Today I crossed the finish line of a very long race and am about to start another.
I completed my final list of “to dos” this afternoon, the last of which was packing my office belongings into my car. At 3:45 I walked down to Linda’s office, turned in my church keys, and instantly went from being Pastor Mark back to just Mark.
I’ve been in full-time ministry for 32 years straight — and now, in an instant, I find myself unemployed and not really sure what this new normal will be like for me. In two weeks I’ll be starting my next race — that of a full time grad student.
What a change. At this very moment I’m blogging these reflections instead of running youth group. So weird.
Looking over my shoulder at the race I’ve just finished I am profoundly grateful and humbled that God would let me run it.
At my “graduation”/farewell party this past Sunday Cindy and I set out all of the youth group pictures and memorabilia that we had preserved from each of the past 25 years. Perusing through them brought back many long-forgotten memories of ways that God blessed us with each other and with Himself.
I marveled at the number of youth group alums who came back to wish us farewell, coming from as far north as Duluth and as far south as Arkansas. It was such a delight to reconnect with our old kids (some now in their 40s), watch them relive old memories, and reflect on how good God was to us during those years. It struck me that with every single year, trip, and retreat God seemed to have sovereignly brought together those students and sponsors who needed each other at that precise moment in time. We truly had something special.
On a personal note, Cindy and I were so profoundly touched by all those who were able to come and wish us well. Thank you for expressing your kind words to us verbally and through the many, many cards. Our view is that each of you has impacted us every bit as much as you say we have impacted you. God gets the glory for it all.
It was indeed a good run!
Whenever I finish a race I find myself equally exhilarated, exhausted, and satisfied all at once — and looking for the massage tent!
My farewell party is this Sunday afternoon and people will naturally be congratulating me on my 25 years as youth pastor at New Covenant.
But what most people don’t know is that less than 2 years into my job, I almost disqualified myself. I want to tell that story.
When I came to New Covenant in 1992 the youth group was in a state of disillusionment. My predecessor’s departure had been unexpected and the high school group was admittedly in a state of disarray. I came in knowing the youth group needed fixing and that it was my job to do just that! I was going to make this youth group great again!
Armed with my Moody Bible theology degree and 6 years of church ministry experience, I had all the resources I needed to turn things around! It didn’t take me long — just a few months — to come up with just the right programs to develop leaders and make disciples. Several students signed up for my programs and gave me great feedback. I was doing it! Things were really getting fixed!
Or so I thought. One summer day — having been here just a year and a half — I was unexpectedly called in to Pastor Ray’s office, where an elder and one of my few youth volunteers (we call them “sponsors”) were waiting. They relayed the hard news to me that actually the youth group wasn’t fixed. At all. In fact, a high percentage of youth group members felt like they didn’t matter. That it was “Mark’s youth group” not theirs. And that if they didn’t show up, no one would likely even notice. They were unheard and devalued. They were falling through the cracks and my “discipleship kids” were the only ones I seemed to care about.
At first, I was in disbelief and in a state of shock. But as they relayed one account after another of those who had been feeling neglected by me I recognized that they were speaking the truth in love. In my frenzy to run a successful program and quickly turn things around I had completely missed that this youth group was about them, not me and my grandiose solutions that were being imposed on them.
I spent a week wrestling in prayer. I did some fasting, and serious soul-searching. I knew I couldn’t continue to be a shepherd that was actually wounding the sheep by my pride and neglect. I was broken. I either had to completely change my priorities or quit my job. Thankfully, God allowed me to stay and change.
Those who were there will recall that I immediately did several things to demonstrate my change of heart.
I called a meeting of the whole youth group and in brokenness apologized for making the group about me, not them. I confessed how I had imposed my plans on them rather than serving them.
I brought in a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, which together we assembled and mounted on the wall to visually remind us all that every single person mattered. We did this for several years.
I stated that if anyone ever caught me using the phrase “my youth group” I would pay them money on the spot. It was God’s youth group, and their youth group, but I needed it to not be mine.
I confessed to having developed a “Savior Complex,” trying to run the youth group my way and attempting to shepherd the large group of students all by myself. I committed to begin to pray that God would raise up a large team of youth sponsors, caring adults who would help prevent students from falling through the cracks if possible.
