Are You “In,” or Are You “Out?”

Have you ever played the game clumps? It’s a kids game where the game-leader calls out a number (“four!”) and everyone rushes to clump into groups of the right size. If you get left out of a group then you’re out. The game moves on for a few rounds or until there are only a few people remaining.

Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes? You’re “in,” or you’re “out.” You belong, or you don’t. The worst is when you’re surrounded by other people, but you’re really all alone. It’s a terrible feeling we’ve all experienced, and we want to make sure that no one ever feels that way at youth group.

Alone

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How to Build a Great Group

Have you ever been part of a group that was truly great? A group that you wish could be copied whenever you had to do anything. It could be a team you’ve been on or it could simply be a group-project where you all worked really well together. The group just worked.

I think most of us have also been a part of terrible groups. Teammates constantly fighting to be seen as the “most important” person on the team. Group members who don’t do anything, leaving the project’s success up to everyone else. No one wants to be in that group again.

team-386673_1280The Bible has a lot to say about how we are supposed to treat each other. In fact, the phrase “One Another” is found almost a hundred times in the New Testament. That’s a lot of focus on how we can build great relationships! Continue reading

One of the Most Important Things a Parent Can Remember

Featured imageA few years ago one of the other pastors at church gave me a short book called, “How to Really Love your Teenager” by D. Ross Campbell. Honestly, I didn’t love the book as a whole, but there is one thing from the book that has really impacted me (and that alone make the book easily worth the recommendation!). Campbell talks about the many teenagers he has seen for counseling and drives the point home that there is a difference between knowing that you are loved and feeling loved.

Parents, our kids need to know they are loved. But if they only know that as a fact it isn’t enough. Our kids need to feel loved too.

Anyone who knows me personally  knows that I’m not much of a feeler. This does not come naturally to me. But I am committed that my kids feel loved. You may be tempted to say, “Mike, your kids are young. Just wait until they’re teenagers!” It will get more difficult as they become teens, I know that… but it’s never easy. The sooner you start, the better. The later you start nurturing your kids feelings, the harder it will become.

I think this issue boils down to two things: love and trust.

When we get to the root of it all, I suspect that these two issues are simply two sides of the same question: “Are you for me?”

This might sound like a ridiculous question until we consider our sinful nature. We are all naturally prone to living for ourselves and it is a work of the Holy Spirit to truly and genuinely put others first.

As parents, we need to die to ourselves daily, thus providing a faithful example of the call of the gospel to our kids. It is by dying to ourselves that we find our life in Christ, and it is through Christ that we find the love our kids truly need. When we are living in the love of God, our kids (no matter how old or young they are) will be blessed by knowing and feeling loved.

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.

Pink, Psy, Love, and Sexy Ladies

Confession: I didn’t watch the AMA’s earlier this week, but I’ve heard a lot about two performances.  I’ve heard about Pink’s performance and Psy’s performance on Facebook and elsewhere, and when I checked CNN today I read LZ Granderson’s article about how underrated Pink is as an artist.  In the article he points out that despite Pink’s artistic and impressive performance, Psy’s performance with MC Hammer is getting the most buzz.  So I did what most people would do… I hopped on YouTube and watched both performances.  As a youth pastor there’s something troubling going on here.

Pink’s song “Try” is all about how painful and difficult love can be, but how it’s worth getting burned.  You gotta try.  (The full lyrics can be found here)  Love is difficult and painful, as Pink can personally attest to, but there’s something within us all that desperately craves it.  We all need love, even if we get burned in the process.

