Opportunities to share

I am an ordained minister who has a secular job, so it is not unusual for coworkers who have spiritual questions to come to me.  But I learned years ago, long before I was a minster of the gospel, even before I considered going into the ministry, that if you are a Christian who lives out your Christianity, people will come to you with their spiritual questions. I also know that sometimes people have spiritual questions that they don’t really think are such.  Occasionally they think they are just making a joke about the afterlife or telling you about their debaucherous weekend or something like that.  However, it is necessary at all times for Christians to look for opportunities to share the gospel.  Those opportunities are more common than many people suspect, and there is nothing more important for that person than to hear the message.

Let me tell you about one of these opportunities

Recently a coworker made a joke about the weather that was much more than a joke.  His comment went something like this, “Wow it’s hot out there.  I better go to church Sunday.  If hell is supposed to be hotter than this I need to change my ways.”

For him this was a somewhat silly, throwaway comment.  He meant it as a joke - mostly.  But I know, and any believer knows, that there is more to a statement like that than pure jokiness.  It speaks to a knowledge built into all of us that we are incomplete.  A joke like this one is about much more than just the weather.  This is an opportunity to share the gospel.

I’d like for you to take a second and consider how you would have proceeded if presented with an opportunity to witness such as this.  What would you have said next?  Would you have at least recognized it as an opportunity to share the gospel?   Feel free to tell me in the comments how you would have responded.

He was literally walking out the door when he made this comment so I had no opportunity to reply, but the conversation continued with someone else.  I have another post about how this progressed planned for tomorrow.

By the way, if I had the opportunity I would have told him that I believe the Bible and that I actually do believe in hell and that it will be much more miserable than the weather right now.  I believe that this would have definitely led to an opportunity to share the gospel.

I will talk about that tomorrow.

A status report

Last August I found myself out of youth ministry.  And for the first time ever I began to consider not returning to church staff.  After a lot of prayer I decided to launch a new ministry. I decided that God had gifted me to be good communicator and that he had given me the freedom to try itinerant speaking.  So, in late September, I made it official.  I built a website and announced it to the world. At that time I thought a lot about what it would mean to have a successful ministry.  I thought about goals I have for how often I should speak.  What message I wanted to convey whenever I got the opportunity to speak, how much income I would consider successful, how much I could be absent from my own church and still be a part of that church.  I thought seriously through all these questions.

I will confess, though, that I thought very little about what it would mean to be a failure.  Maybe because I am just optimistic or maybe because that is a depressing thought and I don’t like thinking through depressing thoughts.  Whatever the reason, I had plenty of mental preparation for success and almost none for failure.

My ultimate goal was to earn enough money as an apologetic speaker to begin work on my PhD. This means that I would have to earn enough income to work less hours at my currently very full-time job at the restaurant.  I thought it would be possible since a couple of years ago I had a solidly booked calendar of speaking engagements and I was not even attempting to make a go at a ministry at that time.

I named this post “status report” so it’s time for a status report.

I’ll grade my success so far on a scale from 1 – 10.  On this scale 1 means “Nobody wants to hear you speak, you are a boring loser.  Stop wasting our time.”  10 means “You are the greatest.  You should never be in want of somewhere to speak.  In fact, you should be turning away invitations from international conferences of interesting speakers”

On this scale I am clearly around a 2, maybe if I’m feeling generous towards myself I’m at a 3.

It seems like the next logical question you should have for me would go something like this…

You’ve been at this for a year and you are only a 2, so why don’t you give up on this and go back to youth ministry?

Clearly I still have a passion for youth ministry.  I was depressed all week last week because I was not at youth camp with my church.  I am a regular volunteer in the youth group at Edgewood and I enjoy it very much.  I believe that I could be quite happy as a youth minister.  I was for many years.  The short answer is that I believe that God gave me the passion for this ministry.  Also I believe that it is a ministry that is badly needed in our churches.  So until God either changes my passion or speaks directly to me, I plan to keep at it.

I would love to help you out, how can I do that?

I would appreciate your prayers.  I am able to pay all my bills with my other job, it is the family business and there is some fulfillment in working there, but I will admit that the biggest source of discouragement in my life is that I am not successful at this ministry venture.  Please invite me to speak in your church, or tell your pastor that you would like to hear me speak.  I would love to do a defending the faith weekend, or speak at a d-now, or speak to your WMU.  And I’d be happy just to have the opportunity to fill the pulpit in the pastor’s absence.  I believe that my greatest path to success is to be heard.  I think that when people hear me, they will recommend me to others.  Also whenever a speaking engagement comes my way, it offers weeks of encouragement.  That is worth much more than the income it provides.