Graciously, the group gave me a second chance. And God miraculously brought us just the sponsor team we needed. In the remaining weeks of that summer 17 sponsors randomly approached me out-of-the-blue, asking to become sponsors. It was remarkable because I had only prayed, never even making the need known to the church. That so many approached me so quickly was a miraculous confirmation from God.
This traumatic experience of almost losing my job altered my life and ministry values — permanently. It taught me the importance of listening to those whom I serve, frequently soliciting their input. I learned to hold my agendas loosely. To be teachable. To be an includer. To give up control. To do things as a team. To let others (students and sponsors) make ministry decisions that may be different than mine. To admit that I can’t shepherd everyone and to be ok with sponsors impacting particular students better than I could.
So as I reflect on the lives of students that may have been impacted over these past 25 years I give the lion’s share of the credit to my wonderful sponsor team. Without them our youth group would have self-destructed long ago! Thank you, thank you to the dozens and dozens of you who served as sponsors over these years. I couldn’t have done much of anything without you. Did we care perfectly for every student? Sadly no. In a big group it’s hard to notice all the needs and direct our attention to the students when they need it most. But looking back, we sure cared for a lot of them!
Here’s one of my favorite sponsor photos from over the years. Mark Eades and I got our sponsors bowling shirts that year!
And now, as I step down from leading the high school group, I’m not at all concerned for the group’s well being. My vacancy has been anticipated and the sponsors are ready. The current team of committed sponsors will make sure that the youth group continues to function without skipping a beat and I am confident that the students will be well cared for moving forward.
I want to express special thanks to the sponsors who have committed to keep the group running smoothly during this time between youth pastors: Stacey, Steve, Melissa, Bryan, Charley, Jennifer, Candace, Sabrina, Jeff, Tim, Brad T, Brad A, Sara, Dawn, Lynn, Ron, & Becky. And I’m thankful for the resourcing and support that they will continue to be given by Mark Eades and Renee Kim. The youth group is indeed in good hands!
Last night I drove the church bus for the last time. A short trip there and back to the Great Jones County Fair — featuring a Casting Crowns concert. Driving that bus has always been one of my favorite things to do! As usual, this was another delightful trip.
Back at church, I dropped the kids off in the parking lot, grabbed the broom, and headed to the back of the bus, not prepared for what I would encounter there. Tears. Lots of them. Coming out of my eyes. Completely unexpected.
As I unhurriedly swept the bus for the last time I couldn’t help but reflect on how much this bus (and its predecessors) had changed our lives over these past 25 years. Wherever it brought us it seems God was there, waiting to bond us together and teach us something profound. We always seemed to come home changed.
With tears of joy my mind raced back in time with overwhelming gratitude that God would have allowed me these over-the-road experiences.
15 Mexico trips — we logged about 45,000 total miles on these trips! And they were brutal — driving over 24 hours straight through. On each trip God brought together a unique collection of people who had a profound impact on the 41 Mexican families we helped. In all, 829 people made the trek.
Summer trips to Summit, Toronto, Indiana, Tennessee, New Orleans, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Wisconsin and Colorado Springs.
Close to 100 Retreats to a variety of places including Camp Courageous, Camp Wapsie, Camp Io-Dis-E-Ca, East Iowa Bible Camp, Pine Lake Camp, Pictured Rocks Camp, Camp Wyoming, and my favorite, Rustic Camp Hitaga. Most memorable retreat: when we accidentally burned a cabin to the ground at Camp Wyoming.
A variety of special events: concerts, ski trips, ball games, conferences, a Billy Graham Crusade, Promise Keepers, amusement parks, sponsor hunts at the mall, Shamrock Around the Clock.
On these buses we had singalongs, testimonies, story times, comedy clubs, autograph signing, prayer meetings, book studies, discussion groups, creation talks with Charley, get-to-know-you mixers, and even duct-taping kids to the ceiling. Talk about bonding!
As you would expect, some of my favorite bus memories involved adversity. Like the time a bus engine caught on fire coming home from Adventureland and Tom Maring just happened to drive by and had it fixed within a half hour. Or when a Mexico bus broke down in Oklahoma City for 18 hours and a youth group put us up overnight in their really cool youth building. Or when a bus died in Cedar Falls on the way to Minnesota one winter and we impulsively rented a fleet of vans so we wouldn’t have to miss out on skiing. Or when things got stolen out of a bus at the St. Louis Zoo with no evidence of how they got in — everything was still locked up tight! Or when a Mexico bus got stuck in snow in Wichita and we almost had to sleep at McDonalds overnight. Or when we took a wrong turn in residential Chicago and ended up on a narrow street lined with cars on both sides with less than an inch of side clearance space. Or when the transmission dropped out of a bus four miles from church . In a blizzard. After dark!
