dear emily…

Dear Emily,

It’s Valentine’s Day.  A day that has been wildly commercialized.  It’s a day that people spend a lot of money on chocolate and decorate with pinks and reds that make any room look like the Hallmark Store had a fight with itself.  And lost.

And while there are many who publicly oppose the notion of celebrating such a day that commercializes love, I believe the heart behind the day is pure.

Today gives children an opportunity to express their care for one another through cleverly themed valentine notes at school.  Today gives little girls a chance to tell little boys that they think he’s cute.  Today gives classmates something to look forward to, even if it’s just the candy. Today reminds us that we need to tell our loved ones that they are special.

So I want to take this opportunity, this Valentine’s Day, to let you know how much you mean to me.

Valentines Day

I admire you.  I admire the way you mother our little James.  He is a precious gift from God, and God has graciously given him to us to take care of.  You do this beautifully.  You love him perfectly.  You care for his needs, well, in ways that I physically can’t.  I could not think of a better mom for our James.

I enjoy you.  That is, I enjoy spending time with you.  I enjoy that we are both introverts, and that we can both be content with sitting in silence and have by-you time (you more than me, sometimes).

I look forward to continued primitive roads with you.  Ever since that literal primitive road in rural eastern Washington, I knew life with Emily would be filled with primitive roads.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We have had many adventures in our short life together, and this will probably not end.  We’ll likely have so many more primitive road experiences, and I love that.  I love that I get to experience them with you.

I appreciate your love.  Your love for me is great, I see that every day.  And I appreciate the way you love me.  I appreciate you letting me sleep (even though I really want to help change diapers in the middle of the night… really!).  I appreciate breakfast in bed once in a while (really, you shouldn’t have!).  I appreciate the way you hug me in the mornings and after I come home from work.  The way you love me is perfect.

V Day

To be honest, the words are not enough.  I love you more than I can express.  I love you more than I ever thought possible.

It’s Valentine’s Day.  A day to stop and reflect on the loves in your life.  I know that today is not the only day to do this, and that expressing love is a daily act in any relationship.  But today, this is how I will say: I love you, my Emily.

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love those you lead

The pastor stood on the stage, looking out over the congregation, and didn’t recognize a large group of people in the pews.  New believers?  No – These people had been attending the church for years.

The congregation looked up to the stage, not really knowing who the pastor was.  Was he new?  No – He had also been there for years.

The youth pastor sat down in her regular meeting with youth ministry leaders and looked around the circle and realized she didn’t know their likes and dislikes.  She had no clue what they did for fun or their favorite food.  New leaders?  No – Both parties had been working together for months.

empty_pews

This happens all too often in church – those who lead and those who follow don’t know each other.  There is a lack of relationship, a lack of compassion, a lack of love.

Without relationship, it is difficult to cast vision.  Without compassion, it is hard to relate. Without love, it is impossible to lead.  John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You, states, “You can love people without leading them, but you cannot lead people without loving them.”

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).

Even if I had all the talent and abilities of being a leader, without love, I am nothing.

I’m reminded of the once popular song by Chris Tomlin that declares, “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay.  When you move, I’ll move.  I will follow.”

This song speaks of our willingness to follow God in our lives.  But this act of obedience is not without a prerequisite: we know that God loves us.  We know that God deeply cares for our lives.

As a leader, I must love others.  When love enters in, relationships are built and leadership takes flight.

Love is the key.  It develops relationship.  It shows compassion.  It builds bridges.

Are people not following you when you lead?  Try love.  

(Photo credit: silent shot)

over sacrificing (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

7 deadly sins title“I’m looking out for number one!”

Talk about a selfish, un-Christlike phrase!  Aren’t we supposed to be self-sacrificing followers of Christ?  Aren’t we supposed to give of ourselves for the sole purpose of others knowing Christ?  Paul calls us to do this very thing, which has been the banner cry for Christians worldwide: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB).  We’re called to be servant leaders, right?  Emptying of ourselves in order to fill others.

Um… kind of.

The other day, I was reading a book by Brian Berry, in which he talks about this very concept.  He directs the readers’ thoughts to a flight attendant’s preflight safety instructions.  If you’ve ever flown on a commercial aircraft, you’ll know this well:

In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically drop from the ceiling.  To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you.  Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.  Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask.  If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.  Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.

Helping myself before helping my screaming child?  This goes against parental instinct.  So why do they tell us to do so each time we fly?  Because if I save my life first, it will increase the likelihood of me being able to save my child’s life.

Jesus talks about this same concept, a long time before air travel was even possible:

The foremost [commandment] is, “Hear, O Israel! The Lod our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31, NASB).

Love others as yourself.  Jesus didn’t say, love others like God loves you or love like you’d want to be loved.  Jesus tells us to put on our oxygen mask first before putting on other’s masks for them.  He invites us to love ourselves so we can love others effectively.

7 deadly sins content 2Jesus even modeled this to us when we went off early in the morning to spend time with God, and he passed up opportunities to love others to take care of himself (Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42).  And by taking care of himself and his relationship with his Father, he was able to take care of others.

Let’s be Christlike this year and take care of and love ourselves so we can more effectively take care of and love others.  Because the best gift you can give someone is a healthy you.  The best way you can love another is to love you.

[to read more about this idea and others that might save your life in youth ministry, check out As for Me and My Crazy House, by Brian Berry]