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As a youth minister, I work alongside college students a lot, and some of them have become my closest friends.  It seems in our conversations lately a theme has arisen.  They feel trapped somewhere in between where they’ve been and where they want to be.  I think we’ve all felt this tug at some time in our lives.  Maybe you’re feeling that restlessness right now, knowing that God is calling you to something else, but also knowing you must stay right where you are until He tells you to move.  And, it is mighty difficult to seize the present when you are reaching for the future.

As much as I want to say that I find myself in that place right now, it’s not the case.  In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  I’m glad that I’m not where I’ve been and right now the future is down right overwhelming.  I am happy in my present, or at least I was.

Because three months ago, life was difficult (isn’t it always?), but life was also going great.  My job was stressful, but I loved what I was doing.  I was building great friendships, enjoying being a “grown-up,” and finally planting some roots.  But, while all of that was great, God was reminding me constantly that it wasn’t what He called me to.   He didn’t call me to build a stable and “happy” life for myself, He called me to follow Him.

Life was going great for me, just in the wrong direction.

So what do we do when life is going great, but it’s just going great in the wrong direction?

Over the past 3 months I have been bombarded by this question.  It has shaken me to my absolute core, and for a long time, the only answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

As I began to talk through this with some people in my life, I was confused and frustrated and at times angry.  But, then I began to realize that, if I were on a road trip and found myself going in the wrong direction, I would turn around and go back to the last place I knew was right.  So, that’s what I did.  I went back to the last direction God gave me.

I remember it so clearly.  I was sitting in the back of the chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in March 2008, listening to Francis Chan speak.  Francis is an amazing speaker, but I don’t remember a single word he said that night.  All I remember is God speaking inside my soul, awakening me to this calling to work with teenagers who had been abused.

In that moment, I didn’t really know what that looked like.  I thought God was calling me to start my own ministry (aka speaking, writing books, etc).  In the weeks that followed God confirmed over and over that He was calling me to this, and my ministry began to explode at the church where I was serving.

A few months later, I graduated from seminary and returned to my home town, to begin the job search and embark on my ministry calling.  But, in the craziness of my job search, I pushed aside my passion.  In that time I fought with God…a lot and questioned His faithfulness to me.  I felt like He had brought me out into the wilderness and left me to die.  I began to understand how Israel felt after they had be rescued from Egypt, witnessing God’s amazing power and provision, only to be brought out into the desert without food or water.

Then, in His perfect timing, He led me to Cornerstone and blessed me with, not just a job, but a family.

The past 18 months that I have been on staff at Cornerstone have been some of the hardest and most joyous days of my life.  I love the staff team here and my heart is rooted here in Cornerstone’s mission and vision for this community and the world.  I can’t imagine a better body of believers to be a part of.

So, this question of direction has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to face.  It has cut straight to the core of who I thought I was, revealing who I really am.  Because, as much as I love being on staff here at Cornerstone, my calling is not to be a youth minister. (For more details on that check out this blog)

I know that God led me to Cornerstone and has allowed me to be a part of this family, not only for these students and this ministry, but also to refine me.  I have grown to have a deeper understanding of who I am, my gifts, talents and passions, and, in understanding that I believe God is calling me into professional counseling.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s when we make a wrong turn that we find the greatest treasures.  Maybe it’s the detours in our life that God uses to show us Himself in ways we never would have seen before.  Maybe it’s how He gives us the opportunity to experience beauty we wouldn’t have if He had led us on a straight path.

Like He did with Israel.

God could have easily led them into the desert on dry land, but instead chose to lead them through the Red Sea.  He could have led them straight across the desert to Canaan, but instead let them wander around for 40 years before He led them into His promise.  He could have just teleported them straight into the Promised Land (come on He is God) and totally bypasses all the suffering and death.

But, He didn’t.

God could have made their journey easy, but then they never would have seen God’s power as He parted not only an entire sea, but a river, too.  They never would have experienced God’s continual presence leading them by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day.  They never would have experienced His unending care and provision through manna, water from a rock, and quail.  They never would have experienced His justice through the Law.  They never would have come to know His abundant love and forgiveness over them in such a real way.

