One of the hardest things in Youth Ministry is knowing where to set boundaries. If you are like me, then you wish that you had the solution for everything. You wish your connection with God and your ability to point people toward their creator was enough to cure any ill. But it’s not enough…

Now don’t get me wrong. Jesus is enough, and He is all we need. But YOU are not Jesus. YOU cannot cure every ill or problem that your students and their parents will encounter. Students and their parents will walk through seasons of crisis that you are not equipped to handle.

For this reason, it is wise to know when and where to refer students and families walking through a difficult season in life. These crisis moments might include thoughts of suicide, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, divorce, sexual, substance or physical abuse. This list could go on and on.

As a Youth Pastor, your role is not to fix these problems. Your role is to faithfully walk with students and families through the good times and the bad, pointing them to Jesus every chance you get.

This is why you need boundaries.

Boundaries will help:

  1. your students get the help they need.
  2. you know when to refer students or parents to professionals.
  3. you stay out of legal trouble.
  4. you focus on your role as a spiritual guide.
  5. you be faithful stewards of God’s flock.

For an EXCELLENT resource on how to set boundaries and how to be prepared, go buy and read The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis.

What other resources have you found helpful in being prepared? Comment below:

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


Suffering Sojourners

What does it mean to suffer? Why does God allow me to suffer? Why would God call me to suffer? As we grow up into our relationship with God we seem to struggle with the answer to these questions.

suffering sojourner

While the kingdom of this world invites us into a never-ending pursuit of more, the Kingdom of God invites us into a never-ending pursuit of Christ Himself. This venture then proves to be way more costly than we could have ever imagined. Living for the Kingdom of God, at least the way the Bible details it, is difficult and counter-cultural.

Our students struggle with this concept.

As Youth Pastors, we need to prepare our students to identify themselves as “suffering sojourners.” You could also use the synonym “afflicted aliens.” This definition is taken from a combination of 1 Peter 2:11 and 1 Peter 4:12-16.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (aliens) and exiles (strangers) to abstain from the passions of the flesh,which wage war against your soul.” -1 Peter 2:11

Are we preparing students to view themselves and live as aliens and strangers in a foreign land?

The relationship that we have with the creator of the universe calls us into radical abandon of what this world deems important, and into radical obedience to the counter-cultural will and way of the Father. Students must understand that outside the full-presence of God, we are not home. This is not where we were created to be. Sin has separated us and this fallen world draws us away from His presence. We are temporary residents in a foreign land who long to be home, and lovingly invite others to join our pilgrimage.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14

I love this passage because it normalizes suffering for the cause of Christ. Peter essentially says, “Don’t act like suffering is strange and unexpected! If the world came after Jesus, it’ll come after you!” Peter then goes on to say that if we are insulted for our belief in Jesus, we are blessed with the presence of the Spirit!

I’ve noticed two types of students: Those who want to blend in, and those who want to stand out for their own glory. It is rare to see students standing up for something other than their own glory or edification, but this is precisely the type of disciple we are trying to cultivate. We want to see students who are unashamed of the gospel (enter Lecrae song), and the ramifications of following faithfully.

Instead of blending in, we want students who boldly (whatever that looks like for them) proclaim the gospel in word and deed. Instead of bringing glory to themselves, we want student who direct that glory where it is due. This process is equally difficult for our extroverts and introverts.

Living as a alien, standing out, not settling in, not going with the status quo, not giving into cultural norms, transforming culture, getting uncomfortable, getting made fun of, standing up for truth, and pointing others to The Truth is no small task.

But Jesus is worth it. 

How are you encouraging students to be suffering sojourners? Comment Below.

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


Say Thank You

Sometimes after a big event, the temptation is to send out a quick thank you email to those who helped you pull off the event. But today I want to encourage you to take an additional step.

After your next big event, send out a thank you email, as you normally would, but this time send it to EVERYONE on your mailing list. Don’t just include those who helped out, or attended the event, but your entire mailing list.

