Monday, January 27, 2014

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Stop Attending Your Church

The amount of people in the pews switching churches is alarming.  It seems like anything is a good reason for pulling up roots and moving on.  And it bugs me.  Here are 5 reasons why you shouldn't.

1.  God Hates A Quitter

Whether it's a four year old quitting T-ball, or a husband and wife calling it quits, giving up is not part of God's plan.  Think on this: covenant love promises to never quit, no matter how backwards things may seem.  God never gives up on his beloved Church.  Why do you think that gives you permission to be any different?

2.  Roots Aren't Designed To Transplant

When you plant a tree, the roots grow deep and wide.  Roots are a powerful bond that are designed to keep us where we are.  They break through hard dirt, gravel, rock, and even crack through cement.  Roots are NOT made to be taken out of the ground they grow in!  Our walk with the Lord is similar: it is designed to happen best in a community.  If you take the time to set roots in one community, by attempting to transplant the tree of your faith, you end up having to re-establish your roots all over again.  This takes time: time that you are without your support system, deep fellowship, and sense of belonging.  Plus, if you are a skilled gardner (sarcasm...) like me, how many times when you move that plan from one pot to the other does it die?  We wouldn't want that to happen, now, would we?

3.  Alone We Go Fast, Together We Go Far

When you decide to change churches, the other people around you who know you look at you and think maybe that is a good idea for them too.  But staying encourages others around you to stay.  Think of it like this: if you are teaching a kid to do the monkey bars and you can't make it across yourself, you're not really teaching the kid to keep hanging on.  If they see you not complete your task, they will see that as a reasonable way of doing the monkey bars.  So please, do it for the kids.

4.  God Equips Those He Calls

If you think your church is worth leaving, God thinks it's worth changing.  Because God sees value in things you don't.  Otherwise the doors would be shut.  It may just be that God has you where he has you for "such a time as this."  And, that means He wants to use you to help your church become a place other people want to be instead of a place they want to leave.  Be the change you want to see.  That doesn't mean you need to start a new program.  It DOES mean you need to smile.

5.  The Grass is Not Always Greener on the Other Side

Just because you see problems where you worship, and don't see them at your friends church down the street doesn't mean they don't exist.  Here's a secret from somebody on the inside: every church has issues.  Because we all fail.  Sin didn't skip over any of us.  And because we all have sin in our lives, it means we all have sin in our churches.  And that means they aren't perfect.  Don't leave for what you think is a better situation.  Just be a part of making the situation you are in a better one.

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What's your reason for staying?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Navarra, Party of Three

At the exact moment I type these words, 24 hours ago, I went from being merely 'Dan' to 'Daddy.'

Many people have asked for the story of how things went.  If you're into that sort of thing, here you go:

At 4:15 PM on Tuesday, December 17, I received a call from Amy while working in my office; that she thought her water just broke, and that she was worried there was a lot of blood, and that I needed to come home.  I slammed my computer shut, grabbed my Nikon, and "teleported" to my house across town.  While in the car, I called the Family Birthing Center at Memorial Hospital here in Modesto and let them know, "it was probably time!"  I then called my father, and both of my inlaws to let them know.  My mother inlaw, Kelly, was already on her way to meet Amy and I at our house.

By the way - a break in the story - Amy and I have phenomenal family, and amazing support.  What an unbelievable blessing it has already been, merely 24 hours into Levi's life!

Sure enough, when I arrived at home, the adrenaline really hit!  It was time to go!  I grabbed a quick change of clothes, and my backpack, Amy's suitcase, and off we went to the hospital.

Upon arriving, the nurse decided that Amy's bleeding was sufficient reason for her (the nurse) to not do the routine examination herself.  And so our doctor, Dr. Altman, was called in.  We have had phenomenal care from everybody at Memorial, but Dr. Altman has truly made this a positive experience for us.  The time was approximately 6:15 PM when Dr. Altman saw Amy, about 45 minutes since we arrived.  He checked her, and found additional bleeding.  At this point, Amy had lost a significant amount of blood.  Dr. Altman did a sonogram and assured us that baby Levi was in tip top condition and healthy as he could be.  His heart rate was stable, and his responsiveness was solid.

