Star Wars…. the saga continues 


Having seen Rogue One 3 times this week I thought I would share my thoughts (without spoiling it).

1. It is the best written movie in the series. The plotline and the acting are superb. Forrest Whittaker does a killer job in his role as well as all the lead characters.

2. They finally got the sidekick humor right. C-3po was alright, Jar-Jar was a bust, but this new droid K2 is actually funny.

3. I love the way the writers tied the movie into the rest of the series without being over the top obvious about it, cameos by Wookies and things like that. They actually dumbed down some of the tech to make it fit in the rest of the Star Wars universe. It felt rooted in the series, like it belonged.

4. The future of movies and digitizing characters is here. Video games and movies will eventually be seamless. We may never have to say goodbye to some of our favorite heros from this point on in our culture. I’ll bet we even see Elvis return someday… 

So, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it over the holidays with your family. I enjoyed the big sound and the color of the RPX and IMAX (3D) over the regular version. I don’t think I’d pay for 3D again, but definitely RPX. Star Wars has become part of the continuing saga of all of our lives, going back to almost everyone’s childhood, and it brings our family together for another chapter in our personal journeys.

Enjoy!

~Mark

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Listening without Fixing


One of my favorite authors currently is Parker J. Palmer. If you are not familiar with his work, I highly recommend him to you. In his book “A Hidden Wholeness, the Journey toward an Undivided Life,” in Chapter 7, he contends that:

We should stop trying to fix people.

When we listen with the intent to fix, what presents itself initially as caring, actually may be our “shadow-side” saying something like this:

 

  • If you take my advice you will surely solve your problem.
  • If you take my advice and fail to solve your problem, you did not try hard enough.
  • If you do not take my advice, and you do not solve your problem, I did the best I could.

 

And no matter what the outcome, I no longer need to worry about you or your problem. When we listen with the intent to fix, what initially seems like caring, is really a way for us to keep the other at arms length, and distance ourself from their problem.

I concurr with much of what Palmer says. Many of us love to be answer-givers and honestly love the sound of our own voice. But often it is not what people really want or even what they really need. This was never more apparent to me than when my house burned down, and again now in the wake of my divorce. My friend Eddie modeled this as he physically stood beside me as my house was burning to the ground. He stood there silently, without saying a word, with smoke and emotion circling my head. I did not want anyone trying to make sense of it all in that moment. Not that there wasn’t things that could have been said, he just didn’t feel the need to say them. His silence spoke volumes to me. And inside the space of that vacuum without words, I was cured of answer-giving.

The common cry of our culture is that “no one understands me, no one really listens to me.”

And if you work with teenagers, or are a parent of one, you know how especially true this is for them. A few years ago I was sitting with a friend who was battling depression, and he was expressing how I was one of the few people who actually still took his calls anymore. How tragic! Not that he was battling depression, but that nobody was willing to walk with him in his pain. I responded by saying something like: “Of course! You are one of my favorite people. I may not have the answers, but I will always listen to you.”

Early in my journey, I would have tried to fix him. Now instead of giving answers, I try ask questions. Not to feed my curiousity, but to clarify their own thoughts. More than anything I try to just be present. To be someone who will walk with them in their pain. And if you beleive in God, and I do, Scripture says He is our “ever present help in our time of need,” and “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Often times, well-meaning Christians feel they need to be the voice of God for people. But that’s rarely the case. In fact, when God wants to speak, he generally does not have any problems communicating. And when you presume to speak for the God of the Universe, you better be damn careful what you say. Perhaps instead of presuming to speak for Him, we would represent Him best by simply being present with people in their pain.

The Jews have something in their culture called “sitting-shiva.” Shiva is a seven-day mourning period that occurs after the death of a loved one, often an immediate family member. People come and “sit-shiva” with the bereaved, often times sitting low to the ground, or even on the ground itself, to identify with the person’s suffering. Visitors do not ring the doorbell, do not speak, do not even greet the bereaved; they simply sit with them. They only speak when the bereaved initiates conversation, and often it is to simply share stories of the one who has passed.

Our culture could use a large dose of “sitting-shiva” with people in a culture of pain. It is the one of the few things in our culture that we have in common.

