In Defense of Losers

In Defense of Losers

Head in Hands

Dump the Losers!

Across the spectrum of social media, as well in business publications and self-help books, there’s a theme gaining traction: losing the losers.

The argument goes something like this:

Each of us has people in our lives that are, well, less than optimal. Their influence isn’t as uplifting as it could be. They don’t add much to the quality of your life. Perhaps they even somehow inhibit the direction you want to go in. Worst of all, they may even be conveying to you, from time to time, a negative message or attempt to exert influence on you.

That said, because there is a limited amount of time to spend with people—and life is short—therefore it only makes sense that we dump these loser friends. Right? We deserve better. Who wants to interact with a person who “drains”? You should surround yourself with people that make you happy and fulfilled. Without any drama. They should contribute to your life experience.

If not, they are losers and they should be dumped. Or if that sounds too harsh, you need to get real, grow up and distance them from you. It’s only right.

So, does this message ring any bells for you?

Losers Are For Losers

Like most things in life, nothing is quite as simple as it seems.

There are five problems with this position:

  1. Who all is included in the “loser” category? Maybe family isn’t included in the argument—maybe—but pretty much every human you could ever interact with gets lumped into this generic, probable “loser” category. Any principle built on such a wide focus needs some level of vigorous skepticism. Not mindless embrace.
  2. At what age does the principle become appropriate? Is a parent “less than optimal” by insisting that Junior clean his room, zip up his pants or earn his keep?
  3. In what setting does the principle work? For instance, is it unjust when an employer requires the employee to complete the tasks they were hired to do? Or does that “inhibit the direction” the employee thinks is best?
  4. Why does hearing a “negative message” from time to time qualify that conveyor for ejection into the realm of “Loser”? Isn’t that exactly what a true friend sometimes does—say something the other doesn’t want to hear?
  5. Why do “we deserve better?” According to whom? It smacks of raw narcissism to believe that everyone else—or at least those we interact with the most—should add to our “life experience.” Wow. What happens when illness enters into the picture? That’s kind of a negative, isn’t it? Dump them?

Losers ‘R Us

Seizing upon the idea that it is justified, even enlightened and spiritual, to dump the losers in your life, is a harsh position to embrace. Because someday, more than once, you will be that loser. Think about it for a minute. You already have been.

Being dumped as a loser is not going to leave you happy and fulfilled. It hurts. You are not going to be more inclined to uplift others. Quite the opposite. Your messages will lean more towards the “negative” and your willingness to support others in the direction they’re going will be diminished. At least.

Dumping the losers in your life is, eventually, self-destructive.

Rather, struggle through difficult conversations. Work towards understanding. Be brave enough to speak truth to influence (when is that not received as “negative”?). Whether the person is in a position of power or not. Whether the person is a friend. Whether they are family.

Engage in real living to experience real community. Embrace the losers in your life. Because you’ll also be embracing you.

What’s been your experience with this theme? Where have you seen or heard it? In the workplace? In the–gasp–church? Have you been the dumper? How about the dumpee?

Engage here.

Next time: How To Follow Your Dreams Without Dumping People Along The Way

photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc

Hipster Poseurs

Hipster Poseurs

youthfulHipster Poseurs

A hipster poseur is someone who pretends. Someone who poses. Someone who wants to fit in. We all saw them in school. Some of us were them. Or at least we wanted to be.

In youth ministry, it is not uncommon to bump into hipster poseurs. They can be fledglings just starting their ministry career. They can be old farts who know better. In either case, it’s sad and just so unneccesary.

You don’t have to be young and hip to be a good youth minister. If you are young, you will be inexperienced, though. However, it is common that someone entering into a youth ministry career is, arguably, still a youth. Makes sense, in may respects. In others, not so much.

To be in ministry is to be in tension.

On one hand, the fresh-faced youth minister might feel unworthy. Perhaps over his head. Even inclined to grovel (think Wayne and  Garth…even Moses). But at the same time, she may be agitated that some of the people she serves don’t recognize her amazing abilities. They may even question the validity of her calling to ministry. That’s tension. Push, pull.

