What Does it Mean to Invite Jesus Into Your Heart?

This is the third message in our series “Think About It: Christian Cliches… what’s this even mean?” Other messages in the series include “It’s Not My Gift” and “Let Go, Let God.” 

I used to go to a Christian camp every summer when I was a kid. Almost every year I would be encouraged to “let Jesus into my heart.” I was already a Christian, so this invitation confused me. I know others who always felt pressured and guilty that maybe they sent the invitation to the wrong place or forgot the stamp? Maybe Jesus only visited their heart last year, and this year they hope he chooses to stay. It’s a confusing invitation: letting Jesus into your heart.

What’s that even mean, really? Is it a one-time invitation, and then we’re set for life? Or is it a habitual invitation that we need to keep on issueing so he doesn’t leave?

 

key with heart Continue reading

How Should Christians View the Old Testament?

I hate the word “old.” It makes it automatically seem like the thing that’s old isn’t any good anymore. If something’s old, maybe it’s still around for a reason – it’s worth keeping around!

Now look at your Bible and you’ll notice one binding. One book… all Scripture. 1 Timothy 3:16-17 famously declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While this may be familiar, it’s important to remember the “Scripture” being referred to is what we call “the Old Testament.”

As Christians, we need to remember that the Old Testament is just as much authoritative Scripture as the New. The problem is, we don’t always know how to interpret the Old in light of the New. Here are some reminders that will serve you well.

Man in Church Continue reading

What is the Gospel?

Do you know the gospel? Ok, great! Let’s hear it. Right now, in under a minute. What if you had three minutes to explain the gospel to someone in a way that was understandable, biblical, and compelling? Could you do that?

Christians talk about the gospel a lot, but I think most of us are unprepared to actually share the gospel with people. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised. Here are three things that I am absolutely convinced need to be in any presentation of the gospel (whether you’re talking with a friend or preaching from a pulpit).

1. Sin & Judgment
Without talking about sin, there’s simply no need for a savior. If I’m fine and can handle life on my own by being better than the next guy, then I don’t really need God.

But if sin is real and judgment is coming, then sin is a big deal. We shouldn’t talk about judgment in a way that we are the ones doing the judging, but simply to ask the question, “What if there is a God and you’re called to stand before him to answer for your sin? What would you have to say for yourself?” Because, as much as we may argue against Christ, I think most people know that they’re more sinful than they would admit.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24

The reality is we will all need to answer before God. The bad news is that we’re all guilty; the good news is Jesus came to declare us innocent.

2. Jesus’s Death and Resurrection
If Jesus is the doorway through which we enter, the cross and the empty tomb are the hinges. Much to my frustration, I have heard many “gospel presentations” at large evangelistic youth events where the cross and resurrection have been either completely absent or so briefly mentioned they merely got a head-nod.

Read through the book of Acts and see how the Apostles preached the gospel. They always emphasized the Person of Christ (who Jesus is) and the Work of Christ (what he did: especially on the cross and through the resurrection).

The gospel is not shared by merely asking, “Do you want to be a child of God” or “Do you want to be forgiven?” Those are great questions, and they may pave the road towards sharing the good news about who Jesus is and what he did, but they are not the gospel.

Our faith needs to be placed in Jesus Christ, for he alone is the giver of good news (which is what the word “gospel” means… “good news”). The gospel is the message of what Jesus did: he died as our substitute on the cross, taking upon himself the judgment that we deserve, and we claim his resurrection victory as our own by faith. Because of Jesus we have been reconciled, redeemed, and reunited with God. The rift that was torn between God and humanity has been restored. The wrath of God, which we earned because of our sinful rebellion against his sovereign reign, has been quenched by the cross. The sting of death has been defeated and given the death-sentence because of the resurrection.

The message of the gospel completely hinges upon who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what he did (took away the sin of the world through his death and resurrection). If you do not focus on Jesus you simply are not talking about the gospel.

3. Repentance
The only appropriate response to the gospel is repentance. When we recognize our sin, we see our need for a savior. When we believe in Jesus and place our faith in what he has done for us, we proclaim that our eternal destiny is completely dependent on him. If those two things are true of us, we need to understand repentance. Again, we look at the Apostles’ preaching to see the necessity of repentance,

I… declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Acts 26:20

Technically, to “repent” means “to change your mind,” or “to turn around.” I like to explain it as doing an about-face. For more about repentance you can go here.

