My House Burned Down last week.

It was my fault.

Our house burned down in August 2006.

Originally published as an article in “Take 5” -September 2006

by Mark Moder

My house burned down last week.

I was in a meeting.  My wife was working.  The kids were home watching cartoons while a stain rag spontaneously combusted in the garage and proceeded to consume my house and send my life into a tailspin.  Thank God my kids got out.  My 9th grader kept my younger son from opening the door to the garage where the smoke was coming into the house from.  He said he learned it watching cartoons.  Thank God for TV.  Just this once anyway.

It’s been interesting to be in the middle of a crisis from this side of the coin for a change.  As a youth worker we are constantly coming along others in the midst of their turmoil to offer help and support, but I’ve not ever been the guy needing help.  In fact, I’ve never been the kind to ask for much help at all.  I’ve always been a “Git R Dun” kind of guy.  Or In the immortal words of one of my earliest mentors, “There is no try, only do or do not.”  (Yoda).

Yeah, that’s not really working too well for me these days.

People are like, “How are you?” “What do you need?” And since it was so absurd for me to give my usual response, I’ve had to be honest.  “Um, I mostly need everything.”

As pastors I think we’ve been conditioned to not have many needs.  We are the ones who help… not the ones who need help.

It’s been amazing to watch the family of God surround us and support us in our time of need.  All the guys from my old worship team showed up at the scene the day of the fire, and while the house was still collapsing around us, they helped me salvage what we could before the ceilings caved in.  I didn’t have to call them.  They just showed up.  Another friend handed me $500 cash and the keys to an empty house.  And although we ended up somewhere else, it was a huge relief knowing that we had someplace to go if we needed it.  Another friend showed up that afternoon and just stood by me the entire time. He didn’t say much, for sure nothing profound came from his lips.  He just stood there with me. I needed that.  And although Job’s friends get a bad rap for their lousy advice, to their credit they did tear their clothes and sat quietly with Job for the first week after his world came crashing down.

It’s been funny to watch people’s response to us.  We were on the front page of a couple local papers.  It seems like almost everyone in town knows.  We can’t go anywhere without people engaging us.  It’s cool that people care, but I’m honestly almost sick of talking about it.  It’s the same conversation, a thousand times over and over.

After you get done talking about the facts, a lot of people want to assign some cosmic blame or find some kind of purpose in our fire.  Either Satan caused it because he’s attacking us, or God caused it because He has some divine purpose for our pain. Maybe it’s just me but I’d rather not do either for now.

Isn’t it just possible I made a mistake and threw the rag away when I should have doused it in water instead?  It bothers me that people have to move so quickly to find purpose and understanding in our painful situation.  I know this, in the future I will feel less pressure to have answers for people in their crisis and instead simply try to walk with them through their pain; I don’t want answers, I just want support.  Let me know you care, that you’re praying for me, that if there’s anything you can do to let me know… that sort of thing.  Honestly I don’t even know what I need.  I can’t think that far ahead, I have too much to do right this moment.  In the future I will simply drop in on people in crisis and give a hug and a card with a gift certificate for a movie or dinner or something.

Last night was our first night in our new place.  It’s a rental, a nice place near the lake.  We have rental furniture that insurance is paying for and are getting settled. It’ll take a while for things to return to normal, whatever that means, but I know it’s around the corner somewhere close by.

I can say this… God is good.  No doubt about it.

Job says in chapter two to his buddies.  “We take the good days as from God, should we not take the bad ones too?”  That’s so true.  I can’t see His purposes in this yet but I trust God and I believe in Romans 8.28.  I also believe that if nothing else, God wants to glorify Himself through me, even through my pain; maybe especially in my pain.

To quote myself from front page of the paper the other day:  “It’s just stuff.  We have everything we need: our family, our friends, and our faith.”

Like Mary, I’m pondering all these things in my heart, to see if God is saying anything else; but for now I’m going to stop asking the “Why?” question… it’s the wrong question…. I may or may not ever get an answer to it.

The question I’m asking God these days is this:  “What now?”  “How do you want me to respond to this?”  “Where do I go from here?”  A wise coach once said, “never look at what you’ve lost, always look at what you’ve got left.” I like that.

The last thing I think God is saying through all this is this:

Skip your next meeting and spend it with your family or he’s going to burn down your house. Okay, so maybe the smoke did get to me a little bit,… But seriously; it’s all going to burn someday anyway.

