100 Posts Later, It’s Out of My Hands.

22 02 2012

100.

This post marks a milestone–the 100th post I’ve written on this blog.

And the pressure of writing something stunning for this mini-monumental moment has been mounting for some time.

Do I write something extra-sarcastic and humorous, or deeply heartfelt and gut-wrenching? Do I write about joys and blessings, concerns or worries, insights and observations?

Ironically, I only started this blog on a whim about a year and a half ago. I only intended to use it for my own friends and family, at first–and in my spare time, working around my wacky schedule. I was stunned to find out that my youth and their parents were reading it…and then that I had a steady few hundred followers…and then that it caught the attention of the WordPress editors, who nominated it as a top post of over half a million writers, and recommended it to as many readers. I was surprised again to find that one of my most personal posts–one about the realization that my childhood was dead–was nominated by these same editors again, and that it was read by the equivalent of stadiums full of people all over the world.

So, you can see the interesting conundrum that’s going on: I intend only for this to be a fun, once-in-a-while side outlet, and people around the world are writing to me and telling me that they “love my work” and want to hear more from me.

Add to that the fact that I’m really not interested in devoting too much time to my personal blog–since I’d rather be engaging with the people around me–and you can see why this blog is a difficult balancing act.  I refuse to utilize the “tricks” that professional bloggers use to gain more readers and make waves to garner interest, posting at ideal times of day and with certain keywords  and word counts to maximize exposure. I’m simply a twenty-something who loves people, loves to write, and wants to be real. That’s it.

So, in the spirit of authenticity, I’ll devote this 100th post to something deeply meaningful to my life.

This past weekend, I helped facilitate a retreat for our Missouri District’s Peer Ministry Training team. Picture the cream of the crop student leaders from all around Missouri gathering at a camp and spending the entire weekend learning counseling skills and leadership training to use right away with their own peers, and you get a little glimpse of what we do at PMT. I brought 5 high school youth from my churches–young leaders who have been instrumental in my own middle school ministry–and it was incredible to see them be challenged and grow in knowledge and confidence right before my eyes, over the course of the weekend.

I had a flash of personal insight this weekend, however, while I was teaching a room of nearly 30 teenagers about “letting go” of all the things you’re holding onto in life. As I was speaking, I was struck by the absolute truth of what I was telling these students: when I let go off all of the “stuff” in my life, I’m more open to receive the blessings God wants to pour out on my life.

I know, it seems so simple. But it’s so profound.

To be frank, I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I would’ve ignored the Holy Spirit’s whispers in my life to let go of all I was holding so tightly to. In middle school and high school, I devoted nearly every waking minute to being perfect. I strove to practice my instrument diligently, trained to be the best athlete I could be, studiously completed my homework, took on every conceivable club and extracurricular activity and leadership position possible, and poured my life into friends. I spent countless weekends at school, hours at the gym, and every waking moment enjoying my whirlwind social life.

I knew I couldn’t possibly sustain the level of activity I was operating at. But I refused to let go of all of these things I was doing, and all of the things that I loved.

My life changed when I finally released my white-knuckle grip on everything–my future, my friends, my life goals, my choice of college major, my daily activities–and let it drop into God’s lap. I realized that I could finally open my hands up to what God wanted to give me, once my hands weren’t full with the immense burden I was trying to carry on my own.

So often, I pick things back up and cradle them to my chest, refusing to let go of them. And they aren’t just bad habits–many of them are noble, worthwhile endeavors. But it’s not until I let the Holy Spirit pry open my hands and gently drop this “stuff” that I’m able to clear my vision and see how much my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and how much more He wants to give me.

That’s not to say that life is necessarily easier when I let go, or that God is guaranteed to pour out an abundance of blessings in my life. God isn’t a magic genie who grants my every whim. But He’s proven to me that His peace, love, and joy are lasting and deeper than anything this world can offer, and I’d rather possess that than earn a staggering paycheck or be known as the “top banana” in my field.

It certainly hasn’t been a coincidence that the incredible opportunities I’ve had in the last two years–chances to speak internationally to teens, write a youth ministry column professionally, participate in radio and video interviews, and help our international Lutheran organizations in various ways–have all come right after those moments when I’ve again dropped all of those things I’ve been holding in my grip.

