Gospel Coalition: “Longing and Looking for a Good King”

Tomorrow’s the Royal Wedding and my wife is way too excited.  I’m interested and I’ll watch with her and some friends who are coming over, but she’s pretty much been obsessed with it for the last few weeks.

I read a blog post by Jim Daly here (“The Royal Wedding: Why so Much Interest?”) that got my brain to start thinking about the fascination with the Royal Wedding as something perhaps reflecting a deeper, more godly desire within us all.

Today the Gospel Coalition Blog featured the following post by Mike Cosper which I absolutely loved and want to share with you: “Longing and Looking for a Good King.”  Here’s an excerpt from what he writes:

“I can’t help but think that there’s a hint of something else going on here. There’s something about the rhetoric surrounding the whole subject of royalty that sounds downright theological. …

Blaise Pascal famously described our vain attempts to fill the infinite abyss inside us with anything but God. Perhaps the obsessive reading, watching, and waiting for Friday’s wedding comes from a similar place, an emptiness inside of us that hungers for the ultimate reign of our King Jesus.

In a few days, much of the Western world will gather around TV sets to watch the incredible spectacle that will surely unfold. There will be a grand processional, and ultimately, a bride will appear, dressed in white, to wed the heir to the throne. We can watch it with a grumpy cynicism; we can watch it with an idolatrous awe; or we can see it as a signpost, pointing to a wedding in which we’ll play a part, and whose King will never disappoint.”

Why Culture Matters, part 1

I just finished reading “Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture” by Walt Mueller and have already recommended it to a few people in the past week.  It’s a great read for those who are passionate about their faith in Christ and are also passionate about seeing teenagers meet and grow in Christ (whether they’re parents, youth workers, or whatever).  Before writing more about actually doing what Walt writes about, I think it would be good to add some thoughts about what culture is and what impact it makes on all of us.

I’m not looking to be a sociologist here, so let me offer a very simple and stripped-down response: Culture simply is the context in which we live.  I am an American, New Englander, Christian, Pastor, Middle-class, White, Educated, 30 year old, Male, Husband, Father, Son, Brother.  These are all aspects of my life that have cultural aspects to them and shape who I am.  If someone really wants to get to know me but disregards all these different aspects to who I am then they are either delusional or they aren’t really willing to put in the time and effort to get to know me.

Culture is not simply “Media, TV, Music, Movies, etc.”  Culture would be much simpler to understand if that was the case!  Rather, I believe that culture is better understood as the attitudes, values, and desires people share.  This is why it’s possible to be a part of multiple cultures and subcultures at once (as listed above).

Our culture (attitudes, values, desires) fuel the media that surrounds us, and we should listen to and interpret our media accordingly.  So when we listen to Lady Gaga, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to simply fire missiles without asking where Gaga is coming from and why so many people love her music.  Listening to and understanding the music people listen to and the stories people tell helps us learn what their attitudes, values, and desires are.

It’s easy to give a quick critique of culture, but if we truly want to honor the Great Commission (Jesus’ command to his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all people), then we need to pay attention to culture.  If we do not pay attention to culture then either we are disregarding Christ’s Great Commission because we’re living in our own Christian cocoon or we’re disregarding the need to love and understand the people we are trying to share the Hope of Christ with.

One of the best nuggets of wisdom I think we should all learn from Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture  is when Walt encourages us to Affirm whatever we can while Correcting what needs to be corrected.  I took that to heart.  I’ve heard it a billion times before, but as I reflect on some of my blog posts over the last few months I was faced with the reality that I have been guilty of knee-jerk reactions and only “Correcting” without “Affirming.”

Culture influences all of us.  None of us are immune… and that’s not really a bad thing.  God created people, God created community, and people in community create culture.  As Christians, what we need to do is be men and women of redemption.  Just as God became a man in Christ Jesus in order to save us, so we should also live in our culture  in order to redeem it by affirming what we can and correcting what we must.

More on what that looks like later…

Longevity in Youth Ministry: Rare Indeed

One of the blogs I enjoy reading is Andy Blanks’ from YM360.  Today they featured a great post titled, “Youth Ministry Essentials: To Stick Around? Or to Jump Ship.”  In the post, Andy shares some great insights about why the turn-around rate among youth pastors is so high (proverbially, the average stay of a youth pastor is currently 2-3 years).

Andy points to (and I’m greatly summarizing his post here, so I encourage you to click the link above and read it firsthand): Culture’s Influence (most people today work for a number of companies throughout their working years, as opposed to those of a generation ago who would work for the same company their entire life until retirement), Seeing Obstacles as Exit Signs (not having the tenacity and determination to work through challenges), and “The Lone Wolf Syndrome” (working your way “up” to being a speaker/writer/consultant for other churches and ministries).

