david herndon

parenting for sand dollars

photo (27)

Two weeks ago my family was vacationing on The Gulf of Mexico.  There was a sandbar about 400 yards into the ocean, so as we looked out from the beach the water gradually became darker and then lighter again.  One of my favorite activities each day was to take my 10 year old son, a kayak, and a paddle board from the beach to the sandbar and then along the edge of the sandbar back and forth.  Since the water was so clear we could see EVERYTHING that swam and lived underneath– schools of mullet and redfish, Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, Sting rays, Blue crabs, and Sharks.

It was beautiful, and even more so because I was sharing this experience with my son.

It was so rewarding to introduce him to the adventure of paddling and to expose him to the beauty of creation – two things that I did not discover for myself until later in my life.  I could also see his self-confidence grow before my eyes as he paddled miles through the week on his own among sharks and sting rays and mackerels.

He’s not a little boy anymore.

One of our last days we drifted over the sandbar and my son exclaimed, “Dad! Look at that sand dollar!  It’s as big as a pancake!”  I looked down and there were hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars – some as small as a poker chip and some, yes, as large as a pancake.  My son said, “Let’s dive down to them.”

Now if you know anything about me you will know that I have an irrational fear of deep water.  I prefer to go no deeper than my knees, my waist at most.  I like boats, kayaks, and paddleboards for the pure fact that they provide a barrier between me and things that can eat me.  I’m more likely to get struck by lightning than be bitten by a shark, but I still panic when my head can’t stay above water without my feet on the ground.  On our honeymoon my wife took me snorkeling in, literally, the most beautiful spot in the world.  It was the first and only panic attack I’ve ever had in my life.  Like I said – my fear is irrational.

And now here was my son asking me to dive down 15 feet in the open water – mere yards from where we saw a shark as big as me the day before.  No air tanks.  No spears.  No cage.  Just open water, the two of us, and hungry, hungry sharks lurking in the deep.  I was torn.

On one hand was my personal fear.  It has proved limiting to life in my past, but it was something I had grown accustomed to and found ways to manage.  It is not my favorite quality for myself, but I have come to accept it and I never try to change it.  It doesn’t make me a bad person or even a bad parent.  In some situations it could probably be a praiseworthy attribute of safety and self-preservation.

On the other hand, I was so proud of my son who in the past several days had become a young man right in front of my eyes.  His sense of adventure and self-confidence had grown exponentially in such a short time.  Did I really want to limit that?

I thought about telling him to go for it alone and I’d keep an eye out for sharks.  In the end that didn’t seem honorable.   So yes – I jumped in.  I dove down.  I swam along the bottom of the sandbar with my son.  I may have peed my pants a little.

Most importantly… I survived.  I even kind of enjoyed it.

It’s been almost a month since that trip and my son still talks about that day.   He tells random strangers that he swam with sharks and saw sand dollars as big as his head.  He is even requesting scuba lessons for his next birthday.   Not only that, I see that same self-confidence at work now that he has started a new school year with new peers and a new teacher.  It’s almost like he can handle anything because he did that.

I know that for most people diving on a sandbar is probably not that big of a deal – kid stuff.  But that one simple dive made a bigger impact on my son than I could ever imagine.

I can’t help but think: What if I said no to him that day?

As parents, we all want good things for our children.  We want them to do their best, to be successful, to make wise decisions, be kind, keep the right friends, follow Christ, give back to the community, be involved in church, and the list goes on.  But are we willing to go first?  How can we desire things for our children that we are not willing to pursue for ourselves?  We shouldn’t let our own fears and comfort zones limit our children’s lives.

So, parents, I issue the challenge to you: get out of the boat, dive into the deep stuff.  You will have to sacrifice.  It will cost you time and money.  It will be difficult.  I may even be uncomfortable.  But your children will follow… and one day they will go deeper than you could ever imagine.

Here are 3 things I think every parent should be involved in for the sake of their children:

1. Church

2. A Small Group/Bible Study

3. Community Service/Missions

So get out of the boat, Mom and Dad.  The water is beautiful.

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drunk driving through the crowd

“Suspect in deadly SXSW crash charged with capital murder.”  That was the headline I read on USA Today.  I usually follow the SXSW headlines hoping to catch wind of a new band about to break or a new film I need to see.  This story stopped me in my tracks.  A drunk driver plowed through a crowd of festival attendees, killing three and injuring dozens more.  How does this happen?  How does a person get this out of control?  More importantly how do I protect myself from losing control?

