504 Java Profile

504 Java Profile
Two of my favorite things

Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Conclave and Community.

I got to minister along side of some pretty amazing people this weekend. The Southeast Youth Ministry Conclave in Chattanooga is lots of great training, lots of inspiration and lots of community. It has the feel of a youth ministry family reunion.

We were blessed with a beautiful snowfall--though the idea of snow in the Southeast is a travel-stopper. I must confess, and maybe even apologize for being distracted with the question of if and when I would get out, what it would cost, how the details would work out...a wise youth minister in Nashville postponed an event and I received the gift of time.

I am reminded that if we aren't careful, we can get so caught up in the details of the "next" that we miss the "now." I was blessed to have great conversations with some dear friends in ministry--and to spend some time with some amazing teenagers, breakfast with colleagues, dinner with former youth groupers who now lead ministries of their own.

It was truly a family reunion.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Worship and the Saints

Those of you who know me know that I mean my beloved New Orleans Saints. I am a season-ticket holder (if you are from another city, understand that the season tickets in New Orleans are to this point very affordable). Thus I was at the epic game on Sunday night.

It brought back a memory. Several years ago, Louie Giglio described the reception that Michael Jackson received around the world as an earthly imitation of worship. Among the MJ fans, all the biblical components of worship were present--hands raised, unashamed adoration, falling on faces, shouting, singing...

On Sunday night, I may have stumbled on another earthly metaphor. I would never reduce heavenly things to earthly imitations, but the atmosphere in the Superdome was an earthly imitation of what heaven must be like. All of one mind. Community to make the most ardent postmodernist jealous. Shouting from the top of our lungs. Adoration for our heroes. Singular focus. Complete an undivided attention. Unscripted shouting (when the Vikings offense was on the field) spontaneous hand raising (when we waited for the referees to get Reggie's touchdown call right). Animosity towards anything that hindered the cause, be it purple and white or black and white striped...

Wonder why we don’t do that in church? Now that would be attractive to people who are wondering what's the big deal about a relationship with Jesus.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On the Privilege of Preaching

I get to preach at the University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for the next two weeks, FBC Ray City on Super Bowl Sunday and fill in for my pastor (and one of my heroes) at FBC New Orleans on Valentine's Day.

I love to try to understand the Word and then try to make it understandable to hearers. I am terrified at the thought that I am responsible for bringing the Word, yet I am burdened with the practice of hearing it. I confess that one reason I love to preach is that I work harder at worship. As a leader, I am more invested than when I am a hearer and that is sad.

In Ephesians 2, Paul presents the process of redemption in Christ as restoration. Tomorrow morning, I will compare the process to my dream project--that of restoring a 1968 Camaro. I envision finding a rusty but salvageable '68 in a junkyard (like nobody else has seen this hidden treasure). I will negotiate a purchase price, claim it as my own and bring it out of its graveyard. I will give it a new name (all classic cars have to have a name), and lovingly and painstakinigly begin the process of restoration. It won't be finished all at once, but it will change ownership all at once and be placed in the diligent if not competent hands of a wannabe mechanic.

Before God began to restore me, I was dead (Eph. 2:1-3). I was claimed and put into drivable condition (v.4-9) and even though I am not perfect, I am on the road to run errands for the One who Restored me.

As a personal note, the plan and hope is that my son would hear me preach tomorrow. He is a Camaro who has not allowed the oil to be changed in a bit. Pray for him--and me--and you as you process the incredible news of restoration.

I can't wait to get back on the road again (has someone else said that before?)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Parents and The Call

Some close friends of ours got "the Call."

As a youth ministry professor, you might think I am talking about "the call" to ministry, but not this time. I am talking about one of the worst nightmares for parents-- "the call" in the middle of the night from the sheriff, the state patrol, or the doctor in the emergency room, telling you that your teenager is in trouble.

Judi and I have received "the call."

When you get "the call" your world changes. You shift into autopilot. Dad wants to fix things, accuse the person or persons who let this happen. Mom simply wants to get to the side of a child in trouble.

Powerless. Answers slow to come. Staring at your cell phone trying to think of the name of a doctor, lawyer or close friend to give advice. Each decision is one you haven't made before. You woke up in the middle of the night, so you are a bit slow in processing all of the potential outcomes of "the call."

