Tuesday, August 28, 2012

That Punky Kid In The Youth Group: Ode To My Hero Jeremy Powers

With school starting and Fox returning to High School life I went back in my mind to the youth group I used to lead in San Jose. I was there for about ten years and had countless numbers of youth come through the doors. To be honest, I don't remember all of the kids as so many were here and gone all too fast for me to get to know them. Some I have been blessed with keeping their friendships through the years. These amazing young men have showed me that the investment was worth it. It reminds me that God does in fact work in the lives of our youth and they are now out in the world making a difference.
Of course there are ones that stand out more than others. For me one stands out loud and clear. He was part of a family of four brothers. All had long unkempt hair and clothes. They were loud. They also made life uncomfortable for others in the church. The came on Wednesday nights riding in on skateboards. They like their music loud. They always wanted to find the next big jump, the next thing to break and the next thing that would go uncontrollably fast. Oh, if I haven't said it yet, they were loud. They had electric guitars and a drum kit in their garage - you can do the math on what it was like. The boys' last name was Powers. I think it was fitting. When they brought friends to church, it was some of the roughest characters you could ever imagine. I sometimes think I was more of a correctional officer at those times.
The center of this motley crew was the youngest and loudest of them all. His name was Jeremy. If I go through my pictures from that time, he seemed to inject himself into each shot. He once found his way to the top of the camp chapel to see if he could snowboard jump off of it (it has a nice lip for a ramp). He's the only kid who got seriously hurt on a ski trip. We had to cart him down the mountain after he sprained his knee attempting yet another big jump. It was never a surprise when he came to youth group with a black eye, a cast or a splint. Even though he was the smallest kid on his peewee football team, he played nose tackle. Picture the Tasmanian Devil throwing bodies around and you'll get the picture of what he was like on the football field.
Here's the interesting thing about Jeremy and his brothers: they deeply, passionately and even recklessly loved God. They had this deep respect for the leaders. When we were speaking and others were talking over us, you'd here Jeremy yell "Shut up!!!" at them. If someone said that church was stupid, he'd be sure to let them know how stupid they were being. He also would threaten to beat up those who didn't show us respect. I know that even though it wasn't the "right" response, I could see he had passion.
1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height... The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Jeremy and his family moved to the Northwest when he entered high school. A few years passed and I received a call from his mother. She said that Jeremy had died in a car accident. I spoke with his brother and he said that Jeremy had bought a junk car and tried to fix it up to go fast. Sadly, it was too fast and he crashed it. It was said that at his memorial service, just about every hooligan from the town attended. In life and in death, Jeremy was true to himself. I think that in some ways I have a smile knowing that Jeremy had a very distinct impact on this world. He shook it up, lived it with passion and had a lasting impression on me and probably many others. The candle that shine twice as bright does burn half as long. But what a bright light!
A few things Jeremy definitely taught me was to live life to it's limits; that life unihibited is living; that being passionate has its plusses; that one should NEVER judge a book by its cover; and if I have a say in how I go, I want it in a way that shows that I really lived. In the list in my mind of personal heroes, Jeremy Power is near the top of that list. I regret that I won't have the time on this earth to share that with him.
The last time I talked to the Powers boys, they were being covert missionaries. I remember one of them with a wry smile on his face as he said how he was going to infiltrate the group so that they could change things from within.
Ah, passion!!!
My hope is that we all go through life and see people as God sees them. I hope I can show the love and compassion that each one needs and perhaps we can all live with the reckless fighting spirit of Jeremy Powers. I look forward to seeing him again in my Father's house.

"I don't know what to say really.
Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives all comes down to today.
Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch play by play till we're finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen believe me and we can stay here and get the *** kicked out of us or we can fight our way back into the light.
We can climb out of hell. One inch, at a time.

Now I can't do it for you. I'm too old.
I look around and I see these young faces and I think I mean I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh.... I p***d away all my money believe it or not.
I chased off anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately, I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football. Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small. I mean
one half step too late or to early you don't quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch

On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that's going to make the **** difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.

I'll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.

Now I can't make you do it. You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.

That's a team, gentlemen and either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.
That's football guys. That's all it is. Now, whattaya gonna do?"

