Monday, August 27, 2012

Spiritual Triggers

Anybody out there have a bad habit you'd love to kick?  Whether it's biting your nails, the urge to quit smoking, or stop eating snacks while you watch TV, habits are tough to kick.  It seems that we all have bad habits we are trying to quit, and at the same time, we are trying to create new habits that seem so difficult to develop as a part of our regular routine...the diet, exercise, reading scripture, going to bed at a decent hour...I know you can all relate in some way or another.

I recently read an article from a CBS news site (read the full article here -  that estimates "that anywhere between 75 percent and 90 percent of our daily behavior is habitual.  In other words, most of what we do is not because it is the most efficient, most successful, or most productive, but simply because we've always done it that way."

As soon as I read this statement, I thought about the church and the spiritual implications of this article, especially for teenagers.  Pagliarni goes on to say, "most of our daily routine is conducted unconsciously...If our life is already on autopilot, doesn't it make sense to spend some conscious effort planning the route?"

Thinking about my life spiritually, I need that conscious effort because Satan is certainly good at distracting me with the sin of busyness.  I can run through a whole day, hit the hay, and wake up and do it all again without even thinking twice.  Not only am I operating out of my habitual nature, but I am certainly less aware of the ways God is so desperately trying to speak into my life and create a new awareness that His love should be more a part of my day than anything else.

Want busyness?  Just look at your own life...especially if you are the parent of teenagers, or multiple teenagers for that matter.  Yeah, that car you bought a year already has 33k miles.  Even scarier, our teenagers are learning that the busier you appear to be, the more productive you must be.  But, our habits seem to be driving us instead of God.  When I end up where my habits take me without being aware, I'm usually embarrassed or ashamed of the destination.  So really, in a busy world, how can I actually create good habits and get rid of the ones I'm not too proud to share with the world?

"If we don't have a new behavior that replaces the old, we will take the path of least resistance and revert back to the old behavior.  The solution then, is not to break the habit, but to replace it."  Ouch.  That felt a little too personal.

Alright, so how do we do this together?  Creating new habits takes three elements: motivation, ability, and a trigger.  Most self-help books or coaches start with motivation, but we can be excited about starting a new habit without actually doing it.  Anybody ever bought a bike planning to ride it each morning before work???  (ouch...again)

The article suggests we start at a new place...the trigger.  Most of us have the motivation and the ability.    Think with me spiritually.  My motivation to create new habits beneficial to my spiritual health is obvious...I want to honor God, I want to grow in Christ, I want to lead my family, I want to spread the Gospel, etc.  If I believe scripture, then I have the ability because God is constantly equipping me for each task He calls me to carry out.  I'm sure most of you reading this feel pretty much the same, but have the same honest struggles.  "The trigger is the reminder, the call to action, or the cue to take notice or do something...The key then, is to create at least one trigger for each new habit you want to create.  Use the environment as much as possible.  In the jogging example, I've coached people to leave their workout shorts and shoes next to their bed so their trigger is that they literally step into their jogging gear as they get out of bed."

Spiritual triggers...we need them, we could all use them, and our teenagers could develop great habits for their lives spiritually if we set them in a good direction, toward a great destination.  What triggers can you create for yourself personally?  How can we develop spiritual triggers for our families and the time we spend together?

Maybe Steph will let me put my bike next to the bed each night???

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fuge Update #4 - "Sleepwalking"

Ever known or even seen someone who sleepwalks?  Kind of a strange phenomenon...Someone is up and moving, eyes even open, but they're not really cognizant of everything that is happening around them.  It's as if their brain is on autopilot mode and they are just making their way through the tasks of life that they might complete in daily life.

"I could do that in my sleep!"

That's a phrase I often hear from teenage boys trying to puff up their chests in a sort of male-testosterone-ego-sharefest.  But the truth of the matter, and as we were challenged last night, you can't be a true disciple of Christ if you are sleepwalking in your faith.  If you are just going through the motions effortlessly and aimlessly, then you have clearly fallen asleep in your faith.  The truth of yesterday was that we PROCLAIM.  How are we proclaiming God's love story in the world around us?

Our speaker, Gary said this last night:
"God never calls us into relationship without radically calling or sending us out!"