There are two main steps to repentance:

  1. Confessing that you are a sinner. Not just in a general sense, but to actually name your sins before God. “God, I’m proud. I want people to think I’m important and impressive and I tend to care more about their opinion than I care about your opinion.” Naming your sins before God doesn’t surprise him. Confession weakens your sin by staring it straight in the eye instead of playing pretend that you don’t have issues. If you can’t confess your sin, you cannot repent.
  2. Professing that God is better than your sin… and living like it. If you confess your pride but continue to live in it, then have you really admitted that it was wrong or did you simply pay lip-service to what you think was the “right thing” to pray? Confession leads to profession… saying that the joy of following God is greater than the happiness offered by sin. Simply put, this second step of repentance is “living it!” So you want to stop sinning? Great. Will you live differently?

Without repentance, faith is hollow and empty. We can claim to be Christians, and we can say that we believe in Jesus, but we are saying by our lives that we want eternal life with God but we want our independence right now.

Reminder: Jesus Wants to Make You New
If you are sharing the gospel with someone, be sure they realize that Jesus wants to make them new. New hope. New faith. New destiny. New freedom. New life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Forgiveness is “free” in the sense that we can’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. Becoming a Christian will cost you something. Obviously, we don’t give up all our sinful habits in the moment we give ourselves to Jesus. The Christian life is a lifelong habit of repentance because we’re always finding something new to confess and because we routinely slip into our old habits of believing that sin can bring more joy than Jesus.

I love to remind people that Jesus wants to make them new. Not new in a way that is completely different from the old; but new in a way that is more complete than what was there before.

A Final Encouragement: Remember the Holy Spirit
Remember that you are not alone. God cares more about the lost than you do, the Holy Spirit is actively working in that persons life. Salvation is never the result of human effort, it is always the work of God. He will use you to accomplish that work, but do not go about it in a way that puts the results in your own hands. If the person believes, then praise God for his faithfulness! If the person still doubts, then pray that God would continue to work in his or her life in such a way that they would come to see the joy and hope and newness of life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thinking About Self-Righteousness

Don’t be this guy!

Self Righteousness… does anyone like it?  You know the type… those who walk around like they’re holier than thou, judging everyone else for not being as godly as they are.  That’s basically the stereotype that every Christian needs to fight against (see the above image!). 

But here’s the thing… you can’t be a Christian and be self-righteous.  

Self-Righteousness says:

  • “I am better than you are.”
  • “I am good enough to be acceptable to God.”
  • “You can’t judge me, only what I believe matters.” 
  • “You need to do and believe what I do and believe, because I’m the one who’s right.”

Those are things no Christian can say.  If you are a Christian and you say those things, then you have not understood the Gospel.  (Yes, I realize the irony here. Before you accuse me of being self-righteous, please finish reading this post.)

As Christians, we completely rely on Jesus’ righteousness, not our own.  The only thing my righteousness earns for me is judgment (Romans 3:23-24, 6:23).  The Gospel shouts, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). 

The ironic thing about accusations of “Self-Righteousness” is that every religion other than Christian actually teaches self-righteousness.  I know that’s a huge claim to make, and I’m willing to be proven wrong in the comment section below, but I do think it’s true.  Only Christianity teaches that we are acceptable to God because of someone else’s righteousness; other religions and philosophies teach that you are required to improve yourself before God in order to “attain righteousness.”  

When we build our understanding of “truth” on our own interpretations or opinions then aren’t we defending our own self-righteousness by saying that we are the ultimate knower and determiner or what is real?  Instead, when we rely on what God has revealed through the Holy Scriptures and we seek to understand what God has spoken and how the Scriptures still speak today (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then we are again relying on the righteousness of the God who speaks rather than on ourselves.  

Ultimately, Christians, we must remember that we are not self-righteous… we fully rely on the righteousness of Jesus.  Let us live in such humble and faith-full way that the righteousness of Jesus would shine through us, and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).  

I don’t want anyone else to be more like me!  I want them to be more like Jesus… because I want to be more like him too.

Three Things We Need to Know

Here are three things I think are very biblical and healthy for every Christian to know.  I also think they’re very useful for us to keep in mind for the sake of evangelism and sharing the Gospel with others.