However, Amy's placenta had abrupted (or, ripped itself off) from her uterus wall, and had slipped down, making it difficult to anticipate a vaginal birth in Dr. Altman's opinion.  She measured 1 cm at this point, and was having zero contractions, so she was not yet in labor.  Dr. Altman told us that our best, and least risky course of action was to not chance Amy losing any more blood, and for her to have an "urgent" C-Section.  Urgent C-Sections differ from "Emergency" in that the intensity and rush factor are not quite as high, however, Amy's situation was significant enough to have a few other operations that were scheduled bumped back in the line.

I was going to be permitted to be in the operating room in full scrubs as well with my camera!  I called all the parents and let them know that we were going to be having this baby in the next half an hour.  It was about 6:45 PM at this time.

At 7:25 PM, after a difficult, but successful spinal tap to numb the pain in Amy, and a couple of removed fibroids for good measure, Levi Ryan Navarra was brought into the world!

Mom and I got to visit with him briefly before all the usual procedures kicked into action.  Amy had low blood pressure, but was stabilized and cleaned up in what can only be described as a routine and successful fashion with no adverse affects.

Levi's stats:
Born 7:25 PM
Tuesday December 17, 2013
Weight: 8 lbs. 2 oz.
Length: 18.75 inches
Head Circumference: 14 cm

Mom and baby are both doing outstanding.  We cherish your prayers and well wishes as we begin our journey as a family of three! The best is yet to come!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Reflections of a Soon-to-be Father

I'm going to be a Dad.

Levi Ryan Navarra is on his way into the world some time in the next month or so.  In fact, he is due exactly one month from today.  My mind has been racing as I write, rewrite, and rewrite again what this little man will bring to the world.  Here are my reflections, without obviously knowing at all what this really is going to feel like.

I never thought my life would be the way it is.  The last month, I've had more "pinch me" moments than I ever have: moments where it all just seems to good to be true.  We've re-carpeted, painted, decorated, set up furniture, stocked drawers with diapers and baby clothes that seem more like tube socks in my large adult hands.  And everything is about to change.  And I can't wait.

The anticipation of Levi transforming our family from a duet to a trio is an emotional rush.  Read: I'm freaking out, but in the best way possible.  It's that sort of excitement I used to get in my stomach when I got to hit with runners in scoring position: I'm nervous about the situation and the high stakes of the moment, but at the same time, I'm anxious and excited to take my hacks and give it my all.  And that's what I'm ready to do: give it my all.  This boy is going to be loved.  He's going to be engulfed in over-the-top affection and joy.  He's going to know that he is the best thing to happen to Amy and I this side of heaven.  And he's going to be perfect; whatever the heck that looks like.

I've shed a few tears in the last month or so at the idea of my life changing.  Tears of incredible joy and overwhelming enthusiasm for this extravagant new adventure God has my wife and I journeying towards.

We are going to raise him to love God.  Because we love God.  We are going to raise him to know that the way we love him is a product of us experiencing the love God has for us in a real, tangible way.  Honestly, I want to be a a dangerous extension of that radical love, and teach Levi to handle that love with a competency far superior to my own.  I'm blessed to have the father I have.  I've said many times prior that if I am half the husband and father my own dad is, I'll be way ahead of everybody else.  Those are big expectations, but I like that kind of stuff.  A challenge, to be sure.

Ok, Levi. See you soon, my boy.  Daddy's waiting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Open Letter To Parents of Children & Teenagers

This post is my own response to a recent conversation that took place in my Adolescent Faith Longevity course with Dr. Kara Powell, co-author of 'Sticky Faith' at Fuller Theological Seminary concerning the role of family in developing adolescent faith.  This is designed to not offend parents who are faithfully parenting their children, but instead to hopefully inspire ALL of us who work with children and youth to take each hour of influence we have with young people extremely seriously, in hopes of developing a faith that sticks among a generation where it has historically not.

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Dear Parent,

I recently came across a statistic stating that students spend an average of 40 hours per year under the influence of their Youth Pastor, but a startling 3,000 hours per year under the influence of their parents (Think Orange, page 85).  This should not come as a surprise to you.  For me, it was not a surprise either.

Allow me to drive the crux of the matter home bluntly:

You matter.  A lot.

