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.

chicago_skydeck

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!

Tony

@tonymyles

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

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Big Picture Ministry

 —  November 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

Youth workers need to have a holistic view of ministry—stay too focused on today and it can be hard to remember where you were headed. But if you’re always looking ahead, you risk not handling today well. Here are a few thoughts that may help you tackle today AND tomorrow effectively.

Right In Front Of You:
This Week
What needs to be accomplished right away this week? Go practical instead of tactical; make a “to do list” or use an app to help guide your time and projects with due dates this week. The “This Week” stuff is the nitty-gritty tasks you simply must accomplish. Put your head down, and work through the list you made at the beginning of your week.

The Small Picture:
The Next Season Ahead
 – This is where you move from the day-to-day tasks and make sure you’re tracking on the big-picture details of what’s next. This is making sure the discipleship retreat camp deposit is in the mail, but not necessarily programming the event itself. This is making sure you have a speaker lined up, but not necessarily knowing the menu that’s planned. [Side note: ALWAYS know what is on the menu. Words I (Josh) live by!]

The Big Picture:
This Coming Year
 – Occasionally, throughout the year, find some time to make sure the big-picture vision is in place. Check the pulse of your leaders; look back on goals you set from the year before; work through your vision statements and learnings from a recent book or seminar. Determine what’s broken and what’s doing well, lay out strategies to address the weak points in your discipleship process. This is a mix of practical (calendar planning) and tactical (is what we have planned truly helping us to accomplish our vision?).

The Lifetime Achievement:
Your Legacy
 – This is the biggest picture of all: what you will leave with your church when you leave, or the legacy you leave behind when God decides your time here is done. Don’t text and drive or it may be sooner rather than later. Too many youth workers live in the day-to-day world and never take a step back every few years and really wrestle with your calling again and see what God may be up to.

Consider planning your week with an appropriate amount of time given to each of these categories. Focus on the tasks of the week, be familiar with the season ahead, make sure you know where you are headed and every once in a while, and wrestle with your legacy for good measure, too.

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.



Youth Ministry Legacy

 —  October 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

Had a great experience a couple days ago at a local Starbucks -had to share it here on the blog as well as previously on Twitter. Made me think a few things:

  • When was the last time I prayed for the legacy of our youth ministry?
  • I need to be more thankful for the people who have come before me at our church.
  • I am creating a legacy right now.
  • What will people say about the ministry I was a part of today in 13 years?

Such a great interaction … made my day!

JG

This week I was reminded of one of the most important things God has ever shown me in my life: my calling to youth ministry. I was reading the book of Joshua, and came into chapter 24 with more than a little expectation, seeing that my life verse (v15) is contained therein. As I read the chapter, something new and powerful stood out to me like never before. It was just what I needed to hear, especially in a season of being OK with being OK and honestly, coasting a little in ministry here at the end of the school year.

In the passage, God says, “I gave you Abraham (v2) … I gave you Isaac (v3) … I gave you Jacob and Esau (v4) … I gave you Moses and Aaron (v5) … and finally, I brought you (v8) … Joshua, to lead Israel.

In that moment, Joshua must have had this realization that HE is part of Israel’s incredible legacy. He looks at the past and realizes he doesn’t deserve to even be mentioned with those people, much less leading their followers. He gulps with humility at the weight of this realization.

God used all of these incredible people … and now He has chosen you, Joshua.

That’s what I needed to hear. God used all of these incredible people … and now He has chosen you, Joshua. When I look at the legacy of youth ministry at our church and across the world, I realize that I don’t deserve to be a footnote on their Wikipedia page. But God has made His choice. I’m supposed to lead. He’s prepared me for this moment. My job is to invite people to choose their path (v24) – to serve the gods of this world or to serve the God of the Universe. Every so often I seem to subconsciously test my calling to my church and test if God is finished with me in the place He last put me. I heard from Him loud and clear this week … I am CALLED. Even though there may be more wins than losses this past season (there have been). Even though I don’t always feel like being a pastor (which I have felt too much recently). Even when I screw things up and have to own it (did that, too). I. Am. Called.

And so are you. God has used amazing people in your church to lead students to Him. And now God has chosen you. You are the next person to carry the mantle of leadership to your people. He has called you. Don’t know what you might face this weekend or are battling in your spirit – but please realize you are CALLED by God to do His work. He could have chosen anyone! He chose you. He brought you to that church. He brought you here for this moment. He wants you to rise up and lead the people. Just like Joshua.

Honored to share in that amazing calling with you, my friends.

JG