LWAYG: T3 – Surrounded by Opportunities

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.   But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.”  (James 2:15–21)

You’re surrounded by opportunities to use your T3 (talents, treasure, time) to honor God.  The question is, do you notice those opportunities?  Are you paying attention to what God might be doing around you?  True faith needs to be expressed, it cannot be silenced.  Does your faith cry out?

Think about some issues that really get you heated?  Child Abuse, World Hunger, AIDs, Poverty, Divorce, Homelessness, Bullying, etc.  Whatever it is – do you really want to make a difference?  Sure, you can’t single-handedly solve these huge issues, but you CAN make a difference!  Here’s how:

1. Begin with prayer! If you aren’t prayerfully asking God to show you opportunities to serve Him by serving others, then you aren’t going to notice when those opportunities arise.  That sounds pretty simple – but it’s a truth that most of us don’t practice.

2. Examine Your Sphere of Influence. Who’s in your classes, on your team, in your family, in your group of friends, etc. who would use a measure of God’s love today?  Thinking about “Big Issues” is good, but making a difference starts where you’re at today… so think about the people who’s lives intersect with yours and prayerfully ask God how you can use your talents, treasure, and time to show them how great Christ’s love for them is.

3.  Do it! Demonstrate love, kindness, and compassion.  I remember one of my theology professors saying, “All good theology ends in ethics.”  Knowing what the Bible teaches is absolutely essential in loving God, but all that knowledge doesn’t make a difference in how you treat other people then you’re seriously missing something.  God loves people… we should too.  Don’t just talk about it and pray about it… DO IT!

Sermon Summary: “Going After Jesus”

Here’s a summary of the sermon I preached this past Sunday at EBC entitled “Going After Jesus.”  The Scripture text was John 12:9-19… enjoy:

Time and time again we read “My time has not yet come” in the Gospel of John… until Jesus speaks to his disciples after the Triumphal Entry.  The events of Palm Sunday mark a turning point in the work of Christ, the plan of salvation was beginning to unfold.  Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead in the town of Bethany (only two miles from Jerusalem) and Mary had just anointed Jesus with perfume, preparing him for his burial.  Jesus’ disciples should have known what was to come; they had been told multiple times by Jesus that he was going to die, they had seen Jesus’ authority over death through the resurrection of Lazarus.  But still,  v.16 says “At first his disciples did not understand all this.”

Jerusalem was filled with thousands of faithful pilgrims from all across the Roman world.  Rumors were flying about this prophet who had raised someone who was dead for FOUR days… and he’s about to enter Jerusalem with his disciples!  Jesus received a welcome fit for a king, much to the chagrin of the Chief Priests and Pharisees.  Jesus was magnetic, the people were drawn to him.  The Jewish Leadership was growing increasingly concerned by Jesus’ growing group of disciples and decided they needed to act… they needed to “go after him!

Some people went after Jesus for salvation, to learn from him, to worship him.  Others went after Jesus with less pure motives.  The crowds and the Pharisees heard Jesus preaching the same sermons and saw him performing the same miracles.  But they were divided in their response.  Even today we can read the same Bible and hear the same sermons but have opposite responses to the person next to us.  When you hear about the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, do you encounter the source of life and hope, or do you consider the Gospel as foolishness?

Word of Life 180

On Saturday, May 15 Word of Life is hosting 180 at Gillette Stadium.  180 will include a soccer tournament with two division: a Guys division and a Coed division… but you need to register your team ASAP.  There’s another catch: We need to pay for at least 10 people up front before being able to register a team… and there’s limited slots for teams.

There’s also a Mexico Team meeting in the morning of May 15th, so students participating in the Mexico Missions trip will be a little late to the event if they choose to participate in 180 (registration begins at 12:30).

Here’s what I need, if we’re going to participate:

  • An adult point-person to coordinate our group’s registration and other adult volunteers (I like having one adult for every five teens at off-site events like this).
  • Students to coordinate a team (we are only allowed to have one EBC team, so please ask around and try not to exclude anyone who wants to participate)
  • I need a check for at lest ten people before I can register a team, so the sooner you get your friends/teammates to pay up the sooner I can reserve a spot for your team!