After doing so, be sure to post this Thank You to all your church publications (all-church email or social media accounts.)

Here is the email I sent:

This simple task will do two things:

1. Publicly thank those who put in the hours.
2. Encourage others to volunteer for the next event.

No lie, after doing this, I had three parents contact me about helping out at our next event! Why would you not start recruiting help and looking for ways to get more people involved in discipling the next generation?

What else have you done to publicly thank your leaders? Comment below!

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


7 Thoughts on Winter Retreats

This week has been a rush. And not in a “it’s been exhilarating,” type of way, but more of a “where did my day go?” kinda way. You see, it’s retreat week. We are gearing up for our annual Disciple Now weekend retreat. Over the years I’ve discovered that regardless of how much preparation you put in prior event week, somehow the small things jump up to grab you!

This doesn’t give you permission to slack in your preparation, but rather should be your impetus to be so prepared that you are ready to handle any curveball that comes your way.

In the following list you will find eight things that I did to prepare for our upcoming retreat, or things I wish I had done in preparation for this weekend.

7 Thoughts on Winter Retreats:

1. Outsource the the speaker and the worship.

While this might seem like an obvious decision to many of you, our brother and sisters working in small congregations often have to chose between a band and speaker for budgetary reasons. Why pay a speaker when you can simply pay a band and carry the preaching load yourself? Answer: Relationships and sanity. It is extremely difficult to get mentally ready to preach when you are also the conductor/director of the schedule. Trying to wear two hats will prevent you from doing either at 100%. It might tighten the budget, but outsource.

2. People still like print materials.

This year, we took all sign-ups, schedules, and packing lists online. It has worked beautifully for around 80% of people, but left 1/5 of our parents confused. Make retreats easy for parents.

3. Put a retreat team together.

If you have multiple paid staff, divvy up the duties and execute. If you are a solo youth pastor, recruit a parent team that will totally take meals, lodging, transportation, recreation, and registration off your hands. This leaves you free to be creatively planning sessions beforehand and free to engage in relationships during the retreat.

4. 1-Minute Reflection after messages.

Many students will not take notes. After speaker finishes, have a 1-Minute reflection time where students are prompted to write down what they heard.

5. Intentionally make your grades intermingle.

For the bulk of the weekend, students will stick with students in their own grades. As a Youth Worker, be intentional in making sure that you are foster a gospel community that feels like family. You can do this by having a game where students are strategically placed into grade diverse groups.

6. Discussion is key.

If you have a speaker coming in, break-out into discussion immediately after the entire session is over. Student can use their 1-Minute reflection notes (mentioned above) to discuss what they found insightful during the message. Get your leaders to pry!

7. Make sure your students know WHY they are coming to the retreat.

The truth is, student attend retreats for a wide variety of reasons (friends, they want friends, they are being forced to go, they have nothing better to do, it sounds fun, etc.). I would offer that only a small few want to go for the purpose of “growing spiritually.” Maybe your students are just more spiritual than mine, but students need to be continually reminded the WHY of the weekend. Regardless of what brought them, make a continual effort to focus them on hearing from God and building gospel community.

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


Why Juniors & Seniors Leave Youth Ministry

I’ve recently been thinking about the attrition that happens among juniors and seniors in youth ministry. If you are a youth worker, then you may have noticed this trend. Classes or small groups that were once booming have dropped off and those smaller junior and senior classes have disappeared altogether. After processing this…I think I know why.

So why do junior and seniors disappear?

  1. Skewed Priorities – Let me just insult these students right out of the gate. Many of the juniors and seniors that drop out of youth ministries simply do not see their time at church as worth their while. While this sounds harsh, many of us need to realize that what we are offering simply doesn’t stand a chance compared to other options. Yup, that’s right. Not everyone is as crazy about gospel community as we are!

It’s not that our preaching is bad or our worship dated, but that our services and small groups have become routine. In other words, students know what to expect and believe friends or Netflix could better entertain them. All of the above points to the fact that many students have their priorities out of whack.