Truth be known, most of our students (maybe even adults) in the church are bored in their faith.  Do you ever think the apostles were bored?  Do you ever think the disciples were looking for something to do because they were tired of the same old thing?

Put it like this - we should be sneezing the Gospel into the world.  We shouldn't be covering up our faith.  We should be sneezing out and hoping it sticks on people and they become infected with the love of God's story of pursuit - and ultimately his pursuit of us as his children.

Our youth are already making a difference in the community of St. Francisville.  They are serving at St. Vincent de Paul in Baton Rouge.  They are reaching marginalized teens in their school.  They are cleaning widows houses in our community.  They are seeking to be diverse.  They are seeking to PROCLAIM God's story.  I suppose if we as adults don't step out of our comfort zones, they will soon pass us by as they sprint toward Christ.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fuge Update #3 - Faded Glory

Had to make a stop in at walmart today for a few necessities.  Along the way, I passed by the clothes section of wally world.  I happened to notice the walmart brand, "Faded Glory."  Throughout the course of the day, God has been challenging me with the idea of faded glory in my walk with him.

What things in my life need to fade away in order for me to better reflect his glory?  In our church group devotional tonight, I gave each of the kids three notecards.  On the first, they wrote faded on one side and glory on the other.  I challenged them to write what things needed to fade away in their life and then some things they could add in place to better reflect God's glory.  On the second card, the kids wrote down prayer requests and ways the adults could encourage them throughout the week. On the final card, the kids wrote EMail at the top.  They will be using these cards to write each other "encouragement mail" during the week.

Kids shared great things God is doing through them this week.  I can't wait for us to get home so you can hear just how much God is pursuing and challenging your teenagers to grow!  Keep us prayed up!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fuge Update #2 - The "Home-wrecker"

I've got to be honest and say that I'm not 100% sure why they call it the "Home-wrecker" but I've got a few ideas.  We split up last night at the hotel and took our kids out in Newnan, GA for dinner.  My group, and most of the other guys, made it to a mexican joint called Moe's (pretty much the same as Izzo's).  So, I did what came natural to me and ordered a burrito called the home-wrecker.  It comes with a little bit of everything.  I don't know if it's called that because it's just that good or because of the residual effects of eating a large, nicely wrapped and deliciously prepared bit a mexican food heaven.  I'd prolly have to say it's reason #2 (pun intended).

But as we made it in to camp today and got settled, we've been hit early with the theme of camp...The Pursuit.  Really, it's about the idea that God is unashamedly pursuing us, and that he is calling us to pursue the world in the same way he is pursuing each and every one of us (including your hormonal teenager!).  If we really get this idea of the pursuit into our hearts and live it out, I'd say it could be its own kind of home-wrecker.  You see, if we really get the message, then it might wreck some things in our lives that we have been chasing and giving ourselves over to.  I hope our kids this week will have their eyes open to what it is that they are pursuing and chasing.  I hope they will leave those things aside and give God the real estate of their hearts.

We've made it to Greenville safe and sound.  Pray for our adults who need rest, patience, and an extra dose of flexibility.  Pray for our students that they will tune in.  Pray for our students that they will come back transformed by the word of God.  We'll be walking through Ephesians and I'd encourage to pick up your Bible and read through it as well...that way when your kids get back, you can have more to talk about then, "How was camp?"

God is about to move in your kiddos lives.  I hope you are ready for the challenges they may bring back to your homes.  Perhaps the home-wrecker may have turned some stomachs upside down (or the out of date yahoos one van consumed), but if we really get serious about pursuing Christ, some of the things in our lives might get turned upside down or even wrecked.  I hope God wrecks some things in my life so that I can pursue follow him!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fuge Update #1

Alright everybody....synchronize bladders!

Would have been a good thing, but after 2,137 stops, we made it to the hotel in Newnan, GA.  We got everybody settled in and decided for some reason to release about half of them into Walmart to get a few extra supplies.

We made good time.  We will be leaving in the morning around 8:30 to head to North Greenville University to check into camp and get settled for night one of worship.

Please to continue to lift us up as we travel and to stay flexible.  Also, pray for our's looking like some rain this next week.  We are all excited to see how God is going to work in our kid's hearts over the coming days.