Each was a life-changing encounter, for which I will ever be grateful. We bonded on these trips. Lifelong friendships were forged in these seats. I believe there are married couples today who first fell in love on these buses.
As I continued sweeping — and weeping — I thought about how so many of my personal ministry passions were fulfilled by having these buses. I thought of what we would have missed out on had they not been at my disposal!
My thoughts then turned to the people over the years who procured these buses and helped keep them running. For Brian Valenti (aka The Commish), who knew how to pick the perfect bus and who trained so many drivers over the years. For Randy Hudson who helped me pick up our first “new” bus when I first came. For Dave Beer, who who did — and still does — the bulk of the mechanical work and the painting. For Jeff Westrom, who came up with snazzy paint designs and helped implement them. For John Maehl‘s financial and property management expertise For George Bushlack, who always puts so much heart into into keeping the buses roadworthy and in tip-top shape. For Larry Pinkston, who wired up a 50 foot internal microphone so we could have better sharing on the road. For Charley Snodgrass, aka KC0CD, who wired them up with ham radios and who drove more miles than anyone except me, aka KC0ODH. For Ruth Stavlund for stitching up the torn bus seats. And for all the drivers, who worked so hard to get CDLs to help the ministry. For all the sponsors who gave up their comfort to mingle with teens, sharing their lives with each passing mile. For the New Covenant attenders over the years whose offering money helped pay for these vehicles and gas.
All these thoughts flooded my mind last night. My tears were all tears of joy and gratitude to God, and not at all of sadness. Those great memories made within these metal walls will be with me forever and they’ve changed me permanently. We had something special for which I will ever be grateful. It was a good ride!
But all journeys must come to an end and God has made it clear that my time has finally come to deboard this bus. As I lock up the bus for the last time I know it’s time for someone else to chart the course for the future of New Covenant’s high school ministry. God’s blessings will continue through the leadership of another and that thought also brings me joy.
As for me, I know it’s time to focus my energies on bringing hope and healing to a broken world. I’m not sure exactly where this new counseling adventure of mine will lead, but I’m excited to find out.
Our goal as parents is not to raise children, but rather to raise responsible adults. Sadly, too many parents end up with chronically-dependent high school graduates who can’t manage their lives — or their money.
So today I want to make the case for giving your kids allowances! They will be much better prepared for life. And that means your life will be better too!
But first, I want to share with you an email I received from a missionary mom in Nicaragua, where I did a parenting seminar a few years ago. She followed my advice about giving kids allowances, and surprised me with this beautiful testimonial about doing it with her THREE YEAR OLD! [I’ll insert my comments between hers.]
.Our 3-year-old son is learning the value of $ as he spends all his $1 per week on gum.
We might think of it as a waste of good money, but he’s learning to decide what matters to him. Someday he’ll figure out that there are better uses for his money, but he’s got to learn that for himself over time. Most importantly he’s learning that adults are trusting him with the responsibility of making his own decisions.
He is quickly learning which gum pack gets him the most pieces.
Amazing! Notice how he already is learning to stretch his dollar, to look for bargains, and to do comparison shopping to get the best value!
He is learning not to eat the entire pack in 2 minutes because he doesn’t have $ to buy more.
See how he’s learning about delayed gratification, patience, pacing himself, relishing what he has, and living within his means! How many teenagers never learn this!
He even paid me a nickel the other day to carry the laundry into the house because he did not want to do it. I explained to him that it is one of the small chores he is required to help with and therefore would have to pay me for his portion of the work. Amazingly he looked at me square on and asked, “How much?” I told him, “One nickel,” and he paused, thought, and finally said “I want to pay you because I don’t want to do it.”
This three-year-old is already learning to weigh pros and cons, to make decisions, to negotiate with others, and to wrestle with priorities regarding his time, money, work & leisure!
I share this because if someone told me that this stuff would work on a 3 year old I would never have believed it. But, he is the youngest of 3 so we included him in the process because he was feeling SO left out. Now we know it is effective even at 3.