Infinitely more than I do.  Each of our lives is teaching something (whether you are intentionally or not), and yours will teach more than every sermon I preach for all six years I have your student in my ministry combined.  In fact, if you were to combine all the hours of camp, retreats, youth groups, mission trips, and coffee dates the youth staff or I will have with your student over the next 6 years, it barely clears HALF of the hours you will have with your child just in this next year.  And that's assuming sports or other extra-curricular activities don't pull your child away from attending church (which is a polite way of saying, "assuming your student doesn't learn bad priorities").

So, when you look at church as the band aid for your child's spiritual brokenness, I'd beg of you to reconsider.  Yes, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately what your child needs and they will find that at any solid youth ministry; but in their defense, they only have a handful of hours per year to hear that from me, process it, ask questions, and then grow in it.  What they really need, is to hear it, see it, process it, and then believe it because you take the biblical mandate to raise godly children serious.

And a secret for those of you who accept this challenge: your child, if they really get it as a kid because of your influence, will carry that with them the rest of their life!  Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."  The problem is, not enough parents take training their children seriously.

They leave it to the Church.

So, we are doing our best.  We really are.  We youth workers sacrifice our weeknights, weekends, better pay for less hours vocationally, no pay for many hours as a volunteer, our own marriages and families, vacation time, and in some cases, even our own dreams outside of ministry so that your child will develop their faith in God.  And it's worth it to us every time.  I truly believe there is nothing better in this life than seeing a young person have the light bulb of faith light up in their life.  But the fact of the matter is, no matter how hard we try, our impact will never match yours.

So, every time you act in a "do as I say, not as I do" manner, you are taking a giant step backwards in raising your child.  Every time you deceive your child from knowing you closely, you are thinning the most important bond they need to have.  Every time you brush them off when they give an inkling of needing to talk, you are giving them more incentive to turn to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and every other outlet the world provides in order to be heard.

And a tip: they want to be heard.  In fact, they are begging to be heard.

And that means we as adults have to do a better job of listening.  It's what I train my staff to do every single week in small groups: just listen.  James 1:19 lays it out best: "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."  I train my staff to ask questions, and let students muddle through their journey of faith in authentic community with each other, and the staff steering from behind.  And it would be nice for you to do the same.  Just listen.  Don't lecture.  Don't get upset when you hear something you don't like.  Just listen in the name of building relationships and gaining influence in your child's life.  And then notice how they care more and more about what you think because of how they see you live!

Today's youth are starving, relationally.  They are being bullied not just in the school yard like the good 'ole days, but in ways you and I could only dream of.  Youth are settling for manipulation, blackmail, popularity, the physical touch of another young person, self harm, and other lies that this world has to offer because they aren't getting enough truth, value, and positive reinforcement in the places they ought to be getting it from.

Be the solution. 

Don't subconsciously (or intentionally!) rely on the church to teach your child right from wrong, good manners, and how to sit still during the sermon (or even active listening).  Model honest discipleship right in front of their eyes.  Don't just talk about following God (although for many of you, that is a start).  DO it.

Put me out of a job.

Seriously.  Take the necessary need for the Church's influence in your child's life away because they are learning everything I'd be teaching them anyways in their own homes.  Let church just be a place where they come to broaden their relationships with other Christians while sharing life and truth; NOT a place to form foundations of faith that they should already have down pat by the time they get to high school.  I've always said, "The best Youth Pastor a student can ever have is their own parent."

Take your 3,000 hours very seriously.  They matter way more than my 40.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

10 Things To Tell Your Child After the VMA's

This post is written as a response to the overwhelming support I've received on Facebook.  I've placed that below, in case you missed it.

1.  If you desire the eyes of people around you, walk around almost naked.  Seriously, people will flock to you if you give them a reason to.  However, just know that your fame is finitely temporal: somebody else will wear less clothing, or do something more obnoxiously attention grabbing.  Honestly, it is not crime to want attention.  But it is pathetic to want attention for only mere moments.  Seek positive attention in the right places from the right people.

2.  Sex sells.  It always has, and always will.  However, the price it sells at is irreplaceable: your self-respect, confidence, and innocence are things that disappear quickly.  The list of stars who have walked down Miley Cyrus' path of innocence to destruction is not short.  Choose to hold on to yourself and you will make a choice that you never regret. I promise.