At the end of the day, I take comfort from the story of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19). After some incredible moments where the prophet watched God show up in mighty ways. A very short time later, Elijah was terrified of an insane queen. In the midst of the insanity, God showed up again, but in a mighty whisper.

Parents, it is frightening. We may not be able to control or even reduce the tragic consequences of the decisions that our children make. But we can, in the midst of the uncertainty, listen for God's voice to remind us that He is still God.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On Distance and Disasters

I almost hesitate to write about the most-published story of the week, if not the new year. The earthquake in Haiti that has claimed thousands of lives is a tragedy beyond measure. The compassionate response of the world community is appropriate and needed.

I need to use this space to confess. Disasters from a distance seem to bring about a distant response. I caught myself feeling deep sadness for the people of Haiti, for the daunting recovery that will follow, for the unfortunate possibility that much of the aid will not reach the intended victims. But my sadness is from a distance. My life is not disrupted and my future is not uncertain.

My college roommate and good friend Wayne Fairley posted a status update that he was getting on the first plane that Angel Flight could provide to deliver the donations from his church. I wish I could go, but life gets in the way. For the people of Haiti, it is an "in-your-face" nightmare from which they cannot wake up.

How do I know? In 2005, I was in the middle of Hurricane Katrina and my experience was numbness followed by frustration, followed by confusion, followed by despair. My disorientation was mediated by the closeness of friends and the reminder that I had not been physically injured, nor had any family member. But as the days, weeks, and months moved on, I felt like the rest of the world had as well. Katrina was yesterday's news and the celebrities, the headlines, and "text your donation" movements diminished to the point of silence.

I was hurt deeply by some of the idiotic comments about whether Katrina victims deserved any help given the perception that Louisiana has government that is more corrupt than other places. I was angry enough to call a radio show when the host repeated the comment that others had made, that America should cut its losses and abandon New Orleans since it doesn't make sense to build a city below sea level. I asked him if Atlanta should be deserted since there were constant water shortages or if California should be deserted before the rest of it burned from wildfires...

The people of Haiti will need our help for a long time. They don't need us to be cynical about their culture, their economy or their government. They need us to pledge to stay in touch with their plight and not let it be the flavor of the month disaster which will lose its Hollywood shine as soon as something else comes along.

If we believe that God uses us to mediate the tragic effects of the fallen world in which we live, we should pray. If possible, we should give of our resources, or even go (thank you Wayne). And for those of us who because of life's demands cannot go or give, we can pray. Most of all we need to pray. If we believe that God hears the prayers of the widows, orphans and oppressed, then we should pray.

I am not going to let this disaster stay at a distance. It is going stay on the current prayer list.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.

The Word of God is always timely. I am at the beginning of a semester, always overwhelming and exciting at the same time. I love the freshness of students in classes and the challenge of making old notes new again. I am also a parent of two college students and the husband of a wonderful woman and the blessed friend of many friends. See earlier post.

But I am aware that I talk too much. I am asked for advice and I give too much. I am not asked for advice and I give it anyway. I know that God has given us each a measure of wisdom to share with others and a big part of the wisdom is knowing when not to share. I am learning.

As usual, the daily Bible reading in the journey that we are on at NOBTS to read through the whole Bible is right on target. In 1 Samuel 3, as a young not yet prophet, Samuel is confused when God talks to him because he "had not yet experienced the Lord" (v.7). When the wiser Eli instructs him to simply affirm his availability, Samuel starts a remarkable ministry to King David and all of Israel.

I think today, I will try to simply state the words that Eli gave Samuel:

Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stones in the Jordan

I am kind of new at this blogging deal. I am kind of old at this writing articles deal. I wrote one for Group Magazine back in 2001, co-authoring it with a former student (now wife of a youth minister and mother of three). As youth ministers, it is possible that you start 2010 with the "is it really worth it?" that we all feel occasionally.

It is. Here is the article

Stones in the Jordan

By Allen Jackson and Amy Howell

Subplots and Stones From the River

I have always been fascinated by the stories within the stories in the Bible. It seems that when there is a great plot unfolding in the Word, there are subplots that run underneath. For example, in the story of Moses, Joshua, and the battle with the Amlekites (Exodus 17), the story within the story is that of Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of the patriarch. If I understand the position of the two arm-holder-uppers in relation to Moses, I conclude that they were “armpit sniffers for the army of God.” And you think youth ministry is sometimes a smelly job.