So, as my journey moves me on to the next step, I’m learning to embrace the twists and turns God has in my path.  They are leading me to know Him.  They are drawing me closer and closer to His heart.  And, even though it’s scary, because each turn holds a new set of unknowns, I’m growing to I prefer it over the easy way.  After all, what joy is there in the destination if I can’t celebrate the journey.

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Holy Week has begun.  The entire season of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, invites us to journey alongside Christ as He heads toward the cross, and now we have come to the end, where the cross in immanent.  This is actually one of my favorite times of the year, because it not only makes me look back at what Christ did on the cross, but it also makes me look at my own journey with Him and how He is moving in my life now.

I have been reminded of this several times over the past few months.  One way this has happened is through our Confirmation students.

Yesterday, at Cornerstone, 16 students stood before the church body and declared their faith in Christ and surrendered to Him.  Ten of these students were also baptized, and I had the amazing opportunity to stand beside them, watch their bodies go under the water, and help raise them out of the water.  Baptism is such a beautiful picture of new life.  And, it always reminds me that the new life we are raised in is Christ’s life.

But, before Sunday ever happened, I had a conversation with each of these students.  And, the one word that seemed to come up over and over was the word “journey.”  It was so amazing to see how God has had these students on a journey from the time they were little children to get them to where they are now.  He has been wooing them and drawing them to Himself, even when they didn’t realize it.  Their journey continues now as they follow after Him, and I am so humbled to be a tiny part of it.

Another way God has been revealing this to me is in my own personal life. God has been reminding me of the journey He has had me on for the past 26 years and the journey He still has ahead of me.  It doesn’t end here.  He has been renewing my heart to the core of what He has called me to.  He has been drawing me into Himself and revealing things to me about myself that I didn’t even know.  He is preparing me and pruning me.

Lent has definitely been a journey for me.  I had all of these grand ideas of how I what I was going to do for Lent, and how I was going to give up sin and replace it with Him (read this post about my Lent goals).  But,  the truth is that I failed.  I did not succeed.  As I was driving to work this morning and thinking about the fact that I failed at Lent this year, I realized that maybe that’s the point.  As hard as I try, I can’t do it.  I can’t not sin.  I can’t be perfect.  I will fail.

And, that’s where the Lamb takes over…

It seemes like everyone in my neighborhood is moving.  It has become typical to see U-haul trucks going up and down the street and families carrying out boxes taped up with the pieces of their lives housed inside.  In two weeks I will be that person.  The U-haul truck will be outside my duplex.  I will be carrying out all of my boxes containing the pieces of my life.  And I will move (but, don’t worry,  I’m just moving across town).

I feel like I have been moving a lot lately.  There is movement going on all around me, and I am racing along with it.  This summer has been full of movement…so much that I haven’t even stopped to realize that July is almost over.  Last week was amazing with Cornerstone Youth OnMission.  I had the opportunity to work alongside 25 wicked cool teenagers plus our youth volunteers.  We moved lots of weeds, horse poop, paint, tree limbs, pine straw, people….and each other.  It was great.

Camp Cornerstone is next week, and it will be full of movement. But, I am praying for movement that is more than just moving groups of kids through different activities.  I am praying for the movement of kid’s hearts.  I am praying that God will move entire families.

In the weeks ahead, there will be even more movement in my life and with Cornerstone Youth.  This ministry is moving forward, and as it moves forward it is moving me forward.  I am learning and discovering that movement for the sake of movement can be dangerous.  But, movement with a purpose is revolutionary.

So many times I have caught myself moving (physically, spiritually, mentally, etc…) because I am restless with being still.  This is not the case right now.  I am moving intentionally, with a purpose, with precision, both in my personal life and in ministry.

I am excited about the movement ahead of me.  I am excited about what is coming up in the fall with Cornerstone.  I am excited about Revolution Weekend in August and our move to Wednesday nights starting August 26th.  I am excited to see the vision of reaching students in our community in new and fresh ways come alive!

I believe that God is taking Cornerstone, not just the youth ministry, but the entire church, in a direction of blessing that we can’t even comprehend right now.  I don’t know all the details of what’s on the horizon for us/me, and I’m okay with that.  If I knew, it wouldn’t be bigger than me.  But, I do know that whatever He has in store, it is His best.  It is in our best interest because it brings honor to Him.

He is moving.  He is moving us.  I am moving with Him.  We are moving with Him.  Will you move, too?

Just like last month, today I looked down at my desk calendar only to realize that it was still on May and June is almost over.  I can’t be so busy that I don’t realize a month has began before it is almost over.  But, nevertheless, June has flown past me, and it strangely feels like I have also flown past myself, leaving me somewhere in the dust of mid-May.

But, I guess I’d rather be busy than idle.

This time last year, I felt like I had nothing to do and life was barely managing to creep by, but now I find myself with so much in front of me that it’s hard to keep everything straight.

It’s overwhelming and exciting and scary and beautiful all at the same time. It’s my life.

The past 2 1/2 weeks have been a whirlwind.  I not only watched my little brother get married, I was in his wedding.  BigStuf was a whole week of crazy goodness.  Then, I went on “vacation” for four days.  And there is still more ahead…..Life Groups start up this Wednesday, Saturday is the OnePrayer Auburn Service day, family is coming for the 4th of July, OnMission starts the second week of July, then we are on to Camp Cornerstone, and before you know it, school will be starting back and Revolution Weekend will be here, and then there will be another wedding on the horizon…

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I am active, but I also know that I need to build margins in my life, and I’m not really doing a good job of that right now.  Having so much going on makes me stop and examine what in my life is really honoring Christ.  Because if in all of my busyness I forget that He is the most important thing, it is all for nothing, and I have missed it…I have missed out on the Life.

Busyness doesn’t equal life.  A full inbox doesn’t equal self-worth.  Sleepless nights do not equal importance.  Anxiety does not breed success.

Christ equals life.  His word is Truth.  He gives rest to those He loves. And the only success that is worth anything is to bring honor to His name.

Now, I just need to remind myself of that everyday.

So, I am at the Orange Conference. I have never been before, and I wasn’t really sure what it was all about, except for that it was mainly for children and youth ministers.  At the opening session, Reggie Joiner spoke about the concept behind Orange, and the importance of enabling and partnering with parents to teach children about God and pass on the faith.

This is not a new concept for me.  This was a main theme woven throughout all of my youth ministry classes in seminary, but Reggie said something that hit me tonight which I have never thought of before:

“God is not interested in the perfect picture.  He is interested in writing the story.”

Now, that’s good.

So many times as the church we try to make people fit into a certain mold that makes life easier for us, that makes us comfortable.  We want our churches to be made up of perfect families, with perfect parents, and perfect children.  This will never happen.   This is not real.  Reality isn’t comfortable.  It is hard.  It is painful.  It is messy.  It doesn’t make sense.  It can’t be contained.

It is broken.

Families are broken.

We are broken.

I am broken.

Tonight, for the first time I really realized that my family is broken.  If my family had to fit into the “perfect family” mold (aka: mom and dad who are still married and children–who don’t have problems, are rebellious, or talk back) I would be a horrible failure.  You see, my family is broken.  When I was 17 my father died.  This wasn’t a choice I made; it was something that happened to us, but it irrevocably severed my family.  My family doesn’t fit the mold anymore….actually it never did.

There are other reasons, which I will not go into because it is neither the time nor the place, why my family does not fit the mold.  And, you know what….I’m okay with it.  Because God is bigger than my brokenness.

God is in the business of restoring and redeeming our brokenness.

Our broken relationships.

Our broken families.

Our broken hearts.

God wants to use our brokenness to show the world that He is THE GOD who restores and redeems broken people.

This is just one of the many things I love about Cornerstone.  We are not just a church of broken people (every church is that) but we are a church that doesn’t hide that we are broken.   And, you don’t have to hang around Cornerstone very long to hear the stories of redemption and restoration that God is writing in the lives of these broken people.

And, I am one of them.

I spent some time visioning about youth ministry at Cornerstone with our Pastor of Connections, Josh, yesterday.  It was messy.  I was challenging.  It was good.

It looked a little like this.

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I put this picture on my computer desktop, so now everytime I open my computer I have to stop and think about–dream about– where this ministry is going, my place in this ministry, and how I can pull others alongside me in this journey.  And, that its okay to ask for help.

I have also started reading Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley.  I couldn’t even get through the introduction without being challenged in my understanding of leadership.  The weird thing is that I have never considered myself gifted as a leader.  Most of the time I find myself stepping up and being a leader because no one else will.  But, now I have a group of people that are following me, and I have to lead them somewhere…..that’s a lot.

I’m trying.  I’m learning.

The leadership essential that has hit me the hardest so far is courage.  I have never considered myself a courageous person.  For the most part, I am crippled by fear (at least I used to be that way).  Things are changing in my life, but fear is still something I face every day.  And, as a leader, my biggest fear is of failure–both in trying something and it going down the tubes and in missing out on something amazing God has in store.

These fears keep me from dreaming.  And, when I do let myself dream, I often write my dreams off as unattainable.  But, I am learning, that sometimes I just have to go for it, pick my fears up and take them with me for the ride.  And, if I fall on my face, I fall on my face.  But, at least you can’t say I didn’t try.

It’s my job to dream for this ministry.  To cast a clear vision and take people along with me.  It’s not my job to protect myself (or other people) or avoid risk.  It’s my job to stare risk down and move anyway.  I must be willing to challenge things as they are now for the sake of what they can be.

So, I leave you with this:

“Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage assumes fear….  Courage is the willingness to strap on your fear and move ahead.  The leader who refuses to move until the fear is gone will never move.  Consequently, he will never lead.  There is always uncertainty associated with the future.  Uncertainty presupposes risk.  Leadership is about moving boldly into the future in spite of uncertainty and risk.  Without courage we will simply accumulate a collection of good ideas and regrets.  What could be and what should be will not be…at least not under our watch.” (Next Generation Leader, p.54-55)

“The leader who accomplishes great things will not always be the most talented or the best educated–it will be the leader who refuses to put brackets on his thinking.” (Next Generation Leader, p.74-75)

So, go dream!  Dream Big!  I will be dreaming, too.

Okay, so I have wanted to write this blog for a few days now, but I couldn’t find the time to get it out…..so here it goes.

Saturday morning the staff and executive council of Cornerstone had our leadership retreat.  We discussed the vision of Cornerstone, where we are heading, and other things that staffs talk about.  My favorite part of the morning was when Josh shared stories from different people whose lives have been changed by God through the ministry of Cornerstone.  I have only been an active part of Cornerstone for four months now, so it was amazing to sit back and soak in these stories of transformation and redemption.  The stories brought tears to my eyes and rejuvenated my heart for ministry.  I wish that I could share them all with you.  They would make you love Cornerstone as much as I do.

Somewhere in our discussion about the common themes woven throughout these stories (love, community, experiencing the love of Christ, feeling welcome, love, non-judgmental attitudes…did I mention love?) someone said, “The church is changing, and that is a good thing.”  Man, those are profound words.  The church is changing, and we can either come along for the journey, or be a hindrance.  I, personally, am excited about the journey!  I hope you are, too.

And do you know who is going to be at the forefront of this change?  The ones who are going to be the face of the revolution?  This generation–people my age and younger– TEENAGERS!

I am so excited to se what God has in store for the church.  I am excited to be leading a group of students during this time.  He is calling His Bride to Himself, drawing us near to know Him intimately, and then in turn, to transform the world.  This is You!  This is me!

What’s so amazing is that this is how God has worked in the past.  Almost every major revival in history was sparked by young people or the major players were young people.  Revivals have swept across college campuses and have invaded youth cultures.  Maybe, the changing face of the church is not just a revival of what we have always done, but a revolution that transforms what has always been done into something new, innovative, fresh, something… well…revolutionary.

This is where Cornerstone is heading, and I am so blessed/honored/excited/humbled to be a part of it.  Man, I am ready for the revolution!

We are doing this mega series at Cornerstone right now called Alive.  Yesterday, Rusty preached on the Old Testament and the importance of understanding it in order to fully understand the New Testament.  Personally, I love the Old Testament.  I love to study it, because it is so amazing to watch God unfold His plan of salvation.  At one time I event thought about doing my Master’s studies in Old Testament, but I just couldn’t pull myself away from youth ministry.

I was having this conversation yesterday afternoon with an amazing group of girls as we began our study of Erwin McManus’ book Uprising.  So many people think that God is all about rules and the “Thou shall nots,” but really He is all about grace and mercy. Erwin says it so beautifully,

“God has been so misinterpreted.  He has been cast as the divine legalist, the eternal killjoy.  It’s as if God spends time in eternity designing straitjackets and molding shackles just for you….God is not a warden, He is a deliverer.  And so earnest is He about you freedom that He was willing to be taken captive and crucified on your behalf just so you could run free.” (Uprising, p. 11)

The entire Old Testament is the story of God’s grace. His deliverance. His hesed.

“Hesed” is the Hebrew word for mercy, and it literally means “the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God.”  Man, if that’s not intense, I don’t know what is.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel fails over and over.  It is a cycle they cannot get out of.  Israel breaks the Law–punishment comes–Israel repents–God forgives and restores them–Israel breaks the Law again–punishment comes…. It just keeps going on.  But, God never gives up on them.  He always forgives and restores Israel.  And, it’s not becuase they deserve it.  It’s becasue He LOVES them.  It gets me so excited, because this is my story, too.

All of this keeps bringing me back to Psalm 119.  I can’t seem to get it out of my head (which is probably a good thing).  All day yesterday the words of the psalmist were rolling around in my head, “Oh, how I love your Law!  I meditate on it all day long…How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v.97,103).  The Law the psalmist is referring to is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy).  Those books have been so overlooked by Christians in favor of the New Testament.  But, we can’t ignore them.  They are the life-giving words of our Father.  Live in them and let them make you alive!

Just for some inspiration (and a little entertainment), here are some pictures from First Saturday this past weekend.  It’s the Word being brought to life!

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So, tonight we had our first meeting of Life Groups for the youth at Cornerstone. I’m not sure how everyone else’s went, but junior high girls rocked. It was so great to have an apartment full of girls, having fun and digging into The Word (but, now I know not to give them coffee and brownies…it’s a lethal combination–at least for me).

After everyone left, I was left by myself to ponder the nights events.  I cracked open my Bible and began to read Psalm 119.  I love this psalm, and every time I read it I think, “Man, I should read this psalm every day.”  It just puts things in perspective for me, and it makes me realize just how precious God’s Word is.

Tonight when I was reading, I didn’t even get halfway through before I came across these verses, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep Your word.  You are good, and do good; teach me Your statues…It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” (v. 67&71)  This struck me, because I don’t think of affliction this way.  When I am in a crisis, I don’t thank God for it; I am usually praying for God to take me out of it.  But, the psalmist is saying that it was good to be afflicted.  Before he was afflicted, he couldn’t stay on the right path, but affliction is actually what set things right for him.

This is backwards from everything we are taught.  Affliction is bad.  Suffering is bad.  We do things in order to limit suffering in our lives.  But, what if our striving to remove struggles and suffering from our lives is hurting more than helping?  What if we are missing out on God?

The study we are doing during the first six weeks of Life Groups is on the Passion of Christ.  I have spent the past two months immersed in studying the last hours of Jesus’ life, trying to wrap my mind around it in order to write the cirriculum for this study.  In my studying and reading, I came across this quote by Max Lucado:

God was never nearer to us than when he hurt. The Incarnation was never so fulfilled as in the garden….If it’s true that in suffering God is most like man, maybe in our suffering we can see God like never before.

I think that is what this verse is saying.  We understand God the best in our affliction.  When we are suffering, His Word comes alive to us in ways we couldn’t see before.  When we are broken we are given the opportunity to see God as our Healer.   When we are abandoned, we see God as the One who will never leave or forsake us.  When we are anxious, we are introduced to God as the Peace that goes beyond all understanding.  And, when we are wounded, we begin to understand that He is the One who binds up our wounds.  It is in affliction that He reveals Himself to us.  It is in suffering that we begin to understand God in ways that we couldn’t before.  It is where we meet our Savior.