A thought-provoking devotion arrived in my email inbox this morning, sharing the story of Jesus’ first miracle–turning water into wine–with a new twist: when Jesus told the servants at the wedding he was attending to “fill the jars”, they went and filled them “to the brim” (John 2:7). The devotion pointed out that Jesus likely would have transformed those water jars into wine even if they had only been filled halfway, or three-quarters full. As the author pointed out, “Likewise, God will transform as much of our lives as we give Him.”

I read recently in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship these words:

“When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time–death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old person at his call…But if we lose our lives in his service and carry our cross, we shall find our lives again the community of the cross with Christ.”

It is so true. If we lose our lives to Christ, we will find it again in Him.

Perhaps it took me 100 posts to reveal that one valuable nugget of Truth–but it’s certainly been worth the rollercoaster ride it’s taken to get here. Because no matter where I end up in life, or what I do, or whose approval or respect I earn, I know one thing:

My life is securely in Christ’s nail-scarred hands, and there is no safer or more satisfying place to be than there.





Yes, I’m Married…to Satan.

26 04 2011

I don’t think too many women have uttered the phrase, “Honey, why don’t you go take off your makeup and we’ll go get some dinner” to their husbands.

But I have.

You see, I’m married to Satan.

No, really. I am.

At least, I’m married to the actor who portrayed the devil in our church’s Good Friday drama just a few days ago.

Tyler had been practicing a lengthy and intense monologue featuring Satan interrupting a somber worship service over and over again, which made for an incredibly powerful experience that I don’t think a single person who witnessed it will ever forget.

It’s hard to even describe it—other than to tell you to imagine what it would be like if the devil stood in the midst of the congregation, maniacally screaming, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” as lightning lit up a dark sanctuary and thunder rattled the building.

Yes. Chilling.

But my goodness, let me tell you—being married to Satan is quite an interesting experience.

For one, I spent weeks listening to Tyler perfecting the mocking, sneering voice that he used throughout the drama. Setting the table for dinner and overhearing, “Why don’t you come down from that cross if you can, Jesus” from the other room is just a little disconcerting.

And then there was the costume selection. An endless question of “Does this look evil enough?”

We settled on a lovely blood-red silk dress shirt—Bugatchi, if you’re a fashionista like me—and a silk vest paired with black slacks and a black tie. As my father quipped, “The devil wears Prada.”

What a lovely mugshot, Satan...I mean, Tyler.

Of course, there was the stage makeup, too. In Tyler’s opinion, the devil should be sickly pale, with wickedly black hair, a long black goatee and mustache, and dark circles around his pale eyes. He achieved this look with a copious amount of black hair dye, a lovely eye shadow palette borrowed from moi, and a super-light shade of foundation borrowed from our resident office makeup expert, Sue.

I didn’t tell Tyler this—I’m a bit embarrassed. But that shade of foundation that turned his face a papery white color?

The same shade I use on a daily basis.

What can I say? I’m a good ol’ German Lutheran girl.

Anyway, after Friday’s service, I had scores of people grabbing me by the elbow and breathlessly whispering, “Oh, Cassie, your husband was simply amazing!”

Ironically, the ensuing conversation always went pretty much the same way:

Me: “Thank you, I quite agree—he’s a great actor.”

Them: “Oh, Tyler was just so creepy!”

Me: “Yeah…he was just acting, though…”

Them: “But he was so creepy!”

Me: “Yeah.”

Them: “What’s it like to live with him?”

Me: “You know…intense…”

Them: “Is he that creepy at home?”

Me: “Um…no. You see, he’s just acting.”

Them: “Ooo…he was just so scary. I can’t imagine living with him.”

Me: “You know, he’s not really like that….he’s a good actor.”

The exchanges reminded me of a young friend of mine who was born and raised in Africa, the daughter of missionary parents. She laughingly told me that she can boil down people’s reactions to hearing that she’s from Africa into one of three lines of conversation:

A) “Did you live in a hut?”

B) “Did you have an indoor toilet in your hut?”

C) “Did you play with lions?”

The funniest part of this entire experience, in my personal opinion, is that Tyler did the children’s message on Easter Sunday, at all four services.

Yep—playing Satan on Friday night, and handing out plastic eggs full of candy on Sunday morning. He’s a talented guy.