I love this story because it vividly demonstrates how giving some measure of financial control even to the youngest of kids can serve to build their character.
I’ll blog again soon with Part 2, making the case for HEFTY chores, but let me close this post with some general thoughts about giving kids allowances.
It makes children feel valued and trusted and gives them a measure of control over their lives.
It gives them money to waste. Failure is a great teacher.
They can experience the joys of giving and the rewards of saving.
It minimizes whining in stores about things they impulsively want (“Did you bring your money purse? No? Well I guess you’ll have to remember to bring it next time.”)
It gives you opportunities for reasonable, non-emotional disciplinary action (“If you forget to do your chores, no worries, it just means you’ve hired one of us to do them!”)
It doesn’t cost you anything. You’re already spending money on your kids — this just transfers responsibility onto them for certain purchases.
Because if you hold all the money, they’ll always be coming to you for withdrawals, which can cause conflict. Better to dole it out deliberately and let them learn to manage it.
Parents can still set limits on what money is allowed to be spent for (but remember, don’t prevent them from wasting it.).
Instead of butting heads with them about their financial wants, it forces them to make decisions about what matters most, learning important life skills.
It gives them assets that can be used to reimburse you for any damage they may cause.
It gives us opportunities to help consult with them about their financial choices.
Private prayer is something that I am determined to make a priority in my life. I’ve blogged before about how I organize my prayer life but I’ve never blogged about finding the right environment for prayer.
We know from scripture that Jesus often withdrew to “lonely places” to pray and he also taught the concept of finding a “prayer closet” in which to get alone with God. Over the years I’ve found various prayer closets that worked well, but I want to share about one that I’ve found especially helpful over the past year.
I love to run on treadmills at the iGym, but it with my busy schedule it’s hard to justify much time for that. The thought occurred to me that if I could learn to pray while running I’d be doing two really good things at the same time. Redeeming the time!
So, more days than not, after some time in the Word I’ve started driving to the gym for my prayer time. It was a admittedly a bit distracting at first, but over time I’ve learned to block everything out around me and focus completely on my conversations with God. As you would expect, I select the treadmill which is under the ESPN TV screen (which doesn’t tempt me to look up in the least!) I also put on noise cancelling ear protectors to block out all the gym noise. Then I put my phone on “airplane mode,” and set it up on the tray with my prayer app open (described previously), and then launch into a focused session of prayer.
My goal is to meditate through my prayer list while running as fast as I reasonably can — without losing concentration. If I start to think about my running, I slow down. Over time my treadmill has become my sacred space. Here I’ve lifted up the needs of others while also receiving joy, guidance, conviction, inspiration and even brokenness. One day my spirit was so troubled by circumstances that it took me 10 miles to calm my restless heart! As strange as it may seem, my treadmill has truly has transformed into a sanctuary.
And here’s an extra bonus: I never get sleepy when I pray!
I share all this not to recruit anyone to pray in a gym but rather to encourage each of you to find your own private place — wherever that might be — to meet regularly with God in prayer. Make time with Him a priority in your daily schedule!
This is an actual photo of one of our children’s bedrooms. I won’t mention which child it was to protect Lexi’s identity.
In my previous post, I talked about how parents need to determine which household expectations are essential and which are optional. In this post I’m going to share two of our “Minors” that may surprise you. But before I do, please note that I’m not suggesting that our “Minors” should be yours. Every set of parents needs to determine what they can live with and what is necessary for the well-being of the family and sanity of the parents. That said, here are two of our “Minors”…
BEDROOM TIDINESS. We chose to make bedroom tidiness a “Minor” in our home. We opted to never have a battle over the condition of our kids’ rooms. We gave them the privilege and the responsibility to organize and manage the stuff in their rooms however they wanted. The only stipulations were that there could be no dirty dishes or food crumbs left in the room, and any dirty clothes they wished to be laundered had to be put in the hamper in our bedroom. Other than that, they had complete creative control over the condition of their rooms. And our girls were creative!
[It’s important to note that this rule –or lack thereof — pertained only to their bedrooms. They were still expected to keep the common areas of our house picked up and had to take care of any messes they made throughout the house. Keeping our common living space picked up was a “Major!”]