In the story of David and Goliath, there is the family struggle within David’s family. In the story of Barnabas and Paul, there is the little matter of Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark. In the story of Samson, there must be some untold incidents which lead the writer of Hebrews to declare him to be a man of faith.

I am especially intrigued by the minute details that God has His people take care of. In one story, the details become the subplot of the larger story. In the book of Joshua, the namesake of the book had just replaced Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Moses had been prevented from entering the promised land (as had a whole lot of middle-agers). Joshua was to lead the Hebrew people across the river Jordan to begin the conquest of the promised land.

The only problem was that the Jordan River was at flood stage. I live near the Mississippi River and when it is flooding, it is a scary thing. However, God had a miracle in mind for Joshua and the gang, and most of you are probably familiar with the parting of the waters and the Israelites subsequently crossing on dry ground. But the story within the story is the rocks. Consider the account from the first nine verses of Joshua chapter four:

Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, "Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.'" So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, "Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.

"Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, "What do these stones mean to you?' then you shall say to them, "Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever."

Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the LORD spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place and put them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day.
Joshua 4:1-9 (NASB updated)

So a pile of rocks was set up in the middle of the Jordan. My guess is that when the river was no longer at flood stage, that these would be visible–after all the priests were not in the deepest part of the river when the waters dried up. Another pile of rocks would come out of the river. These would be set up at Gilgal, were the Israelites would camp (v.19-21):

Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. He said to the sons of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, "What are these stones?' then you shall inform your children, saying, "Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.' (NASB updated)

While credible scholars, including the translators of the NIV believe that the language in v.9, coupled with the context of the memorial at Gilgal indicate that there was only one memorial at Gilgal, the point is the same. The purpose of the stones was that they would forever be a memorial of God’s intervention in the lives of His people.

So I Got to Thinking
As a youth minister, I had recently become convicted that we move quickly from event to event without adequately celebrating what God has done at the last one. As I read of the importance that the Hebrews, under God’s direction, placed on memorializing that incredible river crossing, I had an idea.

I had often seen the students in the youth group have significant encounters with God while they were at a retreat, a camp, or on a mission trip. What if I suggested that they take note of times when they were aware of God’s activity in their lives, particularly as it related to Him moving them toward a deeper or different commitment? And what if I suggested that they find a “souvenir” that would remind them of the place and time where they had a clear sense of His direction? I did not want it to become trivialized one more tradition at camp, so I usually related the suggestion in private conversations as students shared what God was up to in their lives.

One girl showed me a shot glass that marked her decision to quit drinking. A boy in the group showed me his matchbook cover from the lodge where he understood that he had to be a disciple at home as well as in youth group. Still another student literally brought a rock from a riverbed in the retreat center where we were staying.

An incident that stands out as particularly significant involved Amy. Amy was a senior in high school when she picked up her, “rock from the Jordan.” I contacted her when I agreed to write this article, so I will let her tell her story.

Amy’s Story
I grew up going to church and learning about God both there and at home. I accepted Christ when I was ten, but it wasn’t until I was in youth group that I began to experience real spiritual growth. When I was in Junior high I was in a discipleship group with an adult in our church. I began to learn the value of memorizing scripture and spending quality time with God on a daily basis. As a result, I began to actually develop a relationship with God that would make all the difference in the world in my life.

When I was fifteen I had to face an unexpected tragedy in my family. My dad had cancer which would take him to be with God after a fifteen month struggle. The relationship I had with God as a result of hiding His Word in my heart served as a guide and a comfort at that very crazy time in my life. I have no doubt in my mind that God used my youth group to grow and prepare me for such a difficult year and a half. God didn’t just leave me there; He was faithful and continued to work in my life through my high school years.

I got to go on several mission trips which always seemed to leave deep impressions in my heart and mind. The summer after my senior year I went on one particular trip that changed my life forever. Our youth choir went to Detroit, Michigan in June. We did the usual--Bible School, Backyard Bible clubs, and neighborhood canvassing. We also did a concert in a number of different places. The event that stands out to me the most was a concert we did at a park in downtown Detroit. Even though it was in a tough neighborhood, it was your typical park. A notable difference was that instead of being filled with children playing, it was the home to many homeless people who found comfort in the hard benches, where they slept and sorted their treasures.

I can still picture that park as if it were yesterday… A purple and green iron playground that had seen its better days, the public housing across the street, the young children wandering the streets appearing content in their situation. A scattered crowd gathered to watch us sing, mostly wondering what a bunch of middle class Southern kids were doing singing and smiling in a place like this.

