Sunday, March 27, 2011

On Finding Our Identity in Christ

My favorite Disney Movie is The Lion King. My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” One of my favorite books is The Road, a story about a Father’s love for his son. I almost wrote my Theology Senior Thesis on divine sonship.

A reporter once asked Nicholas Ray, director of the 1955 movie, Rebel Without a Cause, “What is the goal of the main Character played by James Dean?” Ray answered, “To look for the father.”  I guess you can say that has been my goal, too.

My father working on his sailboat

The reason why I have always been obsessed with the father/son relationship is because I never knew this relationship for myself. My father passed away when I was 9 months old; before I had a chance to know him and be fathered by him.  I have an insatiable desire to know him. I am excited every time one of my relatives tells me stories of my dad or we find some item of his that I can have. As a kid, the first thing of his that I had was his dog tag from being in the Navy. I wore it every day until I lost it while camping one summer. Thanks to God through the intercession of St. Anthony my brother found it the next year when he went back to the same cabin. That summer, I was also away from home. I didn’t find out about my brother finding my dad's dog tag until I returned home. When my mom told me in the airport I was overwhelmed by emotion. I cannot remember a time previous to that when I was more joyful. I wore it on and off for a few years until some time in high school when I started wearing it every day and I haven’t taken it off since.
In high school, my mom found his high school ring. I started wearing it as my own. Unfortunately it was slightly to big so I stopped wearing it for fear it would fall off. The stone in the ring was also very scratched and faded from my dad working on his sailboat. We asked some jewelers if they could polish it but they said they could not and recommended replacing the stone. I refused because if we replace the stone it is no longer my dad’s ring. Recently my mom found a jeweler who would be willing to try to polish it. They were able to polish it so the stone once again shone. She sent it to me in the mail and I tore open the package like an 8 year old boy on Christmas morning. (I have yet to clean the remnants of the packaging that were tossed everywhere in my car.)
My father's High School Ring
That night I went to an Adoration and Praise and Worship service. My gaze and attention kept going back to the ring. Throughout my childhood and high school years, every story and every item of my father’s had meaning and allowed me to know more and more about who my father was. It was almost as if my dad was reaching back through time to reveal himself to me piece by piece. This time is different though. I feel like wearing his ring now for some reason has more significance than when I wore it in high school. I prayed about it and came across numerous references to the authority and meaning of one being given a ring.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son: when the son returns to his father he tells him that he has sinned and no longer deserves to be called his son. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” (Luke 15:22)

In Genesis, after Joseph had found favor with the Pharaoh he said, “’Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand...” (Genesis 41:41-42)

A ring carries authority and identity, either that of the wearer, their ‘King,’ or their family.  Along with the ring, the dog tags were worn as a form of identification. In my wearing of both the dog tag and the ring I want to be known as my father’s son. I love meeting distant relatives and being introduced as “Coit’s son.” But I also want to be known as a son of The Father, a child of God. I realized this is the reason why my father’s ring feels different on my finger now than five years ago.  Just like the stone, the heart of the ring, was faded, my identity as a son was just as faded. I did not have a clear understanding of who I was in relationship to my Father. But, now, I have learned more about my father here on earth, which has also let me to a deeper understanding of who I am in light of my Father in Heaven.

The journey to a deeper realization of sonship has taken place over the past four years. It started after I was in my first serious relationship. I realized that I needed to be a man if I wanted to be in a relationship with a woman. Without having a father to turn to I turned to The Father. I read scripture that spoke of our adoption as sons and read books like Wild at Heart, To Own a Dragon, etc. Through their testimonies and personal prayer I started to let God father me and make me into the man He is calling me to be.  
            For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” – Romans 8:15-17

            There is a crisis in our culture. It is a crisis of a lack of true men. We have plenty of males in our society but few of them are willing to be Men. The ramifications of this crisis are extensive and its source is in the lack of fathers. In the last few decades, many boys have grown up and are growing up without a father; without a role model to show them how to be men, without a reference as to who they are.  Our culture tells them to remedy this by finding their identity in how many women they can sleep with, how good they can be at sports, how successful they can be in the business world, etc. Women suffer from many issues of identity as well due to the lack of fathers and from the lack of true men who did not grow up with fathers.

