Start Small

When I was in grade school, I had a babysitter that went to junior high who brought over her history textbook, presumably to do homework after I went to bed. But you and I both know the truth: She brought the book because her parents made her and then watched tv while eating all the good snacks after I was asleep.

I remember looking at that big book and thinking to myself, “I’ll never be smart enough to read books like that.”  Of course you don’t get from a grade school education to reading history textbooks overnight, you take it one step at a time. And a few years later, I turned into that same snack stealing babysitter who was assigned a big 900 page textbook that I never read. And just look at me now; an adult who mostly wants to read Calvin & Hobbes or Pearls before Swine above anything else. But that’s neither really here nor there, is it?

When I helped organize a group of people that would eventually adopt a school in 2013, all the school staff wanted was consistent classroom readers. They lamented the passing of  yet another year without readers for each of their classrooms. Fast forward a couple of years and we now do much more than simply read in classrooms. But we couldn’t be there without that small start.

I’m awfully good at running around in circles without ever making a coherent point, so here it is: Take it easy. If mentoring a student on an individual basis is intimidating to you, then don’t worry about it. Just pick your favorite book from growing up and find a group of kids to read to. Later this summer, when school starts back up, find a school near your home or work and ask if you can read to a classroom. You may find the spark to get more involved like I did and end up, as one trusted friend pointed out, “turn this into a small empire.”

But even if you only ever show up the one time and read to a classroom of kids, you have still done something great by making that first small step. You have left an indelible mark on a child’s life and affected lives positively in your community. That’s not a bad deal at all.

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I call the big one Bitey

I think it might be time to stop looking at the news altogether. I tell myself I will miss out if I do, however, the truth is becoming more and more obvious that I won’t be missing out on anything at all. I’m just so tired of the negativity. Are we really so different that we must argue about every single thing on the planet? I haven’t researched it at all but I bet somewhere on the internet is a forum where people are arguing about the correct way to hang toilet paper. It is a very worthwhile discussion that we should all be having.

So, what should a guy like me do when I base many of my decisions on however it was handled when it was an episode of The Simpsons? Do I maybe stage a little rally and make Mr. Burns include a dental plan in our company benefits? No, that doesn’t apply. Do I make up a song about monorails until I find a possum which I name Bitey?

Yeah, that’s what I do. I laugh about it. Life is too short to be mad about everything.  And there is so much outside of our control, we just can’t live in fear of every single thing we see. You know what I really think?

I think Solomon had it all nailed down many, many years ago when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  The only thing I know to do is laugh about it and keep smiling. And maybe avoid the news telling me 9 things that I have to live in fear of tomorrow.

Christ Followers

It’s been said by several people, possibly even Gandhi, that people like Christ but not Christians. Meaning that if you were to read just the writings and teachings of Jesus, then you’d come to an expectation of how people within a church might behave that is completely different than what you would actually encounter.

What can I say? There’s no defending some of the dumb things we’ve done. We’re humans. If you ever looked at someone who attends church regularly and said, “They have it all figured out.” then you just need to look a little closer past the shiny veneer.

We’re all messed up. We yell at our kids and feel guilty about it later. We regularly lose our cool in traffic just like everyone else. We give in and feed our families fast food even though we know that it’s not the best meal for them. We use bad words and sometimes wish we had never learned any of them. Turns out you really can’t unlearn a bad word. We make poor financial choices, some of which cost us severely and for a very long time. Sometimes we actually do this as an entire church organization. We say things we don’t mean and we get confused about something we call “doctrine” that people who have PhD’s argue about.

We are flawed, we are broken and we are trying to get better. Even if it’s a very long term project that takes decades, we just want to follow every single word that Jesus spoke. Because we also like him too. We think he saved the world and we want to tell everyone about it.

So, please, give us a chance and visit us at the community church. And remember, if we offend you, it’s not Christ that did it, it’s all his hurt and broken followers just trying to do the best we can to follow him. We’d love if you would join us.

Sunday Night Devotional – Rahab

In the old testament, we learn the stories of many of God’s chosen people for the past 3000 years. In Joshua, we meet Rahab, a prostitute in the city of Jericho. In Joshua chapter 2, we see 2 spies enter the city of Jericho and Rahab welcomes them into her home. They receive shelter and protection from the king of Jericho in Rahab’s home and escape captivity.

Rahab has a brief conversation with the 2 spies but it would turn out to be the most important conversation she had, and likely ever would have, in her life. Her recorded words are brief and powerful:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that  great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear. … We have heard of your military victories in the desert and our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:9-11 (NIV,slightly paraphrased)

Rahab encounters a decision that we all will face in our lifetime. Will we acknowledge God and confess that he is LORD? Or will we ignore the facts and continue on with our lives?

Rahab faced this choice and confessed her belief in the almighty LORD. We know from reading the New Testament that Rahab actually played an extremely critical role in the birth of Jesus. Because of her offering of shelter and confession of the dominion of the LORD, she was spared the annihilation that everyone else in Jericho received. They all were conquered by the Israelite army and destroyed. Except for Rahab.

Rahab will later meet and marry an Israelite man named Salmon. (what a bold name by the way.) Together they had a son named Boaz, (an even better name!) who later appears in the Bible in the book of Ruth. Boaz and Ruth would then become the great grandparents of the future king of Israel, David. And many generations later, a little boy was born in a stable in Bethlehem and was named Jesus. All in the blood line of Rahab.