Now I can imagine that some of you reading this might take issue with our lackadaisical bedroom policy and push-back as follows…
This teaches them to be sloppy people.Perhaps, but we’d rather have sloppy kids that we enjoy being around than kids who resent us for constantly nagging them to clean their rooms. And in our experience, the sloppiness of their rooms didn’t spill over into other areas of their lives: schoolwork, musicianship, work ethic, and doing ministry.
Kids like yours won’t learn how to clean and be tidy. They were required to keep the rest of the house tidy, so they did learn cleaning and organizing skills! But we wanted them to practice managing their own lives, organizing their rooms when it was important to them. We found that there were two main situations that motivated them to be clean and tidy: 1.) When they were sick of their mess or frustrated by not being able to find the important things they had buried. Failure is a good teacher! When this happened they would sometimes go on a self-imposed cleaning binge until their rooms were immaculate! This always gave them a peaceful and satisfying feeling! 2.) When friends or guests were coming over and they would feel too embarrassed to have them see their messy rooms. Positive peer pressure at its best!
Won’t this teach them disrespect for others? Making bedroom clutter a “Minor” worked for us because our girls had their own rooms so their mess didn’t affect anyone else. But because respect was a “Major” value in our home they entered college prepared to keep their dorm rooms tidy out of respect for their roommates.
How could you parents tolerate living with that mess in your house? Honestly, sometimes we closed the door — out of sight, out of mind! At other times we stood at the door and chuckled at the sight, We chose to view it as entertaining rather than annoying. Sometimes we’d ask, “How’s that working for you?” We made it their problem, not ours.
CLOTHING CHOICES. We also chose to never have a battle over clothing with our girls (as long as they were modest). From a very young age (3 or so) we let them choose their own outfits and only rarely would we regulate what they wore (e.g. family pictures, holiday attire, weddings, funerals, etc.) This meant that we sent them off to school and church wearing what they felt like wearing, which may or may not have matched the fashion etiquette of the day! We figured it was good for them to choose their attire as a way to express their individuality. This encouraged them that it was ok to be themselves. As they grew older and more aware of social norms it also forced them to make decisions on how “conforming” to their peer group they wanted to be.
Let me illustrate this “Minor” with one of my favorite stories about Bren.*
It was a blizzardy, mid-winter Sunday morning and church should have been cancelled, but wasn’t. I had gone ahead to church already, but Cindy was still at home getting herself ready with our three-year-old daughter, Bren. Bren had chosen her church outfit for the day: a dressy plaid skirt, a red, tattered, Micky Mouse sweatshirt, and flipflops! Making mention of the frigid temperatures and pointing out the blankets of descending snow outside, Cindy advised Bren that it might be a better choice to join her in wearing boots rather than flip-flops. But Bren’s mind had been made up — she was determined to wear those flip-flops!
Rather than engage in a potentially lengthy and emotional battle with a strong-willed child over footwear, Cindy wisely decided to drop the issue completely, and began loading up the car and heading to church.
The trek through the snowy church parking lot to the front door provided the perfect teachable moment for Bren. By the time they got inside Bren’s feet must have been absolutely miserable, although she tried hard not to show it.
One thing we do know, however: never again did Bren choose to wear flip-flops in a blizzard!
So what was Cindy’s biggest challenge that cold morning? It wasn’t Bren or her footwear choice. It was the awareness that other moms might judge her as being a bad mom because she allowed her three-year old go to church in a blizzard in flip-flops. Her concerns were well founded — in fact, just recently, a woman admitted to having done just that on that fateful morning. But rather than feel guilty, Cindy knows that she did what was best that day: avoiding a needless battle, letting Bren learn from her mistake, and arriving at church in a joyful mood!
I couldn’t agree more!
[Note: flip-flops in the winter was a “Minor” in this case because it only involved Bren having to walk across a snowy parking lot. If she would have been walking to school or watching a parade for an hour, that would have been a different scenario. Having to amputate frostbitten toes pushes the issue into the “Major” category!]
* the stories and photo above are used with my kids’ permission!
One of the biggest mistakes we parents make is when we Major on the Minors. It wastes energy, causes us undo consternation, and jeopardizes our relationship with our kids.
In a previous post, I wrote about how parents have a God-given responsibility for managing their families. It is certainly the parents’ job to decide what will and will not be allowed in the home. In this post I want to encourage parents to carefully evaluate your current household expectations and rules to see if they may need rethinking.
