LWAYG: Apologetics & Roadblocks

Ever feel like this when talking about your faith with others?

I don’t know too many people who are completely confident in talking about their faith with those who believe differently.  It’s true: if you want to get into an argument with someone, just bring up either politics or religion!  But shouldn’t we be able to discuss such things with gentleness and respect… and conviction, because we really believe our faith is important and true?

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  There are a few important things to notice here:

  • Our lives should look differently from those who have not set apart Christ as Lord.
  • This difference will cause others to come to us in order to find out why we’re hopeful in seemingly hopeless situations.
  • We should be prepared with our response rather than stammering through it (“umm, well, ah, I’m, like, a Christian… so, ya know..”)
  • We should respond honestly that we have hope because of Christ, but we should be gentle and respectful in our conviction.  This doesn’t mean we don’t say “Jesus is the only way to God,” but it does mean we that we say it with gentleness and respect.

I believe that too many Christians act like they’re only going to get one shot at evangelizing people, so they need to share every core biblical truth with the person they’re talking to.  That might sound like a good idea, but I’ve found that if you treat the conversation like the only one you’ll have with that person… you’ll probably be right!  We need to just be honest, gentle, and respectful in what we say and how we say it.

Apologetics is simply “the study and practice of defending biblical beliefs.”  As a Christian, I do not hold my beliefs with my eyes shut to reason or science.  Rather, I believe that reason and science affirm what Scripture teaches!  Over the next few youth group lessons we will be dealing with different objections that come up against Christian belief and I’ll be sharing different “apologetic responses” (note, this isn’t “I’m sorry” responses, but “defending my belief” responses).  Alex McFarland has some really helpful and simple articles for those who are new to apologetics at his website.

In all of these discussions about Apologetics, however, I believe it’s extremely important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Apologetics is not designed to simply help you win arguments, but is a great tool for helping to dismantle roadblocks people have in the way between themselves and a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. It’s not my job to convince anyone to become a Christian.  It’s my responsibility to be obedient to tell people, but it’s God’s job to convince them.
  3. Always remember 1 Peter 3:15’s emphasis on GENTLENESS and RESPECT.  You can win an argument, but completely turn people away from the love of God by being arrogant and mean-spirited.
  4. FINALLY, Remember that convincing people that evolution is wrong won’t make anyone a Christian if he still doesn’t know anything about Jesus!  Keep the main thing the main thing… the Gospel of Jesus Christ (God sent Jesus to live, die, and rise from the dead so that our sin would be forgiven and our relationship with God would be restored) is the main thing.

When I think back to all the spiritual conversations I had with my best friend in High School I wish I could take them back.  We talked about religion a lot since he was a Buddhist and I was a committed Christian, but most of our conversations revolved around creation/evolution.  I rarely turned the conversation to be about Jesus Christ.  In the end, I trust that God still used those conversations somehow and that someday my friend will become a Christian, but I suspect that I spent most of my time and efforts on a debate that is good but not the main thing.  I wish I could have those conversations back, and I hope you don’t make the same mistake with the opportunities you’re given.

Why Are So Many Young Adults Leaving Churches?

It’s pretty common nowadays for Christians to cite the “drop out rate” among teenagers and young adults, claiming that roughly 75% of “Christian” teenagers will leave the church either while attending college or shortly after graduation.  The knee-jerk response from many seems to be blaming youth ministries for playing too many games and teaching too much fluff. Granted, as a youth pastor I’m biased and want to defend my fellow youth pastors, but I’m not so sure that it’s so simple (or that there’s any ONE person/group to blame at all).

When I witness this finger-pointing I usually experience a mixture of anger and frustration for a few different reasons:

  1. Because some people are looking for a scapegoat to blame rather than to actually get involved and do something to make a difference.  Some people just like to complain and point out things that need fixing.  I have a hard time having this conversation with these people without finding myself fighting to keep my cool.
  2. Because the problem isn’t only a Youth Ministry problem… it’s a Church (with a capital “C”) problem!  Whether your church practices infant baptism or infant dedication, your church has committed itself (and the parents have too, but we’ll get there) to rally around the parents and help them to “train up their child in the way he/she should go,” but we’re evidently not doing the best job in actually fulfilling this commitment.
  3. Because families are under-committed to their church and over-committed everywhere else.  Most parents I know would absolutely agree with this assessment, but they’re not really doing very much to correct it.  This is a sticky one which I’m not making light of, because I value sports and band and whatever else your kids might be doing, but if you’re demonstrating to your kids that everything has priority over church/faith/Bible Study/Youth Group, then don’t be surprised if your kid decides that church isn’t worth the time when he goes off to college.
  4. Because discipleship is primarily the calling of Mom and Dad.  My job is to assist parents in discipling their teenagers, not to replace them.  See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for the Bible’s clearcut call about this.  One of the things that makes this so difficult is that if Mom & Dad aren’t growing in their faith or are fairly immature believers who don’t really know the Bible very well, then the odds of them intentionally discipling their kids and teaching them what the Bible says about God, Jesus, Sin, Salvation, etc. are extremely low.
  5. Because our culture is deceitfully spiritual but opposed to Christianity.  That’s a big statement, I know, but I think it’s true.  It’s alright to be spiritual, it might even get you greater acceptance to say that you’re spiritual.  But the problem comes when a Christian tries to make an exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to be forgiven and saved (Jesus made this claim too, and it didn’t go over so well back then either: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6).  So much of our culture revolves around an extreme version of tolerance and whatever-ism that if you want to live as a biblical, Gospel-centered Christian you will be seen as a weirdo to some degree or another.
  6. Because to some degree or another, I think they’re right.  Some of this might be insecurity, but honestly I do think that there are a fair amount of youth ministries who are missing the point.  As a youth pastor, my goal is to lead a Gospel-Centered youth ministry and to minister to teenagers in order that they would become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.  We should not settle for behavior-modification and merely teach Christian behavior and morals, which is much easier than working and praying towards God transforming lives from the inside-out.
  7. Because Jesus said the gate is narrow and few will find it.  Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  This doesn’t mean we don’t preach the Gospel to everyone and invite them to the “narrow gate” (we do and we should make that invitation to as many as we can as often as we can), but this does mean that we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised when some “church kids” walk away and choose the wide gate instead.

When I was growing up I would always spend a week at a Christian camp up in New Hampshire.  One year I remember hearing, “God doesn’t have grandchildren.”  I didn’t get it, but I always remembered it because I could just tell that there was something significant about it.  I get it now: God doesn’t have grandchildren, just because your parents are Christians (and therefore are “God’s children”) that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically in God’s family and are “saved.”  One day we will all need to stand independently before God our creator and judge and give account for ourselves, we can’t ride our parents’ coat-tails into heaven.

So while this “drop out” trend is very disappointing to me, in some ways it shouldn’t be too surprising.  This is difficult a personal level, because I can think of many people I truly care about and love who have walked away – this isn’t merely a statistic for us to throw around for discussion.  This issue is a tragedy, because if we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly is the only way to salvation then we need all hands on deck to redeem our culture, strengthen Christian families, and ensure that the Gospel is the center of our Churches.

If those three things change, I believe the statistics will start changing too.

Note: If there’s something you’d point to as a contributing factor for the dropout rate, please share it as a comment on this post, I’d love to see what others are seeing that I’m missing.  

American Idol’s Lessons on Stardom

I haven’t really followed this season of Idol too much, but I’ve mostly enjoyed what I’ve watched and was pretty disappointed when Casey was sent home.  So as I watched the finale last night I was feeling a little behind on the drama of who should win and whatnot.

Earlier in the day I had read an interesting post on Jonathan McKee’s blog entitled “American Idol Too Racy?” where he’s shared his concerns about the blatant sexuality during the guest performances recently.  Granted, this is only one night, and I haven’t been watching all season, but I’m afraid I had to agree with Jonathan’s conclusions.

There were two main things that disappointed me:

  1. Beyonce and J.Lo (in two separate performances) shaking their bodies around the stage for people to stare at.
  2. At one point during Lady Gaga’s performance of “Edge of Glory” I actually said, “Wow, this is a pretty boring performance for Gaga… and she’s actually wearing something.”  But then two seconds later she laid down on the platform, spread her legs, and one of her dangers got on top of her.

It seems American Idol’s final piece of advice on how to be a big music star is you’ve got to look a certain way, push the envelope, and ooze sexuality on stage.