No Harm, No Foul, No Curse

But think about it. There’s tension for the older youth minister, too. They’re the weary veteran of days of phone calls, months worth of retreats, years of lock-ins. They’ve got mileage on their youth ministry chassis. It’s left a mark. Some rust is showing in the wheel wells, if you follow me. My dear friend, Roger, loves doing youth ministry and is SO tired of lock-ins.

What’s unique to the young and inexperienced youth minister is that they’re young and inexperienced. Not just in youth ministry, but in life. That’s usually where the sense of inadequacy and unworthiness comes from. It’s the soil in which their insecurity grows. The more experienced youth minister really has been there, done that. Like all of us, the older youth minister is every age they’ve ever been. Hopefully along the way they’ve catalogued some insights and perspective that the newbie just can’t bring to the table. Yet…

The Dilemma of Age

So, is there an optimal age for a youth minister?


The age you happen to be at this very moment.


Engage here. What are your thoughts? More importantly, what’s your experience of age within the realm of youth ministry?

photo credit: Kerrie Longo via photopin cc

Praying? Perhaps It’s Time To Stop, Part 2

Praying? Perhaps It’s Time To Stop, Part 2

praying cherubWhen Praying Gets In The Way

In the first post on this topic, we looked at the five ways God can respond to our praying. We looked at the question: Is there ever a time to stop praying?

Answer: still yes.

In this post, let’s begin to explore when our praying can actually get in the way. Our way.

Jonathan Edwards, one of the great Puritan American reformers (in fact, ranked #5 by one group), said

Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life.

He also warned against self-delusion. Certainly, people have the capacity to get themselves all ginned up during prayer–what he calls the “bubbling joy”–and, in so doing, go astray. From the resulting mixture of “self-confidence” and a “high opinion of themselves,” people are at risk of being swept up in their feelings.

Adults tend to think that teenagers are always swept up in their feelings. That’s it a natural state of being. It’s hard to argue with that point of view. But does that mean that adults don’t live in the same state?

So, for starters, here are 6 ways that even post-teens allow their feelings to confuse their prayer:

1. Believing that prayer is better than action

2. Preferring strong feelings over clear thinking

3. Minimizing others’ thoughts over our own “opinion”

4. Rejecting the reality that God is sometimes mute in response to our prayer

5. Giving more credence to “waiting in prayer” than “moving in faith”

6. Over-spiritualizing prayer while under-appreciating works

Praying: Vexing Stuff

You know, there are times when it’s just plain painful attempting to articulate what’s on my mind. The theologian in me (I have a Masters of Christian Studies to prove it) wants to provide chapter and verse to support multiple viewpoints. The writer in me wants the prose to flow beautifully. The youth pastor in me wants to make these blog posts drop-dead useful and applicable. And then there’s real life: limited time, competing responsibilities, meetings to attend, a job to do, a family to love, exercise that needs doing, etc. So, I just need to get this out to you.

Are there times in our lives when it is appropriate, maybe even necessary, to just stop praying? Yes, I think so. Are we, as a family of believers, open to considering this question? Even if I’m the only one that thinks about it?

Well, I guess time will tell.

Your turn. Has praying ever functioned as a delay-mechanism for you? A distraction? What are your thoughts?

Engage here.


photo credit: AJU_photography via photopin cc

Praying? Perhaps It Is Time To Stop.

Praying? Perhaps It Is Time To Stop.

PrayingGod Has 5 Options To Prayer

Time to stop praying? Is there ever a time to stop praying?


Most of the time we think that God has a couple of options for answering our prayers, not unlike parents might answer their children’s requests:

1. No.

2. Yes.

But when you think about it, that’s not really how God works, is it? Particularly on the “Yes” side of the equation. Let’s delve deeper.

2. Yes…

3. Yes, but not now.

4. Yes, but not like you were thinking.

My experience of God’s answers to prayer far more frequently fall into the 3rd and 4th categories. I sometimes wonder if even the 1st option, no, is actually more often a 3 or 4, in disguise.

After 4 Comes 5

And then there’s the 5th option, of which I am very well acquainted. Are you ready for it? Okay, then. Here you go:


What do you think of it?

What do you mean, you don’t know what to think of it? What’s not to understand? Fine. I’ll repeat it:


Oh, I get it. You were expecting to see something written in that space, right? Both times. Well, it is there.