Every parental expectation or rule can be separated into two categories: Majors and Minors. They can be either spoken or unspoken, formal or informal, articulated or perceived.
By Majors, I mean the things that we absolutely require of our kids. These are the firm expectations and rules for household behavior. They are the things we are willing to have battles with our kids over.
By Minors, I mean the things that are merely parental preferences, hopes, or dreams — but not requirements. We may wish things were otherwise, but we are unwilling to engage in battle over these things. A harmonious relationship with our kids is more important than getting these things that we’d prefer.
Everything must fit into one of these two categories. There is nothing in the middle — either it’s required or it’s not! Parents will be wise to think carefully about where they put what.
So what determines which of the myriad of possible expectations belong on the Majors’ side or the Minors’? Several factors will play into this. Here are some:
Religious convictions. (e.g. rules related to church attendance, religious instruction, modesty, swearing, etc.)
Family traditions (e.g. eating together, holidays, relative interactions)
Perception of the well-being and safety needs of the family (e.g. internet accountability, porn, smoking, sarcasm, bullying, noise volume, hygiene)
Pet peeves and personality factors (e.g. OCD, Autism, ADHD, and other realities that need special accommodation)
Special needs of family members (e.g. sleeping baby, stress, lack of sleep)
Learning from the example and inspiration of others
Three final thoughts…
First, consider carefully in which box your expectations should reside, because if you Major on the Minors you’re likely choosing numerous and needless battles with your kids. It was always our goal to have the fewest number of battles with them. Each battle builds a relational wall of separation between us.
Second, be aware that some things will need to switch back and forth from one list to the other over time. This is because family needs change as everyone ages, our abilities and capacities can grow, and our tolerance levels can vary.
Third, make your list of Majors as small as possible. Have as few rules as you can. Say “yes”, every time you can. Choose your “no”s strategically and be prepared to explain why.
This might be a better mix…
In my next post, I’ll share some of the things we considered Minors with our kids that may shock you!
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2017 will be remembered as the year when successful, famous people were suddenly taken down by the sins of their pasts being brought to light.
And when Christians fall, it’s doubly scandalous. We all know of those who claimed to be followers of Jesus whose hidden sins were embarrassingly exposed. Jesus himself, spoke out strongly against religious people who pretended to be Godly on the outside — while being corrupt on the inside. “White washed tombs” he called them.
But before we get too critical of the hypocrites around, we should pause to recognize the propensity we all have for living a double life.
Being aware of my own vulnerability, I have set a life resolution — one of my 40 Life Resolutions — as a reminder for me to continuously bring every vice of mine into the light. I don’t ever want to be counted among those remembered as having fallen from grace.
Resolution #11: Resolved to have absolutely no secrets of any kind in my personal life. I will fully disclose all my areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable — so that I may always be a man of complete authenticity and integrity.
How does this play out for me? Four ways.
1. When I mess up, I fess up. I use this phrase a lot. Secret sins never go away –instead, they grow and fester until they eventually take you down. We sure see that happening around us today! For my part, I want to live completely in the light. This is why many years ago I installed Covenant Eyes on my computer and have had my reports sent to my wife AND my two daughters. It’s amazing how those inappropriate images suddenly have very little sex appeal when indulging them would result in grievous conversations with my precious girls. And even when the software doesn’t catch something that may pop up on my screen (which just happened when searching for the image above in this post) I have made it my personal policy to report what I see to Cindy — I figure it’s her business to know what my eyes and heart have glimpsed.
2. Maximize, rather than minimize our sins. Too many people — even within the church — try to minimize their sins, calling them mistakes or blunders. They avoid taking full responsibility for their sin and make flimsy excuses instead. This is a slippery slope which desensitizes people to the seriousness of their sin — they pretend they aren’t all that bad after all. With me, if I’m going to err, I find it better to over-apologize, over-confess, and take more than my share of responsibility for my actions.
3. Absolute accountability. By this I mean that I intend to be forthright in confessing not just my bad behavior, but also my sinful attitudes, thoughts, and weaknesses. A mentor of mine once chastised me for my stated goal of confessing every sin. He warned me that “people can’t be trusted to know everything about us.” I respectfully disagree. We’ll only become as holy as we become honest. And if I’m doing things that potentially could make me unsafe around others, maybe I should stop doing those things!
