relationship Status.”  Every once in a while we see it change when someone gets married or breaks up with a significant other. When Facebook first became popular it felt like some pastor somewhere was always asking, “So what’s your relationship status with Jesus?”

Yes, us Christians like to over-use these “real life comparisons.”  Youth pastors are the worst. We think tying stories from every day life to our spiritual life will help others make the transition to “doing something” about their faith. Of course, when as I was thinking about this I actually had to go on Facebook to see what my “relationship” choices were. I just had to know. Here is the screen shot from my discovery on my own profile:


Screenshot 2014-04-16 12.12.07

Goodness it’s true. I have heard the analogies so many times I rolled my eyes, and said, “I get it. I should be close to the Lord.”  Then I saw this. It made me think of my own “relationship status” with Jesus. (Yes, I said it.)  I do have to go “there,” before I can even talk to my students.

I think of how many of these ideas I have indeed taken in my time with Christ.  I won’t belabor “explaining” each one, I think you are smart enough to have your own “AHA” moment.

How many of our own students would describe their God relationships as “open” or “complicated?” I guess those who have never heard are “single.”  For us in our heart are we “civil” or just “in a relationship?”

Yet, I believe His best choice for us would be to be “married” to Him. He wants us that close and intimate.

How many of us honestly are “separated” from the Lord right now as we struggle with disappointment, grief or frustration?  Do we accuse our students of being “engaged” and not taking the plunge when it’s more true for us?

Have you lost your first love?

I think as we celebrate Easter, it’s vital to truly figure out our “status.”  I guess analogies really can be convicting after all. At least for me. Now I need an oxygen mask or something.

Where do you stand?

Leneita / @leneitafix

Everyday Jesus

 —  April 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

God is a part of our everyday lives more than we realize.

And when I say “everyday lives,” I mean that in its simplest, most plainest terms.

What makes God great isn’t just that he cares enough about great things to enter into them… but that he cares enough about small things to enter into them, too.

cell-phoneAuthor and teacher Dallas Willard wrote about this aspect of Jesus in his book The Divine Conspiracy:

“If he were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could have run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles.

In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do.

He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family surroundings and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.”

How about it?

  • In what ways is God a part of the most dirt-level, common part of your life, right now?
  • In what ways might you need to pause and thank Him for that?


These then are the tools of the spiritual craft.  When we have used them without ceasing, day and night…our wages will be what the Lord has promised.”

-The Rule of St. Benedict

As I leave for work every morning I typically stop by the local gas station for my morning fuel; a 32oz. Coke and a sausage and egg croissant. It’s the breakfast of champions.  I live in a small rural community and like to drive through downtown on my way to work to see my small community waking up and coming to life.  There’s something very Rockwellian about it.

imagesCAY3QKKHOn the 30-minute drive, I pass through several smaller and larger towns and I always see three specific groups of people gathering together for prayer. They were there this morning and will likely be there again tomorrow morning.  These three groups are all distinct but have much in common; they are disciplined to start their day prostrate before the Lord.

The first group I see are gathered at the local community center, Common Ground, an ecumenical gathering place for people of various denominations.  There is a small group of the faithful that start their morning gathering together to read through a chapter of the bible and pray.  I see them through the window with the heads bowed down deep in prayer and bibles open. They look sincere and devoted.

The second group I see is in a neighboring town. Morning Mass is letting out about the time I’m passing through.  Mothers and their children are in abundance as they leave with to start their day.  The moms are talking with each other while trying to keep the kids from wandering out into the street and into oncoming traffic.

As I arrive in the city, I pass a larger mega-church and see the third group of people getting into their cars and preparing to leave as well.  I know nothing about this group of people other than the fact that they just finished some kind of corporate experience centered on a Jew from Nazareth.womenpraying

It dawns on me that each group is focused on the same ancient scriptures and are connected together in prayer to the same God, and suddenly, I feel overwhelmed.  I’m overwhelmed with the idea that there are likely many more groups like this around the world, that I am part of something much larger and more potent than my measly prayer life. It is so good for me to be reminded of this. Doubt tries to convince me that I am alone on this and that no one else really takes this seriously. 