            The image of a true man is something that is widely discussed. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what it means to be a true man. I read one article that painted a true man as the man who is always there for his family, always praying in Church. He is dependable, honest, loving and generous. There was an article written in response that painted the image of a true man as something slightly different. Everyone seems to have their own opinion of a true man. No matter what form that image takes there is a distinct foundation common to them all: A true man of God is disciplined and courageous, standing up for what he believes in and not willing to compromise his morals. He inspires greatness in all those who come in contact with him. Above all, a true man of God lives a life of humble sacrifice; submitting his will to the will of God and always ready to lay down his life for his family and friends in whatever form that may take. He knows who he is and is firm in his identity as a son of God. He is an image of the Heavenly Father to his children, a brother to his friends, and a pillar of strength to his wife. The only way for a man to attain this stature is to lose himself in Christ, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2Tim 1:7)

This is the man that I am striving to become. One that, thou he may sin, is always seeking the face of God. I invite you to join me in this journey. Whether you are a man or woman, we need to find our identity in God. We need to take ownership of our identities as sons and daughters of God. We are adopted into this family through the Holy Spirit. We receive this Spirit of adoption, not through a physical ring, but through a spiritual seal in Christ.  However, the Lord has given me a gift in this ring as a physical reminder of my adoption. Through this ring I realize that I am my father’s son and a son of the Father! As I wear it I have a tangible reminder that I am the legacy of my father here on earth and I receive an inheritance from my heavenly Father. I thank God for adopting me through His Son despite my sins and failings and I pray I may continue to be led into a deeper realization of who I am in light of this Truth.
I pray for you as you read this. That you may be guided into a further realization of your identity as a son/daughter of God through Christ. That you allow Him to love you and nurture you as a Father. And that this realization in your own life may overflow to those you minister to and come in contact with. Amen!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Being a Creator Through Our Work

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him” – Genesis 1:27

Being made in the image and likeness of God we participate in one of His greatest qualities: the act of creating. This is most beautifully seen through marriage and creating a family. We are also creators in our work and in youth ministry. We need to have creativity in how we present the Gospel to the youth we minister to.

I recently read an article on In it, Donald Miller gives advice on being the best creators we can. I thought I would pass it along to you and share some of my thoughts on how some of these tips apply to a youth ministry setting.

I suggest you read the article before reading my points:

Our Work is a Reflection of Us
We need to take ownership of our work. As youth ministers we create programs, events, talks, skits, etc. Our work is a reflection of ourselves. If we see our work as an extension of ourselves we will have more pride in our ministry and will not be happy with the mediocre but seek to always make it better.

St. Jose Maria often talks about our need to glorify God in our work. As Christians we should strive to be the best in our fields to the glory of God.

As Reflections of ourselves, our ministries, to a degree, should take on some of our qualities. If we are passionate about the faith our ministry should reflect that passion.

What do you want your ministry to say about you?

A Creator Doesn't Just Talk About Their Work
I love "talking shop." I get pumped up and excited when I talk with others about my vision for, and trends in youth ministry (that is part of the reason for me starting this blog.) However, if I just talk without DOING, I am just a bunch of hot air without any power behind my words.

A good example of people who spoke eloquently about ministry and the faith but didn’t follow it up with practice would be the Pharisees. Don't be a Pharisee - they weren't cool.

“Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” – St. Augustine

Youth ministers do not have good reputations for their work ethic. However, we need to strive to create a work ethic where we build up the disciplines necessary to create a good ministry. Once we establish good habits within our work we give God the opportunity to move through us, and our work.

I know many youth ministry oriented people who do not like to plan talks to far ahead because they would rather plan minimally in order to allow the Holy Spirit to give them the words to speak at the moment. Planning a talk or youth night in advance (more than the night before or day of) does not stifle the Spirit. I would argue it actually allows more room for the Spirit. In my experience, the more familiar I am with my talk the more comfortable I am with going ‘off script’ because I know what the message is that I want to convey to my audience and how certain tangents can compliment that message. Those are the moments when I feel the Holy Spirit is at work through my talk.

“…And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” – Genesis 1:5
Even at the beginning of Creation there was a rhythm. The days, the seasons, even our very lives have rhythm. I am pretty sure, even though He was anticipating man, God did not look forward to the completion of each of his creations – at least not in the sense of relief upon completion: “Finally, I am so glad I am done with Earth. Now I can rest.” God was in love with the act of creating – its who He is.

It would serve us well to find a rhythm within our work. Sometimes we can lose sight of the beauty of the work because we are anticipating being done with a certain talk, program, retreat, etc. I am not saying this is an easy thing but it is something I will definitely be striving for. I will let Donald Miller put it better than I can: “If you have a rhythm, if you get up every morning and work for a few hours, and you like the getting up and the work, and you don’t think about how great it will be when it’s done, but rather how great it is every day that you get to get up and do the work, your creation will be tremendous.”

Find a rhythm to your work – love your work.

Take Courage

It is easy to give in to the fear of failure. Fearing the hypothetical situations in which your program bombs. Surround yourself with a community where you can vent your ideas and concerns and hear the honest feedback from others. Find people who can affirm your ideas or help you amend them. Also ask friends to give you honest feedback after a talk or event. Many times you will find that you did not fail as badly as you perceive. Many times we are our own harshest critic – we only see what we did wrong and lose sight of where we succeeded. We need an outside perspective to gain an honest view of how we did. I work with another youth minister and it is great because we are able to bounce ideas off each other and give each feedback after events. If you are the only youth minister at your parish find someone within the ministry that will commit to giving you honest feedback. Build up an atmosphere where your volunteers feel comfortable giving you feedback.

