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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Feelings or Truth? - Lesson Learned Series

Over the last few weeks I’ve been going in to the Monroe County Jail to meet with my guys for a Bible study at noon on Wednesdays.

My guys reside on what is called “Three Plaza North”, and have been placed in this particular facility, and on this particular floor for a reason…they are hardened criminals, who have done society wrong in some way shape or form. Drugs, murder, arson, rape, you name it, some of them have done it!

When I initially spoke with the Chaplain, I was interested in going in each week to minister to the juvies, you know the teens and young adults who have started down the path of making poor choices, but are still hopefully young enough to make some positive changes before they go from “Two Plaza North” up the elevator one floor to where my guys are housed.

I thought that the juvies would have been a lot “easier” for me to handle, since I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 decades training and working with teenagers. However, the chaplain had other ideas.

You see the juvies are being well taken care of by my friend Dave who tirelessly goes in week after week and pours himself into his guys, 3 North was another story…they had nothing!

So when the Chaplain asked me to consider going in each week to meet with them, I was a little hesitant because it’s new territory for me, and also because I travel so much that I wasn’t sure if I could make a weekly commitment. I didn’t want to start something that I couldn’t continue. The chaplain said,”Bro, they got nothing now, anything you can give them will be a bonus, just give us what you can!”

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, giving what I can, and watching God do some amazing things in our weekly discussions.

These guys are loving it, they’re participating, reading ahead, asking questions, encouraging each other and all kinds of things that are making me get there early each week, because I can’t wait to see what God has in store.

We’ve been looking at great prayers in the Bible, and asking questions like, “What was the scene during this prayer? Who is the main character? What is the theme of the prayer? How can I apply truths from this prayer to my life?” And other application type questions that will hopefully take the story deeper, for the purpose of application.

We looked at Jehoshophat and realized his battle plan for getting ready to deal with bad news. We looked at Elijah and his way of taking care of business when he was tired of seeing God’s name get trashed in the world. We looked at Jonah and the most unique prayer venue ever known to man, and dissected what his prayer was all about.

We discovered that each of those prayers had a similar element to them. They were all about God getting the glory in some way. Jehoshophat saw God get the glory because He is the one who fought the battle. Elijah saw God get the glory in the fact that He sent the fire from heaven. Jonah saw God get the glory because He is the one that salvation comes from.

God was the focus of all of those prayers, and God responded in His way when petitioned by the person of prayer.

My guys, were tracking with each one of these prayers, and were amazed at how God answered each one. Then we got to Samson!

The story of Samson brought about an entirely different response from my guys. Every example that we looked at came with more and more questions about his motives, his purpose, and his actions. One of the guys yelled out “dude, compared to the other guys we looked at, it seems like Samson is just in it for himself…what’s up with that?”

Great question and great insight…what is up with that? Why does it seem that Samson is in it for himself? Well, probably because when he allowed his feelings to drive his life and not God’s truths, he was in it for himself.

Revenge, bitterness, and hatred drove his life so much that even his final prayer is filled with a request for God to give him strength just once more to get his revenge on the Philistines.

The prayer and the story of Samson brought us an incredible question to ponder as we sat there locked in behind bars, three stories up in an empty half court gym thinking about how we’re just like Samson in many ways. We are driven by feelings and not truth.

One of the guys said “that’s why I’m here, I let my feelings dictate my actions”, another said “me too, if only I would have listened to what my parents tried to tell me” As each guy chimed in to the conversation each one had some sort of “if only” attached to his comment.

I sat there saddened and down as I listened to the regrets of each guy, it was very moving and very affirming to me that I was in the right place at the right time with these guys. They needed to hear about men like Samson, and how He messed up, but if the story would’ve stopped there, what good would it have been? I mean they don’t really need to be reminded of their surroundings…they need to be reminded of one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible…The verse in Judges that says “and the hair on his head began to grow again!”