I think Andy’s insights here are really helpful, but since I’ve been asked this question a few times I have a few thoughts of my own (some of which certainly overlap with the post above):

  1. Lack of Preparation: The doesn’t necessarily mean you need a degree in youth ministry or biblical studies to be a lasting and effective youth pastor, but you do need to be equipped (schooling, conferences, seminars, mentors, and lots of reading up on ministry & theology & biblical studies).
  2. A “Fairy Tale” view of Youth Ministry: Isn’t youth ministry all about eating pizza and playing games?  There’s so much more administration and busy work to ministry than people expect that can suck up all your time and kill your passion for seeing teens grow in Christ.
  3. Money: The reality is there’s no one lower in the ministry totem-pole than a youth worker (or a children’s pastor, if your church is big enough to have one).  One of my good friends is the best youth pastor I know, his heart truly desires to serve long-term at a church, but he’s not been able to financially support his family at the churches he’s served in – this is a total tragedy for those churches.
  4. Unsupportive Churches: One of my Youth Ministry mentors/professors taught us to ask the following question as a gauge to determine how youth-friendly a church is: “How big of a deal would it be for a light or a window to get broken during a youth event?”  One of the best ways to get worn down and sucked dry is to serve in a church that claims to support youth ministry but doesn’t actually know what that means.
  5. Burnout: This can take so many different forms I think I’ll just leave this one there to hang…
  6. Lack of Tenacity: If you’re in ministry, you’re going to get criticized… and that’s a GOOD thing.  If you’re hearing from parents that they want you to do X, Y, and Z, maybe that means that they’re looking out for their kid and want what’s best for them (and that’s a great thing!).  We need to be strong enough and confident enough to help our critics understand where we’re coming from, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how they can get involved in such a way that they’ll see what we’re seeing (WAAAY easier to write this than actually do it).
  7. Disobedience: This can work both ways.  They could have been disobedient to get into full-time youth work (and then I suppose the church would have been wrong to hire them, but that’s way deeper than I want to go here); or they could simply be disobedient to be leaving their current ministry.  People sin, pastors sin, it’s a reality.
  8. It’s simply a bad fit: Some churches and youth pastors simply don’t work together as well as it seemed they would.
  9. Spiritual Immaturity: Ministry can be a great blessing, but it can (sadly and ironically) do a number on your spiritual life.
  10. Their “Call” has been completed: Maybe someone was called in to serve for only a short time?  We can’t assume that everyone who leaves after a short stay is being disobedient or narrow-sighted.  I think this has WAY more merit than many people realize.
When I graduated from seminary one of the professors said something I’ll never forget: “Stay somewhere long enough to make a difference.”  Funny thing is, the guy who said it wasn’t even one of the professors I enjoyed taking classes with… but this nugget was just so full of wisdom it will always stay with me.  I’ve been the youth pastor at Emmanuel Baptist for almost six years now and will be watching my first cycle of students graduate in a month and a half.  I’m going to be a mess and can barely imagine youth group without them there!  Obviously, there have been moments when I’ve considered looking elsewhere for a few different reasons, but thinking about my students is what has always broken right through my frustrations and reminded me of my call to serve right where I’m at.  My church isn’t perfect and if a window broke during a youth event I’d come in the next morning with my tail between my legs, but it’s a great place to serve and I don’t want to go anywhere anytime soon.

Why Easter Matters: Christ Put Sin to Death

This is a summary of what I shared in the sunrise service for Easter this morning:

Sin & Death are always interconnected throughout Scripture.  Whenever we read of one, the other’s footsteps are never far behind.  God’s conquest against Sin & Death is one of the key threads that holds all of Scripture together.  Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, God put sin to death. I’d like to trace this important thread by looking at a some key texts and make a few brief comments about each.

 Creation & Fall: Sin brings Death

“And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  (Genesis 3:22–24)

Before Adam and Eve sinned they ate from the Tree of Life and death had no place in their lives, but by disobeying God they brought sin into the world… and death came with it.  While they did not immediately drop dead, they became susceptible to death and pain and suffering because of sin. God judged their sin and banished them from the Garden of Eden, but He did not abandon them as a failed ‘project.’

Fall & Sacrificial System: Death brings the need for Atonement from Sin (repeated by the individual)

Eventually God called Israel out and made them a nation, providing them with the sacrificial system as a way to provide forgiveness of sin when they break God’s law.  Leviticus 4-5 is filled with many different ways to make atonement for your sins depending on who you are and what type of sin you’re atoning for.

