Sabbath Days Are a Joke!

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  Exodus 20:8-11

The passage goes on to prescribe rest, cessation from work, and family dynamics as key components to keeping this commandment.

So why is it most youth workers start their Sunday breaking this commandment before they even get out of bed?!

What most consider a Sabbath is, for obvious reasons, a work day for every pastor on the planet.  And even when another day is identified as a potential day off, the Sabbath portion of that moment is often derailed by responsibilities that have been necessarily avoided throughout the week.  Lawns still have to get mowed.  Groceries still need to be purchased.  Houses must still be cleaned.

Over time, I’ve recognized that a full day of Sabbath simply doesn’t exist in my life.  The best way I can honor the commandment while still keeping my head above water with all the other responsibilities I shoulder is by finding Sabbath moments and fighting for them with all my might.  Here are a few I have identified in my life.  What might yours be?

Our family attends worship together.  No matter what.  Katie and the boys don’t schedule volunteer opportunities during that time.  I make every attempt to keep my ‘official’ responsibilities to a minimum during that time.  (Sometimes that means joining my family late or leaving service early, but I’m still there!)  Before our church had multiple services, it meant having someone else kick things off in the youth room while I spent a song or two in the worship service with my wife and kids.  It’s a Sabbath moment.

I guard potty time.  No lie.  It’s not typically that difficult since my family doesn’t want to participate in that activity with me, usually.  It’s a guaranteed moment of privacy that virtually insures some uninterrupted time with Jesus (because he doesn’t mind sharing that time with me!)  It’s a Sabbath moment.

I lose myself in car worship.  My typical commute to work is less than 20 minutes.  I try not to engage in calendar assessment, practice runs at phone calls, or writing virtual e-mails in my head.  I’ll have to do all that soon enough – and trying to complete it in my car is futile since I’ll have to repeat most of it ‘in real life’ when I get to the office anyway.  So I’m the guy belting it out at the red light that you and your family are probably making fun of on any given day.  It’s a Sabbath moment.

I sit someplace weird.  By that, I mean I don’t stay chained to my desk the entire week. I’ll hang out in the student center.  I’ll office from a local coffee shop for a few hours one morning.  No lie – once it was in the coat closet in the lobby of the worship center.  I sit somewhere that forces my brain and heart to disengage from ‘tasks’ for a few minutes. It’s a Sabbath moment.

There’s an attitude of Sabbath that supersedes the hands of the clock.  So whether you can find 24 hours or just 24 minutes – find them.  Sabbath matters.  It was important enough to make it to the tablets.  Make it important enough to land on your calendar somewhere.

 

For more tips on how to manage a hectic life, check out the all-new youthministry.com this week!

 

 

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to 2015

I do know this: 2014 existed to get me to 2015. And while I may not understand every step, I see so very clearly the hand of God. And it’s funny….how in the midst of it, we might not even be sure God is noticing. But He’s orchestrating every step.

2014 has been an adventure, to say the least!  The beginning could never have predicted the end!

My eldest graduated from high school and moved away to college.  After nearly three years of un or under employment, God opened the right door for us.  We moved our entire family from Texas to Arizona.  I fell into a writing opportunity for a little movie called God’s Not Dead, which has led to some other amazing prospects. And probably about 126 other things I could recount if I journaled.  But I don’t.  So there you have it.

“What’s so funny about that?’, you ask?

brick wallSomewhere in the past 10 years, I lost my way.  Lost myself.  Forgot who and whose I am.  I think maybe life does that to you over time.  I began to equate my self, my soul, with what I do…not who I am.  Consequently, when I no longer ‘was’, I had no idea who I ‘am’.  And it was a rough journey to struggle out from under that fallen brick wall – for me and for those around me.

And to be thoroughly honest, I’m still a little flattened.  But as I shake the dust off, tend the wounds left behind, and assess…I become so much more aware of how God – in the way only God does – has orchestrated every step to bring me to this very moment.

I still don’t understand all of 2014.  I haven’t yet discerned why it’s so hard to watch my boys grow up.  I’m puzzled at why the transition to a new church and a new state has seemed harder than I thought it would be when God is so very obviously ‘in it’.  I still don’t get HOAs or the allure of a gated community, though I completely understand it’s a lot nicer than a pool you have to mow!

I do know this: 2014 existed to get me to 2015.  And while I may not understand every step, I see so very clearly the hand of God.  And it’s funny….how in the midst of it, we might not even be sure God is noticing.  But He’s orchestrating every step.

I love it when He does that.  And I am excited to abandon pool-mowing for the foreseeable future!

They Loved Me – They Really Loved Me.

springhillI spent a week at 5th and 6th grade camp.  I think I’ve done that almost every year since I WAS a 5th and 6th grader.

As I walked down the hill from my cabin last night, I could hear sponsors trying to call the kids to order; trying to herd those cats into their respective cages. And just like that, I was transported back to Spring Bluff.  The ringing of the bell meant it was time to head to the next thing.  And the flashlight of Brother Bill signaled how much trouble we were in for being out of our cabins!

