New chances. New life. New futures.

February 23, 2011

By Kevin Sinclair, Minister to Youth

I’ve seen two things recently on which–I think–God wants me to reflect. These two events represent, on one hand, the paradoxical spectrum of work that we ministers do from time to time.

First off, let me say, have you ever had one of those weeks where you had like three things you HAD to get done, and by Thursday you realize, due to other metaphorical fires that need extinguishing (Tom Ehlers, a firefighter, is one of my all-star youth leaders, so I feel as though I should specify the figurative, imaginary nature of MY fires), you have not done any of those tasks? Yep. That is what I am talking about.

Armed with a cup of coffee and the best intentions, I set out to complete my task: DiscipleNOW logistics, an exhaustive email to Host Homes and Leaders, and Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum! In the words of the great poet, Meatloaf…two outta three ain’t bad…right?

As the morning rolled along and I crafted my emails and work, like Michelangelo if he had an Apple Laptop and was writing emails, and I received a distressing email from my beloved former church colleague, now turned city-wide colleague, the always marvelous, Chelsea Wade, who is now doing extraordinary development work over at SEARCH Homeless Service. It was the day of their GED Graduation service, and Erin Conaway was commissioned to offer the invocation. The pianist for the service canceled at the last minute, and they needed not only a keyboardist, but a keyboard itself. Fortunately, the ever-resourceful Thomas Coker had an extra electronic keyboard in his office that he allowed me to take to Chelsea. After dropping off this relic from 1994 of an instrument (Hey, it played notes at least!), I left SEARCH. A hour later, poor, sweet Chelsea discovers that her now back-up keyboardist has canceled, and asks if I can bring my guitar and play a little. Erin and I rush to my house where my trusty guitar, affectionately named Hudson by my friend Chris August, the previous owner, and I see my new accordion. “Hmm, I wonder…” I pick up my accordion and play, without a blemish the first half of pomp and circumstance, and then fumble through a few notes. Surprising as it might seem, I am not so bold and brash to carry an instrument I can barely play (I am getting there, but not quite yet!), to a graduation service and blare out tunes on my accordion (Yet to be named, btw).

We arrive to the service, and in walk the graduates. Two young men enter from the back wearing green graduation robes and hats, followed by many others who are being promoted to the next level within the program. As the teachers and also Mike Feinberg who started KIPP and Yes Prep (If you don’t know what these are, google them) rose to spoke, a sense of affirmation and pride swelled in the room. I can’t speak for everyone else in the room, but the dining area at SEARCH, for that moment at least, became holy ground…a place of second, third, fourth, possibly even seventy times seven chances…a place of resurrection and salvation. One woman rose to tell her story, a story of abuse, addiction, failure, and ultimately victory and redemption. She ended by saying, as simply as I have ever heard, yet more profoundly than all my seminary classes combine, “When I was going through recovery, my sponsor always said, ‘I know it’s hard, but with God all things are possible.'”

New chances. New life. New futures. Who could ask for more for these young men?

So as I right this on a cold evening, I took my youth bowling at Palace Bowling Lanes. To match the standard Kid’s Night Out format, we were scheduled to be at Palace Lanes from 6:30 to 10:00 bowling. In case you have not done the math, that’s 3 1/2 hours of being in the same place with a gaggle of middle schoolers and high schoolers. Now, faithful blog reader, if I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’…our group two years ago would have after about 2 hours started fussing about how bored they were or just left…but not this group. Our youth group has gone through some major maturation and evolution in the past two and a half years I have been here. It takes time to knit community, and God is doing that with us on a day to day basis. Tonight, I was absolutely floored at the camaraderie, patience, love, enthusiasm, and joy that just permeated our five lanes. Everyone being cheered for when they knocked down even one pin, and then encouraged on every gutterball.

I told some of my leaders, “Look at this. They just love each other!” The drama, cliques, and junk all left at the door…high schoolers and middle schoolers playing together and just living life and loving every second of it. I struggle a great deal to think how I can make this group closer and better.

Am I one good curriculum or night of worship away from becoming exactly who God has created us to be? I think not. I think we are, in fact, already exactly who God created us to be, but the beauty with how God sees workmanship is that the work is never complete. We are all at once whole and perfectly formed, and broken, longing for repair.

What do these stories have to do with each other. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe everything. What seems to amaze me the most about how God does whatever it is that God does is that so often the most beautiful, holy, sacred moments in life are the ones that we don’t orchestrate…we just show up with our guitar to make some music or we buy a couple of pizzas and God takes those meager offerings and before we know it, we stand in the presence of the Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.


The Family of God Away from Home

February 1, 2011

After living in dozens of different addresses (literally), who would have thought coming to Houston 3 years ago would be one of three times of life-changing personal growth. Leading up to my coming to Houston I, to my shame, had been resisting God in a specific area of interpersonal relationships. Enter Dolores Rader. Without knowing anything that was going on in my life she broke down all of the barriers that I had constructed and forced me to deal with this issue in my life through her persistent, gentle persuasion. Result –freedom from the prison of my disobedience; from the anger that churned within my soul that boiled over into hurtful sarcasm that tainted relationships. My wife continues to express surprise at the change she sees.

During the 8 months that these events occurred I spent my time here in Houston mostly alone while going to different churches on the Sunday’s I was in town. But not getting involved beyond attending Sunday morning service. Enter Steve Rader. In the caring way that he interacts with people so effortlessly, Steve invited me to spend time with the Rader family. What a wonderful gift that has turned loneliness into fulfilling relationship that comes from becoming an extension of a loving family. I continue to rely on Steve’s guidance in my interaction with the family so that I don’t overstep my welcome.

Then God called Dolores to become the Children’s Minister at SMBC. I wanted to show my appreciation to Dolores for what she had done for me by going to see her be introduced to the church. Not knowing exactly how long it would take to drive to the church I gave myself plenty of time to find the church and arrived at the end of the first service in time to hear some of Dolores’ testimony. Enter Perryman and Miriam Collins. Their genuine welcome and interest in me was a pleasant surprise. Even more pleasing was their continuing interest each week that made me feel more welcome. A bonus has been the opportunity to get to know my cousins Nancy and Dave McNeil. Nancy and I grew up in different parts of the country and only saw each other 3 or 4 times before now. What a special couple I’ve grown to love.

While attending Bible school I studied for a career in Christian Education with special interest in children’s ministry or camp ministry. Although I didn’t follow this career the Lord has used children’s ministry to bring me back into His service when I wander away that I have historically done with depressing regularity. So it seemed natural that I would work with Dolores in the children’s ministry. Problem – I need to be a member. Say what? OK, but I don’t want to leave my home church in Omaha since I’m still active there when I’m home and expect to be in Houston for only a time before returning home. Solution – become a Watch Care member. Enter the Family of God at SMBC. What an amazing feeling to stand at the front of the church and hear you commit to be the family of God to me in this place. I’ve never experience such an overwhelming feeling of support. But even more, you have kept your commitment and shown that it’s more than words that are recited. To anyone feeling like you need a place to belong and be loved; I recommend you commit yourself to this SMBC family. You’ll not regret your decision.

I don’t know how long I’ll be here. But when it’s time for me to go I’ll leave a truly enriched man; so grateful to Dolores and Steve for your love, for your input in me as a person, for inviting me into your life and family. I’ve seen you at work, in your home, at church, in fun times, in struggles. You’re real. Simply saying thank you seems inadequate. So I’ll continue “doing” to try to express my appreciation.

Blessings on each of you, my family away from home.