Excerpt from Al Pacino's "Inch By Inch" speech from Any Given Sunday

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Confession: I Was A Party Animal And A Member Of A Boy Band

Yes, the title is very much true. Talking to the right people from my past and you will find out that along with my good friend and then roommate John Williams, we threw some very memorable college parties at our apartment at UC Davis. Also, if you talk to the right people, you will know that I was a member of a short lived boy band that covered N'Sync songs. I'm sure that I have your attention, so here's the explanation...

Acts 2:42-47
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

While in college I was heavily involved with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. This was truly the first time that I started on a path of healing and maturing in Christ. I know that for many, college is a time that one's faith is heavily challenged, here I found the teaching and fellowship that would strengthen my faith and start a process of healing from my childhood scars. What was most important to this, was the love I received from the people there. I developed some of the best life long friends any one could ever have. We lived in a generous and accepting community. We prayed together, studied the Word together and laughed a lot together. It would be my sincerest prayer that everyone should at some point in time be involved in a fellowship like this. It is so freeing and refreshing. One thing that is so special and unique about these friends is that at any time that I reconnect with them, we can pretty much pick up right where we left off. We can easily share what's really going on inside. We can laugh, cry and pray together. It is a safe, and warm place that we all share.
We also had a lot of fun together.
Not only did we play sports, go to movies, go out to dinner, hang out talking for all too long a time (alas you could always find me between classes at the Memorial Union with John) but also we partied. Not like the usual college drinking party, but something just as crazy, but a lot more safe (and legal). John and I threw from what I gather now, were the be and end all dance parties of our college lives. It was pretty much one large mosh pit with everyone piled in. Cranking out hits from genres like Motown (Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Temptations), surf (Surfaris, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys), soul (The Pointer Sisters) ,80s (in the decade of the 80s) and even Contemporary Christian (Leon Patillo, Steve Taylor); we danced the night away. It was a loud, frantic and obviously a memorable time.

Psalm 144:12
"Then our sons in their youth
    will be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters will be like pillars
    carved to adorn a palace."
For 10 years and then off and on for the next few years I either led or helped lead the youth groups at various churches I attended. It was a rich and rewarding time investing in young people's lives. Coming to know the Lord in my Middle School days always gave me a heart for that age group. Being the small awkward kid gave me a lot of understanding for this age group. After college I poured a ton of my time into the youth hoping that they would know Christ's amazing love and that His transforming power would deeply impact their lives. I know I taught countless numbers of Bible Studies and had the occasional very deep conversation that hit the important areas of a few of these kids. Like the IVCF group in college, we also had a lot of fun together. I realize how much I miss the laughter of youth - especially when knowing that some had very little laughter at home. I feel so privileged to know that many of these young people have grown up to be passionate about their Savior. Some are married and have their own families and few are even in full time ministry.
So where does this all connect to parties and boy bands?
As for college friends, we reconnected in Guatemala on a mission trip to the scenic Western Highlands in a little village called Panyebar. There, I got with some of my friends. When we got to memories of our days at Davis, my friend Bruce (who wrote a great article for Christianity Today) got hung up on one memory: our dance parties! It seemed that everyone in the group remembered them most fondly. No deep conversation, no insights in the Word, just the fact that at one point in my life, I threw a great party. Considering my teen daughters were there when he mentioned it, I'm not sure that's what I wanted them to hear.
Here's a picture of the "guys" in Guatemala:
Second, I went back to visit the church where I used to lead the youth group. I am so very excited to know that two guys I used to have in youth are now pastors there. The senior pastor is Jason Helveston who is an amazing young man. I know God is doing great things through him. Once again, we started to reminisce about the good old days. Again I held out on to the obviously vain hope that he'd remember a great conversation, or perhaps an insightful Bible study lesson that I had shared with him. It wasn't to be. His most significant remembrance of me? When he and I and three other guys in the youth group got up in front of the church and performed a bunch of N'Sync songs (This I Promise You, Bye Bye Bye, God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You). It seemed to be an important memory as before I hooked up with him, I bumped into his wife and the first thing she said was that I was "The guy who sang N'Sync songs with Jason." I'm sure that even in my late thirties, it wasn't a pretty sight seeing me dancing around singing songs I just learned about fifteen minutes earlier not to mention the fact that they were teen "pretty boy" love songs. Let's just say I'm not taking Justin Timberlake's place any time soon.
Phillipians 2:1-3
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, 
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing 
    by taking the very nature of a servant, 
    being made in human likeness. "

