Short Rant on Christian Positivism

Warning: this is a rant… not against anyone in particular, but against some things I’ve generally observed and read lately.

Has anyone else been noticing a recent upswing in “Christian Positivism?” I don’t think that’s a real “thing,” but that’s what I’d call it – Christians emphasizing the positives in life, telling you to be happy, smile more, laugh more, be more hopefull.

Most people who know me wouldn’t be surprised to know I’m not a big fan of Joel Osteen. Well, Osteen has a new book out called “I Declare.” From what I understand, it focuses on you declaring God’s promises over yourself.

I really hope I’m not a depressing (or depressed!) Christian, but let’s be honest here – there’s a huge audience for Osteen’s book because so much of life is challenging and difficult. Think about it: Buddhism and Hinduism are two entire religions whose entire goal is to escape this world of suffering and pain!

Scripture time and again teaches that we live in a sinful, fallen, broken world. As sinful people who live in a broken world, we shouldn’t be surprised when we endure seasons of great suffering, pain, and general difficulty. It’s not that there’s something wrong with how I’m thinking about things, and the problem isn’t even in the broken world I live in – I’m a part of the problem! This is simply biblical. There will be good day and bad days, and, as Christians, we don’t need to pretend otherwise or risk being people who lack faith in God’s power and goodness.

It’s in the midst of admitting this reality that we come to the place of Christian hope. My Christian hope is not found through declaring God’s promises over myself, but rather, through confessing my own sinfulness and complete inability to save myself, through confessing that I believe that Jesus Christ (who is God-made-flesh, the second Person of the Trinity) lived perfectly and died innocently on the Cross as my substitute, that Jesus rose from the grave in victory over sin and death – making it possible for me to share in the results of his victory.

Christian hope is completely built upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ and his victory over sin and death through the cross and empty tomb. If Jesus’ victory took him through rejection, suffering, and persecution then why should we expect a different fate? Did Jesus endure those things so that we wouldn’t have to? I think the lives of the Apostles and the story of Church History should be a clear and resounding “Duh, no!”

So please forgive me if I sound like a mean-spirited Christian kill-joy, but I’m very skeptical of this Christian Positivism. I’m not skeptical because Christians aren’t supposed to be filled with joy (indeed, they are – so much so that I’d encourage you to ask some hard questions about your Christian faith if there’s no joy in your life!), instead, I’m skeptical because God promises joy through suffering. (If I wasn’t testing out writing this blog post on an iPad and was more comfortable on it then I’d offer a collection of Scripture verses to back this up.)

Please don’t ask me to declare God’s promises over myself. Instead, I’d rather read the Bible and cling to the promises I read in there, and allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen my hope and joy and confidence in God’s faithfulness in the midst of tough days.

As a broken person who is being repaired bit-by-bit and day-by-day, I have great reasons to remember the solid hope and joy that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, but I need those most because I know how deeply I need them.

Tips for Leading your SYATP Prayer-Time

See You at the Pole is a student-led prayer time that is held towards the beginning of each school year. It’s a time for Christian students to gather together and to ask God to bless their friends, their teachers, and their school administrators.

It’s also a great time for students who attend different churches to get together and realize that although they might be the only one in their school who attends their church they aren’t the only Christian in their school – I always hear students say, “so-and-so came to SYATP, I didn’t know he/she went to church!” Great connections are always made!

This year’s SYATP is scheduled for Wed. Sept 26th at 7:00am. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan and prepare for SYATP (go to SYATP’s website for tons of great resources under their “Plan” page):

  • Start on time, end on time. Don’t se SYATP as an excuse to justify being late for homeroom, it will reflect poorly on Christ and will make your teachers think Christians are irresponsible.
  • Have a plan. Again, check out the link above to SYATP’s website, they have some really helpful planning guides and checklists to help you out. If you don’t think about what you’ll do when you get there, don’t be surprised if it gets REALLY awkward – make sure someone has a plan.
  • Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead. If you get there and everyone is staring at their shoes or just chatting, don’t be afraid to step up and get things going… maybe everyone else is just waiting for a leader – be that leader.
  • Don’t walk past the flagpole… even if there’s no one else there when you arrive. Maybe you’ll be the only one, or maybe there are other people waiting to see who else will be there because they don’t want to do it alone. Be willing to stand (and pray) alone… if you don’t pray, maybe no one else will!