He can explain himself.  He can justify it.  He can make excuses.  But it doesn’t matter.  The damage is done and the headline is written.

Drunk driving through the crowd.  Three people dead.  That’s his headline for the rest of his life.

One more drink, one more TV episode, one more word in the argument. Our all-you-can-eat buffet and reality TV society even seems to encourage a lifestyle of losing control.  Lack of self-control brings down our politicians and religious leaders.  It takes the lives of our party-hard teens.  It costs us our jobs.  It hurts our friendships.  It makes us the most obese country in the world.  It passes around STD’s.  It breaks up our families.  It ruins our lives.  Yet when life gets tough and we get frustrated, our instinct is to lose control.  

Rough day?  Have a few drinks.  

Arguing with  your spouse?  Use a few expletives.  

Feeling unhappy?  Put it on the credit card.

We might not drunk-drive through the crowd, but when we lose self-control the results can be just as harmful.

Depending on the translation, the word “self-control” appears roughly 74 times in the Bible.  Self-control is about social responsibility and personal holiness.  Paul says it is a fruit of the Spirit – evidence of Christ at work in our lives.  Self-control is the root of the Great Commandment.  We express love to God by expressing love to others.  Self-control is more than just new age self-improvement.  Self-control is about caring for others by caring for yourself.  

Self-control speaks more of our devotion to God’s kingdom than any other discipline in life.

Self-control is not just about refraining from (insert vice).  Self-control is about being human.  Self-control is about reflecting God’s image.  Self-control is about thinking of others first.  And since we really don’t have any control in life, its really about depending on the One who does.

We need self-control in our WORDS.  Mike Foster wrote a fantastic article about refraining from gossip.  You should definitely read his blog.  Ephesians 4 further encourages us to think twice before we speak.  There are many things we can say for many reasons, but the heart of the matter is why we are saying them.  If your words are not beneficial for those who hear it (including yourself), then perhaps you should stay quiet.

We need self-control in our ANGER.  The bible is clear (also Ephesians 4).  Anger is not a sin, but what you do with your anger could be.  Self-Control draws the line between reasonable frustration and savage brutality.  Knocking the chair over now relieves stress, but later you have nowhere to rest.  Yelling now feels good, but later no one is listening to you at all.   

We need self-control in our LUST.  Sexual sins carry bigger consequences because they are against your own body.  Our society isn’t doing us any favors in this area, but when we objectify others for our personal pleasure we have failed humanity.  We cheapen our own lives by devaluing others.  If we cannot exhibit self-control in our own purity, we will certainly be a pollutant in others’ lives.

We need self-control in our APPETITE.  One more drink, one more bite, one more dollar, one more rep, the newest car, the nicest restaurant – these things are not evil in themselves.  But when we begin to love things and to pursue things with a majority of our time, energy, and passion we are in a dangerous place.  Most likely the ones who get caught holding the check are those around us.

Finally, we need self-control in our TIME.  On one hand we are a society of 80-hour-work-week execs, and on the other hand we are 24/7 gamers and Netflix autoplay.  Rest too much and you’ll be constantly discontent.  Work too much and you’ll never be satisfied.  You will know when you find someone who lives the balance between work and rest.  They are productive and successful and yet they still know how to enjoy life.  They don’t have the most/best, but they have what they need… and are content with it.  A one-dimensional schedule produces a one-dimensional life.

Perhaps the problems we have in our relationships are less about how others treat us and more about how we treat ourselves.  

 If we can have self-control in these 5 areas our faith, our families, our lives, and our world will be drastically better for it.  We all have seasons of frustration, discontentment, loneliness.  The temptation is to go a little crazy until you feel better.  But God is not a God of extremes.  He is a God of control and order, and He calls us to be people of control and order.

Self-control is about depending on God.  Self-control is about loving others.

Without self-control we are just drunk driving through the crowd.

That’s not what I want my headline to be.


a brush with greatness

The other night several of my students were being awarded Eagle Scout and I had the privilege of speaking in their Eagle Scout Ceremony.  I was cub scout myself for about two months, but once I lost at the pinewood derby I gave up altogether.  Not these guys.  These guys are amazing young men.  I was overwhelmed during the service as the workload to become an Eagle was described.  These young men have spent over a decade working towards this accomplishment, growing in Honor, Loyalty, Courage, and Service.

As I observed the award ceremony I couldn’t help but think, “These guys are better than me.”