For more information about WOL 180 click the icon here: 

Some Great Quotes…

Each week I include a “Quote of the Week” in the Youth Page insert that’s in the bulletin you receive when you come to Sunday morning worship at Emmanuel Baptist Church.  Here are some of the quotes I’ve shared over the past few months:

“As the seed does not spring up as soon as it is thrown into the earth, so the result of the works of God is not immediately seen.”  John Calvin

“We terribly overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in five.”  Ted Engstrom

“The renewal of our natures is a work of great importance. It is not to be done in a day. We have not only a new house to build up, but an old one to pull down.”  George Whitefield

“To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  Karl Barth

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  John Wesley

“I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no more hurt, but only more love.”  Mother Theresa

“There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”  Carl Sandburg

“When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”  Abraham Joshua Heschel

What’s the Deal with Cyberbullying?

I want to start with a disclaimer: I don’t have as much time to devote to digging up as much research as I’d like to, but I feel so strongly about this I want to put this information in front of you.

The Cyberbullying Research Center (which has a GREAT website, I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and browse through all their studies and graphs and otherdata).  Check out their site here:

Here are a few statistics from the CRC that I found especially interesting:

  • 20% of all teens report both being victims of cyberbullying as well as being guilty of cyberbullying others!
  • Girls are 10% more likely to be victims of cyberbullying
  • Girls are 3% more likely to cyberbully others
  • The most common form of cyberbullying is posting mean or hurtful comments online.

If you haven’t read my post on Formspring.me, I strongly encourage you to read it and have a conversation with your teenager about the site.  Even if he or she doesn’t have a Formspring page, I’d be shocked if he/she doesn’t have friends with one.  The more I check out various students’ Formspring pages, the more I’m growing in my hatred for cyberbullying.

I remember taking classes in developmental psychology in college while studying to become a youth pastor and hearing a professor say that internally most teenagers are walking around saying “Do you like me?”  I know, that sounds a bit overstated, and it may be – but I’ve found it very helpful in reminding me the importance of consistently communicating “I care about you and accept you.”  Anyone who’s been the parent of a teenager can affirm that especially after an argument or conflict teenagers are quietly asking “Do you STILL like me now?”  Cyberbullying makes this normal aspect of identity-formation that much more difficult and complicated.

So how do I prevent cyberbullying?

  • You can’t – but you can minimize it.  Even if your teenager doesn’t have a cell phone or any internet access he can still become the victim of others posting mean things online about him.
  • Be proactive in discussing media (especially social networking sites like FaceBook, MySpace, and Formspring) with your son or daughter.  Discuss the potential for cyberbullying and how to respond Christianly if he falls victim to it.
  • Consistently and clearly affirm and build up your child’s identity.  Help her value and treasure what makes him different form her peers, so that when others try tearing her down she’s already been built up.
  • Be an active listener.  Ask good questions (not accusing questions or leading questions).  Listen more than you speak.  If you son/daughter doesn’t experience you listening to him/her about “meaningless stuff” then why should he expect you to be supportive enough to talk about difficult issues arise?  With Teenagers you don’t prove yourself in crises, but in the monotony of common daily interactions.
  • Pray daily and specifically for your son or daughter.  Don’t pray simply for God to shelter them from harm, but for Him to strengthen your children to grow in the love for God and for themselves in the midst of difficult experiences.

Who Will Greet You in Heaven?

James Montgomery Boice tells the following story in the third volume of his commentary on the Gospel of John:

One year the missionary conference of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was attended by four veteran missionaries.  Two were a couple who had given more than thirty years of their lives to working in unevangelized fields in Africa.  Another, together with her husband, has done pioneer Bible translation work in Mexico.  The last had spent over forty years in Spain.  These presented their work at a series of meetings and dinners during the week and then eventually returned to their fields.  After they were gone I received this letter from a woman who had been a member of the church for many years and had attended the conference.  She wrote, “In 1936, I started attending Tenth Church while in college and have followed ever since then the work of these three missionaries, who had just then left for missionary service.  The Wolls have evangelized Kenya in that time.  They have trained and sent out workers.  They have established churches and Bible schools.  Maria Bolet in that same time has been training Spanish missionaries in a Bible school and has sent those trained throughout Spain.  She has operated summer camps.  She has been persecuted, several times been put out of Spain, and then allowed to return.  Now the children of her earlier converts are attending camps, and the mothers are crying out for more camps.  In that time the Lathrops have reduced a language to writing, have translated the New Testament into that language, and have evangelized the entire Tarascan area of Mexico.  They have established an indigenous church there.  I have pursued my profession at home and overseas and have a few years remaining, a satisfying career.  But who will greet me in heaven when I arrive there and say, ‘I am here because you gave your life to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ’?  Who will count me such a blessing?”