Another brief status report:  back in the winter I began writing a book.  I had the idea that I might sell said book when I had speaking engagements.  I wrote approximately 20% of it.  I have not written a single word on that book for over 2 months.  So I’d give that one a 2

A serious question - I could combine two of my passions if I were able to be a youth camp pastor for a week.  I think it would be great fun.  Does anybody know what the process is for becoming a Fuge or Student Life camp pastor?

The power of words

Before you read this post, take 6 and a half minutes to watch this TED talk.  It will be worth your time, I promise.  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE]  When I watched it, it made me think about the power of words in my life.

There are negative words that hurt me now even though I am a grown man.  In fact there are some words that linger.  They still hurt even though they were spoken many, many years ago.  There are also words of encouragement that offer me great strength.  This experience is not unique to me. It is part of life.

The story from the video is probably a bit unique though, in that, it is a bit unusual for the words of a stranger to really hurt you or to have great effect on you.  The words that pack the most punch typically come from loved ones.  I can vividly remember something said when I was 15 that determined many decisions for the next few years for me.  That statement came from someone living in my house. And that is the way of it.  The words we say are powerful.  We can truly hurt someone with them and we can really build someone up with them.

In the video, the speaker refers to an event that he has forgotten.  To him it was a throw away event, but it lead to important things, a marriage and at least one college degree.  In order to illustrate the power of words, even of this type I thought I would share a story of how some encouraging words may have changed the course of my life.

In 1995 I was 20 years old and left home for Washington and Oregon for summer missions.  To say I was inexperienced would be an understatement.  I was inexperienced at life.  Certainly I had no idea what I was doing when it came to mission work.  The problem in my mind was that I had no skills whatsoever that could be useful for a missionary.  I couldn’t build things, I was not comfortable with public speaking, and I am much more introverted than I would like to be.  Plus I was only 20.  I didn’t know what I would be doing that summer, only that I was obeying God by going.  It turns out that I would be leading a multitude of backyard Bible clubs.  My summer in large part was hanging out with kids.  Not only hanging out with kids, but hanging out with kids with a purpose.  We were teaching them the Bible.

Now to the part about the encouraging words.  In the first week there, when we divided up responsibilities for the Backyard Bible Club the teaching of the Bible story fell to me.  I had no skills remember, but I figured I could tell some Bible stories.  I was certainly familiar with them.  So when the time came, I taught.  I don’t remember what Bible story it was (though the picture looks like it was Adam & Eve) I don’t even remember how it went.  I do remember being glad that I survived it.  Here is what I really remember.  After I spoke, the pastor’s wife from that week’s host church told me what a great job I did.  She said that I had the kids’ attention and that I made it easy for them.  That was nearly 16 years ago and I remember it plainly. It is the first time I ever knew that I was good at anything useful.  That one word of encouragement went a very long way. Now, all these years later, as I attempt to launch a speaking ministry I have tried to use that ability to teach and make things simple for God's glory.  And it is possible that I never would have been anything but intimidated if not for some encouraging words from a woman whose name I can't even remember.

There are other people in my life who have been very encouraging.  I remember them as well, but this was a formative time for me and I am thankful.

I am afraid that in my lifetime I have done much more damage with words that I have done building up. So I sure am glad for those encouragers.

How about you, are there words said in your lifetime that were very significant?

What to write when I have nothing to say

Recently I made a commitment to begin writing a blog post every week.  It is week four and I already have nothing to say this week.  But that shouldn't stop me, so I'm resorting to something I saw on facebook a long time ago.  It's a creative writing exercise.  Enjoy, and feel free to participate yourself in the comments. Answer the 5 questions below and write a short story. 1. Find a fridge. Close your eyes. Pull something out. - Velveeta 2. Turn on the tv. Flip to channel 7. Describe what you see. - A man sitting at his desk. He has many platinum records on the wall 3. Type your pet's name into google. Follow the 6th link. What are the last 4 words on that page? - the cave of Machpelah 4. Pick up your cellphone. Go to your recent calls. Who called you last? - My aunt 5. Take all the answers from above and write a short story.

My aunt emerged from the cave of Machpeleh clutching a platinum record and the rope she always used to guide herself when spelunking.

"How did you get that?" I asked.

"You won't believe it," she said.  "I wasn't treasure hunting.  I was just planning to take pictures.  I thought I'd just see stalactites and cave stuff.  But after crawling through a small hole I came to a fully furnished office.  And there was a man sitting there"

"Was he ok?" I asked.

"He was fine," she replied.  He looked at me and said "I've been down here quite a long time just writing songs and living off my stored supplies.  I'm sick of canned beans.  Do you have any food?"

"I have this chunk of velveeta.  I always carry it in case I get stuck or lost in a cave."

"I'll trade you one of these platinum records for it." he said almost desperately.

"Deal." I said.  I gave him the chunk of cheese and took a record.  Then I left before he realized what he'd done or before things got any weirder.