I've thought a lot about why people in my life remember things like dance parties and me making a fool of myself acting like a teen idol. My daughter Ariel gave me the insight that I was missing: Connection. In my all too self conscious self I most of time am unwilling to step out of my comfort zone. When I do step out, I am connecting with those I desire to minister to. Of course that is exactly what Christ did for us. In essence it's a Christ-like act to step out to connect with others. My introverted self struggles with that, but I know that in the moments that I do step out it has had an impact. The beauty is that the connection to others lasts eternally. So I'll say it proudly that I threw some great wild parties in college. Also, I am a retired member of the N'Sync cover boy band which we called Sync'N (which is pretty much what we did). More importantly, I get the joy of spending eternity with some amazing friends of whom I love deeply.

"Dance, children dance, children dance unto me..."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Philander Rodman: This Explains A Lot Of Things

What thoughts come to your mind when you think of Dennis Rodman? Hall Of Famer? NBA Champion? Relentless rebounder? Shutdown defender? Taunter? Bully? Cross dresser? Deadbeat father? Nose piercing? Rainbow colored hair? Bad boy? Freak? One has to wonder about a man who acts so completely outrageous that all of the above could be correct answers. Anybody who authors a book titled "Bad As I Want To Be" truly craves to provoke and in Rodman's case act in increasingly bizarre ways. Like my previous article the question begs, where did this all come from? I know this will sound like a broken record, but look at his father: Philander Rodman.
Take a moment to look up the term Philander and you'll think that whoever named him was quite prophetic: 29 (TWENTY NINE) children from 16 (SIXTEEN) different women. From the sound of things, the elder Rodman has not been a part of Dennis' life since three years old. On top of that, he seems to live in this fantasy world that he's the long lost father of Dennis Rodman. No, he's a passive, self serving, deserting person who failed to take responsibility of being a man and a father.
Now read Dennis Rodman's quote:
"My father isn't part of my life. I haven't seen him in more than thirty years, so what is there to miss? I just look at it like this: Some man brought me into this world. That doesn't mean I have a father; I don't. I could say, 'This is my father. This is my dad,' but that doesn't sound right to me. I grew up with my mother and two younger sisters, Debra and Kim. There wasn't a male role model in my life until I got to college and started getting my [act] together."
One can argue whether Rodman has gotten his act together, but the bottom line is this. His life is one of confusion played out on a public stage. Sadly, he lacked the firm and loving direction that God instituted earthly fathers to provide. Even if one excuses his strange choices in fashion, he still is an insecure and irresponsible man.
Many of us struggle with the concept that God punishes the children for the sins of the father. In fact, it's number 2 on His Top Ten List:

Exodus 20:4-6
"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."

What I see in this is the fact that our actions have consequences. We do reap what we sow. Sin does not exist in a vacuum. There are no victim less crimes. There's price to be paid and we need to pony up at times. Pretty harsh? Philander Rodman worships the idol of himself. Perhaps even more compelling is the fact that Philander Rodman is a Junior meaning there was also a Philander Rodman Sr. Now one has to take into account how God ordained things. Does Philander Sr. have something to do with this? If so, his third generation has been deeply affected by whatever idolatry he was involved in.
Perhaps I'm being a little soft on my stance, but it's clear to me that the sins of the father or grandfather will bring the natural consequence of hardship upon the sons. As you can tell from my tone, this really bothers me. Being involved with youth, foster parenting, mentoring younger men and talking with male peers has made it perfectly clear: the father's good and bad deeds affect the children. We need to break this cycle. I consider myself culpable too. Even though the children in my house have experienced abandonment by their birth dads, I know that I carry the deep responsibility as the dad who was there on a day to day basis. Many times I have failed. To both Ariel and Amanda I have needed to speak to them as adults and apologize for the ways I fell short as a dad. My prayer for all my kids is that the true Father can bring about the life and healing that I fell short of providing.
So I conclude by once again pointing to our real Dad. Yes, you can call Him Daddy if you need. You can be formal or deeply intimate with Him. But realize that we all need Him. He's the one we can run to embrace and know that we are safe.