I hope Scotty and Lauren (the two youngest finalists in Idol history) don’t take their cues from the “professionals” they saw perform in the finale.  I did, however, enjoy the Judas Priest throw-back (and thought James Durban sounded really good with them), and I loved that Bono & The Edge performed a song from the Spiderman musical which was great (my wife might actually be able to get me to Broadway).

I wish that Idol could have stepped back and censored itself a little bit: “Here we are with the youngest final two ever, with tons of families around the country watching with their kids… do we really think this is the best choice of performances to approve?”

For all you Scotty fans out there, Jonathan’s blog has a new post up with an email he received from Scotty McCreery’s youth pastor… it turns out he really is the good, Christian kid he seems to be, which is really great to hear.

Why Culture Matters: Part 2

In “Why Culture Matters: Part 1” I mentioned the lesson from Walt Muller’s Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture that when we interact with culture we should both affirm and correct.  Click the link above for more on that.

In this post I’d like to consider more specifically how to discern what to Affirm and what to Correct about our culture.  As we critically engage our culture and really listen to understand what is being communicated, I believe there are four basic things we will encounter:

  1. Hopes – What are we looking to accomplish?  What are we looking forward to?
  2. Fears – What are we looking to escape or avoid?  What makes us scared or intimidated?
  3. Pains – What “baggage” are we carrying around that we’re looking to unload?  How has our past hurt influenced our living today and how we talk about the future?
  4. Passions – What do we value?  What do you want others to think/feel/experience?
In Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian he writes, “Because we hold dual citizenship (in God’s Kingdom and in the world), we are like ambassadors who stand at the intersection between two countries, using their knowledge of both cultures to interpret each to the other in order to build a bridge of understanding between the two” (p.159).  In his description of what it means to be an ambassador, he gives the following list of questions as examples that we should ask about the book/movie/song/art that we’re interacting with (on p.166):
  • What type of medium is this?
  • What is its genre?
  • What stylistic conventions are employed?
  • What is the title?
  • Who is the artist, creator, or author?
  • What is the central theme, summarized succinctly in one sentence?
  • What is the basic story?
  • What beliefs are advanced?
  • What provocative questions and issues are raised?
  • What are the artistic merits (spiritually, intellectually, and aesthetically)?
  • What are the points of resonance (what do you find jarring or makes you think twice, and why)?
  • What does this piece of art reveal about God?  About humans?
  • What are some key words or themes, and how do they relate to the work as a whole?
  • Have you discovered any information about the artist’s background or life situation that provides insight or that may illuminate the origin or their intention for this piece of work?
  • What provocative words, phrases, symbols, or images appear in the work?
  • What do you think the artist is saying?
  • What do you think the artist means?
  • What applicability and connectivity does this piece of art offer you personally?
As you ask yourself these questions and begin to listen more carefully to culture, keep these four categories in your mind as filters: Hopes, Fears, Hurts, and Passions.  When you have listened to what’s behind the media/art you’re interacting with, then you can begin to discern what can and should be affirmed and what can and should be corrected.  When we take the time to ask these kinds of questions about the culture we live in and the media we’re surrounded by, I believe that we will begin to see the hopes, pains, hurts, and passions of our culture and we will be better prepared to explain what it means that Jesus really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

Honor the Grad Night 2011

Graduation is right around the corner, and we want to honor our graduates.  This is a great opportunity for our church family to rally around our students and celebrate their accomplishment and encourage them as the prepare for this next chapter of life.  Even if you do not have a student graduating this year, we want to encourage you to consider attending in order to show the grads how much their church family loves them!

Honor the Grad Night will be on Friday, May 20th from 7:00-9:00pm.  Light refreshments will be served.  We have a large group this year, so we’re asking for parents’ assistance in a couple of areas.

Our Speaker:
Our guest speaker for the evening is Nate Parks.  Nate is the director of Camp Berea in Hebron, NH.  Nate is known for his endless energy and incredible motivational skills.  He is a dynamic speaker who captivates audiences with powerful and practical messages.  Most of our students know Nate from camp, and we are all very excited to have him.

Other Details:
As each graduate is introduced, we will ask one of the parents to present their child with a flower (boutonnière for the guys) which will be provided.

The evening will also include a slide show and tributes from underclassmen.

Things we need from you: 

□    RSVP

  • Do you and your graduate plan to attend?