Meanwhile, Psy’s song “Gangnam Style” is mostly in Korean and the only words that are in English (and therefore understandable to nearly all of us) are “oh Sexy Lady” and “style” (since “Gangnam” really isn’t an English word I’m not counting it).  We have no idea what this song is really about apart from looking it up online, and all people sing along to are those two lines which are in English, repeated over and over again.  But the song is definitely catchy and has a fun dance… and gets paired up with the ever-nostalgic MC Hammer… and bang, it outshines Pink’s meaningful performance (you try all that choreography while singing!).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging people to uphold Pink as an artist who I would encourage students to listen to.  But if you’re going to listen to Pink or Psy, and you’re going to listen discerningly then I’d encourage you to listen to Pink.  Her life-story mirrors a lot of hurt and rejection that today’s teenagers can identify with and she writes with a rare and insightful vulnerability.  When you listen to Pink, you see the bruised up heart of a generation who identifies with what she’s singing about.  You might not like what she has to say (or what she’s wearing… or not wearing, depending on the video/performance), but she’s an artist who is always worth carefully listening to.

Before I link the two AMA Videos below, Let me simply ask a few questions for you to consider (and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below):

  • What do these two videos tell us about our culture’s desire for relationships and love?
  • Is it too simplistic to reduce these videos as a longing for “love” vs. “sexy ladies?”
  • Pink’s song/performance doesn’t make love look like it’s worth the fight.  Why do you think she keeps saying we need to keep trying?
  • Why does something so silly as “Gangnam Style” become such a widespread hit?  If there wasn’t a dance, do you think it’d still be so big?
  • Love remains difficult and painful in this world, but how does the transforming love of Christ Jesus make us able to give and receive love differently?

Is This Love?!

I saw this online yesterday and couldn’t believe that this is what is being taught about love.  Now before you go off and tell me I’m exaggerating, I want you to seriously read this and just imagine what life would look like if the image below really painted a picture about love.  In many ways, this really is the image of love people would see if they watch a lot of TV and movies and don’t have any healthy examples to observe in their real lives.

Now compare that portrait of “love” to what the Apostle Paul says about love in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

Tim Challies provides a really helpful blog post the other day that’s relevant here: 8 Bullet Points on Marriage.  Love and Marriage are not toys to play with, but deep and rich longings that must not be made cheap and easy.

Finally, I’d like to recommend you to read Jared Wilson’s post here named: “10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know.”  Here’s a little taste of what he writes:

1. It’s not bad to want to have sex with your significant other. It’d be another sort of worry if you didn’t. The key is to want to glorify Christ more than you want to have sex with each other.

4. Nearly every Christian I know who is married to an unbeliever loves their spouse and does not necessarily regret marrying them, but has experienced deep pain and discontent in their marriage because of this unequal yoking and would now never advise a believer to marry an unbeliever.

8. Pre-marital sex wounds a young woman’s heart, perhaps imperceptibly at first but undeniably over time, as she trades in covenant benefits without covenant security. This is not the way God designed sex to fulfill us.

10. You are loved by God with abundant grace in Christ’s atoning work, and an embrace of this love by faith in Jesus provides Holy Spiritual power and satisfaction to pursue relationships that honor God and thereby maximize your joy.

This is Love… This is the Power of Adoption…

Wow, I found this story because Tim Challies linked to it on his website here and I’m so glad to have read it.  If you read this and aren’t emotionally moved then you simply don’t have a heart.  Here are the opening two paragraphs, it’s a short but very powerful read, I’ve included the link below.

“When I was just a little girl, like a wee little thing, I had a different mom and dad. And they were kind to me, but they had hurts and they had addictions and they didn’t know how to take care of themselves, much less a wee girl and her little brother.

I mean, they tried. They hung on to us for several years, but things kept slipping and they kept falling and failing and they mustered up what strength they could, but they just couldn’t make it work and they couldn’t make it right. And so the policemen came over and over again, and took us away and my mama cried in the back of that police car, hands cuffed, and she told me that she loved me. And I knew in my little heart, as I looked up at her, tears streaming and mascara running, I knew that she really did love me. She just couldn’t make it work.”

Read the rest HERE

What a powerful story of Adoption, Love, Rescue, Hope.  May we all find that hope and rescue ultimately in our Heavenly Father through the rescue-plan of Jesus Christ.