4. Open Invitation. I invite others to speak into my life about sins that I may be blind to. That includes you!
As this new year arrives, may God’s people renew their efforts to live with integrity, that we may not see more of the casualties caused this past year by Christian hypocrisy. It starts with us. Join me in making such an important resolution.
Jesus sums it up in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
[This is a transcript of what I shared today at my dad’s funeral.]
I recently blogged about wanting to diethe way my dad did. It’s also equally true that I want to live the way he lived. God’s fingerprints are all over that story too.
As an infant I was adopted by Jim and Corey Forstrom. There were a million homes where I might have been placed, but God sovereignly delivered me to these extraordinary parents. I will forever be grateful for that.
My dad’s life verses were Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.“
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” At age 9, the Lord prompted Dad to place his trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins. He recognized that he was a sinner, deserving of the wrath of a holy God and that it was only by God’s mercy and grace provided through the death of Jesus on his behalf that he could be made right with God. Dad understood that God’s free gift of salvation could only be received through faith and not through doing good works. Yet his life was characterized by good works, not as a way to earn his salvation, but out of gratitude for what God had done for him.
At age 19 — in an Iowa bean field of all places — the Lord impressed upon my dad a conviction to enter into full-time Christian service. And oh how he followed that call!
By the time I entered the picture ten years later, my dad had finished college and seminary, and had been redirected from being a missionary in Africa to serving as a youth pastor in two different churches in Chicago and Minneapolis. We then went to Crystal Free for four years before spending the next 22 years here in this church [First Free Rockford, Illinois]. And then my parents moved back to Minnesota for 8 years of involvement with the National Free Church missions, followed by 12 years of volunteer service before returning here to Rockford for these past five years.
What I’d really like to share with you today is what I’ve personally gained from being Jim Forstrom’s son.
What a privilege to have had him as my dad! As I reflect on what his life meant to me, I realize that I could speak for hours and hours about this. But for your sakes, I will choose just a few of his qualities to focus on today.
The first thing that comes to mind about dad is his authenticity. What he taught, he lived. At home he was exactly what you saw anywhere else. He had a daily walk with Christ and he continually aligned his life with Scripture. This is his Bible and this was the foundation of his life. In a world where we see so many badly behaved so-called Christians who preach one thing but who live compromised personal lives, my dad stood out to me as the “real deal.” I got a front row seat in seeing what a real Christ-follower looks like and it made me want to be one too. If this is what being a Christian is all about, I want in! Anyone who truly knew him would have felt the same.
His leadership in the home is the second thing that comes to mind. Because my dad led our home using the principles of Scripture, it was a place of good relationships, love, nurture, respect, support, encouragement, and great delight. I have only positive memories of those years. Shannon and I had the privilege of growing up in an unusually healthy home. Today, I find myself passionate about helping dysfunctional families become healthy, and I’m sure it stems back to the nurturing environment of my childhood home. I personally reaped the benefits of a healthy home and I want that for others. My future career in counseling finds its roots in my healthy home growing up.
My dad’s humility in serving others is something else that I greatly admire. He was always content to be behind the scenes: planning, organizing, problem-solving, equipping, training, and deploying. He accomplished great things in life, but he didn’t need credit for them, or to be placed in the limelight, or to receive recognition. His life was more about others than himself. He preferred to make others shine. I need to be more like him in this way.
His commitment to faithful hard work and finishing well have truly inspired me. I tend to be lazy, but no one could ever accuse Jim Forstrom of laziness. He was always on mission and enjoyed doing things that mattered. A couple of years ago, when dementia had begun restricting his ministry opportunities, I remember him asking me for prayer that he could still find some kind of useful ministry to do during his remaining years. It turned out that his final ministry was one of prayer, which he faithfully did right until the end. I loved browsing through his folder of prayer letter updates, with notations from him about many of them in the margins. They were his boys — and girls. How he loved praying for their families and the advancement of their ministries.
D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, once said something profound that could just as well apply to my dad: “The world has yet to see what God can do with…the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him. I will try my utmost to be that man.”