 

 

We have not all experienced the same pain…. but we have all experienced deep pain.

 

As people we would do well to learn to listen again; really listen. And to resist the temptation to fix people, but instead to simply journey with people in their pain.

In a culture of answer-givers, be the one friend who really listens.

Will you toke up now? Retail Pot stores open today in Washington State


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Today is the day that many have been waiting for. Pot is now legal and available in Washington State. Two stores opened this morning in my city of Bellingham. (6 more have been granted licenses for my town of 80,000 residents, and a total of 300 will eventually pepper the entire State. The laws in Washington governing pot are similar to alcohol’s open container laws. You can’t smoke in public, on the sidewalk or in your car, however you can light up on your property in plain view of the rest of the world. You can carry up to 1 ounce and anyone over 21 from any state can purchase pot from a retail store here, but once you transport it into another state obviously you are bound by the pot laws of that state. Be prepared to pay more for your pot though, and maybe a lot more. Cost will likely be several times higher that what it costs on the street currently. According to the Price of Weed.com, high quality pot is an average of $232 per ounce in Washington. Some retail pot stores in WA will be charging $25/gram or $700 per ounce (28 grams/ounce)!! If you’re under 21 you’re not supposed to be able to even go into a store or purchase pot or smoke it, and hopefully that will be enforced.

As a guy who’s spent his entire life working with teenagers I’m more than curious how this will impact our teens. It’s not like teens have had any lack of access to pot before it was legalized today, and that black market pot will certainly continue to be available and still be lots cheaper too.

What will be harder to judge will be the long term impact of legalizing this drug on society, and how it’s acceptance will change our culture. As a Christ follower it will be interesting to see how the Church and Christian attitudes will morph and change towards pot as well.

A few in the church already feel it’s God’s plant and He created it for our use. Other’s feel it’s okay to use, but only to relieve chronic or terminal pain. In general, most Christians today are against pot and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. But over time, a new generation will rise up, one that’s only known it as legal, and my guess is that the Church’s attitude towards pot will eventually mirror it’s attitude towards alcohol; outwardly discouraged by the devout, but used by many in the privacy of their own homes. An “everything in moderation” attitude will settle in.

What no one can predict is how this will trickle down into the fabric of our society, and the butterfly effect that will take place. As a lifetime youthworker, I’ll be watching it closely from the inside and praying that it doesn’t fall into the hands of more teenagers, doesn’t create more addicts, and doesn’t dumb down our society any further. God knows we can’t afford that, no matter how much tax revenue it generates.

Some of my favorite quotes around the topic of Rest & Renewal


Enjoy!

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.”
John Lubbock

“Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center.”
Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives

“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.”
Ralph Marston

“You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.”
Ruth Haley Barton “Invitation to Solitude and Silence” p 29

“When we live without listening to the timing of things, when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest – we are on war time, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms.”
Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus

“Some of us learn from other people’s mistakes and the rest of us have to be other people.“
Zig Ziglar

Seriously, Why don’t we Rest?


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Why don’t we Rest?

I just got finished with three Rest and Renewal type events in April. I put on one for our 45 Staff (and their spouse if they’re married), hosted one for Youth Workers in the region (Soulitude), and finally, attended one (Solwatch) for my wife and I to fill our tank.

Why do I do it?  Because I truly believe in the Value of Rest and Renewal.

#1) Our culture does not know how to rest. People in ministry especially do not know how to rest.

#2) Youth Workers need a place to decompress – I want to help keep you in youth ministry longer. I don’t apologize for times of rest. You shouldn’t either. Ministry is hard. Rest and Renewal are essential to maintaining your effectiveness over time.

But sometimes I get the feeling that in ministry we feel like we can’t enjoy life. Like somehow we think our congregations wouldn’t be happy with us if they knew we were taking a vacation or something. Personally, I never took a vacation in the summer until I’d been in youth ministry almost 10 years. In retrospect, that was not just ridiculous, it was foolish.