All humor aside, it was delightful to watch my husband use the gifts God has blessed him with to help an entire church think a little bit differently about the true sacrifice that Christ made for us on that cross. Listening to the twisted, manipulative, venomous anger that Satan has for God—and knowing that despite how bone-chillingly evil Tyler portrayed him as, he didn’t even come close to tapping the true depth of wickedness that the devil actually is was mind-boggling.

And then, of course, was the incredible fact that Tyler didn’t break character once—despite having one of our youth grin and wink at him while he was screaming his lines at full volume.

Or the fact that while he stood in the front of the sanctuary, delivering the most passionate lines of the whole drama in candlelight, the tornado sirens shrieked at full-blast and the wind howled around the building, scaring the dickens out of the hundreds of us inside who were too afraid to move a muscle.

Thank goodness our lives can go back to normal now—without Tyler attempting to perfect the art of imitating the devil.

And let’s just say that despite the fact that I played the lead character in last year’s VBS drama, there’s only room for one actor in this family.

It’s definitely not me.





A Reminder About My Calling…from 7 Years Ago.

7 04 2011

Sometimes being in ministry gives me a feeling like I’m pounding my head into a brick wall continually.

It reminds me of this weird habit my little brother had, when he was a toddler–he’d bang his head against a hard surface repeatedly, trying to get attention. I mean, it worked. Every person in the room rushed to save this poor deranged child who was bent on smashing his tiny little head into the wall.

He’s fine now. Don’t worry. He even started talking when he was ten.

I’m kidding. I only tease because I talked plenty for both of us, as we were growing up. That kid didn’t have to ask for a single ketchup packet from a McDonald’s employee as long as I was around.

You know, I take it back.

It’s not just ministry that gives me that feeling. It’s life in general that makes me feel that way.

Sometimes it seems like every single day can be a struggle. We battle irritations, frustrations, changes, discontent, resentment, readjustment, and a whole host of other emotions on a regular basis.

However, I experienced a moment this last weekend that reminded me of something important–something I’m quick to forget, in the hectic chaos of my job.

God reminded me why I went into the ministry in the first place.

I helped take a group of adults and middle school and high school students to a large Christian concert on Friday night, an event called Winterjam. This was the second time I’d been to this particular concert, and even though I knew the adults would all be holding down comfortable seats in the stands, I was determined to spend this year’s concert down on the floor.

Why did I feel so strongly about standing for five hours straight? I don’t know. I think I’ve just been hankering for a good concert for a while, and my old bones don’t often get the chance anymore to get rattled from insanely loud subwoofers.

I know. Sometimes I forget that I’m an adult.

Our kids rocking out to KJ52's raps at the concert...

Anyway, after getting chased away from the main stage by security, we settled on standing halfway back in the auditorium, right next to the speakers’ stage. We got to talk to Tony Nolan and KJ52, and were just out of the camera’s reach when they filmed all the speakers who came up on the stage. It was awesome.

But what was even more incredible was watching the kids I was with, and realizing through silent observation what God had been doing in them.

In one particular moment, while Newsboys was singing “Mighty To Save”, I stopped singing and listened to my students singing out behind me. I had tears streaming down my face as I listened to their voices, pure and passionate, mingling together and rising up to God. I thought about each one of them, and how powerfully I’ve personally seen the Holy Spirit working in their lives over the course of the last few years, and I was floored.

The whispers of all the negative emotions that I encounter so often seemed to melt away completely in that moment. And I realized that even the worst days of my job (and life!) can’t change the calling God has given me–that calling to glorify Him in all that I do and to be used by Him in any way He wants.

It’s so easy to lose sight of why I went into this profession when I’m caught up in the busy day-to-day.

And the reasons why I went into it in the first place–this “Director of Christian Education” career that I literally knew nothing about, but knew with certainty that that was what God wanted me to do–didn’t make sense to most of my friends and family.

I certainly had no desire to go into the ministry as I was growing up. I had applied to colleges with the hopes of pursuing totally different career paths. I wasn’t a prim and proper “holy roller” in middle school or high school. I cared about my faith, but our church had a dysfunctional youth ministry and I never really connected with any religious leaders or influences in my life.

But God changed all of my plans and ambitions in one afternoon, and planted this calling in my heart. And over the course of several years, it was affirmed and nurtured. God led me the whole way.

And guess what I happened to be listening to, at the time that God planted this glimpse of my future to me over seven years ago?

Newsboys’ “Mighty To Save”.