Write your own in the comments

What I miss about being a youth minster

Tomorrow will mark six months since I found myself without a youth ministry.  And since I have decided, at least for now, not to pursue a youth ministry position, I thought it would be a good time to write about what I miss about it and what I am doing to compensate for these things. #1 The number one thing I miss about being a youth minister is a distant runaway number one.  I was a youth minster because I felt a call to work with students.  The thing I miss most about youth ministry is those relationships with students.

Working with students is wonderful because it keeps you young.  Middle and High school students have boundless energy.  Some of it rubs off just be being in their presence.  It is wonderful because they are not yet jaded or cynical and there is so much potential for them to do great things for God’s kingdom.  And it is wonderful because you get to see them mature and become adults.  I still maintain relationships with many of my students from the past.  And I try, even if it’s only through Facebook, to keep up with the lives of all my former students.  Some students will break your heart, they make poor decisions, drift out of church and follow the world’s way, but there are so many that I am proud of for their choices.  At least 2 of my former students are now ministers, and, even though it may be statistically unlikely, most are involved in their churches.  On a slightly different note, I do not miss the relationships with parents nearly as much, but never wanted to be antagonistic towards parents, and I never allowed students to disparage their parents. I always valued the opportunity to have influence in the lives of students, and I appreciated their parents for allowing me those relationships.

After leaving my previous church it took me about 3 months to find a new church home.  But I am now quite content and I am a regular adult volunteer with the students at Edgewood.  Though it is slow going I am beginning to again develop these types of relationships.  It’s different, I’m not in charge anymore, but the opportunity is still there.

#2 The second thing I miss is teaching regularly.  I really enjoy teaching and as a church staff member I got the opportunity to teach at least 3 times a week for 14 years.  I was hoping that my apologetics ministry would fulfill this need in my life, but so far that ministry has yet to get off the ground.  Now allow me to praise the youth minister at my church.  My appreciation for Joey Snyder is immense.  He has allowed me opportunities to teach, and I believe that he views me as an asset.   Though he is a better youth minister than I am he still allows me to help.  I consider him a good friend and I am always glad to help him out.

How do I fulfill this need to teach regularly? I already said that I hoped my apologetics ministry would take off and I would get the opportunity, but that hasn’t happened.  (Please take a minute to visit my website and consider having me lead an apologetics weekend at your church) I am officially the teacher of my Sunday school class, but that is such a different style that it does not quite scratch the itch.  Plus I only actually teach every third week.  So far, I just really miss this.  I try and not lecture my friends and family in normal conversation.

#3 The third thing I miss about being a youth minister is the “identity” issue I talked about when I decided to launch a new ministry.  For years I have been Jeremy Mathis: Minister of Youth, now I am Jeremy Mathis: guy who works in a kitchen.  It’s a big adjustment, and it’s one I haven’t fully made.  I still get an incredible amount of mail regarding youth camps and curriculum and I still want to go to the Lifeway youth ministry conference.  All these things have been a part of how I think of myself for a long time and I struggle with this regularly.  I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but if my apologetics ministry were to become successful, I believe it would almost completely alleviate the pain of this identity problem.

That’s it.  That’s what I miss.  I considered writing a “what I don’t miss about being a youth minster” post.  But that would be cynical and wrong.  Being a youth minister was a great experience for me and I was blessed to have the opportunities I had..

My Goal as an Apologist

The arena of Christian apologetics is experiencing a rise in popularity.  That is not to say that every person who calls himself an apologist is one. But, a quick glance will show that there is an opportunity for almost anyone interested to learn about apologetics easily.  Most of the Southern Baptist seminaries now have apologetics programs.  The NAMB began the CAI program that I am a part of, programs in apologetics at Biola and Liberty are thriving, and there is simply a rise in interest in the topic. In fact recently Lee Strobel said he believes that, “we are on the cusp of a golden era of apologetics.” If you are a reader of this blog, you realize that recently I launched an apologetics ministry of my own. Why would I do this if I believe there is a trend of a rising awareness in apologetics, and if apologetics is becoming more popular and maybe more successful?  There are a couple of reasons.  One is that I believe God has gifted me as an apologist.  Although, I hope it goes without saying that I would not launch a ministry if I did not believe I was gifted for it.  The most significant reason I have decided to launch an apologetics ministry is because I have the opportunity to fill a gap that I see in the current state of Christian apologetics.

Maybe I should say it like this, I’m not trying to be, or to compete with, William lane Craig or anyone of his ilk. My desire is not to engage in public debate with atheists or Muslims or anything of the sort.  Although I have begun writing a book, it is not academic in nature.  I believe that type of ministry which is largely academic is noble and wonderful, but it is not where my gifting lies, and it is not my goal as an apologist.

