Archive for the Reflections Category

I’m guilty!

Posted in Culture, Reflections on August 19, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

It’s been a guilt-filled morning for me, but I think in a good way. I was reading one of the guest posts at, and it spoke truth into my life. This guy, Mark Cox, was writing about an almost-encounter he had in Wal-Mart recently. He describes walking down an aisle and overhearing one person say to another, “Today’s teenagers just don’t have any respect for anyone these days. It’s a problem with the whole generation.”

He goes on to rant (just a little bit) about how, as someone who is technically part of “the whole generation” in question, he took offense to this person’s comment. He states, quite correctly, that teenagers in general do not have a blatant disregard for authority, or a sick sense of pleasure in ruining the established order. They are simply still learning how do “do life”, and the last thing they need is discouragement and negative affirmation. As I read, I began to realize on how many accounts I’m guilty in this whole situation. Let me list them out.

I’m guilty – Of being part of “this whole generation”. I will turn 25 in a couple of weeks, so it has been awhile since I’ve been a teenager, but I’m still part of the Millennial Generation (graduating class of 2000 and onwards). I grew up with MTV. I can’t clearly remember life before cell phones. I spend a (probably more than) reasonable amount of time on the internet, watching TV, playing video games, and listening to music.

I’m guilty – Of bashing “this whole generation”. I have always gravitated towards those who are older and more mature than myself. As a result, I sometimes forget that I’m a part of the same generation that some older folks like to bash. I’m on the front-end of the generation, but that’s no excuse. Like Cox says in his blog post, I should be leading the way for those who come behind me.

I’m guilty – Of not leading the way effectively. If the middle and tail-end of “this whole generation” turns out crappy, I am at least partially to blame. Why? Because mountains of research back up the fact that, even though on many levels parents are still the primary influence on adolescent behavior, peer groups are an ever-increasing influence on the lives of young people. If the people who are only a few years younger than me are screwed up and worthless, then at least part of the reason for that is that I have done a poor job exerting positive influence on them.

I’m guilty – Of not recognizing that to characterize “this whole generation” as anything is shallow and near-sighted on my part. Including people that I went to middle/high school and college with, people I pastor now, and random teenagers I’ve seen in traffic, the mall, etc., I might actually have encountered 5000 young people (my middle/high school experience was about 3000, about 1000 in college, and probably less than that since then.). For me to make a judgment about an entire generation of more than 40 million people based on my encounters with, let’s get crazy and call it 10000, is ludicrous. The same thing happened in the late ’60s. People look back on that time and think about how powerful and influential and pervasive the “hippie culture” was. Hippies accounted for, at the largest estimates, no more than 1% of that generation. I don’t have any data to prove this, but I would be willing to bet that a vast majority of “this whole generation” don’t live up to their stereotype as disrespectful delinquents.

So that’s it. Guilty as charged. I’m a well-adjusted, responsible, thoughtful citizen. I have made mistakes, but have learned from them, and am still learning how to ‘do life’ better. I’m a Millennial. And I’m proud to be one.



God views the heart

Posted in Reflections, Theological with tags , , on August 17, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

The sermon this week focused on Solomon and how he pursued wisdom. Something else jumped out at me, though. It’s an affirmation of something that we all know in terms of head knowledge, but fail to turn into heart knowledge oftentimes: God cares more about your heart than he does about your actions.

An insincere heart would read that statement and think, “So I can have a heart devoted to God, and still do whatever I want… Awesome.” That, however, would betray the heart as insincere. A heart devoted to God will not seek to do whatever it wants, but will seek to do what God wants. The intention will be there, even if the proper actions aren’t. Like in this story of Solomon from 1 Kings 3:1-14.

At this time. the Israelites were worshiping at the ‘high places’, altars to foreign gods that had been built on hills and plateaus in the past. Israel had strayed from God for so long that many people no longer knew that, according to God’s law, the only proper place to offer a sacrifice to the Lord was in Jerusalem. Solomon was no different. For much of his life, everyone had sacrificed to God at the high places. Why should he do any differently? Yet, because his heart was so sincere, this passage tells us that God looked at Solomon and was pleased with the intention of his heart, even though, according to the letter of the law, Solomon had sinned by not sacrificing in Jerusalem.