  1. Busyness – The reality is that along with all the extra-curricular activities that all students face, juniors and seniors are busy padding their college applications, working to prepare for college costs, and writing 2,000 word essays on why they deserve a scholarship from the “I Love Chicken Wings Club of America” (could you tell I made that one up?) But seriously…just talk with the juniors and seniors in your ministry. Their Wednesday schedules are brutal!

Wake up around 7, workout or tutorials, class from 9-4, tutoring and athletics until 6:30, squeeze in dinner, youth from 7-9, homework, chores, and bedtime hopefully before midnight. Students are exhausted. They have been thinking and social all day and they are ready to be lazy and disconnect.

  1. Freedom – By junior year, most students can drive and have been given increased independence by their parents. As underclassmen, they had to beg and plead their parents to hang out with friends. Where parents wouldn’t get out to drop off their student at a friends house, they don’t mind taking their student to church. Thus, for the student, youth serves a social purpose rather than a spiritual one.

Once students have the freedom to drive themselves, they no longer need youth group as an excuse to meet up. They can now get together anytime, anywhere. Why be social with adults who want to control our time at youth rather than go to Starbucks or the mall with no agenda? Where students with skewed priorities have become bored with the routine of church, these students may have never seen church as a priority. Rather, church was a means to an end, an avenue to socialize with friends.

So what is the answer to junior senior attrition? How do we engage juniors and seniors? Stay Tuned…unless you have the answer, then please comment below and share your wisdom!

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


5 Youth Ministry Books for 2015

As we open the doors to 2015, it’s time to think about how we will grow and expand our understanding of youth ministry. Each year, I like to make a list of books that I plan to read. This list includes books I already own, books I still need to buy, books that haven’t come out yet, and books that have been out for years.

This list isn’t exhaustive. I pray I get the opportunity to read more than five books in 2015, but these are simply five youth ministry books in my reading queue. My youth ministry launch pad for 2015. But to be fair, they aren’t all necessarily directed at youth ministry…what?! Yes, that’s right, youth pastors can learn about youth ministry from books not about youth ministry!

If you have read these, I would love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t, take a look and see if they deserve your time as well!

Here are 5 Youth Ministry Books for 2015:

1. Youth Ministry in Post-Christian World by Brock Morgan

Per Amazon: “Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World is the collection of humble, story-driven, pragmatic and Jesus-focused reflections of a fellow youth worker forced to reconsider everything he knew about youth ministry: everything except the gospel, that is.”


2. Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg

Per Amazon: “In Age of Opportunity, Steinberg leads readers through a host of new findings — including groundbreaking original research — that reveal what the new timetable of adolescence means for parenting 13-year-olds (who may look more mature than they really are) versus 20-somethings (who may not be floundering even when it looks like they are). He also explains how the plasticity of the adolescent brain, rivaling that of years 0 through 3, suggests new strategies for instilling self-control during the teenage years. Packed with useful knowledge, Age of Opportunity is a sweeping book in the tradition of Reviving Ophelia, and an essential guide for parents and educators of teenagers.


3. Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together by Andrew Root

Per Amazon: “The youth ministry focus of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is often forgotten or overlooked, even though he did much work with young people and wrote a number of papers, sermons, and addresses about or for the youth of the church. However, youth ministry expert Andrew Root explains that this focus is central to Bonhoeffer’s story and thought. Root presents Bonhoeffer as the forefather and model of the growing theological turn in youth ministry. By linking contemporary youth workers with this epic theologian, the author shows the depth of youth ministry work and underscores its importance in the church. He also shows how Bonhoeffer’s life and thought impact present-day youth ministry practice.


4. Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping, and Sharing the Things Unseen by Mark Oestreicher

Per Amazon: “Why are some people full of hope, while many of us struggle to get past the snooze alarm? Hope often seems elusive—both to explain and to experience. So we find ourselves instead clinging to lesser substitutes. From self-medication to lazy clichés, we apply these balms to our pain and experience little to no comfort. But we know, in our guts, that these replacements aren’t the hope-filled lives we long for, the lives we were made for. Mark Oestreicher gets it. Through hard-wrought experience and robust-bordering-on-desperate theological reflection, he offers here a fresh perspective on Hope, that virtue that God carries to us even as God carries us. Read Hopecasting and discover a good God casting hope your way.


5. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy Keller

Per Amazon: “In Center Church, Timothy Keller offers challenging insights and provocative questions based on over twenty years of ministry in New York City. This book outlines a theological vision for ministry – applying classic doctrines to our time and place – organized around three core commitments: • Gospel-centered: The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ changes everything, from our hearts to our community to the world. It completely reshapes the content, tone and strategy of all that we do. • City-centered: With a positive approach toward our culture, we learn to affirm that cities are wonderful, strategic and underserved places for gospel ministry. • Movement-centered: Instead of building our own tribe, we seek the prosperity and peace of our community as we are led by the Holy Spirit.

What’s on your youth ministry reading list for 2015? Comment Below!

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


Productive Youth Ministry in 2015

It’s that time of year again! It’s time to dream, plan, and schedule what the coming year will look like in your youth ministry. Every year, I progress through the same routine to ensure that I’m operating at the top of my game for the glory of God.

This routine involves creating 3 different calendars. Watch this video I made last year that explains how you can crush 2015 and make it your most productive year yet:

Get My Ideal Work Week   (Excel File)

Thanks Michael Hyatt for the new template!

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


Video Monday: Suffering

We don’t talk about suffering very much in Youth Ministry. More specifically, we don’t talk about suffering as Youth Pastors.

Sure we make silly jokes about not being taken seriously, or getting paid less than everyone else, but rarely do we talk about suffering IN THE MINISTRY.

So for this edition of Video Monday, I wanted to share this video I recently came across about suffering as a leader by Matt Chandler in his talk at Catalyst 2014. He has a few really good one-liners in there that we in youth ministry can take to heart:

“God’s at work in the mess.”

“Following Jesus can end badly.”

“The man goes in the ground, the message moves on.”

Take a watch: 

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


4 Things Youth Ministry can learn from Trivia Crack:

Unless you have been on Sabbatical, like me, then you have undoubtedly heard your students talking about the #1 App in both the Free and Paid Categories on iOS and Android.

Meet Trivia Crack. In Trivia Crack you spin a wheel and try to answer three trivia questions so that you can answer a fourth question and earn one of the six needed characters to win. Sound confusing? It’s actually simple and addicting…check it out.

As I was playing Trivia Crack, and really when I’m doing anything, I asked myself: “what can I learn from this?” After running out of hearts and having to wait 30 minutes to play again…I came up with 4 things Youth Ministry can learn from Trivia Crack:

  1. Students like competition. In competition…people lose.

One of my biggest pet peeves in youth ministry is “everyone’s a winner.” I hate when youth ministry games end with “everyone wins!” And if I’m being honest, I’ve done it a few times myself as not to break the heart of a puppy-eyed 6th grader. But it’s my firm belief that we are doing students a disservice by letting them always win.

Why? Because they will experience this nowhere in life after high school and it distorts their understanding of pain and suffering. If students believe they are suppose to “win” at everything, what happens the first time they experience failure in their pursuit of Christ? Or, what happens when God uses struggle to grow them, but they completely miss the lesson of the journey because the end result doesn’t look they way thought it would?

By allowing our students to lose, and encouraging them in their pursuit, we can teach them the beauty of failure, and force them to reflect on the One who has overcome.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

  1. Students like validation…even if it’s in the form of a cartoon character.

There is this sense of validation whenever you answer four correct trivia questions and receive a small cartoon character. Why? Because we all like recognition and praise for our successes. While it might sound like I’m talking out both sides of my mouth after that last point about letting students lose, I think youth workers need to up their game when it comes to random encouragement.