The 5th option God has is silence. The non-answer answer.

When Prayer Takes One For The Team

In Exodus 14, we see at least one clear indication of when God moves from option 5–silence–and tells his people to stop praying. In fact, we see God actually gets tired of the “crying out” by the Israelites, so Moses is instructed to get the folks off of their knees and MOVING. Right after Moses has told everyone to be still.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there about a heavenly operational procedure: MOVE.

This isn’t to say that prayer, as such, is an unworthy enterprise. Hardly. Scripture is full–FULL–of commendations to prayer.

In The Quiet Hours Of Praying

Nevertheless, for much of my faith journey, God’s principal reply to my prayers has been with the 5th option. In the history of the church, this has not been uncommon. But in the age of cable television and streaming worship services, one could too easily conclude that God is like a cosmic Amazon or eBay, where our prayers work like orders in His cue. We pray; miracles result. God is at work.

But moving forward when the path is unclear and the answers ephemeral, that’s difficult. And sometimes, like with Moses and the Israelites, that’s exactly what’s expected of us. It just doesn’t play well on television.

What’s your story? Have you had periods of silence to your praying? Long periods? What have you learned during these times?

Engage here.


photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

Outrageous Nonsense: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love

Outrageous Nonsense: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love

Moonlight campfireOutrageous. They’ll know we are Christians…by our love?

I grew up singing this song. A lot. So much so, in fact, that it got tiresome to hear. Yet, the song bothered me beyond the mind-numbing repetition. There was something about the song’s lyrics that struck me, even as a kid, as sappy. Naive. Simplistic. And, too often, just plain untrue. Outrageous.

Don’t get me wrong. The song’s origins are, purportedly, from John 13:35. So, obviously, there is a theological foundation for the song, as you can see:

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians
By our love, By our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians
By our love

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news
That God is in our land

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride

All praise to the Father
From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus His only son
And all praise to the Spirit
Who makes us one [Lyrics from]

James Versus John

Outrageous? My problem with the lyrics comes from James 2:14-17 [from The Message]:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

So, let us ponder together…

  1. If people “know we are Christians by our love” then what message do they get when the behavior isn’t loving?
  2. And what if the very worst behaviors you experience come from some of the same people singing the song with such feeling, such passion?
  3. Does the church spend too much time in John and not enough in James?
  4. Is this outrageous, or to be expected?

Engage here. What’s your story? Is your experience in the church one of congruence or disconnect? Who else do you want in this discussion? For more on living congruently, especially in ministry, check out our book.

photo credit: Steve Wall via photopin cc

Envy = I Hate You (Part 2)

Envy = I Hate You (Part 2)

~Joel’s Blog

Green With…

In our first installment on the subject, we observed that envy is really about hate. Given that our culture frowns on “hate” (bullying, hate-crimes, prejudice, etc.) isn’t is strange how much envy is embraced?

What’s that? We embrace the green monster? Sure. If you have any doubts, just think “Occupy” and “1%.” Still unconvinced? Consider what the underlying attraction of some reality TV shows is. Or popular films. Then there’s top-selling music…OK, maybe music that isn’t chart-topping, too. How about nearly every commercial that’s ever been created? While adults might argue over how common envy is in the culture of youth, some very fine minds have commented on its role in all of culture. Observe these fine quotes:

Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.
Harold Coffin

Probably the greatest harm done by vast wealth is the harm that we of moderate means do ourselves when we let the vices of envy and hatred enter deep into our own natures.
Theodore Roosevelt

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.
Winston Churchill 

Envy Is As EEnvy Greennvy Does?

So, the culture we live in actively despises “hate” but actively engages in “envy.” Does this duality impact the life of faith, and ooze into the life of the church?

Sure. Unless you think that people of faith don’t suffer from the power of this sin. Or that our secular culture finds no harmonic
resonance within the sacred church.  It seems that if this monster roams too freely where adults move, it is certainly poses a risk to kids, too. More so when the monster is met with an unthinking embrace.

Engage here. What does envy look like in your life?  Who does it impact the most in your world? Who else should consider these questions? Send them this way, please.

photo credit: lamazone via photopin cc

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