1. Know Who God Is

  • God is Holy and Sovereign (Isaiah 6:1-5).  He is infinitely bigger than you could ever imagine.
  • God is the Creator (Gen. 1).  He made everything that exists… including you.  Not only did he make you, but he made you in his own image!  Whether you recognize it or not, you belong to God.
  • God is the Judge (Rev. 20:11-15).  It doesn’t take much more than a bit of honest humility to see that there’s something seriously broken in the world and in our own soul.  We will give account.
  • God is Love (1 John 4:7-10).  (which gets us to the next thing we need to know…)
    (obviously, there’s more that could be said here about who God is and what He’s like… you can go HERE for a fantastic chart that will help you explore this further)

2. Know What God Has Done

  • God never gave up on us (Gen. 3:15; Isaiah 53).  Even from the moment of humanity’s first sin he has always left a message of hope for us.  He sent prophets to tell us there would be a day when we would be freed the judgment we deserve and reconciled to God.
  • God did the unthinkable – He became one of us (John 1:14).  Think about it, God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) really, historically, physically became a baby boy who ate, slept, and did other “things” babies do…
  • God died in order that you might live (John 3:16-17).  Yes, I wrote it that way on purpose – for that is who Jesus is.  He took your punishment, your judgment, your wrath, your sin upon himself so that you could be set free.  That’s love!
  • God has adopted you (Eph. 1:4-5).  Christian, He has made you his child by faith.  May it never be lost on you that the God described by #1 above chose to adopt you – not because you were worth it, but because of His grace and mercy and love.  (If this idea of God choosing you sounds repulsive, maybe this could help clarify what we do and do not mean by it?)
  • God has saved you (Rom. 8:1).  This is probably the simplest way to put it.

3. Know Who God is Calling to You to Be

  • God is calling you to be secure (Rom. 8:37-39).  Life is unpredictable and can get turned upside-down in a moment.  Because of Who God Is and What God Has Done, you can stand secure on the unchanging God.
  • God is calling you to live by faith (James 2:18-26).  This might sound simple (and it is simple, in some ways), but it certainly isn’t easy.  You can’t live by faith if you never do anything beyond your ability.  Will you really trust God, or just talk about how trustworthy he is?
  • God is calling you to be a light (Matt. 5:14-16).  A candle doesn’t need to be taught how to give off light and heat, it just needs to be lit.  When you submit yourself to God, He will change you day by day.  The more you simply trust him and grow in your love for him, the more brightly you will burn.  (note: This isn’t something you accomplish by trying to do it, it’s a byproduct of savoring the realities of knowing #1 and #2 above).

The Fatherhood of God: A Sermon Summary

How does your relationship with your father mirror and reflect your relationship with your Heavenly Father?  Maybe this is something you’ve thought about a lot, maybe it’s a new thought – but the more you think about it the more I’m convinced you’ll find many parallels.

The Big Question today is this: If I am painting a portrait of God for my children, what does He look like?  Is this portrait anywhere close to the one painted throughout Scripture.

I want us to look at the Fatherhood of God through three lenses: God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love.  Fathers can faithfully reflect these characteristics of God, or they can greatly harm our view of God by abusing or neglecting these characteristics.

Before moving on, there are a few important qualifications that need to be made:

  1. Even if you aren’t a father, this sermon is for you because it is mostly about who your Heavenly Father is.
  2. If you aren’t married, let these characteristics of God guide you young men as you grow in biblical manhood, and let them guide you young women as you consider relationships and future marriage.
  3. If you compare your father to your Heavenly Father, guess who will come up short?  Don’t forget that as long as your father has breath in his lungs he will be a work in progress.  Give grace to your dad, and remember that you aren’t the perfect son/daughter either!
  4. If you have an absent or abusive father, You need to be assured of two things: First, God will never abandon you; and second, God will not abuse you.

God’s Authority
In the midst of his suffering, Job cried out in self-justification that God had treated him unfairly.  In response, God put Job in his place (Job 38:4-12), essentially saying, “Job, where were you when I created the world?  I didn’t see you there… on what authority are you judging me?”  God does not answer to me or to you.

It is good for my kids to have a healthy fear of me.  Not a fear that causes them to wonder if I will stop loving them or if I will reject them.  But what kind of portrait of God’s authority am I painting for them?  If I let my kids run the house, I am not pointing them to a Heavenly Father who has Authority, but to One who exists to do their bidding.