~Mark Moder


Wait. What? Jesus commands us to be shrewd

Read more of this post

Are you in your “Sweet Spot?”

“The Sweet Spot”

If you are a baseball fan you know what “The Sweet Spot” is. It’s the fat part of the bat where you get the most “pop” if you hit the ball there. To hit the ball period is a good thing. Even the very best baseball players only get a hit once out of every three times at the plate. But if you hit the ball in the sweet spot, the ball will literally jump off the bat. It goes faster and further than hits on other parts of the bat.

In our ministry, we’ve had more than our fair share of hits over the 43 seasons that Youth Dynamics has been in existence. We strike out occasionally, but we always try to put the ball into play. Over the years our ministry has tried to reach teens in a variety of ways: Teen Moms, Native Ministry, Family Counseling, the list goes on and on. Over 10 years ago we paired our ministry down to 2 anchor branches: Communities and Adventure.

We decided that, while the other things we were doing had value, they were not what we were best at, or what God had called us to do. We often talk about our “sweet spot” as an organization. From the first moment I came to YD, I heard about this “sweet spot.” It’s simply this: taking a teenager we are in relationship with on the Communities side of our ministry, and getting them on an extended Adventure Trip.  This is where the magic happens; the “pop” off the ministry bat as it were. If you wonder where we are headed as an organization, this is it. We are trying to make this happen frequently, so that we can operate in our “sweet spot,” more often than not. It’s where our organization really leverages our unique giftings for maximum Kingdom Impact.

Have you ever wondered where you’re “sweet spot” is?  It’s worth discovering, because you’ll come alive when you do.

House on Fire

It was my fault.

Our house burned down in August 2006.

“Dad, dad. The house is on fire! It’s huge. I’m not even joking. Call me back. I’m scared.” The fear in my son’s voice was unmistakable. Now I was scared. I raced from the church to the house, breaking land speed records, and violating most traffic safety laws in the process. It only took most of 20 minutes, but by the time I arrived the house was gone. Twenty-seven firefighters, three firetrucks and a helicopter, had gotten on the fire in a hurry and thank God, kept it from spreading to our neighbors and the trees which surround our house. I quickly took in the scene. The house was in ruins. Smoked poured from what remained of the structure as firefighters continued to pump water into the rubble. Emergency vehicles, firefighters and hoses peppered the landscape. Dozens of lookeyloos were already in place, taking in the show. Photographers, newspaper reporters, concerned neighbors. It was quite a scene. Right away I spotted one of my friends. Actually, it was my builder, Greg, who also lives in the neighborhood. “We’ll take care of you guys, Mark. We’ll rebuild. It’s gonna be okay.” It seemed like we had just finished building our new house, even though it had been almost 2 years since we moved in. I didn’t want to think about all that needed to be done. I was told our boys had been taken to a neighbor’s house, which had been set up as a temporary staging area of sorts. I made my way down the street to their house where I was reunited with my family. My wife had just arrived as well, making her way from her office in town. We all hugged and prayed together, thanking God for His protection. About 20 friends were already there, looking somber. I was struck at that moment that this would be the same scene, with the same people in the room, had any of our kids died in the fire. Thank God it wasn’t a real tragedy… it was just a house. Sure it was “OUR HOUSE,” but in the end, it was replaceable. Still it’s been hard.

That was 9 months ago. The new house is almost finished being rebuilt. All that remains to be done is to build our deck and a finish a few other small things. I am actually writing this from the house today. It’s weird to be here… the last article I wrote was only a week after the house burned down. It seems appropriate that here at the end of the process, we put a cap on the story. People like happy endings. I hate going to movies where there is no resolution to the conflict. It even bothers me when we sing songs that don’t resolve, (finish with the chord you started with). You can call me a “type A” or write it off to me being a first-born, but I think that secretly we all want to believe that the world is fair. Or that at least God is fair. It makes it easier to deal with our personal pain that way. It gives us hope.

The problem is it doesn’t always work that way. Life is unfair. It seems arbitrary at times. Why does the tornado hit this house and not that one? Why does one die in a car accident, and another does not? I have more questions than answers. Maybe someday I’ll understand; but probably not.