As we sang God began to break my heart. I couldn’t help but cry as He showed me His great love for all people. As our concert came to a close we sang a song. I knew as I sang the words that God was asking me, “Do you really mean that?” And I knew more than ever that I did mean those words. I also knew that He was telling me that he wanted me to commit to serve Him for the rest of my life and that he was preparing me for serving Him. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I told God that moment that I would do whatever he wanted me to do.

After the concert I went immediately to my youth minister to tell what had happened. As we talked he told me about how in the Bible there were times when people had significant moments with God they would take with them a object as a reminder of their experience and commitment with God. I walked around the park and quickly came across a bottle cap that still had a piece of the bottle attached. Someone was so desperate for a drink that they broke off the top of the bottle when they could not find an opener. I kept that bottle cap (the broken bottle part eventually came off) and stuck it in my pocket as a reminder to me of what God had done and had promised to keep doing in my life.

All four years of college that bottle cap stayed pinned to my bulletin board as a reminder that God was preparing me and that I had committed to serve him. Today, I am married to a youth minister and he and I are looking forward to many years of ministry together as we pass on what God has done in our lives with teenagers. I am convinced that even in those times when I’m not sure what God is doing and where He is moving me and my husband, I know that He is using me and will be faithful to His promise.

Copyright Group Publishing, Inc. May/Jun 2001

Friday, January 8, 2010

On the Blessings of Friendship

I have just wrapped up a week of Youth Ministry Institute in January which is the flagship event of Youth Ministry training here at the seminary. I started it back in 1999 as a way to bring youth ministers together for training and fellowship. I brought this nutty idea to Dr. Kelley and Dr. Lemke and they took a chance on a possibility.

I am reflecting on this past week--an incredible community of youth ministers and youth ministry students from several different states, including 13 incredible students from Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.

Friendship. Community. Inter-connected networks of people who love each other and love God. My team consists of Kristin and Jeremy Wilkerson, Paige Kirby, and Kyle Kelley. Add Vanee Dauree, Judi Jackson and others who helped to make it happen. But oh, the guests who were here. Chuck Gartman brought wisdom and friendship from 35 years in youth ministry. Walt Mueller brought experience, research and an incredible insight on youth culture. Emory Colvin brought "Grace" to life through drama. Smokey Gibson and David Nalls spoke on what it means to work together in ministry.

Merrie Johnson shared of her incredible journey of prayer and faithfulness.

Paul Turner reminded us of the technological connections kids are making. Pam Gibbs reminded us to look after the young daughters of the King of Kings. Jason Dollar reminded us that students can and do think about their worldview, Scott Drumm helped us to understand postmodernism, and Bob Stewart looked at evangelism through the lens of C.S. Lewis. My pastor, David Crosby reminded us that the church is at least partially defined by our involvement in helping the poor and marginalized in our city and our willingness to share the Gospel as we share our resources.

Jim Graham and Rick Morton, brothers in ministry who helped the YMI dream come to be are never far from my mind. My wonderful assistants through the years--Bobbye, Dana, Melissa, Beth, and of course Stephanie Wright who went to help Jesus organize heaven back in 2005. I am blessed to be in a box seat to see what all of these incredible people have made happen.

So I finally get to my point. I have done ministry in some form since I did a summer beach project with Campus Crusade in 1978. I received a phone call from a man that I shared Christ with that summer who is now on ministry staff at a church in Atlanta. Each stop along the way has given me amazing friends. The YMI guests are all from some phase of my journey. I even ran into a student this week who is from the town where my first (fifth grade) girlfriend now lives. Facebook is an amazing reconnect.

I am counting my blessings. In 2010, I resolve not to take for granted the precious friendships that have been formed over the years. From Pine Lake Baptist Church in Stone Mountain Georgia, I was taught as a teenager how the whole church can love the whole church. Each fellowship of believers,I have been part of--church, Campus Crusade, fraternity Bible study at USM, accountability group, youth ministry, running partners--from each of them I have friends who are the kind where we pick up where we left off no matter how long in between visits.

I understand why Paul got so emotional at the end of his letters. The community of friendship and fellowship is what gives me a tangible reminder of God's design for people. The love, affirmation, dependability, and laughter push away the tiredness and frustration.