God’s Provision
One of the clearest ways that God has provided for his people is through Manna.  Imagine being among the Israelites in the exodus.  God has delivered you from slavery, sent the Ten Plagues and has now parted the Red Sea.  But then you start to wonder: Where do we go from here?  What are we going to eat?  How am I going to provide for my family?  The people started to grumble against Moses, and then we read Exodus 16:4-5

God literally made food rain from heaven.  Not just once, but every day (except for the Sabbath, but they were allowed to gather for the Sabbath ahead of time).  God loves to provide for his children (see, Matthew 7:9–11).

Will you trust God to provide, or do you give lip-service when you pray?  When you pray for daily bread, do you grumble and complain as if God was faithless when your food runs out at the end of the day?  When God’s will and your will are not the same, will you still pray, “Thy will be done?”  How I pray, how I make decisions, and how I spend my money will teach my kids whether or not they can rely on God to provide.

God’s Love
The story of Hosea might be the most beautiful portrayal of God’s love in Scripture, obviously excluding the Gospels.  While Hosea doesn’t give us a pattern to pursue in how God wants us to pick a spouse, his life is a clear picture of God’s faithful love for his children.  He marries a woman, Gomer, who time and time again is faithless to him, runs from him, gets herself in danger, and even sells herself into slavery.  But Hosea chases after her and refuses to give up on her, regardless of the cost or sacrifice to himself.  Hosea 3:1 provides a wonderful glimpse into Hosea’s story and its significance.

In the end, after relentlessly forsaking Hosea, Gomer receives Hosea’s love after she had done everything imaginable that could’ve caused him to hate her.  As the Apostle Paul would later write, “but God demonstrates his love for us in that, while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Tying it Together
At the cross we see God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love at its finest hour.  (John 3:16–17)

 On the cross God’s authority overcame our sinful rebellion.  We had rejected his authority and put ourselves on his throne.  But God showed his power over sin through the resurrection.  The power of sin is death, and death could not hold him.

 On the cross God provided freedom from eternal judgment by taking the punishment we deserve upon himself.  He paid our debt, he took the punishment we deserved.

On the cross God’s love led him to adopt us as sons and daughters.  It was his love, not the nails, that held Jesus on the cross.  He had the authority to come down from the cross, but his love kept him there so you could be set free.

Regardless of what kind of father you are or what kind of father you have – God’s Fatherhood is perfectly marked by Authority, Provision, and Love.  Be thankful for every way your father has shown forth the faithfulness of your Heavenly Father.  Remember that despite every fault your human father has, your Heavenly Father is perfect.  This is most clearly seen through Jesus Christ on the cross, where we are adopted as children of God.

Rest in your identity as his child, and especially you fathers out there, be encouraged to live in such a way that the portrait of God you are painting for your children is faithful to the picture of God we seek through Scripture.

Remember Who You Are

Sermon Summary: Remember Who You Are
Galatians 4:21-31

WHO ARE YOU?
What we believe about who we are (identity) drives how we see the world (worldview) and how we live (lifestyle/morality). Paul is address this identity-issue in today’s passage: he’s reminding the Galatians church that as believers in Jesus Christ they are “Children of Promise.”

He compares the children of Hagar with the children of Sarah, making it clear that those who put themselves “Under the Law” are children of Hagar the slave. Instead, we who believe in Christ are born of the Spirit and are children of Sarah, we are children of promise.

WHY WOULD ANYONE DESIRE TO BE UNDER THE LAW?
It’s worth considering why anyone would desire to put himself under the law. There are three main reasons to consider.

  1. Putting yourself under the Law makes life clear-cut and simple. Under the Law, life is black-and-white and you only need to learn what God wants you to do and teach others to learn God’s Law too. The problem with this is that God’s Law never changes hearts, it shows the hearth’s guilt before a holy God, so life turns out to not be so simple and clear-cut afterall because we aren’t able to do what we know we should do.
  2. Putting yourself under the Law promotes Holiness. Holiness is a good thing, and we’re all called to pursue it. The Law is good and reflects God’s standard. Again, the problem with the Law is that it can’t bring about what it demands. Where the Law tells us to fly, the Gospel gives us wings.
  3. Putting ourselves under the Law is natural. We all want bad to be punished and good to be rewarded. Grace and mercy are, in many ways, unnatural. Since God is a good Judge, He upholds the Law; since God is loving He took the punishment we deserve.