The moral of the story – don’t get hung up on what’s “proper”. When your actions are governed by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, there is no law against them.


Sudden Death and Wisdom

Posted in Reflections, Theological on August 10, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

Wow, first post in forever!

I was doing some research today for our upcoming worship service, and ran across a verse that I must have read before – Psalm 90:12 – but never thought about as an answer to one of life’s tough questions. Whenever there’s an unexpected death (an accident, sudden illness, disaster, etc.) someone always asks the ‘why?’ question; why did this happen?, why did this person have to be the one?

As I was reading through some scripture today, Psalm 90:12 jumped out at me – ‘Teach us the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.’ That says to me that sometimes people we care about die so that we have the opportunity to gain wisdom by recognizing how fragile life is and how much we need to rely on God.

Maybe that will give you some hope and some answers if you’ve experienced a loss recently.


The hearts of Junior Highers

Posted in Reflections on June 27, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

I am recovering today after a long week of camp for junior high school students. It was my first time being the dean of a week of camp. Stressful – yes. Tiring – yes. Exhausting – yes. Rewarding – ministry always is. Painful? – yes.

Maybe it’s just my youth and relative inexperience in ministry (I’ve been at it 3 years), but I never cease to be amazed when God allows me to see into the hearts of junior high school students. That happened this week, and I want to share a couple of examples that I believe are indicative of junior highers as a whole. I’ll change names since some people that I know and that know these kids read this blog occasionaly.

Allison – Allison might have been the prettiest girl at camp this week. She was tall, skinny, and, when she let her guard down, had a great personality. The problem was that, most of the time, her guard was up. She was aloof, seemed disinterested, disrespectful, and was focused almost entirely on her camp ‘boyfriend’. In terms of physical appearance, she looked like one of those young people who are trying very hard to make people think they’re not trying at all. Know what I mean?

But Allison’s bravado and aloofness was all a show. One of the female counselors in her cabin told me that, as pretty and in shape as she was, she was the most vocal girl in her cabin about how much she hated her own body. This girl is probably 5’9″ and about 120 pounds, and she complained almost constantly about her weight when in the cabin. When she thought no one was looking, she would un-guard her facial expression, and the pain and insecurity in her life was as visible as if it was written there with a marker. It was utterly heartbreaking to see such a beautiful young girl with such low self esteem.

Kristy – Kristy was another girl at camp this week who broke my heart. She came to camp with a girl she knew from home. By the end of the first full day, she had completely abandoned her friend from home in favor of the ‘cool kids’. I literally saw her running from her friend from home in order to catch up to the cool crowd on more than one occasion. At meals, she didn’t sit with her friend from home. At chapel services, she usually ended up sitting with the cool kids, without a backward glance for her friend. The message was as clear to me as I’m sure it was to her friend – “You’re not part of the cool crowd, so you’re not cool enough for me.”

The message was received. Kristy’s friend from home spent most of the week alone. The hurt on her face in her unguarded moments was heartbreaking. My heart broke for them both. To Kristy, only one question in life matters right now – “Am I part of the cool crowd or not?” Sad.

James – James is one of those kids who is a natural leader. And like so many natural leaders at this age, he has no idea at all that he is a leader. He’s one of those kids that all the other boys look up to, no matter what he does. Good or bad. They all want to do what James does. Like a lot of junior high boys, James puts on the cool/athletic/confident/charming facade. But like most junior high boys, he is every bit as insecure and self-conscious as the junior high girls. He craves attention in any form he can get it. And, unfortunately, it’s much easier for junior highers to get attention for hijinks, pranks, and misbehavior than for anything positive. So we had some trouble with James this week. He wanted to attention on him all the time, even if it meant acting out to get it. At the root of it all is his insecurity.