My goal and desire as an apologist is to encourage the church.

My call to the ministry was to the church.  I believe that God has gifted me to teach and explain in simple terms the concepts of apologetics, and I believe that these concepts are needed in the pews of our churches.  My desire is to come into a church for an apologetics weekend and at the end of the weekend those in attendance will be able more able to defend their faith than they were at the beginning.  I desire for people in attendance to have more confidence in the reasonableness of their faith.  I want church people to not have their confidence shaken by every atheist they hear from on TV.

I believe that there is plenty of room for a ministry of this sort in our churches and I believe that even if we are a cusp of a golden age of apologetics, it has not made it to the pews.  I have some anecdotal evidence of this.  Just look at this poll from my website.

The danger of being good at something

I have written before about how there is a long list of things I am bad at.  I won’t rehash that list here but I will say that I feel like I have very little natural talent. Having said that, there are a few things I am good at, and there is a short list of things I am very good at.  I believe that it is important to know where your talents lie.  It is one of the keys to having a fulfilling professional life.  If you are doing something that you are gifted to do, you will be good at it and you will enjoy it.

Even though the list of things I am good at is short, I believe that there is a reason that God has gifted me to do certain things.  If you are a Christian, I hope you would say the same.  God has gifted you in order to use those gifts for His glory.

I desire to use my gifts to God’s glory.  This is why I have launched an apologetics ministry.  I believe that I can use my gifting as a communicator, my love for apologetics, my love for the church and the gospel to help church people be more able to defend their faith.  As I get more experienced as a speaker I realize that I am becoming quite good at it.

Believe it or not, in this case being a good speaker causes a problem.  What possible problem could there be from being good at something?  The problem is that because I am good I can do it without God.  That’s right.  I can prepare a message, iron out the kinks until I am communicating it clearly, practice it, and even present it, all without prayer or asking God to bless it.  It is a lot of work on my part, but it is all on my part, merely in my own strength.  I have spoken often enough and made this mistake enough to say with certainty that there is a substantial difference in me speaking in my own strength and God speaking through me.  I realize that the expression “God speaking through me” may sound either arrogant or crazy, but I also know that I have heard the voice of God from many preachers.  And I have experienced it myself.

I believe that speaking in a pulpit should always come from God.  By that I mean that the preacher should be sharing God’s words rather than his own.  Preaching should involve God speaking, not just the preacher.

Because of this, because I know I am prone to this type of Jeremy-only effort, I have to always be sure to be diligent in my prayer life.  Before any speaking engagement I have to pray and ask God to guide me on the topic, but even more to speak through me as I share what He has laid on my heart to share.

I believe this is a danger for everyone who desires to use their talents for God's glory. Do you also have to guard against this?

Reading List 2011

Each year I post a list of the books I have read.  This year I decided to take a sabbatical from reading anything serious.  So, with only a few exceptions, I read only the Wheel of Time series.  Wheel of Time is without question my favorite fantasy series ever, even the slow books (7-10) are good.

  1. Love Wins - Rob Bell: I wrote two reviews of this book.  A snarky one and a serious one.
  2. Rescuing Ambition - Dave Harvey: This was a wonderful book, The thesis is that God has placed a desire for greatness into our hearts.  Ambition comes from God and should not lead us away from God or from church.  It deals with failure and success and I highly recommend it.
  3. The Pursuit of Holiness - Jerry Bridges: Simply one of the best books I have ever read
  4. Don't Waste Your Life - John Piper: This book is very John Piper-y. If you like his writing, you will like this.
  5. The Weight of Glory - C.S. Lewis: A collection of essays, some are quite good, but overall I'd give this book a hearty meh.
  6. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches - Russell Moore:  I loved this book and reviewed it here
  7. The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time, Book 2) - Robert Jordan
  8. The Dragon Reborn (The Wheel of Time Book 3) - Robert Jordan
  9. The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of Time, Book 4) - Robert Jordan
  10. The Fires of Heaven (The Wheel of Time, Book 5) - Robert Jordan
  11. Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, Book 6) - Robert Jordan
  12. A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time, Book 7) - Robert Jordan
  13. The Path of Daggers (The Wheel of Time, Book 8 ) - Robert Jordan
  14. Winter's Heart (The Wheel of Time, Book 9) - Robert Jordan
  15. Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time, Book 10) - Robert Jordan
  16. Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time, Book 11) - Robert Jordan
  17. The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time Book 12) - Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
  18. Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, Book 13) - Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Predictions 2012

Each year on my blog I like to predict what will happen in the coming year.  I’m breaking my predictions into categories, just so I don’t overload on one type.I Invite my readers to make predictions in the comments.  Next year I'll check how we did.