Don’t Judge the Savior By the Screwball…

17 03 2011

(Author’s Note: This post is part of a multi-author blog site called “The Question”, where a variety of authors will be blogging about a sole topic. To check out the site, please go to whygrudge.blogspot.com or facebook.com/The-Question)


It’s the epic question that, provided you had the right answer, could land you a multi-million dollar book contract and enough speaking engagements to last you a lifetime.

The problem is that I don’t suspect that there’s merely one answer to this taxing question: why do people have a grudge against Christians and the church?

The implications of the answers affect each one of us, as Christians. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves—do we really want to know why we’re so disliked?

To put it in another perspective, isn’t what we’re asking here tantamount to the nerdy dweeb asking the most popular kid in school to bluntly list out all the reasons why he’s not cool?

Quite simply, one of the biggest reasons that Christianity isn’t popular is that we’re soldiers stranded in a hostile enemy territory.

Jesus himself tells us in Luke 12:51, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The world we live in has little patience for our standards of life. They don’t understand that our philosophy isn’t “every man for himself”, but instead “love your neighbor as yourself”. In a culture obsessed with freedom and success, the idea of submitting and laying down idols seems downright stupid.

And worshipping someone you can’t even see? Ridiculous.

For a year in college, I lived with a roommate who wasn’t a Christian. She was so clueless about Christianity, in fact, that when she watched “The Passion of the Christ” for a mandatory religion class assignment, she paused halfway through the scene of Jesus being whipped mercilessly and asked me, “They don’t kill this guy in the end, do they?”

My roommate observed my behavior as a Christian for an entire year. She asked me questions about why I would get up early on Sunday for church, or why I would waste time reading my Bible when I could be hanging out with the boy I had a crush on down the hall. When I finally convinced her to come to a campus chapel, after months of praying for the opportunity to get her in church for the first time in her life, she sat in mute silence, her face stony. She never came to chapel again.

I valiantly tried my best to point out all the benefits to my life as someone who had a relationship with Christ, but she wasn’t won over by my best arguments. To this ultra-hip, beautiful girl who had everything in the world going for her, she didn’t have the slightest interest in giving up her wild weekends and changing her lifestyle to live a life of obedience and thankfulness for her Savior.

Ultimately, my former roommate became a Christian five years later, after she hit rock bottom in her life. It wasn’t until everything in her life was shaken that she finally realized how important Christ really is.

I think that’s part of it, truly. Our lives are so comfortable and convenient, so fast-paced and chaotic, so distracted, that we forget that we need a Savior. In fact, we’re not entirely convinced that we have anything we need to be saved from. Sure, maybe we screw up every once in a while—but me? Deserve death for my disobedience? Nah.

Sometimes we don’t even realize that our lives have an ending point—and a future home after death—until something earth-shattering forces us to recognize our own invincibility.

And maybe, if we’re being honest, we don’t like to be reminded that we’re invincible. Perhaps we resent the fact that Christianity points out the weaknesses we want to hide, the secret flaws we want to pretend don’t exist in us, and the fact that we, too, will someday cease to breath and will die.

But why, too, are people so opposed to Christians themselves?

Being a Christian, I’m not sure if I can answer that for the “other team” accurately. But I suspect that maybe we find people hating us so much because, well, we’re kind of lame sometimes.

A Christian shirt I actually own...

We wear our pithy Christian shirts. We listen exclusively to our Christian radio stations. We read our Christian books with ridiculous titles, we drive our cars with silly bumper stickers, and we frequent Christian establishments.

Do we ever intentionally look at the bubble of safety we’ve created for ourselves to live comfortably within, and think that maybe we’re not meant to live solely in this zone? That maybe God called us to live out in the world and witness Him to people who don’t read Christian magazines and listen exclusively to Chris Tomlin?

As hard as we try, we’ll never be anything like Jesus. Yet we walk around proclaiming to be His earthly representatives. Unfortunately, when we yell to the world, “I’m a Christian!” and then screw up—as we so often do—we’re representing Him poorly.

Imagine a secretary who proudly claims to represent her boss so well…yet she continually forgets messages, doesn’t return phone calls, loses important receipts, chews out other employees, and bungles one business deal after another. Isn’t that sort of like what we Christians are doing to God?