God hears your prayers. Here are a few suggestions of things to pray for:

  • Pray for God to strengthen your faith and that He would empower you to be a faithful witness to others in your school.
  • Pray for each other and for other Christians in your school.
  • Pray for God to bless your teachers and to help you grow in knowledge and wisdom. Afterall, school is about education, right… and God made everything… so it makes sense to ask God to help you learn more about what He created (even if your teachers don’t see it that way).
  • Pray for your enemies. Don’t call them out by name when praying out loud; that’s gossip, not prayer. Ask God to help you love and bless your enemies

Here’s a suggestion for what to do:

7:00-7:05 – Welcome, Introductions (so everyone knows everyone else), Read a Bible verse
7:05-7:10 – Individual Prayer (pray silently over the various things above. It would be a good idea to give suggestions about what to pray for, like what’s listed above).
7:10-15 – Group prayer – pray for each other (You could take prayer requests, pray for the person next to you, whatever… the idea is simply to pray for the others around the flagpole)
7:15-7:25 – Group prayer – pray for your school (You might want to be more intentional about having something planned for this to help people know who/what to pray for. Again, see above and the SYATP page for suggestions)
7:25 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer together, then dismiss

If you’ve led SYATP at your school, I’d love to hear your suggestions for what’s worked (and what hasn’t!), please leave a comment below so we can all learn from you!

Porn Addiction & Teenagers

ABC recently ran a great but scary piece on porn addiction among teenagers.  According to a psychologist who was interviewed, we’re just at the beginning of a pornography epidemic – it will get worse in the next few years.  You can view the ABC’s Nightline report here: “Generation XXX: Teens Addicted to Porn?

As technology advances, access to porn will become easier and easier while avoiding porn will become increasingly difficult.  Technology isn’t the enemy, per se, but its the conduit through which the porn is so easily delivered to stoke our sinful desires.  If your son/daughter doesn’t have any restrictions on their use of technology (TV viewing, Internet usage, Internet filters, Cell Phone & Smartphones, etc.), I want to encourage you to check out a post I wrote last year: Setting Media Guidelines for your Teenager.

Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding has done significant work and has created the “Digital Kids Initiate.”  This is an effort to help parents and youth workers understand the digital world teens live so that we could discerningly affirm what we can while correcting what is dangerous.  As part of the Digital Kids Initiative, Walt has provided two noteworthy resources:

  1.  Info Sheet on Children & Pornography
  2. Parents’ Primer on Internet Pornography.

Here are some nuggets taken from the above resources:

  • 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to Internet pornography before the age of 18.
  • The average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is 11.
  • 30,000 Internet users were accessing pornography every second.sdf
  • There were 4.2 million pornographic websites. That equals 12% of all Internet sites.
  • 70% of boys have spent more than 30 consecutive minutes looking at online pornography on at least one occasion. 35% of boys have done this on more than ten occasions.
  • 23% of girls have spent more than 30 consecutive minutes looking at online pornography on at least one occasion. 14% have done this on more than one occasion.
  • The 12-17 year-old age group is the largest consumer of Internet pornography.
  • Only 3% of boys and 17% of girls have never seen Internet pornography.
  • One poll indicates that 50% of evangelical Christian men and 20% of evangelical Christian women are addicted to pornography.

If you haven’t talked to your teenager about pornography, chances are… you’re already behind!  Talk to your kids about porn – yes, it’s uncomfortable and awkward for everyone, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by only talking about things that are easy to discuss!  Take the initiative, and don’t just have “the talk” once and then never again, make it a conversation instead.

What should you do if your son/daughter has been looking at porn?  Here are Walt’s suggestions (as found on the info sheet linked to above):

  1. Control your anger.
  2. Go after their heart, not their behavior.
  3. Keep a discussion going about biblical sexuality.
  4. Examine your own heart. Are you living God’s design for your own sexuality?
  5. Block the doors. Take steps to restrict access and choices, while engaging them in ongoing accountability.
  6. Don’t let up or give up. Shepherd them forward in their spiritual lives with the goal of heart change.
  7. Evaluate whether or not outside counseling is necessary or beneficial.

“Focusing on Jesus” – 2012-13 Youth Group Emphasis

What is Youth Group all about?  

What will we be discussing and exploring together this year?

At the end of the year, what do I want people to say they really learned this year? 

Here it is: It’s all about Jesus Christ.  (shocking, huh?)

It’s so easy for us Christians to shift our focus to thoughts about Jesus and about how to live for Jesus that we actually lose sight of Jesus Christ himself.  Over the course of this year, I hope to emphasize again and again that our faith and hope is not believing certain things about Jesus, but in Jesus Christ himself.  As a theology-nerd, I think it’s hopefully obvious that we really understand who Jesus is, what He did, and what He expects of us – but I’m concerned that sometime in our efforts to understand those things we take our focus off of Jesus and turn them onto thoughts about him.

As Oswald Chambers has written, “The abiding awareness of the Christian life is to be God himself, not just thoughts about him.”  This has been a great encouragement and challenge to me personally ever since I read this as a college student.

I really want to encourage every student in our ministry to memorize the following passage, as we’ll return to it often throughout the year:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)