Sports: UK basketball wins their 8th NCAA championship The UK football team will be no better than 7-5 and Joker Phillips will be fired

World News: Even though this is 2012, the world will still be here to make predictions about late next December I will go on a date this year (It is a rare enough occurrence that if it happens it will be headline news)

Technology: A passive 3-D TV comes out from a major brand (i.e. one with cheap glasses). Even so, nobody cares about a 3-D TV and they sell only because you can’t buy non-3-D TVs Google+ remains irrelevant but doesn't get shut down

Entertainment: The Hobbit will be the number one movie next year.  Battleship (Yes, a movie about a board game), The Bourne Legacy, The Hunger Games, Spiderman (Again?) will all be in the top 10.

Politics: Republicans will make gains everywhere, but... Barack Obama is reelected president

My Personal life: By year’s end I will derive more than 20% of my income from speaking. (Invite me to speak in your church please.) I will weigh less when writing 2013 predictions than I do today

Your turn. Predict the future in the comments.

Prediction Results 2011

On the last week of each year on this blog I make predictions about the coming year.  I invite my readers to do the same.  This is a recap of those predictions and how accurate I turned out to be.

  • The number 1 movie will be Pirates of the Caribbean.  Green Hornet in the top 5. The usual suspects like Harry Potter, Transformers, and Twilight will all be in the top 10 Pirates was #4, Green Hornet was #24, the other three were in the top 5.  I’ll give myself half credit for this one
  • Facebook will go crazy with 11:11:11 11/11/11 stuff I’m the only person I saw make a post about it, so I guess that one is wrong
  • Some tablet computer running Android will be a genuine alternative to the iPad I’m tempted to give myself credit for the Kindle Fire, but it’s way too early to tell, so I’ll call this one another loss
  • The iPhone will move to an additional carrier but Andriod will have greater market share at year’s end Bingo
  • The ratings for American Idol will be off by at least 25%.  It won’t be canceled but will not return with the same judges in 2012. I could not have been more wrong about this one.  Idol ratings were only off about 11% and people who actually watch like the judges.
  •  There will be at least 10 announced Republican candidates for president.  No democrat will run against Obama Yep
  • Kentucky will not be in the Final 4 I am exceedingly happy that I was wrong about this one
  • Bret Favre will actually retire…probably…maybe…maybe not…yeah he will. Yes finally, but the media keeps trying to drag him back
  • The world will not end on May 21 no matter what the billboards say I’m typing, so I guess the world didn’t end
  • I will catch a 7 lb. bass

    I caught the biggest bass of my life, but it was only about 5 lbs

  • I will not still be working at the Wood Shed at the end of 2011 Wrong
  • I will weigh less at the end of 2011 than at the beginning Wrong

A couple of my regular readers made predictions about the coming year

Roland predicted:

  • Cats make the Elite 8 Yes, and good news
  •  Reds finish higher than Cardinals in NL Central in 2011 Cardinals finished second, to the Brewers. Still won the World Series
  •  Mathis still lives in KY on 12-31-2011 Not only do I live here, but I bought a house.  I think they call that putting down roots
  •  Mathis doesn’t complete his goal of visiting all 50 states in 2011 but does add to his total number of states he has visited No new states, so this one is Yes and No
  • I will finish higher than Mathis in fantasy football in 2011 Socialist Tortillas 10-6, Titletown Tailgaters 7-9. The season is not over, but I have this one sewn up.
  • One of the following 3 teams – the Cowboys, Globetrotters, or Kisha and Jen, will finish in the top 3 of the All-Star Amazing Race Season 18 Kisha & Jen won

Ryan predicted:

  • UNC will make it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament (Basketball) The evil Tar Heels lost to my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats in the round of 8
  • Panthers will win at least 4 games. Panthers are currently 6-9
  • I will get a girlfriend. Just like last year, I’m saying if so you are being awfully secretive about her
  • I agree that Pirates will be the #1 movie. Pirates was 4
  • A full size (30″+), glasses-less 3D tv will hit the market. It will cost more than $2k. Nope
  • Chuck will be renewed for a 5th season. The 5th and final season is currently airing

Looks like the final tally is that I was 4-6-1,  Roland was 4-3, Ryan was 3-3

The lesson you should learn is this.  If you are looking for solid predictions about the future, go somewhere else.  Cause really we are just guessing around here.


We tend to take for granted the many things that we usually consider the providence of God.  Providence is the way that God cares for and holds together His universe.   Since it is Thanksgiving, I’d like to pause a minute and thank God for some of those things.