After they were done applying the truths of Samson’s prayer and realizing how their lives have taken a similar path, I then interjected that verse into the conversation. I said something like “guys, that’s a pretty sad ending to a life that had tons of potential for the Lord…Samson made his mistakes that’s for sure, but He also was used of God throughout his life…The symbol of God’s power in his life came through his hair and when he was shaved, and went out to defeat the Philistines like he always had only to find out His power was gone, that was a very bad place to be in, wasn’t it? So what do you think this verse means? And the hair on his head began to grow again.”

Wow, I wish you could’ve been there to see the joy on the faces of these guys as they shouted things like…”Second Chances”, “God forgives”, “He doesn’t give up on us” and “Restoration”. It was an awesome time of praising God for his great love and mercy undeserved, for Samson and for my guys on Three Plaza North!

The truth of the matter is that He does give second chances, and he is in the business of restoration. I believe that the question “are we driven by feelings or the truth of God’s Word?” is a very appropriate question to ask ourselves, as I think we could avoid a lot of painful situations if we allowed our lives to be driven by truth.

I know as I sat there in the jail, I tried to put myself in their shoes. What it must feel like to be locked away far from their friends, family and loved ones. One of the guys asked for prayer that his family wouldn’t view him as the enemy anymore…what does that feel like? I can’t even imagine being viewed as the enemy or hated or despised.

But I know who does, and the very one that has been through all that we go through in life, yet came through it victoriously, knows exactly where my guys are, and exactly what they’re feeling. He knows that they feel abandoned and that the crimes they’ve committed need to be paid for…he knows all of it…YET HE STILL LOVES THEM, AND HE STILL LOVES ME!

I am blown away, and I think now even more so, that God loves me, and sent His son to die for me!

I don’t deserve it, my guys in three plaza north don’t deserve it and neither do you, but if we choose to live our lives driven by truth and not feelings or anything else we will begin to understand what this whole “life to the full” thing is all about.

The truth of the matter is, that we can’t see God, and si
nce we can’t see Him physically we sometimes tend to live our lives based on how we feel, and we end up feeling alone, abandoned and deserted.

The truth is, that in it all, through it all and in spite of it all, He is right there with us…we are never alone!

Lesson Learned

This video clip by "Barlow Girl" hammers home the point, that We are Never Alone...That's the TRUTH!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Be Careful - Lesson Learned Series

A few years ago I was asked to fill in and preach during a multi-week sermon series on the fruits of the Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience… you know the big ones that every Christian should have blooming in their lives.

I was excited to jump in and share with the people what God had laid on my heart regarding the fruits…excited that is until I found out which fruit I would be unpacking for the congregation. I have to be honest, when I heard that I would be preaching on GENTLENESS, I immediately lost some of my initial excitement.

It’s not because I don’t believe that we as Christians need to be gentle, it’s in God’s Word so of course we need to apply it to our lives. It’s just that as a guy who loves sports of all kinds, especially contact sports that require a certain level of aggression to be successful, I was having a hard time seeing how gentleness was going to apply in my own life, let alone be able to share it authentically with the audience.

If you think about it, gentleness isn’t going to win a football game. It isn’t going to enable you to pin your opponent in a wrestling match, and unless you’re an extremely fast bunter with pin point accuracy it won’t get you on base time after time in baseball either. I admit my thought was, “if the guys get wind of this gentleness message, they’ll either check out for sure, or not even show up!” Gentleness in this day and age…come on!

So that was the inner tension I was dealing with as I began to pray and prepare for the message.
Now those who know me well, know that whenever I preach or teach or communicate in any setting I always like to do it in an authentic, true fashion through using personal illustrations of things that have happened to me that God used to hammer home a point that he wanted me to learn (actually this whole Lesson Learned Series is a result of that.)

So the focus of my prayer time during that week of preparation was basically “God, help me to really understand how gentleness can be an effective fruit in my life…I just don’t get it. Can you help me understand it by living it?”