Honestly, this has been a year of pain for us. And the house burning down is probably 3rd or 4th on the list of most painful things that we’ve had to go through this year as a family. A year ago we had to leave staff at the church we loved, and my wife stopped sleeping for weeks on end. Then this summer, her mom got cancer. Our house burned down in August, and two weeks later our Dalmatian of 12 years died. I know, it seriously sounds like a country western song waiting to be written. You know what happens when you play a country-western song backwards don’t you? You get your wife back, your dog back, your house back…. Lol. I wish it were that easy. Anyway, it’s been quite a journey this year that’s for sure. My wife had the hardest time with our job transition and with her mom’s cancer. For my oldest son, it was our dog, Sebastian, whom he loved dearly. For my youngest, it was being separated from his best friend, who was our next door neighbor, and feeling he was being replaced at times. And for me the greatest pain has been watching my family go thru their private pain and not being able to do anything about it. I could rebuild the house. I could get new furniture. I couldn’t bring the dog back to life. I couldn’t fix my wife’s sleeping disorder. I felt helpless at times. Men want to fix stuff. It’s our role, as provider, as protector; it’s innate, it’s built into who we are. For me the breaking point was the dog. If you’re not a dog lover you won’t understand, but it’s like losing a family member. I’m tearing up even now, just thinking about him… I can’t believe it’s still that raw. God and I had some frank “discussions” after that. Meaning, I would go for walks in the woods and yell at Him. I felt He was being unfair. I felt He didn’t care. I felt like He was piling on. Someone should throw a flag here. I mean, come on, enough is enough. Just how much are we supposed to be able to handle?

And therein lies the rub. I was broken. Truly broken. For maybe the first time in my life I could not pull myself up by my bootstraps and dig myself out. This was way beyond my control, beyond what I could handle. I needed help, and though I hated to admit it, I needed God’s help. And I was going to need help from other people. I think that’s hard for most men to admit, maybe even more so for Godly men.

I’ve learned a few things through the process. Things I knew in my head before this year, but now I know through experience. It’s completely different.

Pain is part of life. We have been led to believe a lie as Christians in the U.S. We think that we can create a little piece of heaven here on earth; a relatively pain-free, suburban lifestyle, with 2.3 kids, a minivan and a dog. Happiness and the pursuit of it is our birthright as Americans. We think we deserve it. That life owes it to us. But Scripture says, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” We live in an outdoor world. And when it rains, we all get wet. The pain some people have to walk through is unbelievable at times. Have you ever had to do a funeral for a teenager? Counseled with someone who doesn’t want to live? Sat with a kid whose parents have just split up? Throughout this year I’ve held onto Psalm 23… “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” This verse reassures me that I’m never alone in my pain, which is half the battle by the way, and reminds me that the pain is not permanent…. God is walking with me through the valley. And your valley does not extend indefinitely. This is just a chapter in your life. It is not the whole book.

Whatever your pain, let God be your source. He will bring good out of bad if you let him. One of the youth pastors I’m coaching said something the other day that I’m going to hang onto… “you know God doesn’t waste anything.” I love that. In our situation God is bringing “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” I don’t really believe backward masking has invaded country music… but we are getting our house back, our lives back, and we have a new puppy.

~Mark Moder

Originally published in Network Magazine – Fall 2007 (a publication of National Network of Youth Ministries)

So the election didn’t go your way?

Me either. Most would label me a Conservative Christian. I live in Washington State. And believe it or not, after the election this week I may be living in the most liberal State in the Union. On Tuesday, Washington became one of only 3 states to approve gay marriage by a vote of the people (along with Maine and Maryland), one of only 2 states to approve recreational pot smoking (along with Colorado) and we are already one of only 3 states who made assisted suicide legal (along with Oregon and Montana). It’s the trifecta of liberalism today. We have all three and we are the only State to have even 2 of the 3. Yes, I voted anyway this week, and everything I voted for failed. Candidates, social issues, fiscal policies; everything.  Wait, come to think of it there was one race where I had to choose between a Democrat and a guy from the Green Party. I think I picked the winner in that one but honestly I’m not sure.

But I’m not angry. I’m not whining. And I’m not moving out of the country.

Honestly, I’m tired of reading the vitriol and the ignorant rants of disillusioned Conservative Christians since the election. And it’s so not helping our cause.

Why should we be shocked that the culture does not agree with us? Is this new? Exactly when did we become convinced that our job was to create heaven here on earth? Did we somehow believe we were supposed to create some sort of Theocracy?