Brother Bill – a true saint departed – roamed those grounds all night with his flashlight…sometimes masquerading as the pitching mound on the baseball field as the moon reflected from his rotund, white T-shirt clad midsection.  He roamed because he loved us.

Mitch and Cindy – our ‘parents’ in almost every sense of the word – allowed us each a small glimpse of a healthy happy family, whether we needed it or not.  They laughed with us.  They cried with us.  And now that I’m a youth pastor, I know how much they prayed for us.  They prayed because they loved us.

Larry, Julian, Burt, David, and 100 other partners in crime – my youth group ‘posse’ – tolerated, tortured, and sometimes teased….more than any of us ever should have.  And we listened to each other.  We listened because we loved.

And that small, round older lady – our ninja grandma whose name I cannot recall but whose face I still see clearly – made us clean our own tables, do the dishes again if we did a bad job, threatened us with a wooden spoon when we needed it, and treated every condition we ever had with water, band-aids, patience and a fierce kindness.  She bossed because she loved.

I don’t remember a single camp theme.  I no longer have any of the awards I got (not even Mr. Underpants…or whatever it was.)  I can’t even remember how many times I went to church camp as a kid.  What I do remember?  Those people loved me.  THEY changed my life forever.  Because they loved me.  And when you spend a week at camp, you become a lover who changes lives.  Never forget the role you play…it can rewrite legacies.

Youth Ministry. I know.

symc-2014-250x250Your conference budget probably turned over in January, right?

Request the money right now to go to Simply Youth Ministry Conference on Columbus, OH in March!

Quit making excuses.  There’s still plenty of time to make arrangements.  You aren’t leaving the country!  You don’t even need any special shots or pills for this trip.

I know.  You’ve been to every conference there is.  I get it.  I’ve been to a billion conferences, too.  And you’re probably right – there’s nothing really ‘new’ under the sun.

I know.  It’s Columbus.  I’m from Texas…Ohio is just some other state vaguely in the middle of the country.  And I heard it snows there…sometimes in March.  You’re probably right – not an exotic location.

I know.  It’s hard to get away.  You have to get 47 signatures to be gone, find people to cover your specific roles, find people to cover the roles you usually find people to cover for just in case someone needs covering.  And don’t even get me started on the kids and the babysitters and trying to get things ready for my wife.  You’re probably right – a lot of logistical church stuff to do.

I know.  It’s easy to sit at your desk and justify every reason on earth not to be at SYMC this year.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk, boring holes into your calendar through tears you are willing not to fall, simply because you’re overwhelmed.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk and wonder if you’re even getting any of this ministry stuff right.  Someone’s always complaining.  Some kids aren’t coming.  The ones who are coming don’t seem to get it.

I know.  It’s lonely sitting at that desk.  And that’s exactly why you need SYMC.

It’s not an exotic location at the perfect time in your schedule with guaranteed tracks that you’ve never heard before.

But it’s not lonely.  And you’re not alone.  There’s a nation of youth workers pushing back from their desks and up to the table as we embark on a week of transformation.  Wherever you find yourself and your desk this week….find your way to Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

Youth ministry.  I know.  We all do.  That’s why I want you to be there.

Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus, OH, on March 7-10, 2014.

Transformation Tuesday: Mr. Bill

I’m highlighting some youth ministry ‘transformations’ each Tuesday.  (OK – who are we kidding….it doesn’t happen every Tuesday.  Stop judging me.)

I’m sharing this story from my good friend, Bill Freund, with his permission.  Sometimes youth ministry transforms kids.  And sometimes it transforms us!