Over the next few days, a phrase that I’ve heard many times over the years “Be careful what you pray for” became very vivid in my life as God was beginning to answer my prayer of being able to authentically illustrate how gentleness can give power to live God’s way in our lives.
As I started to put my thoughts together I came across some synonyms for gentleness…

humility and meekness were at the top of the list. Again, not very compelling topics to connect with the guys, or so I thought.

Then as only God can do, He brought some illustrations my way in the form of a flash back and two current applications that would help me understand what gentleness is all about so I could authentically communicate it to the audience.

You see I was going at it all wrong, I was thinking about meekness as weakness and gentleness as just downright wimpyness. The more I thought, prayed and read about what God’s definition really is the more I kept thinking of gentleness as Power…Under Control!

1. Power under Control Word Picture - My mind went back to a time when I was a football coach at a school outside of Washington D.C. I had a player on my team named Joseph who was huge! In 8th grade he was 6’4 and 245 pounds. It was as if God took a chisel to this boy…he was cut, and he was an intimidating looking football player. Notice I said “looking”. You see Joseph had the tools to be a great football player, except he lacked one thing…tackling ability!

You see Joseph never could grasp the fact that as the left defensive end on my football team, his job was to physically stop the opposing running back in his tracks and drive him backwards to the ground. That’s football!

It didn’t take opposing teams long to figure out that even though Joseph was huge and hulking he wasn’t going to do anything to stop them from running right past him and into the end zone. Joseph’s problem was that he didn’t want to hurt anyone.

I remember pulling him aside and looking him in the eyes (it’s a weird feeling to talk man to man, eye to eye with an 8th grader) and saying “Joseph, for once could you just tackle someone, I know you don’t want to hurt anyone but after you tackle them you can just pick them up and dust them off…they’ll be ok.”

He never did get the concept. At the end of that year we moved on to another ministry and about 4 years later came back to visit at homecoming. As I sat there and watched the football team, I was amazed at the play of one of the guys. The left defensive end was incredible.
He was about 6’8 290 pounds, quick as lightning and extremely powerful.

I said to one of the fans sitting next to me “who is that defensive end? He’s amazing!” To my surprise he said “That’s Joseph.” “What, the same Joseph who “played” for me on JV?” He said “Yep, sure is…he’s gotten a tad better hasn’t he?” I’d say he’s gotten better; he was a force to be reckoned with. The guy went on to say “you know what’s funny about Joseph, is that he’s the nicest guy in the world off the field and even when he puts on the equipment he doesn’t go out to hurt anyone, in fact when he tackles someone he picks them up, dusts them off and asks if they’re ok, and apologizes if he hurt them…He is power under control!”

That’s it right there, power under control. All the power that exists in the person of God is available to us, His children; He wants us to learn to use it His way, not our way!
The second illustration came as I was walking my new puppy named Bo…here’s how God showed me what humility feels like…

2. Walking Bo…At night – We had just gotten a puppy a few weeks prior to preparing for the gentleness message. After the Yankee game was over I took Bo outside in our yard to do his business, and like a good puppy he was right on time! I had some time to kill and wanted to walk off the bowl of ice cream I had just devoured, so I decided to take Bo for a walk around the block of my neighborhood.

I got about 10 minutes away from my house when Bo began to “circle the wagons” and prepare to unload…if you know what I mean. That was great and everything except for the fact that since he had just done the same thing ten minutes earlier in my yard, I didn’t think I needed to bring the “magic bag” to make it all disappear when he was done.

It was 10:30 at night, I didn’t have a bag, and Bo was doing his duty on someone’s yard. Many thoughts were going through mind…”should I leave it?” “Should I kick it in the road?” “Should I pick it up with my hands?” Uhhh what should I do?