It is good for my soul to be reminded that we are all connected through the Christ that my faith does not exist in isolation. It is the hope he offers, the healing, and the promise of restoration that is in Him that we globally order our lives around.

May you be aware of your blessed connectedness to all the Saints everywhere and know that you are not alone…


Coordinator of The Shelter at Simply Youth Ministry Conference 2014 (Don’t forget! Tomorrow, Jan. 15, is the last day for advanced registration…sign up now!)



It’s January 3rd, and you know what that means?

We are all making resolutions, setting goals, and becoming productive. Most of the country is losing weight, exercising more and giving up all of their bad habits: For at least a day…maybe two. We are trying new programs and deciding that THIS IS THE YEAR we will stick to our check list.

It is obvious that God is a “planner” when we look at the intricacies of Creation or the number of prophecies fulfilled just at the birth of Christ, not to mention his life, death and resurrection. There are verses about the plans God has for my life, the world and even “planning” the cost of following Jesus. Purpose, vision, plans, and goals are all important, and we use the “fresh start” of a “new year” as a time to look forward. I like order, and the feeling that comes with accomplishing said goals. Yet, as I have been praying lately, I have realized something about myself. I can have the tendency to focus on details and specifics when if I am honest those are not my true goals at all.

As I make a list of ways I will develop this year I am REALLY saying:

Maybe there’s a way I can figure out how to be less of a mess this year and a little bit closer to “perfect.”

As I set goals for ways the ministry will grow this year my heart is saying:

If I look successful to the rest of the world maybe someone will finally notice.

As I try to set ideals for ways to be a better spouse, parent & friend I wonder:

Who am I really doing this for: me or them?

As I set ways that I will read my Bible & pray more what I truly am thinking is:

Could there be a way to not have any trials this year?

In short I say I set goals for all the “right” reasons, however, I am really trying to take control.  Here’s the problem with that according to Proverbs alone:

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”  Proverbs 16:2

   “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:21

This life, my kids, my husband, my ministry–none of them are mine. There is only one thing I have: Jesus. So here is where I am starting, and I bring the challenge to you as well.

Can 2014 be the year that we fully belong to the Lord and be HIS alone?

That’s it. Even in this I won’t be the perfect parent, spouse or friend. I will still fall down, make mistakes and have trials. I have no idea if my ministry will “grow” or not in the eyes of anyone else. Yet, I have this sneaking suspicion this could be transformational.  I also suspect that the “other” stuff that I have been thinking about will come into line and those “goals” that I keep trying to set will be accomplished- because I have started and ended with Jesus.

Will I read my Bible, pray, worship, go to church, and serve?  Of course, those are all mechanisms to know Him better. I guess I look to 2014 as a year when I will FINALLY understand completely that being with Jesus far outweighs anything I DO for Him…

What about you?



There is a reason.

  • uglychristmassweatersIt’s why people smile while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, as if they don’t know they’re wearing an ugly Christmas sweater (even though we know they absolutely do).
  • It’s why someone feels the permission to smooch you under a certain configuration of dried leaves hanging on the ceiling.
  • It’s why families drive around neighborhoods, aimlessly looking at how someone else arranged the same lights they arranged on their own home in a lesser quantity.
  • It’s why an old guy with a white beard can earn some extra money by dressing up in a specific red suit this season.
  • It’s why you do your best Michael Bublé impression as he does his best Frank Sinatra impression, while singing Christmas songs you only know half the words to.

Some would say it’s the reason for the season… Jesus Christ.

Let’s be honest, though. The holiday of Christmas is more about presents.

(Yes, I just said that. It’s about time you did, too.)

Christmas is about presents. Stuff. More of what we want. Our traditions, favorite songs, special treats and preferred circumstances.

Even if we’re “open minded” and muse, “People celebrate differently during this time of year, and I’m fine with that,” we get a little wound up when we’re not able to spend this time as we think we’re entitled to.