When is the last time you intentionally reached out to a student just to validate their pursuit of Christ. I’m not talking about congratulating them after a game, performance or at graduation; I’m talking about in the middle of a week where nothing spectacular has happened. You would be surprised at the confidence capital that is built through a simple, “I truly see Christ working in you, and I just wanted to say I’m proud of you.”

If Trivia Crack is building confidence in teenagers, how much more should the church?


“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

  1. Students are capable of learning…so challenge them.

While some of the questions on Trivia Crack are incredibly easy, others are quite difficult. So just when we thought students didn’t like extra homework, they seem to be blindly consuming tests and quizzes because it’s in the form of a trivia game!

This should remind us that students are far more capable than we give them credit for. Yes they can be extremely apathetic, but they are capable nonetheless. So let’s set the bar high. Let’s ask hard questions. Let’s expect students to retain what we are teaching them.

Which leads me to a follow up question: How are you helping students retain the lessons you teach each week? There is nothing more depressing than asking a room full of students what you talked about last week and having no response! Find a system that reminds the students what you learned and then be prepared to push retention with follow-up questions the following week.

  1. If you’re not patient, you’ll pay for it.

If you’ve played the free version of Trivia Crack, then you know that after your hearts (sessions played) runs out, you have to wait 30 minutes before you can play again. This has become common in free competition apps and is possibly one of the most brilliant and frustrating tactics invented!

But they will not break me! I refuse to give in and pay for the “paid” version or buy any “in-app purchases” that give extra tries! If you are not patient, you’ll pay for it.

This holds true in youth ministry as well:

If you’re not patient with a student through their rebellion…you’ll pay.
If you’re not patient with parents…you’ll pay.
If you’re not patient with volunteers…you’ll pay.
If you’re not patient with other ministries in the church…you’ll pay.
If you’re not patient in your youth ministry tenure…you’ll pay.

And yes…somehow all of this came out of playing Trivia Crack…

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.


Theologians on Christmas

In the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would share some quotes from men far more theologically advanced than myself. Each of these quotes reflect some element of Christmas, Advent, or the Incarnation.

Reading these will help ground us in the meaning and purpose of Christmas. Enjoy!

Barth On the Incarnation:

Of the incarnation of the Word of God we may truly say both that in the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and His birth of the Virgin Mary it was a completed and perfect fact, yet also that it was continually worked out in His whole existence and is not therefore exhausted in any sense in the special event of Christmas with which it began. The truth conveyed by the first conception is that the formation and ordering of the flesh in the flesh is represented in the New Testament as a procedure which unfolded itself as it did with a necessity originally imposed upon Jesus. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of .… My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:32f.). “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk. 2:49). He must work the works of Him that sent Him, while it is day (Jn. 9:4). He must be lifted up from the earth (Jn. 3:14; 12:34). He must go to Jerusalem, to suffer many things, and be killed, and rise again, as the Synoptic predictions of the passion repeatedly say. This is the necessity of His action given at the beginning in the person of Jesus—the incarnation as an already completed fact.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/2, 337

Athanasius on the Incarnation:

“The body of the Word, then, being a real human body, in spite of its having been uniquely formed from a virgin, was of itself mortal and, like other bodies, liable to death. But the indwelling of the Word loosed it from this natural liability, so that corruption could not touch it. Thus is happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.”

Athanasius of Alexandria, The Incarnation of the Word of God

Luther On Christmas:

The right and gracious faith which God demands is, that you firmly believe that Christ is born for you, and that this birth took place for your welfare. The Gospel teaches that Christ was born, and that he died and suffered everything in our behalf, as is here declared by the angel: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” In these words you clearly see that he is born for us.

Martin Luther, The Sermons of Martin Luther, volume I:134-160

Augustine on Christmas:

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.  I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, (Sermo 185: PL 38, 997-999)

Bonhoeffer On Advent:

“…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava & Ben, Student Pastor at LifePoint Church in Plano, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.