In fact, if I had to sum up everything I learned about junior highers this week, it could be summed up with the word ‘insecure’. Each and every one of them is struggling to find out who they are and where their place is in the world. It makes me sad, but it also gives me new energy to try to invest in their lives.

Know any junior highers? Observe them for awhile, and see if the word ‘insecurity’ doesn’t come to mind.


Bedford’s Burden

Posted in Life, Reflections with tags , , , on June 7, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

I don’t know how much play it got where I live, but yesterday was the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the day of the massive Allied invasion of German-occupied beaches in France during World War II. It was, and is still, the largest amphibious military assault in history. I happened to be in a small town in western Virginia visiting family. As we talked, my grandmother handed me a newspaper article about her first cousin, Lucille Boggess. The article followed her as she went to Washington, D.C., to take part in a private viewing of a documentary film titled “Bedford’s Burden”. The reason – two of her brothers, my grandmother’s first cousins, were 2 of 19 men from the town of Bedford, VA, to be killed on the beaches of Normandy.

Bedford, VA, holds the dubious distinction of being the U.S. town with the highest per-capita death rate on D-Day. 19 of 34 men from Bedford were killed on June 6, 1944, while storming the French coastline, all from Company A, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Bedford is the site of the United States’ D-Day memorial. As far as memorials go, it is fantastic. Google it. Did you Google it? See the guy facedown on the beach? That statue is inspired by the story of my grandmother’s cousin, Raymond Hoback. Raymond’s body was never recovered from the flotsam after the battle, but his Bible was. The Bible he carried had been a Christmas gift from his parents in 1938. Corporal H.W. Crayton found the Bible laying on the beach on D-Day plus one, and was kind enough to send it back to Raymond Hoback’s family.

The impact of D-Day on the town of Bedford was huge and tangible. Bedford is a small town, even today. Losing 19 young men in a single battle was roughly equivalent to losing half a generation of men from the town. It’s really not possible to overstate the importance of D-Day to the town of Bedford.

As I pondered all of this last Friday, sitting in my aunt’s living room, reading an article from the Roanoke Times, watching the local news (more than half the broadcast was devoted to D-Day celebrations the following day), it occured to me that D-Day is not just a huge deal for the history of Bedford, VA – it is a huge deal for the history of us all. If you read up some on World War II, you will quickly discover what a huge, desperate gamble the invasion of France was. The stories of gallantry, heroism, and dedication to the cause are too numerous to recount. And it is in large part because of the heroism of so many men that the Allied Armies were able to defeat some of the worst evil in human history.

If you’re not sold on why you should get excited about June 6 each year, do a quick Google search for Bedford, Virginia, and read up on some of the personal stories. For me, it’s enough to be related, however distantly, to the inspiration for a war memorial. And it’s enough to see my grandmother tear up with pride and loss (in that order, mind you) talking about her cousins who didn’t come home from France.



Posted in Life, Reflections on April 20, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

This is the second post in my series about my recent short-term mission to Haiti. The first was titled ‘Excess’, and explored what I consider to be the most shocking experience of my entire trip – our return to American culture after a week in Haitian culture.

In this post, I want to talk about my best experiences in Haiti. There are three or four that jump out as the kind of memories where you don’t even need a picture to remind you because the image seems like it’s seared into your brain on an entirely different level. Know what I mean? The common thread running through all these memories is an idea that we misunderstand all too often in our culture – the idea of fellowship. I’ll run them down in the chronological order that they occurred in.