3.  Sticking your tongue out at people is rude. Not sexy.  God put it on the inside of your face for a reason. Leave it there.

4.  Culture proclaims a message that is a lie.  Be thinner. Wear more makeup. Buy away your problems.  Smoke to fit in.  Drink to have fun.  Skip class because its not really important. Disobey your parents because they don't know their right from their left.  One night stands really have no strings attached...I could go on, and on, and on. If you are not smart enough to see through the lies, or are feeling pressured to believe them, consider this your call to "wake up!"

5.  Your hair is fine.  Seriously. Stop spending two hours in the bathroom trying to make it "perfect."  It will be fine.  That boy is never going to look at you and wonder how you got that much volume out of that mop.  Spend your time investing in things that actually matter.

6.  Promise your child you will be the best parent you can be, and keep the promise.  I can only wonder what was going through Billy Ray Cyrus' head as his 20 year old daughter ruined foam fingers at the ball game for all of us. Forever.  I wonder if Billy Ray had any regrets in that moment, or if he was proud of his little angel?  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the best Youth Pastor a child can ever have is their own parents.  Don't leave the dirty work of teaching your child core values to somebody else.  Statistically speaking, the bad guys win that one.

7.  There is hope.  Nobody is a lost cause.  Nobody is too far gone, that they are beyond rescue.  And nobody is worth giving up on.  As a Christ-follower, and a leader within that cause, that is my mantra.  We can't look at people as disposable.  People area always a work in progress.  So when you go to school tomorrow and little Jimmy says something to you that really boils your blood, take a step back and remember that not everybody is as amazing as you.  And by that, I mean to say that you can (probably) be a creep too some of the time.

8. Surround yourself with the type of people you want to be like.  A friend of mine taught me a phrase, and it is a universal truth: it is easier to pull a person off of a ladder than it is to pull somebody up that same ladder.  The idea is that if you are a "good" person, but you hang around the wrong crowd, you're going to see them influence you far more than you will influence them.  Be careful of the people who influence you.  It will make you who you are yet to become eventually.

9.  Modesty is hottest.  While Gaga and Miley make headlines for how amazing they were, actual people look at that garbage and wonder where the barf bags are.  Cover your body, and let somebody actually like you for who you are on the inside.  Oh, and the people that give you attention when you live a modest lifestyle are the ones you probably want in your life anyways (see #8).

10.  All things can be made new.  I believe in a God who makes beauty out of ashes.  I believe in a God who loves people as they are, but loves them enough to not be satisfied if they stay that way.  I believe in grace: that people can make mistakes, and be given chance after chance to make it right again.  I believe that our value doesn't come from the songs we sing, the dollars we earn, or the (lack of) clothes we wear.  Our value comes from the fact that the same God who makes the whole earth spin and float created you and loves you beyond your wildest imagination.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Cost of Discipleship

Recently I was speaking with a local business owner.  I asked him how the business was going and he replied, saying that he was examining his cost/results ratio.  Even I could understand the importance of a cost/results ratio.  If it cost me $5 to make a product, and I sold it for $4.50, I soon would be out of business!  This is not a recipe for success!  As I reflected on this "miracle of math,"  I thought how much the benefits of being a Christian far exceed the cost.  In fact, did you know that discipleship has been designed by God with our BEST interests at heart?  Contrary to popular belief, discipleship was not designed to help God by training another minion or two in the ways of the Jedi, but actually it was designed to help us!  Hear this: God does not need our help; we need His!

Discipleship is our opportunity to tap the infinite resources of God.  It is our chance to give our lives to significance, rather than mediocrity.  If you feel like your faith is stuck in a rut; stagnant with the constant toll of following Jesus, WAKE UP!  It is vital to the Christian that they grasp this idea: following God is not us helping God, but God helping us.  Now, following God seems like less of a drag, doesn't it?

However, Jesus also warns us to "count the cost" and weigh it well if we choose to become true disciples of him.  And my friends: it will cost you something.  It will cost us our lives.  But the results, I assure you, are so much more glorious than the cost, that any of us would be a fool to turn down such an offer.  Luke 14, one of my favorite passages in the Bible, in verse one, Jesus is being watched by the Pharisees as he teaches on the cost of discipleship.  There is a truth in that verse we need to consider: those who appose us Christians are constantly watching us.  We are ALL ambassadors of something!  Will you understand that you need to be an ambassador of Christ in every situation this next week?