If you can agree with me on this for a moment (even if it offends you), then perhaps we can talk about the power of a gift.

chicagotripI recently took my ten-year old son on a trip to Chicago. Our stops included heading to the top of the Willis Tower, also known as the Sears Tower. (You can still call it the Sears Tower if you want, but most Chicagoans will use it as the chance to say, “What you talkin’ bout, Willis?”)

I’ve never been in the building before.

Keep in mind, I grew up and lived in Chicago for twenty years. Nonetheless, I’d never entered it nor rode the elevator up to see the city from a top floor in one of the world’s tallest buildings. I shared that first-time experience with my son.

What caught me off guard was how caught off guard he was about hearing that. He asked, “You mean… you saved that experience for me?”

I paused, then replied, “I suppose I did.”

He paused, then replied, “Well… that makes me feel special.”

Talk about a Hallmark commercial moment. I never felt like I’d done something so right, yet so unintentional.

Later at dinner, we had another conversation about other experiences we should save in life, like certain things that are intended for the woman he might marry one day.

daniel_skydeckThe Willis Tower offered something else amazing we took part in together. The building has four completely-clear glass viewing decks that come out of the building four feet so you can look straight down while standing 1,353 feet high, as if you’re dangling in mid-air.

My son was a trooper on this. He walked right out, even laying down and relaxing on the platform.

And why not? He’s full of the kind of faith many of us have forgotten about or don’t even know exists. He trusted in his father to look out for him and introduce him into situations that he couldn’t handle on his own, but could with me by his side.

I believe that’s why Christmas has become about presents. Underneath all the wrapping paper is a desire to give something to someone else that’s meaningful to us and them.

  • Sometimes you give the perfect gift on accident: You offer someone something you thought would be received at one level but is enjoyed at another.
  • Sometimes you give the perfect gift out of relationship: You give the gift of genuine trust to another person where there is mutual love and respect.
  • Sometimes you give an imperfect gift that you thought was the perfect gift: The person who gets it will have to decide if they’ll receive it in grace or reject it as unwanted.

During the Christmas season, people give tangible things that create an intangible reaction. If you think about it, that’s exactly who the Baby in the Manger is – God in-the-flesh so you can know Him in-the-soul.

Yes, Christmas is really about the Present of Jesus Christ. What I’m proposing is we can use the natural thing this holiday has decayed into as a step of faith to the supernatural thing it is under the surface.

James 1:17 clarifies, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (NIV)

There is a reason.

  • It’s the reason you’ll be generous with what you can see by donating something to “the poor” you’ll never see.
  • It’s the reason you’ll join into tactile traditions today that remind you of emotional experiences from the past.
  • It’s the reason you’ll be physically sitting in church service to spiritually connect with your Heavenly Father.
  • It’s the reason you’ll even give up some of that in order to enjoy some extra time with students who need to sense God is there through your life… especially when you actually put on that imperfect, ugly Christmas sweater they give you.


Step out in faith on the ledge of what Christmas happens to be today… then look down. You just might see something underneath you that is deeper than you think.

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!*



Be reminded… following Jesus will never, ever make sense in a broken world.

Say AMEN to that, even if you want it the other way around.

As you do, listen to these insights from Frederick Buechner:

“God is the comic shepherd who gets more of a kick out of that one lost sheep once he finds it again than out of the ninety and nine who had the good sense not to get lost in the first place.

jesus with sinnersGod is the eccentric host who, when the country-club crowd all turned out to have other things more important to do that come live it up with him, goes out into the skid rows and soup kitchens and charity wards and brings home a freak show. The man with no legs who sells shoelaces at the corner. The old woman in the moth-eaten fur coat who makes her daily rounds of the garbage cans. The old wino with his pint in a brown paper bag. The pusher, the whore, the village idiot who stands at the blinker light waving his hand as the cars go by.

They are seated at the damask-laid table in the great hall. The candles are all lit and the champagne glasses filled. At a sign from the host, the musicians in their gallery strike up ‘Amazing Grace.'”

― Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale