Whatever It Takes

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen last Wednesday night.

I had prayed a lot and I knew our leaders were praying too.

I had challenged all of our students to bring one friend. “Plus 1” we were calling it.

I tried my best to show from Scripture that following Christ necessitates inviting others to follow Him as well.

I promised that the gospel would be shared and their friends would have a chance to respond.

Our office had sent out reminder emails, Facebook posts, text updates and gathered supplies. (My administrative assistant is amazing!)

We were offering lots of FREE food and exploding watermelons with rubber bands. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!

We also gave incentives for meeting certain attendance goals. Pies in the face. Getting slimed. And the thing no sane adult looks forward to–a Lock-In.

I’m not sure what else we could have done.

I was confident it would be a good night, but there’s always that doubt. There’s always that question of “What if nobody shows up?”

I mean, I’ve certainly been a part of events that didn’t go as planned and I’m sure I’ll be a part of more in the future. Haven’t you? You pray, work hard, get commitments from people who say they’re going to come, and then they don’t show up, a projector breaks and it rains. Total bummer.

And in this case, it’s middle school. We’re depending on parents. So if we have a student who is iffy about coming, a parent can say “get in the car, you’re going. You’ll have a great time!” Or, we could have a student who really wants to come, but a parent gets off work too late to get them there, doesn’t feel like bringing them, or makes the student stay home to get homework done (I’m not against doing homework, by the way). There are lots of factors.

All to say, in faith, I was believing it would be a great night!

So what happened?

We had a Wednesday night attendance record and 5 students prayed to receive Christ! Amazing!! And for breaking 1 goal and coming within 1 person of another (We had 139 in attendance and the second goal was for 140. I showed some grace.) I and 3 other leaders got a pie in the face. And gladly, I might add.

It was a FUN night. Lots of laughing. Lots of celebration. And we will be doing another night like this in the near future.

Some might criticize and say, “Oh that’s gimmicky. You should want kids there who want to be there. Kids who have the right heart. And just preach the Word. Stop all the shenanigans.”

Sure.

No doubt.

I hear ya.

But often times it takes doing something you don’t want to do, or even doing something for the wrong reason, to be exposed to a message that changes your heart.

So if playing a crazy game and getting pied in the face brings a student out who wouldn’t have come otherwise, we’ll keep doing it. At least 5 students are glad they came. Their eternity has been altered. 

Also, we do this kind of night once every couple months. It’s not an every week thing.

And don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just walk around preaching. He performed miracles, hung out with people and gave away a lot of FREE food. 

Bottom line: We need to have a more “whatever it takes” approach to life and ministry instead of doing the “same old thing” and expecting different results. 

What could you do differently for your next event to see extraordinary results? What do you need to change in your life personally to see some change? Have you truly exhausted every opportunity and option to do your part, or are you being stubborn or lazy and just praying that God will do something miraculous?

What happened last Wednesday night was an “Only God” moment. God was the one who brought the students, changed hearts and made the night a success. He gets all the glory. But at the same time, there was an incredible team of people that He used to accomplish the night. Those people get all the credit.

So, thank you volunteer leaders! It’s a honor to serve with you each and every week.

Thank you Parents! It’s a privilege to partner with you to reach and grow your students for Christ.

Thank you students! I pray you continue to catch the vision that life isn’t about you, but is about serving others and inviting others to follow Jesus. Keep it up!

Let’s continue to pray for God to do incredible things in our lives and ministries and work hard to see them happen. Let’s do whatever it takes.

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Don’t Wait Until Next Easter

It included the Easter bunny,

peeps,

Easter baskets,

hiding and dying eggs and

dressing up nice for family pictures and get-togethers.

And for millions of people it also included going to a church service.

Why?

Well, Easter is a day each year that is honored as “special” by most people. Believers and non-believers alike pour in to church services because there is still, although it’s fading quickly, an engrained conviction that going to church matters on Easter. It’s a day that honors a man named Jesus, who, 2,000 years ago lived and claimed to be God, died, and then proved it by rising from the dead. His resurrection is what is specifically celebrated on Easter.

It is a day to celebrate because this event in history is what the Christian faith is founded upon. The Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament said it best in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third dayaccording to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born….And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The resurrection is what it’s all about. It’s the whole reason to even believe. It’s what validates the Christian faith. And it’s worth celebrating, not just on Easter, but every day!

It reminds us that we serve a God who has the power over death. He is not dead. And we have hope for the future.

I was reminded last Saturday night as I listened to Lee Strobel, a former atheist turned Christian author and speaker, that if you are a skeptic to not give up on examining the resurrection of Jesus. He went through a 2 year investigation of the historical evidence for Jesus living, dying and rising from the dead. You know what he found after his journey? That it would take more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. The historical evidence was too strong.

If you’re reading this, I don’t know what you believe. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t know where you were on Easter Sunday. But what I do know is this: Jesus’ resurrection is no more true and no more worth celebrating on Easter than any other day of the year.

So if you’re skeptical about Jesus, don’t wait until next year to check out the claims of the resurrection. Check it out right now! If he really did rise from the dead then that means Jesus was not just an ordinary man. He was far more than that. He would be…well…God. And that would mean that what he said would be truth and have authority. And that reality would have huge implications for your life. Don’t worry about the other questions you have about faith and religion. Just focus on one question: Did Jesus rise from the dead? In the end, it’s the only question that matters.

To read more on this, check out: Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection.

And for followers of Christ, let’s not wait until next Easter to celebrate. Let’s live each day as if Jesus really is alive and his resurrection has changed everything. How could we live any other way?

Haiti

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From March 7th – 14th I traveled to Haiti on a mission trip with 32 other students and adults from Bell Shoals. And it was an incredible trip!
 
For the last two weeks I’ve been processing it all and I will continue to do so for a very long time.
 
When you visit a country like Haiti you are impacted in ways that cannot be fully explained. In order to fully understand you have to experience it.
 
Since most people have never visited Haiti, and because I was changed by it, I’ve wanted to post about it. But I’ve been struggling to find the right words. How do you put into a single post what was such an eye-opening, life-changing and kingdom-impacting trip? You can’t perfectly. So I’ll cut myself some slack up front and briefly share some of what I experienced. What I saw.
 
I saw breathtaking views of Haiti’s mountains, lakes and coastline.
 
I saw our students stretched outside of their comfort zone and step up to serve others and share Christ.
 
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I saw children walk miles to get to school and many without shoes.
 
I saw women and children carrying water and other materials on their heads.
 
I saw beautiful smiles, joy and contentment in so many of the Haitian people even though they have so little.
 
I saw poverty. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Clean drinking water, food, health care and education are just a few of their essential needs that we in America don’t think twice about. To find out more about Haiti click here.
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I saw the necessity of partnering with an organization that has ongoing contact with the community you are serving. We partnered with Greg, Maria and Caleb Shepherd with RTS Missions. They are making a HUGE impact in Haiti. People are being saved from earthly struggles and eternal separation with Christ through their ministry. To learn more about RTS click here.
 
I saw that a mission trip really can make a difference. We fed over 1200 children a hot meal, many of which had not received a hot meal in over a week. We saw the power of holding a child’s hand, giving a hug and tangibly showing love to others. And most importantly, our team led over 100 children to accept Christ! In talking with Greg, he told me of a young girl who had been present for 12 mission team visits to her school in the past. Each team presented the gospel, but she did not accept Christ. The 13th time a team came she decided to give in and accept Him. Each of those first 12 teams had a small part in God working in her heart. And had they not gone, that young girl would not now know Jesus. There are countless other lives with similar stories. Going matters!
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Finally, for the first time in my life I grasped the weight of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46. Verse 40 sums it up well:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Jesus cares passionately about reaching the lost. He also cares passionately about loving the least. I needed, and I believe our churches need, a renewed heart for the least. To not love them may lead to dangerous consequences. To love them gets closest to the heart of God. Read all 16 verses and you’ll see what I mean.
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There is certainly a whole lot more I could say and some key things I’m sure I left out. Maybe I’ll write a part 2. In the end, God changed my life in Haiti and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Not to just experience it all again, but to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of others. To love the least. And reach the lost. Until next time, I pray I will live out the change that I’ve experienced here at home in Brandon, FL.
Haiti has my heart.
 
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Why do we do SUW?

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram over the last couple weeks you’ve noticed I’ve been promoting an event called Straight Up Weekend (SUW). Well, the promo is over. It’s here! SUW starts tonight!!

So what is it?

SUW is a weekend dedicated to helping students grow in their relationship with Jesus. It’s similar to a D-Now, and has been happening at Bell Shoals for over 2 decades under the leadership of Victor Flores. It goes Friday night through Sunday afternoon. There are main sessions that include teaching and worship. Service projects on Saturday. Something we call “Point Beyond” that allows our students to connect with local non-profit organizations. And students are placed in small groups while being led by volunteer facilitators. Those groups are then hosted by families who open up their homes for the weekend.

We spend money. Facilities are completely transformed. Hundreds of hours of preparation goes into pulling it off. It requires well over 100 volunteers who sweat a lot, get sore, lose sleep, etc. But one thing is certain…

It’s all worth it.

Why?

Because students matter.

They were worth Jesus dying for!

They are not the generation of tomorrow.

They are the generation of right now!

We are called, as the student ministry at Bell Shoals, to help students follow Jesus. And we will do WHATEVER it takes to accomplish that.

For some students, they will begin a relationship with Jesus for the first time at SUW.

For some students, they will grow deeper in their faith.

For some students, they may confess to a facilitator something they have been struggling with for a long time and find help.

For some students, SUW may be a time to escape a difficult home situation and find hope.

I don’t know all the details of what every student is facing. But I know lives WILL be changed!

So to all of our AMAZING volunteers–thank you! We cannot thank you enough. You are the heroes. Whether you are serving in Point Beyond. Dishing food. Working security. Being a facilitator or Host Home. Helping to transport students. Thank you! You are a significant part of preparing the way for God to move in the lives of our students.

If you aren’t a part of SUW, please pray. Pray for all the unique elements that make SUW tick. Pray for families. And most of all, pray for God to do what only he can…to use SUW to help students follow Jesus.

Students matter. Let’s never stop doing whatever it takes to help them follow Jesus.

Sometimes the Bible is Boring

I’ve always enjoyed watching movies. They draw me in and excite me. The story. The characters. The music. The emotion. The images. It’s quite an experience. Some movies are better experiences than others. Some I’ve seen several times and others just once. I don’t discriminate based on the genre. I’m open to sci-fi, romantic comedy, suspenseful action-packed thrillers, animated films, etc.

In the past month I’ve seen two movies in theater: Interstellar and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. These 2 were hyped a lot, and in my opinion, they didn’t disappoint. I have no desire to do a movie review, but Interstellar in particular was quite the experience. It delved into some of life’s biggest questions. It took you on an emotional roller coaster. It was one of the most visually stimulating movies I’ve ever seen. The music was heavy, uplifting, engaging and overwhelming. It brought you in close to the story it was telling.

When I walked out of that experience my mind was racing. I thought about many of the different ideas and questions the movie raised. And then I had a question myself:

How do I get students to read their Bible when they are watching movies like this?

Now before you think I’m one of those bible-thumping-narrow-minded-movie-hater Christians, hear me out.

See, I work with students. I’m constantly thinking, praying and strategizing about how best to connect this generation with Jesus. And as technology continues to broaden the realm of experiential possibilities through movies, it makes it more difficult for someone like me to say to a student “read your bible.” I mean before we even get to “how?” think about “why?” a student would even want to.

Why would they want to sit down and read a book with black letters (and some red letters if they have a certain translation) on thin, white paper when they can go watch a movie like Interstellar?

Why would they want to read a book that was written a long-time ago and is sometimes difficult to understand when they can go watch a movie like Interstellar?

Why do they want to read something that seems boring like the Bible, when they can go watch something exciting like Interstellar?

Why do they want to read at all, which takes effort, when they can go and passively watch a movie like Interstellar?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a few weeks, and it’s one that isn’t going away. It’s one that’s in a category of questions the church has been wrestling with forever. And the answer is not to condemn movies or to try and sway kids not to watch them. That’s a losing battle. The answer lies in our approach. We have to listen to what is going on in culture and then begin speaking into it.

Because the question is not just “how do I get students to read their Bible?” It’s more than that.

How do we do ministry?

What does church look like in our current culture?

How can I explain the significance of following Jesus?

How do I do________ in an “Interstellar” culture?

As I’ve thought about this and talked with others, here are 6 suggestions that I think can help this generation connect with Jesus.

1) Bring out the life and energy found in the Bible.                                                                                               

Notice I didn’t say, “Bring the Bible to Life.” That would assume that it really is boring and we have a lot of work to do as ministry leaders. But it isn’t. It’s exciting! There’s action. Drama. Scandal. Murder. Miracles. PG-13 type material. Dead people come back to life. People walk on water. And a central figure named Jesus who comes on a rescue mission to save all of humanity from the consequences of their sin. It’s incredible!
“Boring” and “Bible” should not be synonyms. If you teach or preach, commit to bringing out the life and energy already there. And oh yeah, bring your own energy to it!

2) Engage as many of students’ senses as possible when teaching.

This generation experiences sensory overload on a daily basis. With computers, phones and televisions in front of them constantly, it’s good to give them a break. However, it’s also influenced the way they learn and gives teachers other means of connecting with them. Show movie clips. Show pictures. Use props. Draw a diagram. Tell stories. It will make your teaching more effective. CS Lewis was maybe one of the best to ever engage the whole person. Read any of his fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, and you will see how he used many different elements to engage the senses.

3) Help students see the sustainable fulfillment that comes from a relationship with Christ.

Movies, video games, etc. has made us believe we have to always be having an experience, and if we aren’t, we’re missing out. But that’s just not true. High experiences are temporary. Life is lived in the mundane. And in that mundane comes a fulfillment that can be found through a daily relationship with Christ. Through that relationship lies a greater future than anything on this earth could offer.

4) Encourage students to use their God-given talents and gifts.

There are a ton of opportunities for this generation to express themselves in creative ways. We do a disservice to the God who made them when we discourage creativity. We must encourage it! Help students figure out who God has created them to be and celebrate as they live it out.

5) Connect them to the larger story of God on a regular basis.

One of the amazing things movies can do is cause people to long to be a part of the world that the director has created. They can make people feel like they are a part of something bigger. And more, they cause people to feel like they can make a difference. We have largely underwhelmed people with the Gospel if they do not grasp many of those same truths when they read the Bible or hear someone teach from it. Because we are a part of something HUGE—the redemption of all humanity. And we all have a part in that mission. We must connect students to the reality of what God is doing and wants to do in their lives.

6) Allow them to ask questions.                                                                                                                                    

This generation is Bible illiterate. And that’s okay. If we act as if it’s not okay to ask questions about their faith it discourages growth and eventually belief altogether. I’ve written more about that here.

I’m going to keep watching movies. They’re pretty great. Maybe another suggestion could be “Take a student to a movie.” I don’t know. What others suggestions do you have?

Do They Know You Care? The Church and the Buccaneers

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Last night I had the honor of serving as the emcee for an event our church hosted called “Sports Talk: Going Deeper with the Bucs.” Four Tampa Bay Buccaneers players—Gerald McCoy, Josh McCown, Clinton McDonald and Alterraun Verner—spent time sharing how their faith impacts their life on and off the football field. And it was awesome!

Each player volunteered to be at this event and it was clear they wanted to be there. They were real and down-to-earth guys. They were honest about their team and personal struggles. They were genuine and humble. And they boldly shared about their faith in Jesus Christ. And I mean BOLDLY. I was challenged and encouraged in my faith throughout the night and I know everyone else there was too.

We could not have asked for a better group of guys to be with us. They represent the best the NFL has to offer and they served their community well.

Community.

That’s the area where you live. It’s sometimes defined as a small area and other times as a large one. Where I live, there is the greater Tampa Bay community and then smaller communities within that larger one. Last night the event was held in one of those smaller communities of Tampa Bay—Palm River.

See Bell Shoals is a multi-site church with 4 community-focused locations throughout the greater Tampa Bay community. This event could have been held at any of our campuses, but Palm River was strategically chosen.

Why?

Because Palm River needs hope. It’s one of the poorest areas in Tampa. It experiences quite a bit of crime. Many people continue in the same cycle of unwise decisions their parents made. Many lack education. Thousands need Jesus. And every person who lives here is precious and loved by the God who created them.

Palm River has often been forgotten or avoided by those who do not live there, but last night a statement was made: a church and a group of NFL players love them. And that’s huge. Because a community like Palm River often doubts whether the outside world even cares.

There was one young boy in particular who I know doubted last night. This boy was a Bucs fan who came with his dad, but once arriving at the event, wouldn’t get out of the car. One of our volunteers went over to the boy to encourage him to come out and see what was holding him back.

He said, “They wouldn’t come to my neighborhood.”

Those six words played over in my head all night. There had been tons of publicity in the community, but that didn’t convince him. He didn’t believe the Bucs were coming to Palm River. And he had every right to doubt based on what his experience told him. He may have never seen high-profile, successful, well-to-do people in his life come to his neighborhood. Thankfully he got out of the car and he saw that the Bucs really did come!

But how many people just like him think the same thing? Not just that the Bucs wouldn’t come, but that people of influence who can make a difference really wouldn’t come and ultimately don’t care?

There are thousands of communities all over the world that are forgotten or avoided by the church because they are unattractive or unsafe. But those communities, those neighborhoods, are exactly where the church needs to be.

It’s exactly where Jesus went when he was on this earth.

He ate with sinners.

He talked with prostitutes.

He touched lepers.

He healed the sick.

He helped the poor.

He went to messy, tough, unpopular people and places.

And if the church is going to shout the message of Jesus we must go to the people Jesus would be going to if he were here today.

And I think he would be at a community like Palm River.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve heard that said a lot in the past, but it was more true to me last night than ever before.

The church has to stop yelling at people the truth about Jesus without showing the love of Jesus. We must lovingly share the truth. We must show we care. In the process we will look a little more like Jesus than we ever have before.

I don’t know where the needs are in your community, but find where they are and go to them. Serve those people. Love on those people. And show them that you really do care. You never know. There might be a young boy who doubts whether anyone really cares. And you could be the difference that God uses to redirect his life.

What are some ways you could reach out to your community?