That’s a good thing!  Its what every youth minister wants – for those you lead to become greater than you.  Its not that I had anything to do with them becoming Eagle Scouts.  They did that all on their own through hard work and dedication.  It is just so encouraging to see what great men they have become, because there have been times in our past when I wanted to strangle these kids!  I couldn’t help but take a brief walk down memory lane and think about other kids I wanted to strangle, kids that are now great men.

Daniel used to interrupt me every Sunday night during my teaching.  He would ask hard questions I wasn’t smart enough to answer.  I’m not sure he really wanted an answer.  I think he just liked showing that he was smarter than me.  Sometimes I wanted to strangle Daniel.

Daniel just patented a screw that is going to change the face of medicine and biomechanics and he’s still in medical school.  His intelligence is making the world a better place.

When Jacob came to church all he wanted to do was play Halo on Xbox (which at the time was all brand new to us).  He was so good at this game and he was sure to let you know.  I hated playing with him.  It was no fun.  Really.  And when the church programs were over and I was ready to go home I practically had to drag Jacob and his friends off of the Xbox and out of the door.  Sometimes I wanted to strangle Jacob.

Jacob became a member of the team that developed and wrote the Halo game series.  He now works for Bungie and continues to use his passion to inspire others and make the world a more fun place to live in.

Zach was a great kid with a dangerous sense of adventure.  He literally had no fear.  If a frisbee ended up on the roof, Zach would be 100 feet up a tree in minutes.  If someone thought of something ridiculous to do Zach would be the first to volunteer (and most of the time succeed).  Zach’s flirtations with danger scared me to death.  No matter how many times I asked him to stop, he never did.  Most of the time he even talked me into trying.  Sometimes I wanted to strangle Zach.

Zach is now the VP of a successful clothing line.  He and his wife just became foster parents to a young boy who needs a family.  They will forever change this boy’s life with their faith and love.  He continues to inspire me and those around him with his no-reservations sense of adventure and his fearless faith.

Daniel is better than me.  Jacob is better than me.  Zach is better than me.

I could go on and on about past students who now are amazing and are doing amazing things.  I take no credit for it (how could I?) because they have reached their accomplishments all on their own.  The lesson is that “greatness” is in everyone.

Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”  Following a long list of things God created, he made mankind last.  Mankind is the only creation that bears God’s image.

We bare God’s image.  We bare God’s likeness.  We bare God’s greatness.  Whether you see it or not, its deep down in there somewhere waiting to come out.  You have greatness in you because you were made in the image of God.

The person who cut you off in traffic this morning has greatness in him because he is made in the image of God.  The waitress that messed up your latte yesterday has greatness in her because she is made in the image of God.  The kids who drive you crazy and make you want to strangle them have greatness in them because they are made in the image of God.

Perhaps this is why Paul is so clear in Philippians 2 that if we want to be like Christ we must never “do anything out of vain conceit,” but we must “consider others as more important than yourself.”  We can’t just consider others more important – we must know that they really are.

There is no time that we are a more accurate reflection of Jesus than when we consider others greater than ourselves and then treat them likewise.

Its true.

They are greater than you…

Because they have God’s image in them.

You may be having the most frustrating experience possible with another human being, but you could be having a brush with greatness!  You could be part of the development of a real world-changer! I just thought I was working with some over-confident, smart-ass, senseless, smelly teenagers.  I had no idea I was working with world-changing doctors, technological masterminds, future world leaders, and Christ-like humanitarians.  I failed to see God’s image in them when I needed to.  I’m trying to change that.

I’m trying to view people – not for who they are – but for who they can be.

I hope you will too.

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October 3, 2011, 10:50 am
Filed under: leadership, people, relationships | Tags: , , ,

In my church I’m responsible for one of three worship services that take place each Sunday morning.  Our service is a little more relaxed and casual than most, and for a very long time our chairs were in row form.  This summer we had a few different things happening that caused the need to have tables set up, which is a little different for a worship service on Sunday morning.  Now, I’m sure that there are churches all over the world who use tables during their worship service, but for me this was a little different.

My main job during worship is music.  I like music.  I like prayer and studying God’s word and fellowshipping with others, but music is my main connection to God.  Honestly, a part of me could not wait for the summer to be over so that we could go back to normal – ditch the tables and go back to sitting in rows.  My main motivation here is that I assume it feels awkward to stand at a table while you sing songs.  I make this assumption because for me, it would be awkward to stand at a table while I sing songs.  Surely everyone is as uncomfortable as I would be, right?