I know this person well enough to know that she has been a blessing.  Quite a few have come to know and trust in Christ as a result of her testimony.  But the question still stands – for me and for you.  Have you been brought to spiritual life by Jesus?  Can others tell that you have been with Jesus?  Have any believed on Jesus because of your testimony?  God Grant that this might be true of each of us, or that we will allow God to make it true as we spend more time with him.

Oh, Miley…

Miley Cyrus, the hero of Tweens (8-13 year olds), was voted “Worst Celebrity Influence”  of 2009.

Yesterday, she was featured in Parade Magazine talking about life, fame, and faith.  Here’s one excerpt (click the link above for the full article):

“My job first is to entertain and do what I love, and if you don’t like it, then change the channel. I’m not forcing you to watch me. I’m not forcing you to talk about me. I would do that pole dance a thousand times again, because it was right for the song and that performance. But, dude, if you think dancing on top of an ice-cream cart with a pole is bad, then go check what 90% of the high schoolers are really up to. It’s funny. I don’t know if a lot of parents remember what they were like as kids. But I’m like, ‘Dude, as if you were an angel!’”

Parents: Here’s a link to Jonathan McKee’s blog, reflecting on Miley Cyrus’ influence on tweens and teens… he doesn’t present things exactly as I would, but I trust you can use your own filters to benefit from his insights.

LWAYG: T3 – Stewards or Owners

Does God want you to be rich or to be poor?  Pick one or the other… and take a minute to really think about why you answered that way.

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents.  A Master went away for a long time and left three men in charge of his money . One servant had 5 Talents, another was given 3 Talents, and another was given one Talent.  I’ve looked at a few websites to find out today’s equivalent of 1 Talent, and found it ranging from $600,000 – $1,000,000!  That’s a lot of money!  The first and second servants both doubled their money by the time their Master returned, but the third servant did nothing with his money.  He buried the money in the ground because he didn’t want to lose any of it, and the Master judged him harshly for it and gave his money to the one who made the most.

I believe we can see at least three principles that apply to honoring God with our T3: our talent, treasure, and time.

First, a lesson in personal management.  Do you see yourself as a steward who will one day give account for how you’ve used your talent, treasure and time; or do you see yourself as an owner who can use your T3 however you want to without needing to answer to anyone?  An owner possess and controls what he has.  A steward uses what he’s been given to the best of his abilities, but remembers that eventually he will return it all to the true owner.  If I let a friend live in my house for a year while I was off traveling the world, I would want him to treat my house well and to care for it.  If I returned and found the house in disarray and with holes in the walls I would not be happy!

The second principle is one of excellence.  God is not honored by mediocrity.  I learned this while doing my internship with the High School Ministry a large church in the Chicago area.  I was doing a mailing and stuffing hundreds of envelopes, then labeling them, but I put a few of the address labels on upside down without realizing it.  When my mentor looked through my work he noticed my mistake and asked me, “When he/she gets this letter and it looks like this, what’s it telling him/her about how important the content of this letter is?  We try to do everything, even address labels, to the best of our abilities as an act of worship to honor Jesus Christ.”  I’ve never forgotten that.  Certainly, God doesn’t want us to become perfectionists who live like any mistakes are absolutely unacceptable, but we ought to do things excellently for Jesus.

The third and final principle I see here is one of accountability.  Remember what happened to that third servant.  He didn’t use his talent to honor his Master, so he lost it and was “cast into outer darkness” as well.  There are people I know who have lots of money, and they use it well.  They support missionaries, give generously to the Church, and use their T3 to bring honor to Jesus Christ.  God has given them treasures because He knows they will use their treasure to honor Him.

If God gave you treasures, how would you use them?  Would you spend all you were given to get “stuff” – or would you spend your money wisely and give generously to those in need and to support Christ’s work in the world?