I hate when I hear a band do a cover of a song from another popular group. Sure, it’s technically the same song—and sure, they can hit all the notes—but at its core, it’s merely an imitation of the real thing. And really, that’s what we are, as Christians. We are merely an imitation of Christ—not Jesus himself.

Sometimes we’re a pretty darn lousy imitation, too. But just as you can’t judge a horrible rendition of a song and give up on the original tune because of the blockhead cover artist, the world shouldn’t judge Christ based on our failed attempt to represent Him.

Somehow, I suspect our mission needs to be getting ourselves out of the way and letting the Holy Spirit shine through us as unclouded as He can. To share that, as Christians, we’re not perfect–but even as the fact that counterfeit money is circulated in the world doesn’t detract from the real money that’s out there, our weak imitation of Christ doesn’t truly represent who He is.

His kindness overflows. Ours does not.

His love is endless. Ours is not.

His forgiveness is limitless. Ours is not.

We are human. He is Almighty.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to realize how far we really are from Christ’s perfect love, and to honestly show that gap to the world. It’s only when we’re actually open to the stinging truth of our own failures and shortcomings that we can admit our own infallibility and our desperate need for a Savior.

Because really, that’s the beauty of our faith in a nutshell: in our deepest shame and our biggest mistakes, we can be forgiven and renewed and given a future we don’t deserve through the grace that Christ offers us freely and unconditionally.

And when we, as His earthly representatives, can be candid about this—maybe we’ll encounter a world more likely to sympathize with us.





Murphy’s Law Strikes Again…

9 03 2011

Murphy’s Law has been in full effect for me this week, it seems.

You know, that whole thought that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”? Yeah, I think I can confirm that it’s true.

It’s been a frustrating, sad, and grueling couple of weeks for me. I have an incredibly heavy plate of events to manage in the spring and summer, so my workload is increasing steadily. It’s the time of year where our 8th grade confirmands are submitting their written testimonies of faith, so I’ve been reading and editing up a storm.

On top of that, I’ve had a number of kids confiding serious feelings and problems to me. Several things in our apartment have failed and have had to be replaced. We had a serious storm that damaged our apartment complex and forced us to evacuate and hide in the church basement at midnight one evening. Friends from my workplace were let go. My boss’s son was tragically killed in a car accident last week, and our entire staff is heartbroken over his family’s loss.

This weekend didn’t make things much better.

Due to a mistake in our calendar system, I found out at the very last-minute that our entire youth event I had been planning all week would have to be shifted to an entirely different building, as our student center was booked for a private event. I stood outside in 40-degree weather, in the middle of a thunderstorm and a tornado watch, shuffling dozens of kids from one building to another. By the time I got inside to lead the event, I was soaked to the bone.

Not only did I have to come up with an event and new devotion on the fly, I also had to discipline some of my favorite students harshly–which is never fun.

And then I snapped my key to the church off in the door, thus locking myself out when I needed to get in to set up for a class I was teaching.

Apparently I have superhuman strength?

Good to know.

The next time someone needs to lift a tractor trailer off of a preschool playground, I’ll volunteer.

I spent literally all day at church on Sunday, worshipping in the morning, teaching a Communion Instruction class to families in the afternoon, and leading our senior high small group in the evening. Somehow, I managed to get a horrific papercut on my finger, which was only made worse by the object lesson I did on Sunday afternoon that involved me plunging my hand into a basin of vinegar and salt.

As painful as it sounds? Yes.

Yesterday, I ate a salad at my desk and dropped a large chunk of bleu cheese on the floor under my desk. It promptly rolled to some unknown region of darkness, and is now lurking there, out of my reach and likely to stink abominably for the next few days.

Oh, and I also got my pant leg stuck in my desk chair so badly that I had to cut the hem of my jeans in order to extricate myself.

See? Murphy’s Law.

I am completely and utterly demoralized and drained.

But you know what? I received this text this week, from one of my high school students:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

I realized something: in the midst of all that frustration and pain, I hadn’t given much attention to the amazing things that God was revealing to me in the last week.

I had the opportunity to worship on Sunday with three college boys–kids from the very first youth group I’d ever volunteered with, when I was a college student living in Florida for a summer. They took a long roadtrip just to see us this weekend and hang out with us in St. Louis.

As I sat with them, head bowed, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I had tears in my eyes as I remembered sitting with them at a different church four years ago, praying with them there. I was only a college student then, but I was just as passionate about reaching people and sharing Christ’s love with them. Even though I didn’t know them very well at that point, I loved them fiercely.

