The Pastor’s Struggle With Grace & Truth

One of the greatest struggles I encounter as a pastor is the tension between grace and truth.  I can’t speak for all other pastors, but I suspect I’m not alone.  Generally speaking, pastors are social people who want to be liked by others.  Biblically speaking, one of the requirements of being a Pastor/Elder is that he “must have a good reputation with outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7).  Yet, we are also people who are so convinced and passionate about what we read in Scripture (more importantly, we’re committed to the Author of Scripture) that we feel like Jeremiah when he writes “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

We must live in the uneasy tension that we want to be gracious, gentle, compassionate and loving towards all people – especially towards those who disagree with us.  As Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that” (Matthew 5:46).  We are called to embody the grace that we have received, and if we don’t do that then we are declaring by our lifestyles that we a) haven’t really received the grace we claim, or b) are so immature in our faith that our inconsistency (or hypocrisy) contradicts and invalidates the reality of God’s grace.  We are Ambassadors of God, our actions reflect on Jesus Christ.  This is all true of every Christian, but is especially true of leaders in Christ’s Church.

We also live under submission to Scripture, because we believe the Bible isn’t simply another book, but is truly and completely the Word of God.  That’s why most education for pastors includes training in Hebrew & Greek, Ancient Near Eastern culture and history, and theology – so that we can get ourselves as close to the actual meaning of the text as possible.  We love people, but we love our Creator and Savior more, and we’re often amazed (at least we should be) that God would chose us to serve Him because we know how unworthy we really are.  There are times when it would be the greatest comfort to tell people what they want to hear rather than tell people what we are convinced God has revealed to us through Scripture.  As the quote from Jeremiah above says, if we do not speak the truth we are convinced of then it’s like a fire burning in our heart that will consume us.  We should speak the truth with grace, but we must be true to Scripture.

It’s not easy to tell people you really love and care about hard things that you know could hurt them and sever your relationship.  We must speak both grace and truth, remembering that the Gospel of Jesus Christ really is the GOOD NEWS.  But we speak the Good News because there’s bad news… really bad news: we’re all sinners and the only thing we’ve earned from God is judgment because we have both knowingly and unknowingly joined the rebellion against his Kingship over what He’s created.

One thing I was told years ago was to always make sure I follow us hard things by emphasizing the hope we have because of God’s love and grace.  I try to remember this, but I wish I did a better job at following that advice consistently.

As I write this, I recognize this is a struggle many Christians (not just pastors) work through, and I hope that this post will help you to know that you are not alone and that your pastor(s) also struggle with living in the tension between grace and truth.  There are a number of things right now that have made me wrestle through this personally and why I feel this might be helpful to share, but here’s a little bit of insight into one of the struggles I am confident many pastors wrestle with.

Ultimately, I think the most important thing here is to recognize that this “tension” isn’t a battle as if the two are at war against each other.  God is full of grace, if He isn’t then we’re all without hope!  God wants us to be gracious towards others, just as He was gracious towards us.  This means that we will point to Scripture in order to “correct, rebuke, and encourage” the people around us.  The conflict between grace and truth enters this discussion when sin leads us to resist what God has to say.  Those are the moments when this tension becomes more tense.

I’ll end my thoughts here by referring those who are interested in this tension to the best book I’ve encountered on this issue: Randy Alcorn’s The Grace and Truth Paradox, it’s a short and easy read… and well worth the effort!

Hot Topic & Poll: The Reality Behind Sexting

I’m curious to know how many teenagers have either sent or received a “sext” message?

I just read this article from the NY Times, “A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives,” telling the story of an 8th grade girl who sent a nude picture of herself to her new boyfriend and the fallout after it got sent out to hundreds of people in her school.  Every parent and student should take 10 minutes to read this article and really wrestle with what it’s saying.  Here are a few quotes from the article above:

“But adults face a hard truth. For teenagers, who have ready access to technology and are growing up in a culture that celebrates body flaunting, sexting is laughably easy, unremarkable and even compelling: the primary reason teenagers sext is to look cool and sexy to someone they find attractive.”

… “But when that sexually explicit image includes a participant — subject, photographer, distributor or recipient — who is under 18, child pornography laws may apply.

“I didn’t know it was against the law,” Isaiah said.

That is because culturally, such a fine distinction eludes most teenagers. Their world is steeped in highly sexualized messages. Extreme pornography is easily available on the Internet. Hit songs and music videos promote stripping and sexting.”

