What I’ve Learned About Suffering

I don’t like suffering. I’m not sure anyone does. It would be foolish to want more suffering in your life. But almost everyone agrees that it’s in those seasons of suffering and trial when they have grown and learned the most.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

In many ways I’ve been amazingly blessed. I really have no reason to make my life sound like a dramatic tragedy. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been through difficult seasons. The most difficult of these, by far, came when I was entering junior high and my parents separated and eventually divorced. I won’t go into too much detail online here, except to say that it was confusing, painful, and I’m sure there are still some psychological scars I haven’t dealt with yet.

I struggled with why God would allow this to happen. My parents are both Christians. We rarely missed going to church on Sundays. My dad and I would read the Bible and pray every night before going to bed. It didn’t make any sense. Surely, this wasn’t God’s plan and he could’ve stopped it from happening… but he didn’t.

That was more than 20 years ago now, and honestly, it’s still a bit painful to think back to that season of life. We don’t always know why things happen, but we know that God walks with us through our pain. Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer. He has been bullied for being an “illegitimate” child (remember the virgin birth? People didn’t believe that explanation, but they also knew he wasn’t Joseph’s son!). He has been betrayed by a close friend. He has been mocked and beaten by his enemies. He was abandoned and denied by all of his closest friends (Peter, here’s looking at you!). He suffered a painful death on the cross. Even after he rose from the dead, his friends still didn’t believe in him! My point in all of this: Jesus understands suffering.

There’s no multiple-choice test you can take to tell you the exact reason why you’re going through what you’re going through. I don’t look back at those teen years and rejoice that my parents got divorced. But I do look back and I rejoice at God’s faithfulness and everything I learned about love, about family, and about faith during that season. And I probably wouldn’t have learned those things if I never experienced the pain of my family being split apart. I learned that God’s love is more than something we talk about and get “warm fuzzies” over after hearing an emotionally-heavy story. I still don’t know why God allowed everything he allowed, but I know more about God and more about myself because of it.

When all is said and done, here’s what I’ve learned about suffering…

  1. You don’t suffer alone. God is faithful, he will walk with you… and that’s more than some cheesy “Christianese” thing to say. God understands suffering from the sufferer’s perspective too.
  2. God can do anything. Yes, that means he could have stopped what is hurting you so much. But it also means he can make even more beauty grow out of the ashes of your pain.
  3. Your hope is always as big (or small) as your view of God. If God is small, your hope will be small. If God is only sometimes-faithful, then you will only sometimes be hopeful. But if God is strong and if God is faithful… then you have every reason for hope, no matter how difficult and painful things may be. That doesn’t mean things hurt less, but it does you you live with the hope that in the end, God will turn your pain into joy.

My Name is Peter: Calling & calling

LWAYGWhat Happened? (Read: John 1:35-42 & Luke 5:1-11)

In we read about the first time Peter meets Jesus.  At this point, “Peter” is still known by his real name (aka: the name his mother gave him!)… Simon.  In this story, we read how John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the Messiah (they were also cousins) and some of John’s disciples begin to pursue Jesus.  One of those disciples is Andrew, who goes to find his brother Simon, saying, “We have found the messiah!”  When he meets Jesus, he’s given a new name – Peter, which means “Rock.”

Later on (days?  weeks?  we don’t really know…) Jesus is teaching along the shore of the Sea of Galillee when he sees some Peter, Andrew, and their fishing partners James & John fixing their nets and he asks them to take him out on the water (so he doesn’t get crushed by the crowd and so his voice can project better over the water and people can hear him).  After speaking, Jesus (who is probably hungry) tells them to catch him some fish.  You would think asking fishermen to catch you some fish wouldn’t be a big deal.  But these “professionals” had been out all night without catching anything.  They talk back to Jesus, telling them he’s just going to waste their time, but they obey and cast their nets where he tells them.  Suddenly, despite fishing all night without catching anything, their nets are so full they’re about to break and they need to call for reinforcement.  Amazed by what just happened, Peter kneels before Jesus in recognition of who He is.

Jesus tells Peter, “Don’t be afraid!  From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”  Immediately, Peter and the other fishermen left everything behind and followed Jesus.

Why is This Important?

  • If it wasn’t for Andrew bringing Peter, can you just imagine how different things would be?
  • Simon is renamed “The Rock” immediately… even before he became one of Jesus’ disciples!  He hadn’t said anything to Jesus and hadn’t even made any commitment to follow Jesus!  But Jesus knew Peter, He had a plan for Peter… Simon/Peter just didn’t realize it yet.
  • Jesus used the fishermen’s work/vocation to call them into ministry.  He didn’t use a construction analogy or a farming analogy – he spoke their language by telling them he would make them fishers of people.
  • It’s important to remember this wasn’t the first time they met Jesus.  Jesus was familiar to them.  They knew him and trusted him.  When Jesus told them to leave everything (family, safety, work, etc.) they did it immediately… amazing.

What Can I Learn From This?
The biggest thing here is to distinguish Calling and calling (hence, the title of this lesson/post).