At the end of the summer several people started asking me, “Are we keeping the tables?”  And several times I said, “No, we’re going back to rows.”  I assume they asked because, like me, the didn’t want the tables anymore.  Finally, one member spoke up a little more after my response – “Don’t get rid of the tables.  I like the tables.”  This almost baffled me because it went against everything I assumed.  You like the tables?  Why?

I listened as he shared, and then I went back to others who had asked about the tables before.  I discovered they were asking because they too liked the tables.  I discovered that when they sit at tables our members feel more connected to each other, which ultimately enhances their overall worship experience.  Not to mention they have somewhere to rest their coffee cups.  “Isn’t it awkward when we stand up to sing?” I asked.  “Not really,” they replied, “after all, that’s only a small part of the service.”

And there was the rub.  I was only viewing things from my perspective and my preference.  And in my blindness I almost committed a huge disservice to the people I am called to minister to.

So the tables remain, only now they don’t feel so awkward to me.  I don’t dislike the tables anymore.  I embrace the tables.  And each Sunday as I look out on the crowd as we sing songs to God, I can’t help but be overjoyed to know that people feel connected to Him and to each other and it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

Who knew a table could be so powerful?

Try to see things from other peoples’ perspectives today.  It could change everything.

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a life lived for others
September 28, 2011, 9:49 am
Filed under: God, leadership, life, marriage, parenting, people, relationships

Recently under the influence of one of my students, I’ve been hooked on an iPhone app called “Eden.”  Its basically a building-block game in which you can create your own world, from mountains to canyons to seas and even trampolines, water slides, and houses!  For the creative types like myself it can be  pretty exciting and highly addictive… especially in the beginning.  There is such a thrill in creating.  Or maybe the rush is in having full control of my own little world.

One day, I did not feel the thrill or the excitement.  That’s pretty normal when you play iPhone games.  The usual entertainment factor wears off after a few days.  Remember when everyone used to play Words with Friends?  This was different though.  There I was – creating, building, doing what ever I wanted to in my own little world – and a strange though popped into my head:

“I wish I could create people.  I wish I had someone to share this with.”

This world is so cool and fun, yet I have no one to share it with.  I had created a whole world that no one could really live in or enjoy or benefit from in anyway.  While it may seem a little ridiculous considering I’m talking about a video game, another thought popped into my head.  This one is much deeper and much more challenging:

“Life is not meant to be alone.”

I can’t help but think of Genesis 1 when I play this little game, and I think I am beginning to understand a little more of God’s logic in creation.  The existence of the world, in all of its wonder and intricacies, is more than enough to glorify God’s greatness.  Yet, He still chose to create human beings because life is not truly lived until it is lived in relationship with others.  God is not satisfied and He does not rest until He was someone to enjoy His creation, to benefit from His grace, and to share in His love.

We all spend a great deal of time in “our own little world.”  We may not be playing video games or organizing the cosmos, but we do create for ourselves – for our benefit, for our enjoyment, for our pleasure.  We look for how others can benefit us.  We look for how we can use circumstances to better our situation.  We look for how we can make more money, make more time, and get more things for ourselves.  Everything and everyone around us becomes nothing more than building blocks we use to construct what WE want out of life with no concern to others.  But there will always come a point when we discover we are so unsatisfied and so restless.  Could it be that we are living our lives the wrong way because we are living and striving and creating for no one but ourselves?

God is not satisfied and He does not rest until He has someone to enjoy His creation, to benefit from His grace, and to share in His love.  We are created in His image, so why should we expect our lives to be any different?

A life is not truly lived until it is lived for others.  The question for today is not “what do I need?”  The question is “what do they need?”  Be God’s provision for someone else today.  Create a world that benefits others!

how god answers prayers

Its been a busy summer for me (i.e. I haven’t posted in a few months), but I’m thankful for the busy-ness and a little sad that things are about to slow down.  I’ve had the privilege to do a lot of really fun things with a lot of really fun people in the name of ministry.  Not a bad gig at all.

It hasn’t been all fun though.  The truth is, I have had to do a good bit of hard work.  Our youth group took on two fairly large mission projects this summer.  Right here at home we helped repaint two inner city churches.  We fought heat, humidity, wildfire smoke, and orange thieves the whole time.  Yes – one day someone on the street stole a bag of oranges right out of my hands.  His exact words were, “Gimme ‘dem oranges.”  I guess vitamin C is a hot commodity on the street.  Despite the citrus set back, we were able to do for these churches what they could not afford to do on their own financially or physically.