As Children of Promise, we look forward to the coming of the New Jerusalem. We are people of faith, who live with God’s promises in mind. Although Jerusalem represents the holiest place on this earth, Paul is emphasizing that in comparison to the New Jerusalem (read Revelation 21) it looks like a landfill. In light of the great promise that lays ahead, the Old Jerusalem becomes like Hagar… a substitute that relies on the effort of man instead of the miraculous work of God.

ONLY GOD CAN CHANGE YOUR HEART
This couldn’t be more practical. We all know people who keep making a mess of their lives; really, who isn’t guilty of doing that to some degree or another! Bad decision after bad decision. Beer after beer. Needle after needle. Partner after partner. Website after website. Lie after lie. We command ourselves to stop, to be less addicted or proud or selfish or judgmental. We keep saying it’s going to be our last time… but it’s not.

Surely counselors and doctors and medicine are wonderful blessings that God has provided, so I’m not saying to avoid those, but we must recognize that they cannot change our hearts… only God can do that, and He does that through faith.

IDENTITY: CHILDREN OF PROMISE
Christian: Remember who you are… a child of promise… a person who walks by faith. Embrace grace – the grace the God has given you, and the grace He is calling you to give to others.

If you are not a Christian, please do this: Look deep within your heart and confess to yourself what you see, then ask yourself what you will do with your sin. How will you stand before a Holy God? How “good” is good enough?

The Great News of the Gospel is this: God loves sinners! He loves sinners so much He died for them, for you and for me, so that we could be forgiven, redeemed, and made innocent so we can stand before a Holy God.

Sermon Summary: From the Guardian to Adoption

“From the Guardian to Adoption”
Galatians 3:15-29

The big question of Galatians is this: Do Gentiles need to become Jewish before they can become Christians? In Gal. 3:13-14 Paul answers this with a resounding “NO WAY!” He explains that Christ bore our judgment for being Lawbreakers, and He did this in order that the blessing of Abraham could be given to the Gentiles. The main text for today (v.15-29) is an explanation of v.13-14.

The Example: Covenant Promises (v.15-18)
Paul gives the example of the covenant: If we keep our covenants, how much more will God keep his?! One thing that’s helpful for us today is to understand the difference between a covenant and a contract. Today, if we signed a contract and then wanted to change the terms of our contract, we could change those terms if we both agree to it and have a lawyer write up a new contract to replace the old one. You couldn’t do that with a covenant – the covenant was a permanent and unchangeable oath that was absolutely binding.

Since Paul hinges his argument on Abraham’s covenant, it’s important for us to understand why that particular covenant is so important. In a covenant, both parties make oaths to each other and seal those oaths by walking between a sacrifice (they would kill the animal and split it in two) in order to say, “If I break this covenant, may I be cut in pieces like this animal.” Now that’s a commitment! Abraham’s covenant was one-sided… only one party walked through the sacrifice: GOD!

Jesus Christ fulfilled this one-sided covenant by being split open for us on the cross; not because God didn’t keep his vows to Abraham, but because we became sinners and broke the Law, and the Law must be upheld. Because of Jesus the blessing of Abraham has been made available to all by faith.

The Law Was Never Life-Giving, (v.19-22)
Paul continues by asking two questions: “Why did God send the Law?” & “Are the Law and Promise are contrary to each other?” In order to answer these questions, we first need to make sure we’re using the same dictionary for “Law” and “Gospel/Promise.” When we’re talking about “Law” we’re not simply talking about the Ten Commandments, but we more broadly talking about the commands (think: Imperative verbs) in Scripture: Keep the Ten Commandments, Love your neighbor as yourself, etc. “Gospel/Promise” represents the promises of God towards his people (think: Indicative verbs): “I will be your God and you will be my people and I will dwell in your midst,” as Christians this especially points to the promised Holy Spirit, who lives within us and sanctifies us.

Paul answers these questions by pointing to the purpose of the Law. It was never meant to give life. It was meant to show us our sin and our need for the life-giver! As Tim Keller has written, “The purpose of the Law is not tell us about salvation, but to tell us about sin (v. 19). It’s main purpose is to show us our problem, that we are law-breakers; and to prove to us that we cannot be the solution, since we are unable to be perfect law-keepers. ” The Law is not contrary to the Gospel, because it always shows us our need for the Gospel. When the Law tells you to fly, the Gospel gives you wings.