□    Photos (for slide show)

  • A senior portrait (or similar photo)
  • baby/toddler photos

□    Introduction information

  • School graduating from
  • Any activities, sports, awards/honors
  • Future plans (college, major, work, etc.)

Please get these items to us as soon as you can.  The best way to get us pictures is by scanning them and e-mailing them to Pastor Mike (if you need his email address please call the church office).  We don’t want any Graduates to be left out, but we need your help to make sure that doesn’t happen!

LWAYG: Prayer of Supplication (or, “What Kind of Prayers Does God Answer”)

“How can I get God to answer my prayer?”  That’s a question I think we all ask at some time or another, and wish a million different motives behind it.  But it’s an important question that’s worth asking because it gets to the heart of the majority of prayers we pray.  It’s beyond the intent of this lesson/post to dig too deeply into the reality of “unanswered prayers,” but I believe what I’ve written below will prove very helpful to the person who truly wants to grow in their spiritual maturity.

Christians sometimes fall into extremes when it comes to prayer: God only answers prayers that display his glory (usually this is more common among theological and “serious” believers), and God answers prayers that make us happy (I think this is probably the default approach most of us take towards prayer).  My hope is to demonstrate that both of these are incomplete and unhealthy in isolation from the other.

While this Youth Group series has been focused on “Prayer in the Psalms,” I felt compelled to jump out of the Psalms for this lesson because Jesus’ teachings on prayer are so foundational that I felt the lesson would simply not be as strong or helpful by sticking with the Psalms.  Here are two things Jesus says about prayer that are very much worth our attention (and memorization!):

—“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

I remember being taught this verse as a child in Sunday School and I prayed every night for weeks that I would get a certain GI Joe tank that I really wanted.  I prayed and prayed and begged my parents (especially whenever my mom would drag me to the mall with her)… but I never got that tank.  My confidence in prayer was seriously weakened because I was taught that whatever I ask for “in Jesus’ name” would be given to me.  But that’s not really what Jesus says… he says that we would receive whatever we ask for in his name, “so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”

Our prayers must be directed to God and for God.  This doesn’t mean that I can simply reword my selfish prayer (“God I ask that you would bless me with this GI Joe tank to show my friends that you’re able to do even the impossible!”).  When we pray we need to be aware of our heart’s desires and make sure that our heart’s greatest desire is for God’s glory to be put on display in our lives.  If that is truly our desire, then the things we pray for will be radically different than if we pray while our heart’s greatest desire is for our own comfort or pleasure.

 —“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”  (John 16:24)

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13)

At the same time, Jesus says that we will receive whatever we ask for so that our “joy will be complete/full.”  If we want full joy, we should pray.  If we take delight in giving good things to our children, how much more must God love giving joy to his children!  God does not stand over us as a non-emotional grandfather shaking his cane at us telling us to stop having fun.  God created pleasure, laughter, happiness, and joy.  But He made them as trail-markers to point us to pursue our joy in Him.  Too often those things become our destination and ends-in-themselves, and that turns them into idols rather than the joyful blessings given by a loving God.

So we find this tension in prayer: we pray for God to be glorified (meaning, “that others would see how truly amazing and truly awesome He is”) and that He would fill us with joy.  This is what prayer is meant to do, honor God and fill up God’s children.  I think the major disconnect is that we miss how both of those aspects are shaped by the other.

As John Piper has written in his excellent (and highly recommended) book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  When I am truly excited and joyful about seeing God be glorified, then God gets the glory and I get the joy.  When I look for my joy in anything other than God then my prayers and my desires will change.

We should pray for the sick and for all the needs we have, but those should not be the only things we are bringing to God in prayer.  It is right and biblical to have a prayer list that we use to ask God to do things for us and others and to give us what we want and need… we’re called to carry each other’s burdens and to weep with those who weep.  But if our heart approaches God with a clinched fist as if God owes us something then there is something seriously missing in our view of God and our view of prayer.

So what kind of prayers does God answer?

  • Prayers that are coming from a heart that desires to see Jesus Christ look truly awesome
  • Prayers that are looking for joy in Christ rather than joy in our own comfort or pleasure

This post is getting way too long already, and so let me acknowledge there’s A TON more that could be said (and should), but I think that will have to wait for another time.  If there’s something in particular that you disagree with or would like to say then please do so as a comment below.