We also traveled to McDowell County, West Virginia.  McDowell, in the height of the coal mining boom, was the richest county in West Virginia.  Now it is one of the most impoverished in all of the United States.  We repaired a couple of homes, but the real work was hosting a Kids’ Club each day for local children.  Our skits were not the most entertaining, our songs were not the prettiest, and our crafts didn’t always look like they should have; but we loved on some kids who seldom feel, see, or hear love.

At the end of both projects I heard something amazing that has forever changed the way I view prayer and Christianity.  Pastor Newberry, whose church we repainted, said that he had been praying for 8 years that God would send someone to help him restore his building.  Being a Pastor is not his full time job. In fact, it doesn’t pay at all.  So repainting the building has never been an option for him.  So for almost a decade he has prayed everyday that God would send someone to help.  As he told our students, “I had no idea that God would send a bunch of teenagers to help me!”  We laughed at that remark and then he made a profound statement:

“Because of you, my faith is stronger.”

In West Virginia we were lead by Experience Mission and our Kids’ Club coordinator, Melisa.  Melisa shared that the previous weeks had been a little tough, that the groups didn’t seem to be focused on the kids and that the love just wasn’t there.  As a result they had more discipline problems, lack of interest, and lack of participation.  Before we arrived she asked her prayer team to pray for a team that would love the kids and be excited about ministry.  She shared all of this with our students (who did a very good job) at the end of the week, and let us know that we were the answer to her prayer.

“Because of you, my faith is stronger.”

I’m not sharing all of this to pat myself or my group on the back. In fact, when I hear these kind of statements I am extremely humbled.  I even want to run away from it.  Me?  An answer to prayer?  Impossible.  I didn’t really do anything. It wasn’t even that hard or that grandiose.  How could someone like me be an answer to prayer?

I am learning very quickly, however, that we have the power and ability everyday in every situation to increase or decrease the faith of others.  We have the ability to be an answer to prayer.  We may have to do things that are uncomfortable and put ourselves in situations that are less than desirable.  We may have to look downright foolish.  We will definitely have to put our own desires and needs aside and place others above ourselves.  But if we are willing to be used, we could be the answer to someone’s prayer.

I’m learning that prayer is answered, not necessarily in earth-shattering miracles or in divine displays of heavenly authority, but in community.  Pastor Newberry’s prayer for his building was answered.  Melisa’s prayer for a good team was answered.  The children of Gary, WV pray for love and they received it.  The real kicker is that I asked God to teach me about prayer this summer and He has flat out blown my mind on the subject.  It didn’t happen in any other way than by living in community, loving each other and serving each other.

“Because of you, my faith is stronger.”

So look around you.  Who are the people around you?  What is happening around you?  Where can you go into action answering prayers?

That simple conversation I shared with Pastor Newberry and the look of relief and joy on Melisa’s face will always be with me.  God used me to answer someone else’s prayer.  God could snap His fingers and take care of everything, but yet He chooses to use us to serve each other and love each other.  He uses us as miracles and answers in each others’ lives.  He uses us to increase one anothers’ faith!

The real joy is that once we realize this truth and live in it, our faith grows exponentially!  I hope that you will strive to be the answer to someone’s prayer today, that someone might even say, “Because of you, my faith is stronger.”


unproductive love
June 2, 2011, 1:13 pm
Filed under: leadership, parenting, relationships, religion

I have this thing to do today.

It is not on my “To Do” list.  It is not part of my job description.  I haven’t been asked to do it.  And, if I’m honest, I don’t want to do it.

It is very likely that nothing productive will come from this thing.  It is going to require my time… lots of time, time I could use to do other things, productive things, things that are on my “To Do” list and job description.  It is going to require my energy.  This thing is going to cost me.  And after I give my time and energy, I very well may have no “product” to show for it.  It is very possible that nothing could come from it… at all.

Nothing that benefits me at least.

There is a small chance, however, that this thing could result in at least one person discovering the love of Christ and coming to the realization that they are worth being loved and being sacrificed for.   That small chance could make all the difference in at least one person’s life.

That’s a chance worth taking.  Even if it does take up a lot of my time and energy, it is a chance worth taking.  Even if I have no product or any measure of usefulness at the end of the day, this is a chance worth taking.  Even if this thing is not on my “to do” list or in my job description, this is a chance worth taking.  Even though the odds suggest that this won’t work at all, this is a chance worth taking.

To share the love of Christ is always, always, always a chance worth taking.  We, as a church and as church leaders, so desperately need to understand this concept.

“Serve one another in love.”  – Galatians 5:13-14

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