In the midst of this, it’s important to remember that you cannot simply fill yourself up with sin and then try to claim God’s promise. One of the first signs of a child of God is a heart-felt desire to submit yourself to God and to His Law. If you’re trying to sin and sin and sin and then claim that Jesus will just forgive you anyway, then you’re deceiving yourself – you have not understood and received the Gospel. Repent of your sins, and prayerfully receive Christ as your greatest treasure.

From the Guardian to Adoption v.23-29
We used to be held captive under the law as a guardian. The Law restrained us from falling so deeply into sin that we would fully destroy ourselves, and now that the Promise has come, we have been adopted as children of Abraham and children of God. Now that we have been adopted, the Law can guard us from taking credit for receiving the adoption: It guards our hearts from taking credit for our salvation. I cannot think, “I’ve earned God’s promise. I’m better than others, I don’t sin as often or as seriously as others do. I mean, there’s no way that guy deserves God’s grace, but I do.”

The glorious promise of v.28-29 is that we are all equally adopted. This passage has often been misinterpreted as destroying any significance to gender and ethnicity – but if that was true then why would Paul have specific instructions for parents and children elsewhere and elsewhere throughout the New Testament ethnicity is continually affirmed. The wonderful truth here is that we are all adopted by faith, not by genetics! Your genes matter, they matter in a way that enriches the family of God… not in a way that keeps you out or gets you in!

Conclusion:

  1. Law never brings life.
  2. Promise comes from God, not from your effort.
  3. Don’t throw the Law away… you still have work to do!

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you explain the significance of Abraham’s promise coming before Moses gives the Law? Why is the timeline important?
  2. What role should the Law have in the Christian’s life? We agree that we shouldn’t look for life in it, but does that mean it’s not important?
  3. What are some of the implications of this passage on how you interact with your family, friends, classmates, or coworkers? Is anyone ever “too far gone” to be saved?
  4. How can this passage help you “preach the Gospel to yourself” when you fall into sin?

Youth Ministry + Jesus – Fun = Biblical?

Josh Cousineau published a post on the Gospel Coalition website this morning entitled “The Only Foundation for Youth Ministry” that’s getting some traction.  That’s a good thing.  I thought it was a pretty strong article.  BUT, reading the comments on these type of posts can be frustrating.  I even linked it up on my Facebook and had a good back-and-forth with one of my biggest youth ministry mentors over whether or not it was actually a good article or not.

So if you haven’t read it, use the link above and read it first, then continue reading…

Be Consistent in Critiques
I usually can’t stand these types of articles because I believe they take cheap shots against Youth Ministry that they don’t take against other areas of church-ministry.  What pitfall within the field of YM is not found elsewhere in the church: an over-reliance on “relevance”, replacing biblical teaching/preaching with good moralistic advice, or an unhealthy desire to draw a large crowd through fun/events/flashiness?  Isn’t that something that every church wrestles through?  If your pastor/church doesn’t wrestle with those things, then maybe they aren’t passionate about seeing God’s Word transform real people’s lives?  (yes, I really mean that… but that’s a subject for another post)

Maybe it’s just because I am a youth pastor, but it seems that whenever Youth Ministry is brought up on sites like The Gospel Coalition or Desiring God or other similar sites (both of which I read very regularly and highly respect, which is probably why it’s so frustrating to me) it seems there’s very little recognition that maybe… just maybe… Youth Ministry isn’t all about fun.  Youth Ministry is just as diverse as church-ministry, yet it often gets a very unfair stereotype.  If there’s a pizza party, Maybe there’s a reason for it that is good and healthy and redemptive?  It seems to me that Youth Ministry gets graded with a different scorecard than other ministries in the church, and I’m tired of it.  Honestly, I wrestle over whether or not I should even read the posts about Youth Ministry on those sites anymore because I find them so cartoonish and unfair.

Who Intentionally Builds on Fun?!
So here’s the thing – Again, I liked the article mentioned above, and I agree that this critique of fun-centered youth ministry greatly distorts biblical ministry.  At the same time, my youth leaders and I hosted an event for the teens in my church last week that we called “The Night of Awesomeness, part deux.”  It was fun (awesome, even… though obviously in the non-theological sense).  Teenagers came whom we haven’t seen in quite a while, and a number of students brought friends for the first time.  One of the friends sought me out at the end to shake my hand to thank me for letting him come.  Is that a terrible, unbiblical thing?  Do you really think he expect to come to youth group next week and have it be the same as something we’re obviously tongue-in-cheek calling “The Night of Awesomeness?”  I could imagine someone reading this article and thinking about the “Night of Awesomeness” and thinking, “Wow, I wish Pastor Mike would read this article, his ministry is all about the fun and needs more Jesus!”