All because a prostitute in a foreign country acknowledged and confessed that the LORD is God.

I’m not here to argue semantics or theology or deities or Jewish history with anyone. I’m not a scholar. The point here, in case I’ve minced words, is that salvation is for EVERYONE. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, what mistakes you have made. You can be an unwanted prostitute from a doomed country and the salvation of the LORD is extended to you. The grace that we now have through Jesus Christ is available to everyone, even those that might be considered the scourge of society.

Wherever you are in your life, I hope that you feel loved by God. And know that when it feels like everyone hates you and you’re worthless, that it simply isn’t true. God loves you. And so do I.

It Starts With Love

Summer is winding down and school is around the corner. I’ve been thinking about my beloved mentor kids a lot recently. I have had the privilege of talking about mentoring to a couple of potential new mentors.

I’ve done some critical evaluation and attempted to understand why some mentoring relationships make it and some don’t and I’ve narrowed it down to something important:

It Starts With Love.

You can’t succeed at mentoring if your heart isn’t in it.

This isn’t the kind of deal where you can be punching a ticket, trying to fulfill a community service requirement, maybe seeing if you can’t impress someone, or just looking for something to fill an empty time slot.

If that’s what you need, find a food pantry to volunteer in or a community garden that needs to be cleaned. But don’t halfway commit to something as important as mentoring a fatherless child.

In other words, don’t be that guy. Don’t be that guy to these kids. Don’t be like the parent who comes and goes as they please in and out of a kid’s life and leaves them wondering whether or not Dad really loves them. Don’t be the uncle who shows up to have fun and then disappears for months sometimes years. Kids deserve better than that. They need consistency.

And if this relationship isn’t a labor of love for you, it’s just going to fail. I’ll go ahead and save everyone the time and energy now.

On the flip side, I will tell you that there are many ways that it can work out if you really do come from a position of love. You don’t have to sign up for a multi-year contract. Maybe you’re just the right person for the right period of time and then you both move on. Don’t get so caught up in worrying about how it will end that you never step out and try.

By all means, mentor kids and pour into communities. Our society needs compassionate individuals who genuinely care about others. The point here is that love is the answer. Love is always the answer.

Go Be That Person

I have heard from two different sources that I’m not supposed to use the word “that” in anything I publish. Supposedly it’s superfluous. By the way, since I have a big vocabulary and can use words like “superfluous” in a sentence without having to even stop and look it up, I’m exempt.

I have been trying to understand all the reasons that people don’t get involved in mentoring. I mean, I don’t know who these mystery people are that don’t enjoy the shrill pitch of 9 and 10 year olds squealing for just about any reason at all, but I believe they are out there.

And what I have learned is that for some it is intimidating, but it just doesn’t have to be. I realize that I’m beginning to sound like your mother but I think you’re perfect just the way you are.

What people forget is that kids don’t need you to be JJ Watt or Lebron James or whatever other relevant athlete/celebrity that kids look up to. Think about it for just a minute. Who were the heroes you worshipped growing up? It doesn’t really matter what generation you grew up in, you very likely learned as an adult that the hero you thought so highly of as a kid was someone you shouldn’t emulate at all. Wasn’t it Mickey Mantle himself who said, “Don’t be like me.”

The point is that you ARE perfect just as you stand (or sit) ((or lay down in bed reading this)). What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Go find a kid who has interest in that and share that with them. Do you like to read? Find a kid who also likes to read (because I can almost assure you they have been made to feel like they don’t fit in) and ask them if they want to be in your special cool book club. Or maybe you are the real life Uncle Rico and didn’t catch your big break and think about football all the time. I’m willing to bet there is a kid somewhere in your neighborhood or apartment complex that would enjoy catching your perfect spirals.

I’ve said it before: You’re Good Enough. You don’t need to be anything but your true self. Whoever you are, you can be yourself around a kid who is looking for someone to be their true friend. They need someone who will walk through life and be their trusted advocate. Someone who will be there for them as they face the challenges of adolescence. We all still remember the joys of being 12 to 14 years old and desperately trying to figure out where we fit in, don’t we? Don’t you think you have some valuable wisdom to share?

You can be the friend that some kid out there really needs. You can be that special person.

Go Be That Person.

Love is A Choice

Obviously love starts out as an emotion. When you hold a little baby for the first time, you can’t help but love them so much. When you and that special someone have feelings for each other, there is just no holding back the love.

But those feelings fade over time. Ask anyone who’s raised a child through the teenage years and they’ll agree that there were days when that kid was the most unlovable person on the planet.  You sometimes have to choose to love them, possibly against their will.  And ask anyone who has stuck with a spouse for more than a couple of decades and you’ll find two people who have overlooked the small stuff and chosen love.

I mention this because it seems to me that we as a society have made a choice that love should always be a fun emotion. It’s not. Love is a commitment.

And so thinking about that and these fatherless (or motherless) kids in your community who don’t understand love at all, it’s important to understand what you’re really teaching them.

You’re showing them that you made the choice to love them and be there, even when they sometimes might not want you there. You chose love and came anyway. On those days where you really could have stood to skip lunch and work through on an important deadline, you chose love and you came to see them anyways. You chose them, and you chose love.

You are changing the world, one kid at a time, with love.