  1. Oxygen to breathe
  2. The fact the ice floats so all the fish don’t die in the winter
  3. Gravity to hold us down, but not so strong we are crushed
  4. A heart that beats without having to concentrate on it

Feel free to add to this list in the comments

A burning question for UK basketball fans

It may or may not be common knowledge that Matt Heissenbuttel at 13 letters has the longest name (i.e. the longest name put on a jersey) in UK basketball history.  However, this season UK has a player, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who now takes the top spot in name length. (If you count the hyphen) There is little doubt that Kidd-Gilchrist will be more remembered in Kentucky lore than Heissenbuttel.  He will surely eclipse Heissenbuttel in every statistical category except years on the team.  But I have a question for UK fans.  Should he eclipse Heissenbuttel in the record books for name length?  In my opinion the hyphen is an unfair advantage.  It allows Kidd-Gilchrist two have two last names combined into one, but even with that advantage, the hyphen, which isn’t actually a letter, only gives Kidd-Gilchrist a 1 character advantage.

Let’s put it to a vote.  If you are a UK fan, vote here.  Then please send your friends here to vote as well.  The more votes, the more accurately we reflect the opinion of the Big Blue Nation.

[polldaddy poll=5672700]

My identity crisis and how you can help

I have been in youth ministry since 1997.  That’s when I first began to sense God’s call on my life.  Over the ensuing years I have done my best to be faithful to that call.  I have continually been on church staff.  I have been in church situations where I was a good fit and in situations where I was a poor fit, but always I was a youth minister.  If you asked me to label myself, “youth minister” would be the first of all possible labels.  Until recently, I would have said that youth ministry is the only occupation where I could be happy. My identity crisis

I have recently found myself without a ministry home. And now,  for the first time ever, I am not planning to return to a church staff position.  So the title “youth minister” will not apply.  I will still be actively involved as a volunteer in some youth ministry, hopefully teach a Sunday school class, but not in a staff position.  This has caused a bit of an identity crisis for me, but after a lot of time spent in prayer, I believe that God has given me the freedom to pursue something different.

So what’s next?  Over the past few years I have had some other ministry opportunities.  I was an instructor at Carolina Bible College, and I enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, I have been saying for quite some time that one day, when I am too old for youth ministry I hope to teach at the college or seminary level.  Also, I have been working for a while to complete a certification.  I am now a NAMB Certified Apologetics Instructor and I believe that have become quite good as a public speaker.  I hope to use my gifting as a speaker to create a new ministry.  If my new ministry is a success, it will substantially ease the pain of the identity crisis.

How you can help

In order to make this into a successful ministry, I am pretty much completely dependent on others.  So what can you do? A few things.

  • You can start by visiting my website, jeremymathis.net.  It’s new. (And it's not 100% finished, but it’s close.)  I will accept any feedback you want to give me about the site.  Also, there’s an ad on the blog page.  I’d appreciate it if you clicked on that ad.

  • If you have heard me give one of my apologetic talks and would be willing to write an endorsement for my site, that would be great.  Just email it to me (2 paragraphs or less please)
  • Most importantly, recommend me to your pastor.  A good website is important, but the only way I will really have any success as a speaker is if people hear me speak, like what they hear, and tell others.
  • If you are a pastor or someone with the ability to do so, please schedule me to come to your church. You don’t have to begin with an apologetics weekend.   I can simply fill the pulpit for you sometime. I am willing to speak any time, anywhere, as long as my schedule allows it.

Thank you for reading this.  I welcome your comments.


I like for my blog to be helpful.  So every year I assist you in naming your Fantasy football team.  (Here are the previous lists - list 1, list 2, list 3) My solution to help you is to simply make a list of all of the clean & funny, WBAGNFARB’s* from Dave Barry’s blog over the last year.  This list is not original in any way I just stole them all from Dave Barry.  I took my own team name from this list.  This year my team is the Socialist Tortillas.

  • Burning Yam Truck
  • Socialist tortilla
  • Ninja Slugs
  • Kung Fu hamster
  • Mulch Concepts
  • Unclaimed Chickens
  • Cheese Shoes
  • Stinky Mystery Waste

Also this year I will point you to this list from Conan O'Brien.  Many of these would be great Fantasy Football team names

*WBAGNFARB = Would Be A Good Name For A Rock Band


Review: Adopted for Life

I should maybe call this a sort-of review, because it is pretty much unabashed in its praise.  I know there is supposed to be criticism as part of any book review, but I got my copy for free. So I can't even complain about the price. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell Moore is, without question, the best book I have ever read on adoption. It is the only book I have ever read on adoption so maybe I should offer some other praise.  Adopted for Life is one of the best books I have ever read about parenting.  (In case you are wondering, the best book about parenting is Shepherding a Child's Heart)

I read this book in audiobook format.  That means that I was driving, or mowing the yard, or cleaning the house as I listened to it.  I obviously didn’t take notes while listening so this is not as complete a review as I would normally write.