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

The sacrificial system provided a foreshadowing of what we celebrate on Easter.  But while the sacrificial system was continuous (each new sin required a new sacrifice/death) and individual (each person had to make atonement for his own sins), Christ died once for all (1 Peter 3:18).

Redemption & Christ: Christ’s Death brings Full Atonement (once for all)

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20–21) 

Just as sin reigns in the Kingdom of death, grace reigns through the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  At the moment Christ claimed victory over death and sin all of your sin was cancelled and atoned for.  All your past, present, and future sins have been paid for!  This doesn’t give us a license to sin and it doesn’t downplay the extent to which we must always resist temptation, but it points to the perfection of Christ’s victory over sin and death and calls us to live in the kingdom of righteousness.

Christ’s resurrection demonstrated his victory and authority over death and sin. They have no place in His eternal Kingdom.

Restoration & New Heavens/Earth: No Sin, No Death

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

In Revelation 20 we see Satan’s judgment and the death of death. Immediately following the death of death, we read about the New Heavens, New Earth and the New Jerusalem.  In them there will be absolutely no sin and no death.  Truly, God is making everything new!  What we believe will become tangible… our faith will become sight.

As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, may we remember the bigger picture of what God did through Christ’s victory over sin and death.  May we live in Christ’s kingdom by faith today, even as we wait for His victory to be fully established here among us when He returns again.

LWAYG: Prayers of Thankfulness

When do you struggle most with being thankful?  Most of us have a difficult time being thankful when things don’t go “our way” (getting what we want, when we want it, how we want it).  It’s difficult to be thankful for something that is difficult and painful.

While it’s easy to say “We’re usually thankful when our life is happy and blessed” – I wonder whether or not we actually ARE thankful in those times, or if we simply take them for granted.  Honestly, I usually take them for granted and neglect offering prayers of thankfulness to God for blessing me in the ways he has chosen.  It’s pretty obvious that we should give thanks to God for the good things in our lives, so I chose not to focus on this in Youth Group and I’ll choose not to focus on that aspect of thankfulness here again.  Instead I want to focus on giving thanks when it’s really difficult for us to do that.

In Psalm 13:6 David writes, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”  We probably expect that he would write this while everything is going really well in his life, maybe after one of his great victories and when the royal treasury is overflowing.  But that’s not the case.  Take a look at how Psalm 13 starts off: “How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Even when David is feeling completely forgotten about by God, he ends up saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”  I don’t know about you, but I think there are times when feeling completely forgotten about is even worse than when people wrong you… at least they’re acknowledging your existence by doing something to you!  David feels completely forgotten about, and yet he doesn’t rely on his feelings and emotions, he relies on his faith.

I think one of the great reasons that God desires for us to offer prayers of thankfulness is for us to remember His faithfulness to us and all the ways we take Him for granted.  When we fail to be thankful we tend to strengthen our feelings of entitlement (as if God “owes” us something) rather than deepening our joy (recognizing that our value/identity/pleasure is found in God, not in temporary things that will pass away and change).

When I am wrestling to be thankful for a million different reasons, it’s so refreshing to think through all the things I take for granted and all the ways God has proven his faithfulness to me.  If God has shown himself faithful time and time again, what makes this any different?

As you are challenged to lift up more prayers of thankfulness, I want to encourage you to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What are you taking for granted?
  2. What are you really thankful for?  
  3. What are you NOT thankful for?  How could God be using those to be teaching you something?
Because I don’t want to sound trite and shallow, allow me to offer a brief but personal example of one really difficult thing in my life that I give thanks to God for.  My parents separated when I was 11 and then later divorced.  This obviously was an extremely difficult and painful experience for me… I don’t look back and say, “God, thanks for my parents getting divorced, that was really great.”  It was difficult and painful for all of us.  But God did some amazing things through it.  I am able to identify with people who have broken families and difficult family issues in ways that I would not otherwise be able to, and I can share how the hope and love of Jesus Christ has transformed my life even through such difficulty.  I’m not sure if I would be in full-time ministry if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced.  I pray, “God, thank you for proving yourself faithful and gracious to me through my parents’ divorce.  It was difficult and painful, but I know that you walked me through it and used it to make me into the man I am today.  For those things I give you thanks.”

How Should Christians View the “Day of Silence?”

(Updated 4/15/15)

The “Day of Silence” is a student-advocacy movement in support of the LGBT community.  Over the last few years this movement has grown and picked up more momentum.

This post is written with a few people in mind: The Christian teen who is wondering, “Should I participate? What do I say when people ask me why I’m not participating?” I’m also thinking about parents and other youth workers who want to talk about this movement with their teens.