When it comes to your T3, are you a steward or an owner of your talents, your treasures, and your time?

Exploring the Inter-connectedness of Risk & Faith

According to http://www.dictionary.com:

  • Risk: “Exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance.”
  • Faith: “Confidence or trust in a person or thing.”

Much of what I have to share below is taken from a lesson I taught in youth group a few years ago while we were studying John Piper’s book, “Don’t Waste Your Life.”  It’s a great read, I very highly recommend it!

“Risk” involves two assumptions.  First, risk involves some degree of ignorance.  You don’t know what will happen or result from your action (or inaction).  You cannot foresee the future, therefore you’re taking a risk since there could be a result that’s opposite of what you hope for.  Second, risk assumes that living a risk-free life is possible to begin with.  Driving to work or school can be risky.  More people die from car accidents each year than from airplane crashes.

Just last month I emailed the former youth pastor from EBC and asked him how he dealt with “safety concerns” parents had about missions trips.  His reply was only two words long: “Define safety.”  Good reminder, Jim…

This being said, we need to prayerfully discern the difference between foolishness and faith-filled risk.  To those who don’t have faith in Jesus Christ, these two categories will look to be the same thing: foolishness.  As Paul wrote,“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Below is a video of John Piper answering the question, “Should I consider not doing missions if it means constant danger for my wife?”  His reply is specific to missions, but I believe we can easily apply his answer to Risk-Taking in general.

The following is a great article entitled “Dealing With Risk” by Christian missions organization Adventures in Mission.  The article is not short and isn’t a light read, but if you are willing to really explore this relationship between Risk & Faith, then take a look.

Finally, I want to share two quotes that God has used to change my life:
  • “If there is no element of risk in our exploits [actions] for God, there is no need for faith.” Hudson Taylor
  • “Had Levi stayed at his post, Jesus might have been his present help in trouble, but not the Lord of his whole life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We learn faith best when we’re forced to actually rely on God’s faithfulness.  We must not “dare” God to rescue us by making foolish decisions, but when God commands we ought to obey… even if it’s risky to do so.  In the process, we’ll find that our faith really does hold us and that God is as faithful as Scripture proclaims him to be.

St. Patrick: Way More Than an Excuse to Get Drunk!

Today is St. Patrick’s day.  I live 25 miles from Boston.  I’m Irish.  But I’m not getting drunk tonight (but I might get a McDonald’s Shamrock-Shake… those are amazing).  That leaves me in the minority of Irish Bostonians.

I never knew anything about St. Patrick growing up, other than assuming he was some Irish priest who made everyone feel obliged to wear green to school.  But Patrick wasn’t even Irish – he was Brittish.  When he was 16 he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery to the “barbarians” in Ireland where he tended sheep for his master.  He was raised in a Christian family, his grandfather was a priest, but he wasn’t entirely “sold” on the Christian faith.  However, in the years of isolation while tending sheep he spent countless hours in prayer and meditating on what he had been taught as a child.

Patrick eventually escaped, through God’s providence, and made his way safely back to his home, where he enrolled in Seminary and later became an ordained Roman Catholic priest.  After a number of years, God spoke to Patrick in a dream and told him to return to the barbarians of Ireland and to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to them and teach them to live for Christ.

Patrick sold all he had and went to Ireland as a missionary.  He would travel with important chieftains orpay for safe passage to ensure his safety and protection.  He spent time with the people in various tribes to learn about their culture (music, art, stories, etc.) in order to communicate important biblical truths in culturally understandable ways – the most well known example of this is Patrick’s use of the shamrock as an example of the Trinity (three leafs, one shamrock; three Persons of the Trinity, one God).

He built simple churches, baptized and trained men who had converted from paganism to Christianity and appointed them as priests for their tribes. After a church was established and priests were appointed he would move to the next tribe and faithfully present the Good News of Jesus Christ there.

This is the life of the man whom we honor on St. Patrick’s Day every year.  It is most ironic that he returned to Ireland to teach them to flee their ungodliness, and on the day we “honor” him we seem to return to exactly what he sought to rescue men from.

If you want to read more, check out these links (I read these to “brush up” on my Patrick facts):