Meet Colton and Moose our new youth mascot!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parental Advisory: Music and Its Impact on the Brain

Yesterday I had someone blame me for getting a song stuck in her head.  I apologized and proceeded to ask what song it was.  They replied by reminding me of the catchy tune which is stuck in my head now as I am trying to honor my mom the English teacher with proper grammar and sentence structure as I write.

But there really is something powerful about music and how we interact with it.  I can personally relate songs to specific memories and emotions in my life.  I have moods that help me choose particular songs in my iTunes library.  I usually shuffle songs throughout the day, but as I just did seconds ago, I often skip through certain songs I’m just not in the mood for…

(skip, skip, change genre, found something to help me concentrate)

If you don’t think music is an important part of life, try driving a car that doesn’t have a CD player and the radio is broken.  If you don’t think music is important, then why is music probably one of the most stolen things in the world?  People seek after music. 

Teenagers are especially wrapped up in a world of music.  Music has a language of its own for teens that communicates all kinds of things.  And what’s more, science is now proving music has a profound impact on the brain. 

A recent article on this topic from CNN sparked my interest on the subject (you can read the full article @ 

"I think there's enough evidence to say that musical experience, musical exposure, musical training, all of those things change your brain," says Dr. Charles Limb, associate professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University. "It allows you to think in a way that you used to not think, and it also trains a lot of other cognitive facilities that have nothing to do with music."

“The songs that get stuck in people's heads tend to be melodically and rhythmically simple.”

"What we think is going on is that the neural circuits get stuck in a repeating loop and they play this thing over and over again."

Music has always been an important part of learning and teaching.  Judaism used music to help children remember the Torah before it was written down.  Sesame Street uses songs to help children learn.  I constantly hear youth trying to make up songs to help them study for exams. 

“Music is strongly associated with the brain's reward system. It's the part of the brain that tells us if things are valuable, or important or relevant to survival.”

If this is the case, then it is extremely important for us to pay attention to the kind of music we listen to and the kinds of music our students are listening to.  It’s not just about explicit lyrics or trying to eliminate cussing from the musical selections of our youth, but shouldn’t we be making an effort to help them connect their faith to their music, something they are all extremely interested in???

“One brain structure in particular, called the striatum, releases a chemical called dopamine in response to pleasure-related stimuli. Imaging of the brain can reveal this process is similar to what happens in your brain in response to food or sex.”

Our response to music can be so powerful.  It can even influence the motor skills of our body or how we function in groups.

“Armies train by marching to a beat, for instance. Group dancing is a social activity. There also are studies showing that when people move together to a beat, they're more likely to cooperate with each other in nonmusical tasks than if they're not in synch.”

“Another exciting arena of research: Music with a beat seems to help people with motor disorders such as Parkinson's disease walk better than in the absence of music -- patients actually synchronize their movements to a beat, Patel said.”

The complexity of our minds and bodies amazes me.  God certainly made us in a beautiful way and gave us the ability to respond to him.  If music has such a profound impact on how we function and relate with others, then we ought to be paying better attention to the kinds of music we are listening to and the place of influence we give to lyricists in our own lives. 

We should be working to create environments where teens can connect their faith in a musical manner.  Sure, we may not all agree on what the music should sound like or how loud it should be, but if music is a way of helping students remember scripture of biblical principles, then we should be flooding their ears with music that not only impacts the brain, but music that influences and impacts faith. 

(It’s a small world after all)
(Somewhere over the rainbow)

Enjoy those tunes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Everybody Has A But

There were three things I remember not being allowed to do as a kid (well three things that really stick out in my mind now as I reflect back on my childhood.
            1.  Can’t watch Married with Children
            2.  Can’t watch the Simpsons
            3.  Can’t say the “B” word – which happened to be butt in my family.

My response…I was never in the house in the evenings to really watch TV anyway.  I was usually outside playing cops and robbers until dark.  Thankfully, TV wasn’t really a part of my growing up, unless the Rangers were on TV because that meant I could stay up late with dad because we had to finish watching the end of the game.  However, I did have a big sister and she really got on my nerves sometimes.  And when it came to the “B” word, I just had a hard time complying with that rule.  Butt, butthole, and butthead were some of my favorite descriptors for her (love her to death now).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I was fairly difficult to handle as a little brother, and once I have kids of my own, you can be pretty sure the above 1-3 will be on their list too. 