Many times we need to just step out with courage. If we fail then we learn from it and the damage done probably is not that bad. The phrase “Be not afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible. Our God is a God of encouragement, He waits with the eager, encouraging anticipation that only a Father can have, awaiting our decision to step out into the unknown – especially when it is in His name.

The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive
If our work is a reflection of ourselves then our daily experiences will affect our ministry. We need to be aware of this fact and seek out those experiences that will enrich our faith and ministry. We cannot disengage from the world. We can’t simply sit in our rooms thinking about life and God. We need to go out and live life and encounter God in the world around us. We need to live! Only by the witness of a life lived will we draw others to Christ. Insert personal stories into your talks as much as possible. I have only recently been convicted of not telling enough stories in my talks. Now that I am sharing more of my life the youth are more interested and the more they want to hear. We need to present the Gospel lived out, otherwise it is all book knowledge with little power to move the heart. Finally, surround yourself with people and activities that enrich your life; in turn your ministry will be enriched.

Know that I am praying for you. Come Holy Spirit!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sacrificium - A Youth Night on the Sacrifice of Lent

We changed up our schedule a lot this week. It did not follow the chronology of the ecclesial method exactly. However, I think it is good to change it up every once in a while so the youth don’t get too used to the night and get bored.

Scripture and Catechism:
John 20:28-30
Psalm 103:13-17; 119:103
Wisdom 3:6
Genesis 3:19; 18:27

Preparation: We had the youth meet in the gym instead of the Catacombs. This allowed us more time for our closing prayer activity. In the gym the youth played a classic game of dodgeball. As more kids arrived we made sure to assign them to a team. Halfway through we stopped the game and reassigned teams because many of the youth who came after we started the game tended to stay on the sidelines rather than jump into the game.

I had a mentor read the Gospel for this coming Sunday as our opening prayer prior to my talk.

Proclamation: We are not called to sacrifice during Lent for the sake of sacrifice; we sacrifice out of our love for God.

Explanation: I told the story of how my mom quit her job when my brother and I were little. Her job wanted to transfer further south which would mean a longer commute and less time with us. She sacrificed so much in order to love my brother and I more. That is the same kind of sacrifice we are called to do during Lent. We sacrifice in order to love God more.

Application: We had small groups at the beginning of the night where our mentors discussed prayer, fasting and almsgiving and how the youth can practice these during Lent.  

Celebration: We had prayer stations after the talk. Some of the stations came from Lifeteen’s Life Night for Lent and included reading of scripture and prayer. The first station was the reading of Isaiah 40:3-5. The second station was an opportunity for the youth to taste vinegar, reflection on the bitterness of sin and honey, reflection on the sweetness of God’s promises. For the third station I burned paper in a metal bowl and reflected on how God refines us as gold in fire. The fourth station was a bowl of ashes and the youth were invited to come and feel the ashes in their fingers reflecting on our mortality and sinfulness. For the final station we had black wrist bands with the word “sacrificium.” They have commitment cards with them: one for the youth to keep to remind them of the ways they can sacrifice during Lent and the other one to sign as a promise to God and place at the food of the altar in a basket we provided. Once they did this they then lit a tea candle as a reminder that after the desert of Lent comes the new dawn of Easter.

Moment of Growth (I am a firm believer in the moments that we mess up are for learning not beating ourselves up so instead of naming this title ‘Ways I fail in life and youth ministry’ I instead named it ‘Moments of Growth’): For some reason it was very difficult for me to prepare this night in advance. I found myself throwing a lot of it together the day of. Because of this, the prayer stations were not completely thought out logistically. During our mentor meeting prior to youth group the high school mentors brought up a lot of questions concerning how it was going to work. Thanks to their input we were able to adjust it resulting in a great prayer experience.

Also, because I was rushed in planning I forgot to make sure we had prayerful music during the stations so as the youth were participating we had silence, which was nice on one hand but also a little awkward.
Thank you Lord for opportunities to grow in humility.

Favorite Moment: During small groups we asked each group to come up with a 30 second commercial for Lent. I am constantly amazed at the creativity and depth some of our youth go to.  They were really funny and everyone had a blast.
           I was also really thankful for how well the prayer stations went. I believe that most of the youth are not going to be called to conversion through my talks but through an encounter with God through prayer. I make it one of my goals to create opportunities for those encounters throughout our youth nights and retreats.

If you would like me to send you a detailed copy of this night email me at