I had taken a job at a large church, and the Sr. Pastor had told me no matter how much we grew, I would be the only youth pastor on staff and I needed to learn to utilize volunteers. A few years later I was running separate midweek services for Jr High and High School, running Sunday School for both groups and had Student-led campus clubs going on in all the area High Schools. I was speaking 4 times a week, leading worship 3 times a week, recruiting and training a team of volunteer youth staff for both groups, planning and running events and had no secretarial or other staff support. Crazy, I know. It all came to a head one September after three consecutive weeks of working 90 hours a week. Exhausted and feeling like a failure, I walked into the Pastor’s office and with tears in my eyes said “I’m not going to quit, but I can see the edge of the cliff from here.” That was my come to Jesus moment with burnout.

How full is your tank right now?

Full, ¾, ½, ¼, or Fumes

“How long have you been running this way?”

Let me remind you of a few things you already know…

God rested.

Genesis 2:1-3
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

He commands us to rest.

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 31:13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

Exodus 16:29  “Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath…”

Who is the Sabbath for? Reread that last verse again. For Him? No, for you. The Sabbath is for you!

So if God modeled rest & renewal, and he commands us to rest… then, why don’t we rest?

Ask yourself:

Why don’t you rest? In your world, what is it that prevents you from resting more?

All of Creation models rhythm & cycles; rest and renewal. The sun, moon & stars each have a cycle in relationship to the earth. The Seasons all have a rhythm to them: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring again. The tides ebb and flow. Each day, each week, every month, all year, every year; has a cycle. Bears hibernate, salmon migrate, birds make their nest outside my office wall every spring. There is a rhythm and a cycle to all of life. When you run contrary to that cycle; life runs rough; and it takes it’s toll.

But Jesus offers us rest.

Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So, if your yoke isn’t easy and your burden isn’t light; then whose yoke are you bearing? And who put it on you? Because God didn’t. Was it you? Was it someone else?

Ruth Haley Barton has several works that have been of immense help to me with this issue.

From her book “Invitation to Solitude and Silence” she recalls a conversation with her Spiritual Mentor regarding her inability to rest. She told her,

“You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” (p29)

Rest is Biblical. And it’s not just a suggestion, it’s a command.
Don’t apologize for a healthy pace. Model it for your family, model it for the other staff at your church, model it for other Christ followers. and model it to the teens you work with.

Don’t wait. Rest, Renew, Refresh. Recharge. There’s never gonna be a time where there’s not more ministry to do. Put something rest and renewal on the calendar anywhere in the future and stick to it. You wanna know the real key to longevity in Youth Ministry? Pace yourself, it’s a long season.

~Mark


This was at Soulitude just a few weeks ago with 40 youth worker couples… ask me if you’d like to join us next year!

U2 and Larry Norman recordings immortalized as part of the the Library of Congress


U2s “Joshua Tree” (1987) and Larry Norman’s “Only Visiting this Planet” were included in a group of 25 albums to be part of the Library of Congress as quintessentially representative of the aural history of the 70s and 80s.

Bono’s album is a no brainer, but many will wonder who Larry Norman is. His “Only Visiting this Planet” from 1972 remains only one my all time favorite albums still today. It belongs not just because of the content but because of it’s significance.

Larry Norman pioneered a whole new genre of music, Christian Rock, and was not allowed to play in churches, labeled an apostate by many, but a hero to those like me, who identified with his music.

What a cool honor to have his 1972 album inducted into the Library of Congress. To bad he’s not here any longer… He was only visiting after all, and went to be with Jesus in 2008.

If I had the privilege of choosing a list of my Top 10 Christian albums from yesteryear for their significance in my life, I would have to include:

  • Randy Stonehill’s “Welcome to Paradise” (1976),
  • Keith Green’s “So you Wanna go back to Egypt,” (1980), because he gave it out free through the mail for any donation.
  • Petra’s “Never Say Die” (1981),
  • Benny Hester’s “Nobody Knows Me Like You” (1981),
  • Steve Taylor’s “I Want to be a Clone” (1982),
  • Amy Grant’s “Age to Age” (1982),
  • the 77s “All Fall Down” (1984),
  • DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” (1995)
  • and Audio Adrenaline’s “Bloom” (1996).

What’s album did I leave out? What did you absolutely wear out as a new believer?

Read the ABC News Article here.