Sunday, April 5, 2009 – We worshipped on Palm Sunday at an orphanage in Jacmel, on the south coast of the island of Haiti. Our group leaders, Jeff and Rita, have been supporting this orphanage since 2006, and in that short amount of time it has changed from a complete and total dump to what is in most respects a nice place to live, particularly by Haitian standards. There is a chapel in that orphanage, and so at 10AM all eight of us, plus a group of five or so from Canada, plus the 73 kids who live there piled into this little room and had a worship service. It was something I will never ever forget. At one point I nearly lost it because I was so overwhelmed by the import of what was happening – We were singing ‘Lord I Lift Your Name on High’, the Haitians singing in creole, us and the Canadians singing in english, and the Holy Spirit moving through everyone. It was a truly beautiful moment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 – Our main project for this trip was to build a chicken house at another, smaller, much more needy orphanage near Christianville. As we started to build it, several men from nearby came to help. They never asked for money in return for their labor, never asked for a share of the chickens that would be raised there, they just showed up to help because they understood that the chicken house would benefit the orphanage and the community alike. Despite all the barriers that we felt like were in the way (language, race, economic status, culture differences), God once again showed that fellowship doesn’t hinge on any of that. There was a moment on Tuesday when we were putting the roof on the chicken house when several of the Haitian men and myself were standing around watching (when roofing, the guys on the ladders do the lion’s share of the work). The Haitian men were joking around with Exod, our Haitian ‘foreman’ for the job, and Jeff. Even though all of those supposed barriers separated me from these men, I felt like I was being included in their fun. We had ceased to be Haitians and Americans, dark-skinned and light-skinned, creole-speaking and english-speaking, impoverished and well-off… We were simply a group of men building a chicken house together and enjoying one another’s company.

The theme of true fellowship was heavy on my heart throughout our entire Haiti mission. I have thought more than once over the last couple of years that we might not truly understand fellowship in the United States. In our churches, the meaning of the word fellowship is often restricted to, ‘standing around in the fellowship hall talking’. In reality fellowship is much more closely related to the concept of ‘doing life together’, of sharing all of our meaningful moments (both good and bad) with those we are close to. In Haiti, people are much closer with one another than they are here. It’s out of necessity – the Haitians we were around understand that if they don’t work together, none of them will survive.

It’s a lesson that I think we could stand to learn here, too.



Posted in Culture, Reflections with tags , , , on April 13, 2009 by joetheyouthpastor

Wow! I’m back from my short-term mission to Haiti, and there are just too many things running through my mind to put all in one post. I’ll definitely have several Haiti-oriented posts over the next couple of weeks. I wanted to start the Haiti series by sharing the most shocking thing that I experienced during the whole trip – American culture.

Here’s how it happened… We were in Haiti for 6 days with 2 travel days bookending the trip. We spent all day April 2nd getting there. We made a pretty quick adjustment to life in Haiti, at least life at the Christianville compound in Haiti. Cold showers, having to spray our rooms for bugs before bed, big ‘ol rats, spiders, extreme heat, etc. Inconveniences, yes, but not a whole lot of trouble. What I truly enjoyed about Haitian culture was its simplicity. They had cell phones, but they used them as phones and not as status symbols. They had cars, but they were for transportation and not boasting. They did not have television or personal computers or internet access. They did have a few things that most Americans do not – peace, contentment, happiness. We lived a week in a culture where survival is paramount, not personal comfort. The people, who had almost nothing, were generous beyond what most Americans would give, even though we have so much more. I was reminded forcibly throughout the week of Jesus’ remarks about the people who gave money in the Temple – the rich gave just a small percentage of their wealth, but the widow gave all she had. Jesus was much more pleased with the widow.

Fast-forward to April 9 when we returned home. We had just spent a week living (and enjoying) a much more simple, but fulfilling, life. We fly out of Port au Prince and into Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We change airlines, get checked in, go through security, and head towards our gate. As we sit down to wait out our layover, I look over and notice something which causes me the most intense feelings of disgust towards our American culture – an iPod vending machine. AN IPOD VENDING MACHINE!!! A maching where you can swipe your credit card, open the door, and take out an iPod Touch, iPod video, PSP, plus accessories. I could not believe my eyes. I had just come from a culture where the average person was more concerned with survival, and into a culture where we have enough excess to buy a $400 piece of unnecessary technology from a vending machine.

I had expected the culture shock to hit me when I got to Haiti, not when I returned home. It was a sad realization for me.