The thesis of Adopted for Life is that physical adoption is a picture of the doctrine of adoption.  The book is an encouragement for every Christian and every church to be involved in adoption either by supporting those who seek to adopt or by adopting.  Moore would say that adoption is ultimately an issue of evangelism.

The book is, however, not entirely about theology.  Much of the book is dedicated to the practical issues that are bound to come up in adoption.  Moore has two adopted boys and he draws heavily from his experience with the adoption process and with raising adopted children.  He is open about his own feelings in every area of the adoption process.  I obviously have not been though the adoption process but I can not think of an issue that he does not cover.

I read the book because my brother and his wife are beginning the adoption process.  I will recommend it to them and to my parents, and to anyone in their church.  This book has my highest endorsement.  I have nothing but praise for Adopted for Life.

Review: Divided

Before I begin this review I should disclose something that is not a secret.  I am a youth minister and for the past 15 years I have earned at least a portion of my income as a youth minster, so I obviously have a bias as I watch this film and write a review. I wish the film had begun with disclosures as well.  It is a well-made film, but it is not a documentary, it is a propaganda piece for the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches.  The film, however, begins with the “documentarian” saying, “As a filmmaker, I set out to find answers.”  He did not set out to find answers.  He set out to promote his viewpoint.  This is perfectly fine, and it does not make the thesis of the film less worth discussion.  It just should have been made clear.

If you want to form your own opinion, you can watch the film for free until September on vimeo, or on the film’s website.

Before dissecting the thesis of the film, I’ll address some of the issues it brings up.  Are there problems with youth ministry as it has been carried out over the past few decades?  Yes.  Undeniably there have been those who simply view youth ministry as a “keep kids out of trouble” activity.  Sometimes youth ministry has erred by making the assumption that busyness is equal to spirituality.  Many youth ministries are supported by the personality of the youth pastor rather than the Holy Spirit.  There is not nearly enough Bible literacy within youth ministries.  Finally, there is no denying that many students leave the church when they get a driver’s license.  These are all valid issues and they need to be considered.  If possible they need to be solved.

However, not all of the things the film lists as shortcomings of youth ministry are actual problems.  Students having fun at a rock concert is not proof that youth ministry is failing, and it is not proof that the students are not spiritual.  Nor does a youth ministry in which there are video games on the premises or fun trips and fun activities on the calendar suggest that there is also not spiritual growth.

The thesis of Divided comes at the 30 minute mark.  After addressing many of the previously mentioned problems with youth ministry, the most significant being that students often leave the church, comes the following statement.

Is it possible the crisis we are seeing in the church today is a form of God’s judgment on the church… for doing something completely against the command of God [in order] to solve a problem with the youth?

The film suggests that the entire concept of youth ministry is not only absent from the Bible, but that it is unbiblical.

Divided says that the problems found in modern churches are a result of the unbiblical nature of youth ministry.  To be clear, the film says that all age-graded teaching of any kind is not only unbiblical, but it has roots in paganism.  It is a very unfair criticism of Robert Raikes to suggest that he developed Sunday school out of a pagan philosophy.  In fact, it is openly untrue.  The suggestion, that because churches have classrooms on either side of a hall that they have bought into a sort of neo-Platonism is patently ridiculous.  (And seriously, where else are classrooms supposed to go in relation to a hallway?)

A second criticism I would direct toward the film is that there is really no scripture offered to suggest that age-graded teaching is unbiblical.  It is well-established that the primary discipleship role belongs to parents.  However there is nothing, either in the Bible or the film to suggest that the church cannot or should not  have a role in discipling children.  The Bible makes it clear that there is a role of mentorship that should occur within the confines of church fellowship.

Every responsible youth minister I know is aware that the church and the family need to work together.  Aware that ideally the church should walk beside the family and supplement the work of the family.  This tension between church and family is being addressed in many places.   Every youth minister I know is working to resolve it, and it is the reason for significant movements like Lasting Divergence  and Orange.  When this approach is brought up in the film (36 min) it is immediately dismissed with only one brief comment.

There are a few things that Divided does not address at all that would certainly shore-up the filmmaker’s argument.   First, do students in family-integrated churches leave church at a substantially lower rate?  The film does not say, it really only criticizes.  But if this approach was a definite solution to the problem, it would be helpful to present some data.  Secondly, do churches of this sort have any approach to students with uninvolved or non-Christian parents.  If the solution is to let the parents disciple students then are they simply giving up on the hoards of students whose parents do not disciple them?  And if the solution is to come to church and be mentored by a “father figure” what is the fundamental difference in a deacon/elder and a youth pastor.  Finally, is it better to have a few years of influence in the lives of children, especially those with uncommitted or un-Christian parents, and have them leave church when they turn 16, or for these students to have no church influence whatsoever?