If this is you, you are in good company, however. The disciples too, were of the same mindset. They thought Jesus had come to establish His kingdom here on earth. But they were wrong. Dead wrong. Acts 1:5-7  His Kingdom is an Eternal one, and it’s not here and now. If you were crushed by the results of the election then it’s possible that you have bought into the same deception as the disciples before the resurrection.

Forgive me, but I was under the impression that this is not our home.  That our citizenship lies elsewhere. That we are ambassadors in a strange land. I see myself as a missionary to a people who do not know the Lord, to a people who have rejected my God. I am trying to be a missionary to people whose opinions of Christians are being shaped by the stupidity being spouted by those who are fed up and disillusioned by the results of this election.

Stop it. Change your mindset. Remember that this place is not our home. We are strangers, foreigners, missionaries, ambassadors. I’m not saying give up. On the contrary, stand up for what you believe in. Vote. Engage with respect. But most of all show love to those who believe differently. How I long for the day when Christ-followers are known more for what we love rather than what we hate. Jesus himself said as much, that we should be known for our love. John 13:34-35

People mostly free associate a Christian as an old white guy, with a placard, standing on the steps of the courthouse shouting about something he hates. Things will never change in this country until we flip this. We must become known for how excellently we love instead of being known for the things we hate. We must change, and the change I’m talking about is a change in our actions and attitudes, not party affiliation.

We will never create heaven on earth, so stop trying. Disappointment comes from unmet expectations, or in this case unrealistic expectations. I challenge you to be missional instead. Christ’s mission was to “seek and to save the lost.” As a Christ follower we are to follow him in His mission. His mission becomes our mission. And if that’s the case, as missional people, where should we want to live? Where the lost are abundant!

Jesus called us to be salt, not a salt lick. If we all bunch together that’s exactly what we end up becoming, a salt lick. In effect, we have abandoned the rotting flesh that our saltiness can preserve, and are saying, “you can come to us if you decide you need salt.”

Again, I challenge you, if you live where there are a bunch of folks who don’t believe like you do, please don’t move. Stay put and be salty. Dig into your community, love on your neighbors who believe opposite of you… you will discover they are not the enemy. If on the other hand, you live where there are a high percentage of Christians, people who think and believe like you, I challenge you to be missional and MOVE. Leave the place of comfort and go to the place of challenge and mission.

And when you move, move to Ohio. 🙂

~Mark Moder

Here’s a couple of my related blogposts you might enjoy:

Youth Ministry is like Dog Years (multiply by 7).

Today is the 4th Anniversary of my journey with Youth Dynamics. And while 4 years doesn’t seem significant in relation to my 27 years of youth ministry, it is. Amazingly, 4 yrs is longer than I was on staff at Real Life, longer than I had Reach the Campus, longer than I coached youth pastors with Life On Life. In fact, only my tenure at New Life was longer. At each new job, I honestly always believed I would stay longer, kinda like I thought I would marry every girl I ever dated, but it just didn’t always work out they way I had hoped. As youth workers, often we are not in control of our own destiny. In a couple of situations, pastoral transitions were the impetus for me leaving, in others it was lack of finances; once it was a boss that had a different vision for my life than the Lord and I did. All but once I felt a sense of completion, like I had finished the work the Lord has asked me to do. But for the last 4 years I have been the guy in charge, and this seems to be a game-changer. Never again will change be foisted on me without my approval. I can stay as long as the Lord wants me to. This job is so complex, so diverse and feeds so many of the passions and drives the Lord has placed in me, I can see myself being here a long time. That being said, I never want that sense of comfort lull me to sleep. I’ve seen pastors stop working hard, who golf more than they should, who stop dreaming; who seem to be coasting.

This morning, I finished reading, “Unbroken” the fantastic true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was later a POW in WW2, who endured unspeakable atrocities. His story and stories like it, inspire me to keep going, to never give up. In track our coaches always used to say.. “run all the way through the finsh line.” Our bodies want to quit at times, but the Spirit compels us to continue. Resist the urge to pull up and coast at the end. Run it all the way through.

The mission of Christ should always compel us to work hard, to dream big and to remain focused on the prize, that is: eternity and taking as many as we can with us.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) –

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I hope in whatever posting the Lord has you in that you are encouraged today. That you continue to keep your resolve and your focus on the mission in front of you. And that you stay the course, all the way through to completion.


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