I am blessed with friends who have given me their eyes to see a fuller perspective, their ears to listen without judging, their arms to help do the work, their shoulders to cry on, their feet to come alongside, their hearts to love students...I am blessed that my best friend on earth is my bride of 26 years. I am a blessed man.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Old New Friends

This morning I learned that Tic Long has returned to a leadership role with Youth Specialties. The new owners of YS (Youthworks) carefully took the time to listen to some of the great voices in youth ministry (Walt Mueller, Duffy Robbins, Marv Penner, etc.) and took a great step. Tic was the president and "behind the scenes" leader at YS for 30 years, helping to guide it to the resource company that has helped so many youth ministers through the years.

Tic's appointment signals that the direction at Youth Specialties is moving ahead by looking behind--recalling the combination of creativity, community and edginess that has been the hallmark of the YS brand. This seems to me a resolution of much of the uncertainty of the recent past at Youth Specialties.

I feel like a relative who has learned of a family dispute that has been settled. While there remains hurt--I pray for my friends who are no longer in the YS shop--the direction seems to be that YS is moving to a place where youth ministers of all denominations and theological persuasions can get valuable help in the thinking and doing of youth ministry.

Welcome back, Tic.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Youth Ministers on my heart

I am in the middle of the annual conference we do here at NOBTS called "Youth Ministry Institute." I am once again overwhelmed with the potential land mines that dot the landscape of youth ministry--legal issues, girls ministry, technology, parents, programming, postmodernism, kids who want bigger, better, faster, edgier...

I am privileged to share ministry this week with some of the great voices speaking into lives of youth pastors--Pam Gibbs, Paul Turner, Chuck Gartman, Lynn Riley, Rick Morton, Walt Mueller...

I am thankful for the hearts of the men and women who daily invest their lives into the lives of teenagers. How about if you stop right now and pray for youth ministers who you know. Pray to keep discouragement away. Pray for their families. Pray for creativity, a fresh word from God, for mentors to come alongside of them to bless them, for financial resources to make life and ministry happen. Pray that they are living out their calling in living color, totally content with the task God has given them for this day. Pray for the role God would have you take in the lives of students.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to be around these heroes of the faith.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Remember you were slaves

We have committed as a seminary community to read through the Bible this year. We have a reading plan that has been helpful, yet I confess. I fell behind over the holidays, and as a result, I have read Deuteronomy over the last several days to catch up. While much of the book is Moses giving a summation of the Israelite experience since leaving Egypt, a couple of verses really captured my attention.

In Deut. 24:18, Moses reminded the people to remember what they were before God got a hold of them. They were slaves, bound to do what their "masters" told them to do. Keep in mind that they have been free for awhile, but apparently they needed to be reminded of the great freedom they had.

Today we call it grace.

I am so tempted to fall back into pity party land as I think about how hard it is to be a Christian in a post-Christian culture, how hard it is to be a dad (more on that later), how tough it is in life. Allen, remember that you used to be a slave. You were captured by stuff that didn't matter in eternal ways. God set you free.

I also hit a speed bump in Deuteronomy 30 when I read that God knew that all of the declarations of "do" and "don't" and "blessing" and "curse" would be part of a journey of success and failure at trying to keep everything in order. Again the metaphor of slavery is used and God says through Moses that I can be restored from my captivity and experience the compassion (grace) of God (v.3) as I return to Him from whatever detour I have been on.

Grace really is amazing.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day

A brand new year. Almost like the ultimate Monday. For people in ministry, Monday is a day where feelings of relief and celebration combine--relief that Sunday is past and celebration for what God did with His day.

New Years Day is a good day to assess. I need to slow down a minute. It is easy for me to get caught up in empty resolutions, but I am reminded of the cycle which comprises much of the Old Testament: God gives guidelines within the covenant relationship. God's people pick and choose as to which guidelines they will follow. God allows the consequences for poor choices to occur. God's people repent and cry for mercy. God allows a bruised people to understand that He never left them.

I could write Allen all over that cycle.

It seems like the Psalmist understood the problem with resolutions and instead focused on the faithfulness of the Lord:

Ps 33:3-5
3 Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
4 For the word of the Lord is upright;
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord. (NASB)

I will sing a new song in response to the uprightness of His word. In response to His work, His justice and His righteousness.

As I sing my new song in 2010, I pray that my song is in response to not ahead of God.