… “The prevalence of under-age sexting is unclear and can often depend on the culture of a particular school or circle of students. An Internet poll conducted for The Associated Press and MTV by Knowledge Networks in September 2009 indicated that 24 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds had been involved in “some type of naked sexting,” either by cellphone or on the Internet. A December 2009 telephone poll from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 5 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds had sent naked or nearly naked photos or video by cellphone, and that 18 percent had received them. Boys and girls send photos in roughly the same proportion, the Pew survey found.”

 

It’s important for us to remember that as terrible as the nude photos are, the real issue we must address is the heart.  God love us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).  As Christians, our bodies are the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Parents, is this something you’ve discussed with your teenager?  Do you talk about sexual purity often enough with your teen that some of the awkwardness has worn off and honesty is easier?

Teenagers, how would you feel about your parents looking through your photos and text messages?  Why would you feel like it’s an invasion of privacy?  Is there something that you’re hiding?

 

 

You’re “Worth It!” – A One-Day Seminar for Teens & Parents on Sexual Purity

WORTH IT is a one-day seminar designed to encourage and equip teens and parents towards God’s best in opposite-sex relationships. Through speakers and workshops you will discover your incredible worth, God’s incredible plan, and the incredible joy of seeking God’s best.

Join hundreds of parents and teens for this fun and informative day that likely will change your life and the way you look at God, yourself, and relationships. The day includes the following workshop offerings:

Below is a list and brief bio for all the different presenters, including our good friend Nate Parks.  Patriot’s running back DANNY WOODHEAD and his wife, Stacia, has been added to the list of speakers since the program below was designed.

If we get a group of 10 teens/parents to attend we will qualify for the group rate ($25/person), please contact Pastor Mike ASAP if you are interested and if you’re willing to drive a others in a carpool from the Emmanuel Baptist Church.  Since the program starts at 9:30am and Lynnfield is an hour away we should plan on meeting at the church at 7:50am and leaving around 8:00am.

Josh Hocker’s Mission Trip

Josh Hocker is a high school senior in our youth ministry who has made arrangements to serve as a short-term missionary to Japan this summer with Global Expeditions.  The trip (for now) is still on, despite the turmoil following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactors.  If the trip must be canceled for safety or other logistical issues, Josh still plans on serving somewhere in Asia for the summer.

Here’s what Josh has to say about his trip:

I am going to Japan to share Jesus Christ with the Japanese people through English improvement classes for highschool and college students and street drama. The English improvement classes are for us to build relationships with the students so we have an open door to freely share our testimonies and the Good News with them. Street drama is our missions team putting on a short play about Jesus on the streets of the cities we will be visiting. Our goal with doing street drama is to show as many people as possible who Jesus Christ is because very few people even knows that there is a God Who died for them.

You can go here to find out more about Global Expeditions’ mission in Japan, and you can go here if you would like to financially contribute towards this exciting opportunity for Josh (he has to raise just over $4000 – missionary ID # is 2626148).

Bruno Mars’ “Grenade”

Bruno Mars is a singer/songwriter who’s all over the place lately.  Overall, I like his sound and wonder where he’s coming from spiritually, as some of his stuff can pretty easily be reinterpreted to have spiritual/Christian significance (although I’m not really convinced that was his motive, but it’s possible he intended for there to be a double meaning).

Check out his song “Grenade” below and look for the parallels between himself and Christ carrying his cross and Mars carrying his piano.  The song is all about unrequited love and the pain of rejection and betrayal.  I don’t love the way the video ends (him facing a train about to run him over), but it draws out the symbolism of him acting as a Christ-figure giving up his life.  The glaring difference between Mars’ death in the video and Christ’s is that in the video his death doesn’t seem connected with anything other than his despair (and I really don’t like the potential message that could send people about how to deal with hear heartache and despair) while Christ’s death was brought about by the very people who rejected him.

You can get the lyrics here, but I’ve really come to like this song a lot and it turns my heart towards giving thanks to Christ for his love and grace towards me whenever I hear it on the radio.

Here’s a sample of some of the lyrics I’m talking about:

“Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, you did
To give me all your love is all I ever asked
‘Cause what you don’t understand is

I’d catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I’d jump in front of a train for ya
You know I’d do anything for ya

I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won’t do the same”

LWAYG: Prayer – What is it & Why do it?