What is the Day of Silence?
This is a day where students take a vow of silence in order to advocate for LGBT rights. The official website for the Day of Silence says,

GLSENs Day of Silence is a national day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.

…Organizing a Day of Silence (DOS) activity or event can be a positive tool for change-both personally and community-wide. By taking a vow of silence, you’re making a powerful statement about the important issue of anti-LGBT bullying, and when you organize others to join you that message becomes stronger.

How Should We Think About the Day of Silence?
I firmly believe that the Bible teaches God’s design for sexuality to be expressed between one man and one woman through the context of marriage.  This is the historic teaching of both Judaism and Christianity.  My intention here is not to convince people about Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality, but to address the “Day of Silence,” so please forgive me for simply throwing these statements out there without defending them.  If you want to look up what the Bible says you can check out: Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Colossians 3:5 to name a few verses.

While I believe that LGBT inclinations would fall into the category of “sexual immorality,” I also believe that lust, heterosexual sex outside of marriage, and adultery fall under the same judgment.  We should be careful to not ignore our own sexual sins while pointing the condemning finger at others, as our own sin isn’t really that bad but theirs is.  We must remember that all of us, even if you have never struggled with your sexual orientation, still battle sexual temptations.

The “Day of Silence” website gives the following statistics that should break our hearts for LGBT students who daily live in fear:

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment in American schools each year.
  • 60% of LGBT youth feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
  • Nearly 1 out of 3 LGBT youth missed school in the past month because of safety concerns

Christians Can Identify With Prejudice and Hatred
Jesus Christ himself was targeted, betrayed and crucified. He suffered the most agonizing of deaths on the cross, which was such a painful and hideous way to die that even the Romans eventually outlawed its use. God identifies with those who are suffering!

As a Christian who loves studying Church History, my mind turns back to all the persecution that Christians have endured throughout history… and still do in MANY places today.  More Christian have been killed because of their faith in the last 100 years than have been killed because of their faith in all of Church History combined.  19 Christians are killed each minute for their faith every day! Visit Voice of the Martyrs for more information about the realities of Christian persecution.

Christians should never be the persecutors. It’s an educated-guess, but I think many who participate in the “Day of Silence” would point to Christians as one of the primary persecutors of the LGBT community.  May we, as Christians, remember the Gospel: that Jesus Christ came to save sinners (that’s all of us!).  May God forgive us for communicating His truth and grace in such a way neglects to show the beauty of God’s love.  Of course, whenever you share that homosexuality is a sin you will be offending people to some degree or another, but we should be careful to remember that the Gospel is “Good News” because there is hope and grace for sinners, even sinners like us.

My intention in sharing this perspective is to call Christians to remember that they are a persecuted group of people in this world.  I don’t believe that we should have a “Day of Silence” for Christians who are being persecuted… but I do believe that remembering the “bigger picture” of Christian persecution should fill us with grace and compassion for members of the LGBT community who live in fear.

Should Christians Participate?
No, I don’t believe that Christians should participate in the “Day of Silence,” but I DO believe that Christians should live and love in such a way that the “Day of Silence” isn’t necessary. Although we cannot agree with their lifestyle, we should support the LGBT community in a way that honors the dignity each of them has as someone who is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Many Christian blogs and websites are calling for this to be a “Day of Dialogue.”  Speak honestly and humbly about what the Bible teaches, but live in such a way that people will realize that you’re not speaking as a “holier than thou” Bible-thumper.

Most importantly… pray and point people to the love of Christ.

  • Pray for God to give you wisdom to know how to respond (James 1:5).
  • Pray for your peers who are struggling with their sexual orientation, that they would know how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is (Ephesians 3:18).
  • Pray that God would keep you sexually pure and from giving in to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

How Marketers are Pushing Sexuality on Kids

Kids & Teenagers, are you aware of how the advertising industry is trying to take advantage of you?  Do you really want the things you buy, or are have you ‘bought’ the lie that purchasing this item will fill a void or longing in your life?

Parents, are you protecting your children and teenagers from believing what the advertising industry is pushing on your kids?  Have YOU bought into what they’re teaching?

We need to let kids be kids and stop rushing them into adulthood.  I think most of us reading this post would agree, but we aren’t always aware of the challenges that are actually working against us.  Be aware… your kids’ innocence may be at stake.

As a related-bonus: One of the most recent public demonstrations of this Sexualized marketing to children is Abercrombie & Fitch’s bikini for 7 year olds.  Walt Mueller wrote a great post about this here: “Abercrombie and our 7 Year Olds.”