I remembered going to bed every night, praying for these teenagers by name and trusting that God would guide them through the difficult years of high school and college that were just ahead of them.

I remembered sitting up with them in the hallways at the National Youth Gathering in 2007, counseling them as they worked through some serious doubts about their faith–talking and praying for hours into the night as they wrestled with challenging feelings and difficult questions.

I remembered them gleefully throwing me into a pool when I was fully clothed…and then sharing their towels with me when I climbed out of the pool, shivering.

This weekend, I sat with three former students who are now incredible men of faith. And as I sat there with my head bowed, it was if the Holy Spirit was whispering to my heart, “See? This is what I do. This is what you get to have a small part in. I’m reaping a harvest. Don’t give up. I’ll be your Strength. I’m working here.”

As distracted and busy and worn out as I get, I know God is still working in mighty ways. And it is my true privilege to get to have a small role in His incredible work.

And when Murphy’s Law strikes again–as I know it will–God will still be working then, too.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)





“This Moment Is Unlike Any Other Time In History”

1 03 2011

Recently, I was chatting with my husband about literature. The conversation occurred when he stood looking at my office bookshelf, which is quite tiny and so crammed with books that I can barely pull one out without ripping my fingernails off.

Would that count in a worker’s comp lawsuit?

If so, I better note all those papercuts I get from doing mass postcard and letter mailings, too.

Tyler gazed over the titles of my books, and said to me, “Some of these books are probably the life’s work of some of these people. Do you think that their life’s work–their legacy in ink–matters to anyone else?”

Good question.

I think the real question is whether or not a book can truly transform your life. If so, the hard work and sacrifice to write the book is definitely necessary.

In my humble opinion, my life truly has been impacted by literature. I’ve been deeply provoked, challenged, comforted, and inspired by countless authors. In fact, I’ve written to a few authors over the last few years and told them how much their books have meant to me. I’m convinced that some of these authors and I would be kindred spirits if we actually knew each other.

One such book that has impacted me is Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for a review).

Holy cow, people. If you read one book this year, make it this one.

And trust me, I’m quite the book critic. I don’t highly recommend any old book–only the truly outstanding ones.

Lyons writes brilliantly and clearly, with honest passion and intensity as he tackles a complex subject: the future of Christianity in the upcoming generations. His optimism and belief that the younger generation desperately wants to be a “force of restoration in a broken world” and is embarking on a revolution to rebrand the name “Christian” as something that stands for authenticity, truth, beauty, and intelligence resonates completely with what I’m seeing in the world of young Christians around me.

Lyons states, “I believe this moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. Our friends will continue to drift away, meeting their need for spiritual transcendence through other forms of worship and communities of faith that may be less true but more authentic and appealing.”

Preach it, brother.

Through statistics, stories, and personal reflections, Lyons weaves together a gem of a book that hit the nail on the head so many times that I literally stopped and pumped my fist in excitement in a few places…however endearingly nerdy that may sound to actually admit.

Fine, I may have a bit of a geeky streak. Proof? I was in marching band, love musicals, and adore art history.

Counterproof? I hate Star Wars, Star Trek, and video games.

Let’s get back on track.

Lyons gets it. He has his finger on the pulse of young Christians. He knows what he’s talking about.

One of the most compelling chapters in this book was where Lyons explained the different types of Christians and the way they generally interact with the world. I read through the entire section, and started getting worried–none of these descriptions fit me. “Am I a total misfit?” I wondered.

Lyons then went on to describe what he calls “the restorers”:

“I’ve observed a new generation of Christians who feel empowered…They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love.

I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest.

They are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange under way, they are optimistic that God is on the move–doing something unique in our time.”

It’s amazing, really–not only that Lyons described me and many of my young Christian friends to a “T”, but that Lyons echoed a sentiment here that I’ve been preaching to my middle school and high school students for a year now: God is doing something unique in our time.

Trust me. This is a must-read. It will challenge and inspire you, and give you hope for the future of our faith.

You can always judge how much I truly liked a book by how vigorously I wrote my notes in the margins. I circle, highlight, draw arrows, write my reactions and observations, and disagree with the text all the time–and leafing through, you can see just how much I wrestled with the text and therefore let it saturate my brain.