Last week I posted this question up on Facebook and I got some great responses: “Help me out with a new Youth Group series on prayer: If you had to answer the question “What is Prayer?” in one sentence, what would you say?” Here are some of the responses I got:

  • “Having a conversation with God.”
  • “Being intimate with God.”
  • “Prayer is admitting that we are not God and that we need him.”
  • “Acknowledging God’s sovereignty as we wait upon him with our cares and concerns.”
  • “Pardon+ Praise + Petition = Prayer”

The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:6-7).  We pray because we have a God who loves us and cares for us.  We are invited to bring our anxieties and needs before God, and that He will give us peace beyond understanding.  What an invitation!

Prayer, however, is not about us and must not be “me-centered.”  When we pray, we must remember who we are praying to.  We must remember that it is only by the God’s grace that we are able to pray and be heard by God.  We must not treat God as a cosmic vending machine, as if we can put in enough prayers, pull a lever, and get whatever we want.  We cannot manipulate God into doing whatever we want Him to do!

The two best ways to teach someone to pray (that I know of) are to follow the Lord’s Prayer, and to understand that A.C.T.S. pattern of prayer.  We have gone through a study on the Lord’s Prayer a few years back, so over the next few weeks in youth group we will be looking at A.C.T.S. and what we can learn about prayer out of the book of Psalms.

Here’s a brief look at what the ACTS of Prayer are with a Psalm as an example:

Adoration – Remember who God is

  • “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)

Confession – Remember who you are and how much you need his grace

  • “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.” (Psalm 51:1)

Thanksgiving – Remember all that God has done for you and thank Him

  • “I will exalt your, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.” (Psalm 30:1)

Supplication – Ask God to supply for your needs and take care of you

  • “Help me, O LORD my God; save me in accordance with your love.” (Psalm 107:26)

I believe that most of us live in the land of Supplication.  We pray, and we may even pray multiple times each day!  But we’re always offering up prayers of Supplication, always asking God to take care of us and supply for our needs.  If we are only praying Supplication prayers, we are the ones missing out!  There is so much richness to the beauty of praying full prayers, where we recognize who God is, who we are, what He has done, and how much He cares for us.

  • Are your prayers always asking for things?
  • Who do you pray for the most?  Do you spend time pray for others too?
  • Is your prayer life vibrant and full, or is it rushed and quick?
  • Do you only pray when you really need something?

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed; but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.” A.J. Gordon

The Glee-ification of Teen Sexuality

I have to admit I haven’t allowed myself to get sucked into Glee, but my wife is a recent convert.  I know it’s a huge show right now, and the songs can definitely be catchy.  In many ways the show is pretty “clean,” but what concerns me is the worldview it’s teaching.

A worldview is the basic set of truths by which you interpret the world around you.  Sexual liberty is one of the core pieces of the Glee worldview: whether it’s Rachel’s virginity or Kurt’s homosexuality, it’s all good.  The idea that we’re all sexual people, and we should all be allowed to express our sexuality however we want to seems to be one of the core principles that the students and teachers live by.

The Bible teaches that we are all sexual people, Glee got that right… but I think that’s a tough one to get wrong.  What concerns me is that there’s no boundaries or limitations.  In last night’s episode Kurt and Blaine (I think I’m getting their names right, I just had to look it up) kissed, and everyone on Facebook and Twitter seems ecstatic that Kurt had finally woo’d his man-crush, Blaine, and that they kissed.  This praiseworthy, really?

Sexuality must have boundaries if we desire to please God and worship Him.  As we discuss in youth group, we must have Moral Boundaries.  Sexuality is like fire: it can be a great blessing and heat your house, or it can cause much devastation and burn you down.  Fire in a fireplace is good; sexuality expressed between a man and woman who are married to each other is beautiful.  Fire in your carpet and on your walls is very very bad; sexuality expressed without any boundaries will lead to much hurt, heartache, and long-term damage (especially if you do get married later on).

  • Be thoughtful about the shows you watch, and think through the worldview you are being taught.
  • If you want to be able to discern the worldview behind your media (tv, movies, music, etc.), you need to be committed to studying Scripture so you know what’s true.
  • Discuss this stuff with your friends, with your kids, with whoever else might claim to be a Christian, and see what they think about the different ideas that are behind the shows you watch and music you listen to.

Camp Berea 2011: How do you REACT to God’s Love?