In conclusion, I find Divided flawed in a number of ways, most significantly that it does not prove its thesis.  However I believe that it is an important film even if it merely gets people considering how to address some substantial problems in the church and youth ministry.

I know this was long, but if you are still reading, feel free to comment.  And if you are a youth minister, I'l especially like to hear your comments.

Apologetics for every day – The Answer (Finally)

A few weeks ago I told of an encounter I had with someone who had a “Karma is real” sticker on her desk.  I asked you how you would attempt to begin an evangelistic conversation with her.  Literally one person is interested in this question so I decided to finally answer with my approach. I love Christian apologetics, and for people like me, it is rather easy to get caught up in the wonky, philosophy and argument-making version of apologetics.  This stuff has a place and it is even valuable in the right setting.  However I believe that for apologetics to be worth pursuing it must have for its goal, evangelism.  In other words, if I take an opportunity to use my apologetics training to destroy someone in an argument and make them feel stupid, I have done nothing for the kingdom of God.  I have alienated them and at best I have demonstrated to them that Christians are smart jerks.  This version of apologetics is divorced from evangelism and is wrong.

Having said all that, this question is both an apologetics and evangelism question.  Fundamentally this is a question about worldviews that work and worldviews that don’t.  My goal in trying to witness to this lady is not to tell her how stupid her worldview is, but merely to get her to question it so that she will be open to a worldview that is actually true.  If I were to tell her that she is stupid she will not be inclined to listen to me.  In love, I need to appeal to the truth which makes the logical conclusion that her worldview is false.

Since this entire exercise is intended to suggest that her view is false, it will be inherently offensive. (The gospel message is inherently offensive.)  So the approach has to be delicate.  Again, my goal would be to make her question the validity of her worldview and to offer to her the Christian worldview.  True for false.

If I had this opportunity again, I would ask her if she found that statement, karma is real,  to be true in her life.  Does it seem to her that good people prosper and that bad people suffer?  To me it seems like all people suffer and there is no correlation between goodness and prosperity.  I would suggest to her that Jesus says that it rains on the just and the unjust alike.  And that sinfulness does not figure into the way suffering is handed out on earth.

I realize that this is far, far away from a full gospel presentation, but again, the reason I called this an apologetics exercise is that my goal is to get her thinking about the worldview she holds and replacing it with one that works.

I welcome your comments.  Does this approach seem right to you?


When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve political bands...they should declare the causes...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...That to secure these rights, governments are instituted...deriving their powers from the consent of the governed whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government... governments...should not be changed for light and transient causes...But when a long train of abuses...evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world...do, in the name... of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare... these united colonies are...free and independent states [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUgiRxs3aqo]

Apologetics for every day - the question

Last week I had an encounter with someone working in an office and on her desk was a sign that read "Karma is real."I have spent quite a bit of mental energy in the last week thinking how I could have best broached the gospel with this lady.  So I think I'll toss this question to you, my reader.  Tell me. What would you have said to begin the process of evangelism in this case?

Later  I'll tell you what approach I have decided on.

Why Does President Obama want to Shut Down My Blog? (And put me in jail)*

I’d be willing to bet you didn’t see this news story in the past week.  And further I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t really think about all the ramifications.  So allow me to educate you.  Then, go write a letter to your U.S. Senator. Last week the Commercial Felony Streaming Act passed the House and is headed to the Senate.  It is endorsed by all of the recording industry and film and television spokespeople.  It is also supported by nearly every senator I can find a quote from as well as the Obama administration.

I believe that piracy of copyrighted works is a bad thing, but this law is much worse.  So why do I oppose it?  Because it says that even embedded video is eligible for prosecution.  So let’s think this through.  Say for example I embed a You Tube clip on this blog from a movie that I enjoy, or maybe I put something I find amusing in “Best Web Junk” for some particular week, and it is copyrighted.  If only 10 people watch that video over a 180 day period I could go to prison for up to 5 years.  Now let’s face it, my blog is not that popular, but every post gets substantially more than 10 views on the day it is posted.  So, even if I was not aware that the video was copyrighted, I could be headed to prison.  I didn’t intentionally steal anything, I didn’t promote, “come watch an illegal video for free at my site,” I didn’t profit in any way from the video and I didn’t prevent anyone from watching the clip in the full movie or TV show.  I am, however, legally liable and eligible to go to prison for 5 years.

I hope that is clear enough.  I wish I believed that any politician could understand this, but I don’t.  I am certain that even if they understood, the graft lobbying efforts from the recording and movie industries would outweigh opinions of constituents.

I am writing a letter to Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, but have almost nothing but cynicism as I do it.  In the mean time enjoy this classic, but copyrighted clip from Monty Python.  I probably won't go to jail for a few months. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y]


*I know. This title is kinda link-baitey, but I haven't posted in a few weeks and I could use the eyeballs.