Guess how jam-packed the margins of this book are?

You got it: full.





I’m Cranky–But Being Honest.

16 10 2010

If I’m being honest with you, I have to admit that I hate the phrase “If I’m being honest”.

Doesn’t it make you automatically distrust the person saying this overly used, pithy phrase? Like instantly their credibility is in question, because they have to actually clarify their honest statement in the face of the rest of their statements, which are clearly nothing but baloney?

Anyone else feel that way?

Alright. We cleared the air on that one. I’m the only loony in the world.

Since I strive for honesty in everything I write, I think it’s time to confess something: Sometimes I seriously question my sanity.

Fine, you’ve got me. I know I’m sane. It’s the rest of you who are the insane ones.

What I really mean is that I question why on earth I decided to go into youth ministry. I’ve been in that funk for a few days—that sort of haze where you look around you and say, “Gee, this is a really stressful job with way too many deadlines, and I’m getting pretty darn sick of texting kids all the time and getting messages back in a language that only halfway resembles English.”

Part of my stress comes from the fact that one of the biggest events of my entire year is just a week away, and naturally the one year I decide to bump this retreat up two weeks early, I’ve ended up being away at conferences for two weeks—cutting my prep time in half. Add in several difficult issues within my various programs, increased responsibilities, leader issues to manage, and the additional strain on my schedule in deciding to become a high school leader this year—as well as trying to maintain a blog and a column, joining a district leadership team and promising to write curriculum for them, and mentoring a few students—and you get me on a rampage, ranting about the rest of the world being crazy.

What on earth WAS I thinking?!

This stress is probably what has prompted me to start cracking odd jokes about clowns and spontaneously buy the movie Killer Klowns From Outer Space for one of my students.

I know. Nonsense. You’re wondering what sort of fine, upstanding youth leader I can actually be, if I buy cheesy horror movies on impulse.

I’ll tell you exactly what kind I am—in Pastor Mark Driscoll’s insightful words, “a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody”.

What exactly am I trying to say here? I don’t know. Maybe I’m trying to be brutally honest and tell you that life isn’t always so great when you work in the ministry. Weekly, I feel like I’m in an uphill battle against a downward landslide in our world. I have people get angry with me, blame me for problems, and share the worst parts of themselves with me.

I hear unbelievable things from students and parents—issues I never even imagined going on under calm exteriors. I routinely meet dozens of new kids who are crushed if I don’t remember their faces or names the very next time I see them. I have to remember hundreds of inside jokes and details about students’ lives, and I have a constant radar scanning for kids who are secretly troubled and upset so I can help them.

I have articles and curriculum to write, events to schedule and plan, programs to run, mission trips and banquets and classes and retreats to plan, and leaders to train.

And that’s all on a good week.

This week, we had a multi-site expert come in to talk to our staff. I stayed after his presentation to chat with him. He told me that, based on the number of kids in our program, I was doing the work of three or four full-time employees.

Hm. Not sure if that was more of an affirming, “Way to go, Cassie, for handling everything you do!” or a “Hold still, sister, while I try to hit you in the head with this shovel and bury you just a leettle bit deeper!”

In the midst of my already very stressful week, I ended up with some of the most immature, worst-behaved kids I’ve ever dealt with in a small group Bible study I was leading. I was exhausted, cranky, and didn’t really want to be there. Everything I just stated was hanging on my shoulders like a heavy load. And, to top it off, I had been so pressed for time that I had asked my husband to help me write this Bible study—and was ticked that he had only written three questions for an hour and a half long study (never again, dear, never again).

I was counting down the minutes till the study ended, to be honest. I didn’t even care that the floor was coated with a lush carpet of popcorn and candy wrappers. I just wanted to go home and put on my pajamas. And that’s when it happened:

I watched a student have an “Aha!” moment as we talked about what Jesus has done for us.

And instantly, all the frustrations and stress vanished—the load was lifted.

I can’t really describe it much more than that. All she said was, “Oh!” in a surprised way, and her face absolutely lit up—but I knew that all of my long hours had been worth it. She connected with her Savior. God used me, in the midst of all my crankiness and bitterness.

Me. A nobody, trying to tell everybody about Somebody.

In the end, it’s all worth it. The Holy Spirit is always working, even when we’re wrapped up in our own frustrations and irritations.

And that’s really all I have to say…if I’m being honest.