Yes, there are youth ministries who seem to build what they do on a foundation of fun – but I absolutely guarantee you they don’t see it that way.  I bet they would have well thought out biblical and theological reasons for doing things that way.  I have never met another youth worker who isn’t passionate about seeing teenagers develop into spiritually mature young men and women.

We’re Always Contextualizing
Tim Keller insightfully writes, “to over-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from. So there’s no avoiding it.”

We’re always contextualizing (presenting our message in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to our audience).  If we aren’t contextualizing, then we’re reading straight from the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic original languages of the Bible… if you’re using the King James Version, you’re still contextualizing.  We are always contextualizing.

We Don’t Live in Foundations, We Live in Homes Build on Solid Foundations
The gold in Cousineau’s article is this – We need constant reminders that our foundation is Jesus Christ.  The problem with foundations is that they crack when they’re weak and unmaintained.  If your ministry isn’t firmly built on the Gospel and if your commitment to the Gospel begins to be underemphasized as you contextualize, then that foundation is in danger of being replaced by something else.  THAT’S why I posted it on Facebook for my other Youth Ministry friends to read – as a reminder to maintain our foundations.

Jesus Christ is your foundation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build walls and a roof, paint the walls, buy some furniture (perhaps even some couches and a pool table!).  We don’t live in foundations, we live in homes build on solid foundations.  The foundation shapes what the home looks like and imposes limits and boundaries on what kind of house can be safely built on it.  But foundations also allow great freedom for the home-owners to paint and decorate and entertain.

Fellow Youth Ministers – be encouraged!  We are doing an important work, let us not grow weary or discouraged.  Keep your hand on the plow, investing in students for the sake of the Gospel.  Be faithful to the foundation of Jesus Christ, being careful to neither over-contextualize nor under-contextualize.

Concerned Church Members – pray for youth youth pastor and the team of youth workers in your church.  Bless them, encourage them, invest in them.  Buy your youth pastor breakfast and ask questions in order to understand (not in order to rebut and convince them that they’re unbiblical and shallow).  Finally, remember that you’re called to youth ministry too, even if you’re not a parent – learn the names of a few students in your church and begin praying faithfully for them.

Learning About God From Santa?

Santa and I have an on-again, off-again relationship.  It’s not that I dislike him or what he stands for, it’s just that I find myself so easily loving him while giving lip-service to Jesus around Christmas-time.  Because really… who doesn’t love getting stuff?  I do, and you probably do too.

But for the last week or so I’ve really been thinking about Santa.  Not in a typical “Santa vs. Jesus” type of way, but in a totally new way for me – I’ve been thinking about how Santa can actually teach me something about God.

Santa teaches me that God is just.  Santa has a “nice” list and a “naughty” list (presumedly, not just so parents can bribe their kids into obedience).  Nice and Naughty really do exist.  Some thoughts and behaviors really are good, and some really are bad.  God has instructed us how to live, and he’s made that known through the Bible and through nature in a general way.  Really, if we’re honest with yourself, which list do you truly belong on? If I’m on the “nice list,” it’s only because my righteousness comes from Christ, not from my own nice-ness.

Santa teaches me that God knows me intimately.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good… it sounds a bit creepy, doesn’t it?  BUT, it means that he’s watching me and he knows me.  Even when I think I’m doing something in secret, I’m not.  Even when I think I’ve gotten away with something, I haven’t.  I don’t like that.  Isn’t this why we have “privacy settings” and control what we make public knowledge and what we keep to ourselves?  God knows me completely, even the rapidly decreasing number of hairs on my head… and he still chose to love me and adopt me as his child.  I am fully known, and fully accepted.

Santa teaches me that God is generous.  Santa is a giver.  But no one outgives God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

In the midst of all the talk and chatter about Santa vs. Jesus, I’m trying to train myself to see Santa as a shadow and a longing for Jesus.  Santa can serve as a shadow, pointing us to the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  Of course, Santa can also overshadow Jesus when we make him an idol and love “stuff” more than the Maker.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?  Am I just thinking too hard?  Or, am I on to something here?  And if I’m on to something… what are some other ways that Santa can serve as a shadow pointing us to God?