 

This past weekend our youth group went up to Camp Berea and God was waiting for us there!  Over the course of the weekend eight students gave themselves to Jesus Christ for the first time and many others prayed to “renew their vows” to Christ; I think it’s safe to say that none of us were left unaffected and untouched.

Sam Bhatt, our speaker, shared out of 1 John 4:19, which says “We love because he first loved us.”  God did not wait for us to love him before he chose to love us.  God takes the initiative!  We are all sinners, desperately lost in our sins and deserving of judgment for rebellion against our Creator.  Thankfully, that’s just the bad news…

…the Good News (which is what the word “Gospel” means) is that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever would believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).  God loved us looong before we ever even thought about loving him.  He loved us so much that God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) became a man (named Jesus) and lived among us without ever sinning and died on the cross so that the innocent (Jesus) would suffer and die as the substitute for the guilty (us).

Our love for God is a response, or a reaction, to God’s love.  We cannot initiate love for God, because He loved us long before we were even born.  Ephesians 1:4-5 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

The question we were all confronted with this weekend was this: “How will you react to God’s love?”  Students, Graduates, Parents, whoever you are… what’s your reaction?  If you are a Christian but love doesn’t play a central role in your daily life then there’s a problem.  As I recently read somewhere, “God wants full custody, not a weekend visit.” Will you live your life as a reaction to God’s love?

The Chris Tomlin song below became the unofficial theme-song of the weekend, take a look:

Cutting Through Your Teenager’s Defensiveness

Right now I’m almost half way through reading Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp, and it’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read in a long while.  If you are a parent of a teenager (or a pre-teen) or if you’re involved in youth ministry then you should read this book (many of the principles here easily transfer to youth workers).

Age of Opportunity is filled with wise, biblical advice for parents, but one of the best nuggets so far has been on how to cut through your teen’s defensiveness.  Here’s what he has to say: (see pages 78-79 in the book)

  1. First, I clarify my actions for them.  I say ‘Don’t misunderstand, I’m not accusing you of anything.  I love you very much and because I love you, I want to do everything I can to help you as you begin to move into the adult world.  Don’t ever think I am against you.  I am for you.  And I want you to do something for me: if you ever think that I have misjudged you, if you ever think that I don’t understand, or if you ever think that I have expressed sinful anger toward you, please respectfully point it out to me.  I want to be used of God to help and encourage you.  I don’t ever want to tear you down.'”
  2. Second, I help them to examine their own defensiveness. Teenagers, like all sinners, suffer from spiritual blindness.  They will not see themselves as they actually are, so they need our help.,  I will say, ‘You know, there is a lot of tension in this room.  Now, I haven’t yelled at you, I haven’t called you names, I have accused you of anything, but it seems like you are angry at me.  Could you explain why you are so angry?  …I didn’t ask to talk to you because I just felt like a good fight.  I love you and want to help you in any way I can.'”
  3. Third, I seek to be faithful in confessing my sins against my teenagers. Irritation, impatience, judgment of motives, name-calling, words of condemnation, raised voices, …(etc.)… all fit under the category of ‘provoking your children to anger’ and must therefore be confessed to God and to them.  Your humility and softness of heart stand as wonderful models for your teenager.  Declare, with humble assurance, your confidence in the forgiveness of Christ.  By so doing you let them know that they are not alone in their struggle with sin, and you demonstrate that confession produces beneficial results.  Be humble enough to admit that your teenagers do push your buttons.  Get to know where your buttons are.  Pray before you have ‘the talk’ that you would model the love of Christ before your teenager.  If you begin to lose it, excuse yourself from the scene, pray, get yourself together, and then go back and complete the talk.”

Now many parents reading this might be rolling their eyes saying, “Whatever, this is so fabricated and unrealistic.  My kid would laugh at me if I did this.”  Sure, maybe your son or daughter would laugh at you for doing this… but if you make this your habit, over time I believe you would see a softening in your teenager towards you.

When parents claim the Gospel is the power of God for eternal life, but they fail to have any grace or humility or patience at home… there’s a serious disconnect, and your teenager will pick up on it.  Grace is for church, Law and Rules are for home.  Therefore, grace is a nice idea, but it’s just not practical.  Age of Opportunity is filled with wisdom on Gospel-centered parenting and how to see the teen years as a great opportunity to disciple your son or daughter (rather than seeing the teen years as something to simply “survive” or “endure.”).  Click the link above and order it for yourself!