I was pondering my next move, when all of a sudden I heard a deep, booming voice say “Don’t worry I’ll pick it up!” It wasn’t God; it was the guy who owned the house and yard that Bo had just defiled! He was sitting there on his front porch watching the whole thing. Then it hit me…”Brent you prayed that God would show you what gentleness and humility are all about, here you go.”

Well, after I gathered myself together from that incredible startling voice, I said “I’m sorry sir, I only live like 10 minutes from here, I’ll walk back, and get a bag and come right back.” So I grabbed Bo and headed home to get a bag. Then I walked back with Bo to the spot of the infraction and wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t
find it! I looked every where in that front yard…no poo could be found, I even tried to convince Bo to sniff it out, I mean after all he is a dog!

After quite a while of looking I had to go to the front porch and tell the owner that I couldn’t find it, and Bo couldn’t smell it so the removal was going to have to wait until morning when I could actually see what I was looking for…talk about humiliating!

As I was walking back home I was thinking about how gentleness and humility can be humiliating and not very popular character traits to aspire to if we look at them in our own definition. Then I thought about how Jesus emptied Himself to come to earth to give us the ultimate example of Power under Control, and it was starting to make a little more sense to me.

The third illustration came at the end of the week as the message was taking shape, and I was about to put the finishing touches on it. The closing point was all about how God has incredible power at His disposal and He can use it however and whenever he chooses. The story of how He dealt with Elijah as he awaited God’s discipline from running away from Jezebel was the closing point.

As Elijah waited for God’s impending doom to fall upon him, he sat through a wind storm, an earth quake and a fire display that all had the same things in common….they were minus God.
Then God showed up in a gentle whisper that was full of encouragement, and inspiration to Elijah…Power under Control.

I remember leaving my office and driving home feeling really good about how the message was coming together. I felt like I was beginning to grasp personally how gentleness and humility could work for me in my life, and I felt ready to stand in front of the church on Sunday to illustrate it to them…then I drove into my driveway, and found my son…

3. Hula Hooping…Naked – Parents, call me crazy but of the many standards I have for my kids, being in public fully clothed, is right near the top! I kid you not; I pull into my driveway and find my son Ethan, at the end of it running around buck naked with a hula hoop! Smiling from ear to ear saying “daddy, daddy look how good I can hula hoop!”

Now remember, I had just finished working on the importance of how God dealt with Elijah in a gentle whisper. I wish I could say that I handled Ethan’s naked Hula hoop routine with a gentle whisper, but I didn’t…I went off, and as I was yelling at my son, I was reminded again that we need to approach the situations we face in our daily lives with gentleness and humility…Power under Control.

The day finally came, I delivered the message on Gentleness and as God would have it, I was able to deliver it in a way that was authentically real. You see, I don’t have it all figured out, and truth be told God doesn’t expect me to have it all figured out. He expects me to approach Him with help and guidance with every area of my life, no matter what it is.

I just need to remember to be careful what I pray for…I just might get it!

Lesson Learned

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cardboard Testimonies

A friend of mine sent me this video clip, that really speaks to the incredible power of God in our lives...He is still in the process of taking the old and replacing it with the new...I love Restoration!





Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Three Articles Get Some "Air Time"

Hey everyone,
Great News!

Two "Lesson Learned" articles and one"YMInsights" article got posted to a national Youth Ministries web site.

The YMInisights article is "Leaders of Tomorrow Memo"
The Lesson Learned Articles are... Anything Broken? and Are you Satisfied?

I'd love to have you check them out and leave your comments, feedback and ratings at the end of the articles.

I've sent a bunch more to this publication as well as a few others so we'll see what happens.
The bottom line is that I trust that God will use the articles to encourage youth leaders as well as spread the word about our ministry of Training Trainers in Youth Ministry Worldwide!
Thanks,
Brent

Monday, June 2, 2008

Investments in a Movement - YMInsights Series

I'm currently getting ready to head out for another whirlwind teaching tour with YMI. In a few days I'll be heading to Florida, Malaysia and then North Carolina and as I'm getting ready with my notes, videos, illustrations and other techniques that I use to communicate I keep thinking of one word that sums up what my ministry is all about...Investments.