I just previewed the Son of God Movie


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So can I be brutally honest? I hate most Christian movies. They’re cheesy, the story lines are predictable and the acting in mediocre at best. So when I got invited to preview the Son of God movie, to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. I went in a skeptic, I walked out a fan. The Son of God was the best movie about Christ since The Passion, and not nearly as violent. At 2:45 minutes, it is long, but doesn’t drag. I thought the writers did a good job of portraying the culture and the setting that first century Jews found themselves in under occupation of Rome, and showing the tension between the Jewish religious leaders and their Roman rulers. For purists, there are inaccuracies and artistic licence taken in a few places, but nothing that I can’t live with, and in some places it really helps the story. For instance, I really enjoyed the role of Nicodemus inserted into the narrative, and his perspective is one that many unchurched viewers will resonate with. As a Christ-follower, I will not be ashamed to take any of my unchurched friends to this movie, which is saying something. Plan on getting dessert or something after the movie, so you can take full advantage of the inevitable questions that will come up. If you are a youth worker, I would encourage your small group leaders to take their groups, even purchase the tickets if necessary. People are not going to drop to their knees at the conclusion of this movie, but the Son of God movie can be a fantastic tool in the hands of a missional Christ-follower. Don’t miss this rare opportunity as a Christ-follower to utilize good media in our mission. To quote Peter near the end of the movie… “We’ve got work to do.”

 

 

Stop Villianizing Richard Sherman


I’m not defending his actions, but I’m tired of people villianizing Richard Sherman. He is not a thug. He is not a dirty player. He doesn’t get in trouble with the law. He’s intelligent, graduated with a 4.2 in HS, 2nd in his class, a Stanford graduate and usually very well-spoken. He a fierce competitor, who runs his mouth, but isn’t intimidation part of the game? This video will make you look at him differently, but what you won’t see is what he does in Seattle all the time. He gives back to the community constantly, doing fundraisers, visiting kids in the hospital stuff like that. He’s a mixed bag like all of us… and I wish he hadn’t called out his opponent. But I’ll bet he had very good reason…. it’ll come out, just wait. He was miked and NFL films will show it all Wednesday night. And love him or hate him now, Richard Sherman will be a commentator someday that you will love, along the lines of other brash athletes who’ve blazed that trail like Deon Sanders and Karl Malone.

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason


Our house burned down in August 2006

I hear it all the time. “Everything happens for a reason.” Both churched and unchurched people alike seem to believe this similarly.

The problem is I don’t believe it.

Not the way that people mean it anyway. When people say: “Everything happens for a reason,” it implies that good is always the end result of our pain. It suggests that everything is connected in some type of butterfly effect and that Someone is orchestrating and controlling it all behind the scenes.

That is untrue. And it’s unBiblical.

If God is in control of everything, then what do you do with starvation, genocide, the Holocaust, rape, sexual abuse, AIDS, cancer, the Sandy Hook shootings, tornadoes…

If God is in control, and this world, with all its pain and suffering, is the result of His being in charge, then I’m out. No thank you. This is not a God that I want any part of. And He is not the loving God I imagine Him to be.

How can God be in control of the entire world when He’s not even in control of me?

We have this ongoing discussion in our home group regarding “the will of God.” Does God control everything? Does He cause pain or allow it? Is there a difference? Is everything that happens to us both good and bad, part of God’s blueprint for our lives? Is it all part of His plan? Or on the other hand, is this life a battlefield, a war zone, in which our Enemy “prowls around, seeking whom He may devour,” thus bringing pain and death into our lives? Good arguments can be made for both.

Sometimes, pain is a part of God’s blueprint for our lives.

The story of Joseph, for instance, is a good example of that. His brother’s sold him as a slave. He was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison for many years. Then through a series of events he is elevated to the #2 position in Egypt, and administrates a plan that saves the entire region from starvation, including his own brothers and father. Sometimes our pain is part of  God’s bigger plan. At the end of the story Joseph makes sense of all his suffering when his brothers discover who Joseph has become and are afraid for their lives. They beg his forgiveness and Joseph makes this unbelievable statement to them.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” 

Genesis 50:20

There is no question that there are examples in Scripture where pain is part of God’s plan. Does that bring you comfort? It should. Sometimes He is accomplishing His purposes through you and your pain.

Sometimes though, pain is the result of our own stupid decisions.