On behalf of our family, I want to personally say how much your love and support has meant to us during this time of Dad’s homegoing . Yes, we are grieving that he’s not currently with us. But it is times like this that reveal the authenticity of our belief in what Scripture teaches. We live based on the truth of this book and we die in the confidence of what this book teaches — that there is guaranteed for us an everlasting life with Jesus. Dad had no fear of death, in fact in his last conversation with Mom he talked about looking forward to being with Jesus.
Eternal life is a promise for those like Dad who have repented of sin and self-effort and who have trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation. Because of this confidence we don’t need to grieve like the world does. We grieve with hope. We know we will be reunited with Dad for eternity, enjoying the rewards that await all followers of Jesus who serve him well. I know that Dad wanted nothing more than for all of his family and friends to one day end up with him in heaven.
Many of you listening to me [reading this] today never had the privilege to meet my dad. Perhaps he sounds like someone you wish you could have known. The good news is that you can meet him! Give your life to Jesus and you can spend eternity getting acquainted with my amazing Dad!
I want to live the way my dad did because his life looks a lot like Jesus’.
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25 years ago today I became the Youth Pastor at New Covenant, but it’s a miracle that I did. The odds were against me all the way.
Very few of you know the story I’m about to tell. But before I do, I have to show a picture of what Cindy and I looked like back in 1992. We were 28. We were young and in love. Now we’re just old and in love! And we have less hair!
Here’s the story. For six years I had been serving as “Director of Christian Education and Youth” at a Baptist church in our hometown of Rockford, Illinois, when one day — out of the blue — I got a phone call from some guy in Iowa. He said his name was Dave Sanders, that he was on a search committee, and that my name had been recommended to him by Jay Jentink (a former classmate of mine from Moody Bible Institute.) They were looking for a full-time Youth Pastor!
To put this in perspective, this NEVER happens. This was my dream job, but I hadn’t really told anyone about that dream. I wasn’t looking to change jobs — I didn’t even have a resume! From Dave’s description, New Covenant was a healthy, non-denominational church that made youth ministry a top priority. It sounded like a perfect fit for me!
I didn’t even wait to tell Cindy the good news! Instead I turned it down.
As much as I wanted to say yes to this exciting opportunity, I knew that I had to decline it. In recent months Cindy and I had become very upset with things that were going on in our church, particularly how certain people that we loved were being mistreated (in our view) by a handful of adults. We dreaded going to church to be around these “mean people.” Somehow, I knew that to leave our church at that point would be running from our problems — and that we would always regret that. I knew that God wasn’t releasing me. So I hung up with Dave Sanders, knowing that I had just passed up a rare opportunity.
Remaining stuck with these people and losing our potential escape from them made us doubly miserable. Recognizing our need for sympathy, we drove to Chicago to unload our woes on my best friend and mentor, Brian Carroll, and his wife Liz. We vented for hours about the way we were surrounded by gossipy, negative, unloving, grumpy, back-stabbing people. When we were done Brian quietly said eight words that changed our lives forever. “It sounds like you’ve become just like them.” Ouch. It was a knife to our hearts, but we knew he was right. He challenged us to give up our bitterness and instead choose joy, to love those we considered unlovely, to be Jesus to everyone.
It was like a switch in our souls was flipped. In an instant our attitude changed from incredulity to love. Instead of dreading church and going out of our way to avoid certain people we decided to make it our mission to gravitate toward them and treat them with kindness. Starting that Sunday, church was suddenly a delight for us. We stopped focusing on people’s shortfalls and started focusing on our responsibility to love them. We saw that these were good people and that the log in our eyes was bigger than the speck in theirs. Our attitude was completely transformed. I was even prompted by God to personally apologize to each of the people I had harbored bitterness toward — an apology not for my actions, but for my attitude toward them. One day — about a month later — I told God that I would be willing to work alongside them for the rest of my life. A miracle!
That’s when Dave Sanders called back a second time. “I know you turned us down, but for some reason your name keeps coming up in our search committee meetings. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
To put this in perspective, this NEVER, NEVER happens.
Because we had resolved our bitterness with our church we knew that God had released to pursue this new opportunity. I put together a resume and the interview process quickly confirmed that God’s had brought this about. We left that church on good terms with everyone and consider many of them dear friends to this day.
I have nine months left as youth pastor before leaving to pursue my new career in counseling and a new chapter in my life, but I will always be thankful for our 25 years at New Covenant and how God brought it all about so long ago!