Investments, not monetarily but spiritually. Investments into the young men and young woman who have a desire to reach the next generation for the cause of Christ through local church Youth Ministry in their particular country and their unique culture.

As I was getting ready, I was perusing through some of my old updates and came across this one from my journal when I was in Ukraine. It really puts the investment idea into perspective, because it's not just about me and YMI doing the investing...no it's about all of us partnering together in the various ways that God calls us to invest in His kingdom that is making the difference...

Journal Post - Kiev, Ukraine January 2008

I checked in to my room at the seminary today, and got settled in. It’s such a blessing to have a comfortable place to stay with access to the Internet right in my room! As I sat in my room and checked e-mail I was reminded that I have this opportunity to update my friends on what God is doing in part because of the efforts of many of you who are reading this blog right now!
You see, several years ago a group from my former church followed God’s lead to gain the donation of some servers from IBM, to bring to Kiev to help assist one of our missionaries who was serving here. I remember lots of prayer went into that trip and I remember rejoicing with the team members with how God completely blessed the delivery and set up of the equipment that really helped to enable KTS and that missionary to give the seminary students an opportunity to learn and grow (in a twenty first century way!) Well, now I sit here several years later with the tools needed to help the YMI story be told…That’s Awesome to me!

So I want to say thank you to those pioneers (you know who you are, and I don’t want to leave anyone out so I won’t name specific people) for your investments into the ministry here at KTS it’s being used for God’s glory, just like you hoped it would. Check out the
KTS web site

• After settling in I met with the lady who will serve as my Interpreter for the class. Her name is Natasha and she and her husband Sergei both work as interpreters here at KTS. We spent some time getting to know each other, and work out specific words that we’ll need to use to communicate clearly to the students. One of the things that is fun but can be frustrating for me and for the interpreter is translating words and concepts from Russian to English and back again. I’m continually amazed (and jealous) of people who have this ability, I mean I can barely understand the way people who live in different regions of the US talk let alone interpret a whole different language…it’s a gift that I really appreciate!

Anyway as we were talking I found out that she was at KCU which is where the Pastor that we ministered with the first time I came to Kiev teaches. So I asked her if she knew Pastor Volodymyr and she said with a hint of sarcasm “there are many Volodymyr’s in Ukraine”, to which I said “this one was a famous Russian rock star in the 80’s”. Her face lit up and she said “oh, of course Pastor Volodymyr!” and she went on to tell me all about him and how great his ministry is doing.

It was incredible for me to listen to her talk about how he’s using his gifts (music especially) to spread God’s love all across Ukraine. As she talked my mind again went back to the investments that were made by praying people in the US (many from my former church) who gave sacrificially so that missions teams could help provide tools (guitar, drums, sound equipment to name a few) for his ministry to reach the people of Ukraine with the gospel.

Pastor V has an amazing gift of music that he put on the shelf when he became a Christian, because the church leaders told him that music with instruments was not accepted in the church. Some people from our church found out about that and raised some money to buy him a guitar and he began using his gift again (after about 10 years of silence)…and the rest is History…his church is growing and he is using his God given gifts and abilities…talk about a win-win!

When our team in 2004 was getting ready to come to Ukraine one of my youth leaders who couldn't’t come on the trip but felt that God wanted him involved in a very creative way, said to me “I would like to make an investment for the kingdom through your team, here is what I believe God wants me to do”…”here is $315” There were 9 of us on the team and he wanted me to give each team member $35 to invest in a person or a ministry or whatever God was leading them to do that would help the Kingdom of God expand (it was kind like “Pay it Forward” if you ever saw that movie)…

Anyway, each of us prayed about how God would have us use this money to make an investment, and I must say it was pretty difficult to narrow it down because there were so many needs…At the end of the week though a couple team members and I sensed God leading us to pool our money together and purchase some studio time so that Pastor V could make a CD of his music to be used to bless others, and that’s exactly what we did…What a blessing it was to give him the money and explain why we did and what we were trusting God to do through him.