Let’s say you go out and get drunk tonight, and crash your car on the way home. Some will say well, “Everything happens for a reason.” Yes. And the reason is that you were stupid. Sometimes the pain in our lives is a clear result of our own poor choices. Please don’t blame that on God. Or  think it happened because it’s all part of some unseen plan. It’s you, it’s you, it’s you. Take responsibility for your choices and your actions.

Sometimes pain is the result of other people’s stupid decisions.

Let’s say that a drunk driver runs into you? What did you do to deserve that? You were doing everything right, and someone else’s poor choices brought pain into your world. Was this part of God’s plan, His design for your life? I don’t think that’s always the case. Much of the pain in today’s world is because other people have chosen to sin, thereby inflicting pain on others. Child abuse, rape, murder all are a direct result of one person choosing to sin, choosing to operate outside of God’s laws, thereby inflicting pain on others. War, disease, famine, genocide, and the like, often can be attributed to corporate sin by groups of people; countries, governments; generations of sinning that brings macro-level pain into our world today.

BUT, sometimes pain IS part of Satan’s plan for our destruction.

I don’t like to over-spiritualize everything, but there is NO QUESTION that as Christ followers that we have an enemy. He hates us because He hates everything that God loves. He thinks by hurting us, he can hurt God.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

 I Peter 5:8

You have an enemy, and your enemy hates you, and has a plan for your destruction.

And in John:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

John 10:10

As a youth worker, I’ve done several funerals of teenagers over the years. When I’m standing in front of a thousand people in pain, they are hoping I can bring some sort of understanding to the pain in their souls. Often times this is the verse I turn quote to help people process. John says here that Jesus is the giver of life, and it’s the thief Satan, who is the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. This is exactly what I feel when a child dies… that something, someone has been stolen from us.

So, pain can be God’s fault, our fault, someone else’s fault or Satan’s fault. It’s dangerous to say it’s always God’s plan or that it’s always Satan’s fault. And it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

One last word of advice. People’s theology around this has been forged through the furnace of their personal pain. Be extremely careful when you talk to people about their pain. Our house burned to the ground in 2006. It was amazing to me how many people felt compelled to help bring meaning to my pain. They tended to land in one of two cosmic camps: either it was God’s fault or it was Satan’s fault. Actually, it wasn’t either. It was my fault. My mistake caused the fire. And in that painful rubble of that situation, as in any painful situation, God wants to use it to bless me, and conversely Satan wants to use it for my destruction. My response, is the single greatest contributing factor that determines the outcome. 

People  really did have good intentions of helping to bring meaning to my pain, but all their pithy Christian sayings did was really bring me more pain. What I really needed was for them to be silent, and to walk with me in my pain. This is now my goal when I enter someone else’s pain, not to help them understand why, but simply to be present with them in their pain.  This is enough.

Some of you are thinking of a verse right now about how everything is going to work together for good. There’s a silver lining in every cloud right? Wrong.

God DOESN’T promise that everything will work out in the end.  Unless you are a lover of God.

Romans 8:28 does say that “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Is that everyone? All people? All pain? Every tragedy and bad situation?

No. Not everyone loves God. For those that do not love God, He makes no promise that there is purpose behind their pain. Without Christ, tragedy really is tragic.

The good news here is that God can redeem our pain no matter what the source and whether you are a Christ-follower or not right now. When bad things happen in our lives, we determine whether it destroys us or makes us stronger. God wants to help us process our pain and can bring good out of the absolute worst situations. If you are going through something right now, take heart. Have courage. Stick it to the Devil who wants to use this to destroy you. This thing does not have to define you. Take one day at a time, one moment at a time, and allow Christ to walk with you in your pain, to the other side, where there is healing and wholeness. He will redeem your pain, and use it for good, perhaps not just for you, but for helping others who will walk a similar journey in their future. 

So in the end, the reason everything happens is not the important thing; how we choose to respond to it, is.

Stay in the journey my friend.

~Mark

If you like to read more about our house fire read my blogpost:  My House Burned Down Last Week

Youth Dynamics Infographic


Youth Dynamics Infographic

Here is a brand new infographic with some very interesting stats about teens. Did anything surprise you? Help YD with their scholarship campaign to get 2500 teens in need on adventures this summer.

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