When that co-worker gets on your nerves: ambassador. 
When that teacher springs a last second exam: ambassador. 
When your children or grandchildren blow you off: ambassador. 
When your spouse doesn't clean up their mess again: ambassador. 

The true disciple lives according to principle, not circumstance.  A disciples is one who in every area of his or her life determines from the Bible what is right, and lives it consistently, therefore being an ambassador of Christ.  If it's time to trade in that old car that is leaking oil, and you take it down to the dealer, and they look you in the eye and ask, "is there anything wrong?" you have a chance to live by circumstance ("no! nothing at all!") or by principle ("it leaks oil...").  You know, God's commands are never arbitrary: they are designed for our best interests!  They are designed to help, not hinder.

In closing, ponder this:  Jesus came to have us live our lives backwards

The key to being first is being last. 
The key to living is dying. 
The key to being free is being Christ's slave. 
The key to getting is giving. 
The key to being a leader is being a servant. 
The key to being exalted is to live a life characterized by humility. 

Everybody wants to live, but NOBODY seems to want to die.  We all want freedom, but none of us want to be a slave.  You get the picture...there are no shortcuts in following God.  In no way can a person get without giving or truly live without dying.  Accept that.  Understand who has extended the invitation to come and die, and then truly live.  Be desperate for God to be the center of your life.  And then follow Jesus like it is the only thing that matters.  Probably because it is!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What To Do When Worship Has Gone Wrong

I love the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal that takes place on Mount Carmel.  If you need a refresher here it is:  Eight kings later after Solomon’s kingship, Israel is a split kingdom who has become polytheistic: worshiping Yahweh, plus a myriad of other created-gods.  The one single prophet of Yahweh – Elijah, calls out King Ahab and the 450 prophets of Baal, and challenges them to a showdown.  Elijah and the prophets of Baal each separately prepare an altar on which they are going to attempt to sacrifice a bull as a burnt offering.  The catch is, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to not light the fire themselves, but to pray to their god to light the fire instead, acting as a test of how ‘real’ Baal is.  1 Kings 18 tells the story of the prophets of Baal crying out to their god from morning until noon, even slashing their own clothes and making themselves bleed in an attempt to capture the attention of Baal.  By the time noon roles around, Elijah starts trash talking by encouraging the prophets of Baal to shout louder, saying perhaps Baal is deep in sleep or “busy” (which is actually a Hebrew word translated sometimes as ‘using the bathroom!’).

After hours of asking Baal to light the altar on fire, the prophets give up and Elijah takes his turn.  But Elijah doesn’t just pray to Yahweh; first, he asks the servants to dig a moat around his altar and soak the wood and the bull with water that make up the altar.  In case you failed 1st grade science, water does not light on fire!  With the prophets of Baal looking on in disbelief, Elijah prays to Yahweh, and the Bible tells us that a fire so fierce fell from heaven that it not only burned up the sacrifice, but it consumed all the water as well!  Take a second to think about that: God did the impossible!  As the 21st century prophet Adel once said, he, “set fire to the rain!”

In verse 21, Elijah challenges all the prophets of Baal with a simple question that proved to not be all that simple.  The text says, “Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”  But the people said nothing in response.

Elijah’s conviction was this: if we are going to label ourselves as followers of God, and continue to worship other “gods” that we create in our own lives, Elijah wants us to get off the fence.  Pick one.  Either follow God, or follow whatever other petty god you want to create for yourself; but do NOT worship both.  Our God is a jealous God!  Our other gods could be things like that big promotion, a new car, the latest fashion, a video game, iPod, cell phone, popularity, or anything else that we as sinful humans place on the throne of our lives.  Elijah makes it clear: choose what you will worship.

Mark Driscoll says in his new book Who Do You Think You Are? that we were not created to worship, but were created as worshippers.  The subtle distinction is that we don’t choose when we worship and when we don’t: we are always giving worship to something.  What will you worship? The One True God or the temptations of this world that tug on our hearts?  The battle has been won.  Will you resolve to rest in that truth?  What will you worship?