So for me to hear Natasha talk about how his ministry is growing and how he’s using his gifts and his CD...WOW! So to that particular youth leader (and I know you're reading this, because you're still such an incredible encouragement to me), who was tuned in to God’s voice and made an investment in the kingdom 4 years ago…Guess what…It’s working!!

Amazing things are happening in Ukraine...here is an excerpt from an e-mail I received recently from Mike Manna, YMI's Eurasia Director in Kiev, Ukraine outlining just a few of the things that are happening because of the investments being made in there...FYI, an Oblast is like a county in the US, there are 26 of them...so when a Youth Pastor is an Oblast leader it means he is a Pastor of Pastors...What makes YMI unique in the world of Youth Ministry training is that we focus on training the trainer with a formal Bachelors or Masters degree in Youth Ministry...Multiplication of Leadership!

1. As you know, four of our students graduated from our program again this year. A fifth student who was slated for graduation will need to wait until next year due to lack of credits. I have put a graduation video link and pictures on our website at www.youthdiscipler.com. The graduates this year were: Radik Tsurkan - Poltava, Ukraine; Vasya Ostriy - Rivne, Ukraine; Ivan Lenko - Uzhgorod, Ukraine; Vladimir Tkachenko - Berdychiv, Ukraine.

2. We met with the Kremenchyk Bible College president and Radik Tsurkan, our recent graduate, about partering w
ith them to start another Youth Ministry degree program there. This college is actually better set up than Rivne to start this program and had a youth ministry program in the past. They have 3 SEND missionaries there at the college as well. The president was very open and excited - he has a good relationship with Anatoly, our president. He knows Radik well and approves of him. They will probably start by teaching a course in youth ministry next year and then a full fledged program in 2009. It is not official that the CYM is started here yet, but I am sure it will. This will be our Central Ukraine CYM. I will have Radik come and team teach with me a course at KTS this fall. I also plan on doing this with Vasya. Remember, Radik is the oblast youth leader.

3. Dennis Shulga, one of the guys you met in Israel, had the grilling of his life in front of 21 Kiev pastors for ordination as a pastor. He was ordained as a deacon a year ago, and now this is the final step. Dennis stopped in our apartment after meeting with these pastors. Dennis specifically asked to ordained as a "Youth Pastor" and not as a "Pastor." I know we don't do this in the states, but he wanted to do this. Vlad Kosobovsky then asked him to consider leadership position with the Kyiv oblast. They approved him for ordination. He will be our second student ordained as pastor.

4. Vasya Ostriy was given a national position of leadership with the Baptist Union in Ukraine. The Baptist Union has recently formed a new leadership group/committee to oversee "Teenager Ministry" in Ukraine. This is going to be underneath "Youth Ministry," but its focus is to increase ministry to those who are 12-17 years old in the church (and outside the church). As you know, youth ministry in Ukraine focuses on 17-25 year olds. This is great news and Vasya is part of the 5 people in leadership for the country. Specifically, he is the person responsible for the "Education of Teenage Ministry Workers." What a great title for one of our graduates! They are calling this a "Teenage Ministry Movement."

So as I continue to prepare for the upcoming teaching opportunities, it is with the hope and prayer that the movement for Christ that is happening in Ukraine because of the investments of God's people will keep on happening in Malaysia, Cuba, Mexico, Kenya, France and hopefully very soon in Nepal, Ecuador, India, China and beyond. God is moving and using YMI and our faithfully passionate Youth Ministry Professors to make investments into the lives of the next generation of Global Youth Leaders.

Thanks for your investments...investments in a movement of life change and Kingdom Expansion!