IMG_6171 (1)Not everyone knows, but leaving our last church really took a toll on me personally.
I went to that church to serve alongside one of my best pastor friends.  Two years in there was a coup because a few families wanted a different style of leadership. He ended up resigning (and not letting me resign with him) and going on the mission field – where his heart is anyway. Our church hired a new pastor who, from day one, wanted a different kind of youth pastor.  Namely…younger.  Obviously, that was an unrecoverable problem for me.  I tried for 4 years to accommodate his requests save moving out of student ministry (which I was asked 3 times to do).  In my final 6 months the relationship deteriorated as I met regularly with one of the elders pleading for them to intercede. After repeated admissions of ‘we have no idea what to do’, the time came to make a change. Finally feeling the Lord’s leading (and without any job lined up), I resigned and almost before I could finish talking they hatched a plan for my departure and severance.  It seemed much easier for them to ‘know what to do’ with that than trying to find a way to help us work through our differences.
This started a period of pretty deep depression for me that I had never experienced before. I kept doing the right things but just feeling numb. To feel unwanted, primarily because of my age; left wondering if God was through with me being in youth ministry;  was I washed up?;  was my resume being tossed aside just because I’m 51?…..
God was in the process of transforming me and I wasn’t really liking it. We kept praying and seeking Him and asking for clear direction – and God answered VERY CLEARLY.  But we didn’t like the answer. God asked us to leave a community we’ve poured 23+ years of our life into (for my wife, Jean, 30+ years)??? Take Jean away from her family for the first time ever? Take our son (with Asperger Syndrome), who needs familiarity and consistency, to a new place with a zero friend base? CLEAR, but clearly not what we wanted. Like Abraham (rather than Jonah), we left our people, our family, our land and went to follow God’s leading to Castle Rock to love on students at a church there. And it came with much pain: financially we have no idea each month how we’re going to make it. Jean had some serious medical issues the first six months we were there. We struggled to find any who would volunteer to help with student ministry.  And our son ran away three times.
In the midst of this, God began doing amazing things in the lives of students – students like Kendra* & Jaqueline* who have come to know Jesus; students like Phillip* & Casey* who had been praying for months for a student ministry for them to grow deeper & wider in;  students like Alex, Brianna, Max, Liddy & JoAnna who had been cutting and are now getting help.  God is transforming and I could go on & on & on & on!~
Transformation means change & reformation.  It’s painful, yet beautiful!~
I feel like this pic depicts my new life excitement after transformation….
What’s your youth ministry story of transformation?  Let me share it!!  Shoot me an e-mail!
And if you’re in need of some transformation – check out this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference!  (It’s not too late!)

White Noise & Resolutions

television_staticI decided a few years ago that resolutions always make me feel like a failure.  And I don’t deal well with that.  So I have cut them from my life.  I wish ice cream made me feel like a failure.

But I do always take a stock of the year as it passes.  And as I have contemplated this past year, I realized something.

Noise is noise.  Doesn’t matter how distinct it is.

It’s be a rough year on the Sutton front – a rough three or so, actually.  And as I thought through the past year, I wondered if I had been too internally focused.  I mused that maybe I was self-centered and whiny.  Perhaps I zeroed in on things that were temporal.

I’m sure all those things are true.  And a sadder truth — that might not change.  Especially since I don’t do resolutions.  :)

More poignant to me, however, was this thought….it’s been a really LOUD year.  God was silent much of this year.  And I was not.  I asked and pleaded and begged and questioned and reasoned and prayed and thought.  Jesus didn’t say much.  But friends and family counseled and encouraged and sympathized and helped and gave and prayed.  The Holy Spirit was a whisper and everything else was a blood-curdling scream.

It’s not that any of those things were bad or wrong or louder than He can be.  It was all just…white noise.  Static – when I wanted to tune in to the station.  And it’s amazing how loud white noise really is.

More than anything, I want to tune in this coming year.  Push beyond the white noise of this life – of ministry, of family, of circumstance – and re-know that joy of finally finding some FM digits that actually broadcast clearly and surprisingly after you’ve been driving through the desert with nothing but static.

Happy New Year – I hope you hit the right station on your dial.

Obedience Has a Sucky Rewards Program

header_rewardsProgramSo maybe you have one of those credit cards where you earn cash back for your purchases.  (I have that with my electric company – and since I live in South Texas, that’s a pretty fat annual check!)  Or maybe you fly with points.  (I fly Southwest – and we don’t get special lounges in airports, but I am getting to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus for free this year!)  Companies offer rewards programs because they want customer loyalty.  If their rewards system sucks, they don’t achieve that goal.

Our family has been through the wringer in the past few years.  We made some decisions that were costly.  We knew going into those decisions that disobedience was the easier, more convenient, more lucrative option.  We knew that obedience would cost us everything…and it has.  And we never even questioned it.  Not because the rewards plan was so amazing – because it usually isn’t.

People have created a beautiful rewards plan for obedience…but it’s usually a mirage to just help them endure the desert.  You’ve heard of the system:  “God rewards obedience” or “God is showing them favor because of their faithfulness” or “God will honor your faithfulness and has something amazing in store because of your obedience”.  The truth is – usually obedience has a sucky rewards program.

There is no guarantee that being obedient will garner God’s favor or blessing.  Being obedient will sting – and possibly become excruciating, unquenchable pain.  The knowledge that you were obedient will sometimes be the only reward available to you – and by the time you reach that point, it will be of little comfort.  And just because someone you know is living in a lap of luxury does not insure that they are lapping up the rewards of an obedient life.

Here’s a hard truth.  The rewards system for obedience possibly will not have a benefit that you readily see.  Probably there won’t be a check in the mail, the perfect job offer, or vindication that your choice was the right one.  The reward only comes at the very end – ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’  God doesn’t hand out lollipops so we’ll keep coming back.  He doesn’t have to.

Faithfulness is the reward.  It will be recognized when your job is done.  So regardless of what rewards program you find yourself part of this day…there’s another day coming, a pay-off on the other side of this life.  Until then, hang on!!  Because THAT rewards system blows everything else out of the water!