It really drove my mom nuts when I would use the “B” word and it got under my sister’s skin so good.  I really hate to admit I got some kind of sick satisfaction by being able to aggravate them so easily.  Mom would always say, “Ross Marion, we do not use that word!”  In my mind, what’s the big deal?  Everybody has a butt! 

I don’t have kids of my own yet, but one thing is for sure – they won’t be allowed to use the dreaded “B” word.  I even feel like I’m headed for a grounding as I write this because mom would not approve of my word usage. Sorry mom, guess I don’t feel too guilty because I’m writing it anyway. 

Sure, everybody has a butt.  It also seems that everybody also has a but.  As dangerous as butt is to sibling rivalry, so too is but to our faith as Christians.  As a good father, I think God would ban the “b” word because he knows just how detrimental it is to our faith. 

One of our older brothers of the faith learned this lesson early in the biblical narrative.  His name just happened to be Moses, and he spoke the awfully dreaded “b” word.  God heard it and he immediately banned it.  “No but’s allowed.”

The story happens in Exodus 4:10-13.  But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”  But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

What's Moses' problem?  Maybe it's stuttering.  Maybe he's lost his fluency with the Egyptian language.  Maybe he's become accustomed to blue-collar grammar amongst the shepherds.  Whatever his problem, legitimate or illegitimate, it certainly is not enough to deflect God from his path of action.

Moses’ repeated attempts show he is trying to free himself from God’s call.  Moses feels like he playing the central role in the deliverance of Israel.  What Moses doesn’t understand is that God cares more about the Israelites than he does, and God is fully capable of directing the means to bring about their freedom. God calls Moses to carry out his work for his people.  Moses’ response…"Uhh, God don’t you know I kind of have this stuttering issue.  God…I’m not the most eloquent of speakers." 

Here appears the holy God of the universe to Moses and calls him to a task.  He’s showed his presence through a burning bush, given Moses a couple of other signs that he is with him, and tells him he will be his mouth.  Holy God will speak for him.  Moses’ response…"uhhh Lord, can you send someone else?"

I often wonder if our but’s are asking of God the same question.  He is calling us to work and our response is to ask him to send someone else.  Are we crazy?  What are missing here?  It’s all about an identity crisis. We have to stop looking at ourselves instead of looking to God.  That was the problem for Moses, for Gideon, for Jeremiah, for Jonah, for Peter, etc.  Peter failed when he took his off of Christ.  Moses had every but in the book and so too did Gideon.  Jonah was full of excuses and reasons not to do what God wanted.  What did God do?  He used all of them despite the but’s.  Our problem is that we are often but-heads.  We’ve got to get the but’s out of the picture so the cans of God come through. 

Our circumstances cannot be the determining factors in our response to God’s calling. God is not just with us, but in us, and we are in Christ.  We are all called in order to be sent out on a mission. 
Moses’ objections are inconsequential…not BUT’S allowed. 

We have to start thinking exciting thoughts.  God gave us an imagination because he wants us to be dreamers.  However, the dream is useless if we never seek to live it out.  Just look at the missional imagination of the men who lowered the paralytic through the roof.  Without creativity and vision, that man may never have walked.  If we try to sum up life by what we can do, it’s flat out going to be boring.  We’ve got to start believing in what God can do through us.  Missional imagination looks past ourselves and into the living God within us.  A rejection of God’s calling is a rejection of Christ within in.  It’s a living oxymoron.

Everybody has a but.  We are all a little spiritually clumsy and don’t know everything there is to know about faith.  One thing we do know…God doesn’t approve of the “B” word.  If selfish, it’s faithless, and it removes his power to use us in the ways he has dreamed up. 

Moses was just like us.  He was normal, with flaws, and a little uncertain.  God used him anyway!  It is an extraordinary call that comes to ordinary men in ordinary settings.  It is in our inability that God does some of his best work.  Periods of discomfort, doubt and unrest are nothing more than the honest strugglings of God’s people, and it is precisely through such a process that the Lord strengthens us for the task ahead and causes us to grow to meet greater challenges. 

You may be an imperfect follower of Christ, but the perfect Christ lives in you.  In him, your identity is formed.  In his image you were made.  To his mission you are called.  No but’s allowed.