Thanksgiving in July?

I was just thinking and I know I am not the only one, but why is it we think about being thankful during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons? Not that we don’t think about it any other time, but during those seasons it is really pushed into the forefront of our lives.

We spent a lot of our Thanksgivings with my family in central Texas where I was raised with my folks and my favorite aunt in the whole wide world. It is almost automatic during this time of the year to be thankful, because let’s face it, it’s in the name of the holiday. While we give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed upon us, I was thinking about all the bad. Now stay with me here. Yes I am so grateful for an amazing family, a beautiful wife, out of this world children, parents who believe in me and have been my biggest cheerleaders, a job that I love, and awesome Sr. Pastors. I am so thankful for everything.

I sometimes think that this is a dream. Who would have thunk it? Someone like me can be so blessed, and I am so thankful, but that also leads me to back to the bad. I am talking about those challenges in life that pop up all of a sudden. Those difficult times that make you say “what tha…!?” I can honestly say that I am thankful for those too. It is during those crappy times in my life that mold me, that shape me, that brings me back to the reality that this world is broken and Christ has set me on a journey that at times will be filled with hurt, and disappointment, but it is in these points in my walk that I grow. Psalms 46 says “God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea storm and earthquake…” I get in the “FIGHT or flight mode” and you know what? I fight!!! I will not back down, I will not give in, I will not let anything come in between me and the calling/purpose GOD has called me into. It’s in the bad, that I can actually understand the good, and for that I am truly thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; THANK GOD no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”

Church Youth Camp Brouhaha…

I love summer church camp, so much in fact that I have been to the same church camp 17 out of the last 20 years. I have been a camper, a youth leader, an intern at the camp, on staff with the camp and now as a youth pastor. I have basically come full circle if you will. In those years I have seen lives changed for the good and sadly for the worse.

There is something about youth camp; there is an expectation for God to do something mighty in the lives who attend. For that short week I have seen students pursue God with a passion more than they ever had before. It’s not like God is different at church camp than at a Wednesday night youth service, but unfortunately that is what the mentality is. Maybe it is like that because the students are away from every distraction and thrown into a situation that allows them to make God their primary focus. Maybe it is seeing 1200 campers in one place and they think to themselves “hey, I am not alone”. Whatever reason it is, the students passionately pursue God. I have seen many students at the altar and have a REAL encounter with God. It is a sight to see when God meets a student right where they are at. Wow!

Now with the good, there is the bad and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life…I kid, I kid. I  have seen students have an “emotional” reaction to camp, in which they answer the altar calls, they worship with all they have, they say all the right things, they do all the right things…for a few weeks, and then…well and then they seem to revert back to the same lifestyle and bad choices prior to camp. In some instances some of these students get further away from God and deny any encounter with Him whatsoever. As a student pastor it saddens me to see these students not by their words deny Him, but by their lifestyles.

This reminds me a lot of the children of Israel in the Old Testament. In a nutshell it basically goes like this. Israel is in bondage, they cry out to God to save them, God raises someone to deliver them, they are freed and live for God, after some time goes by they forget what God has done and live however they want, then are attack and conquered by an enemy tribe which then leads them back into bondage. Over and over again this happens to the children of Israel. They turn to their first love in times of trouble/need and then turn away after that trouble or need is over. Students who encounter God as a “fix” or as a remedy for the time fall into this category unfortunately. We adults fall into this as well, but we are better at hiding things at times than teenagers. We’ve been practicing more…I guess.

I say all that to say this. Emotion without application leads to nothing. Plain and simple, you go to encounter God at a camp, at a conference, you seek God for a fresh word and he gives it to you. GREAT! The emotion of it all consumes you; you sling snot all over the place and then you leave, you go back home, and think to yourself “man, that conference/camp was awesome. God really marked my life! I will never be the same.” Yet if you DO NOTHING about it, you know what you will get? You will get NOTHING!!!

Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 to me explains it so well as to why some students/adults “get it” and others don’t.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should…

Are you running to win?