  • Calling is what God calls every Christian to: worship, obedience, humility, evangelism, servanthood, etc.    If I want to know if God wants me to cheat on my wife, I can rest assured (and she can too!) that this is definitely NOT God’s calling for me.  Instead, God wants me to love her deeply and sacrificially (even when I don’t feel like it) as a reminder and a reflection of how Christ has loved the Church.  
  • calling is what God is calling me in particular to do and to be.  This type of “calling” comes in where I want to know how God wants me to spend my time, what he wants me to do with my life, and who he wants me to marry.
  • For Peter, his Calling was to follow Jesus as a disciple and his calling was to leave his boats in order to be “the Rock.”
  • Remember, your new identity is found in Christ and his Calling… but it is worked out through your calling.  Follow Jesus, and remember that following Jesus loks different for you than it does for me.  Work out your Calling wherever God has called you: at the lunch table, on the sports team, on the stage, behind a computer, with your friends, doing your homework (yikes!), and with your family.

Discussion Questions:

  • Who was/is your “Andrew,” who brought you to meet Jesus?  (Bonus: Make sure you thank him or her… and honor that example by “being an Andrew” to others.)
  • How does thinking about Calling and calling help you know who God made you to be and what He wants you to do?  What questions do you have about the difference between the two?
  • Make a list of what you believe God is calling you to… and begin to reach the Bible to list what God has Called all of us to.  This could be a great exercise (especially for parents to do with their HS Juniors who are starting to think about life-after-college!).

My Name is Peter: Series Introduction

LWAYG

Did you realize that we know more about Peter’s life than we know about anyone else’s in the New Testament?  Yes, that’s a hasty statement, and you could easily reply, “Umm, what about Jesus!?”  The Gospels tell in detail the story of Jesus’ life, but they mostly focus on the three years of his public ministry with the occasional glimpse of his birth and early childhood.

I Am Peter

Peter’s story throughout the NT spans decades, and we can see great maturity in him from when he first meets Jesus to when he writes 2 Peter just before his death.  We can learn from his failures and his triumphs: calling, doubt, temptation, faithfulness, witness to the miraculous, and endurance are all wonderful lessons we see Peter experiencing and learning.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at just six stories from Peter’s life, but we’ve produced a very helpful booklet where all the NT’s stories involving Peter have been included by chronological order.  This can give a very helpful biography of Peter’s life.  We did not rewrite anything or add any commentary, we simply cut-and-pasted the very words of Scripture to make it a seamless story.  Parents, your teen has received a copy of this booklet, entitled “My Name is Peter,” and we’ve encouraged each student to take extra time outside of Youth Group to read more about Peter’s life and faith.  Take this opportunity to read the booklet with them and discuss Peter’s life and what we can learn from him.

As you read through the booklet, I want to encourage you to be asking these three questions (they’re good questions to always ask whenever you read the Bible!):

  1. What Happened?  Simply pay attention to the story.  Who is involved, what happened, why did it happen, and why do you think the author told the story that way?  What happened before and after this particular story, and how might that influence this story you’re looking at?  What details are given and why do you think they’re included?
  2. Why is This Important?  Why do you think the author included this story – there are lots of stories that remain untold, why did the author think this one was worth sharing?  What is the “big idea” the author wants us to “get” from this story?
  3. What Can I Learn From This?  How does this “big idea” affirm or challenge what you would’ve done or said if you were in that story?  How do you need to change or think differently to be in line with what Scripture is teaching here?

The Drama of Redemption: Perfect Restoration

Think about your favorite story (book, movie, whatever…) and ask yourself why you really like it so much.  The stories we tell and fall in love with reflect the Story of the Bible.  This “Drama of Redemption” we’ve been looking at is the big story that all our stories are pointing towards:

  • We love stories that tell us where we came from (Creation)
  • We are drawn towards stories that make it painfully obvious that something has gone terribly wrong… we aren’t in paradise anymore (Fall)
  • We resonate with stories of redemption, where a character in the story is the one who fixes what has gone wrong (Redemption)
  • We dream of stories where paradise has been perfectly restored, everything that went wrong has been made right, and there’s no risk of losing paradise again (Restoration)

Tim Keller (a pastor & author) has said, “The way you live now is completely controlled by the way you think about your future. … The now is controlled by the then.”  This sounds confusing until you think about it this way – Imagine you have the guaranteed promise of love and wealth coming to you after graduating from High School so long as you finish with a B average.  Do you think that would change your study habits and whether or not you pay attention during class?!  What you believe will happen in the future greatly changes what you do today.

The Apostle John received a vision from God about the Perfect Restoration of all creation.  Here’s what he saw:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Here’s the big picture of what the Bible teaches about eternity:

  1. “Heaven” is a physical place, not a ghost-town.  You will have a body and walk on the ground.  I remember growing up always thinking that “Heaven” meant I would be a ghost who lives on the clouds.  Not so much…
  2. God has made all things new!  There’s continuity with this life, but since everything we know in this world has suffered from The Fall, in eternity they will be perfected.  That means my body will be perfect: No physical or mental or emotional disabilities, no more sickness or death.  Since we were created to be full of life, I believe we’ll be whatever “age” our body is most full of life, not whatever age we were when we died.  Cool, huh?
  3. No more curse, the “Fall” is GONE.  We will have perfect intimacy with God, with each other, and with all creation/nature.  The peace and love we all so desire will be perfectly fulfilled by our restored intimacy with God, our maker and savior and restorer.
  4. There is Eternal Life & Eternal Death.  So far, we’ve only talked about eternal life, but the Bible talks an awful lot of eternal death, too.  It’s not a popular stance (never has been!), but when we remember that sin is evil because of who it is directed against rather than because of the deed that was done, then we see why sin must be judged eternally.  Sin is an eternal offense against the Holy God.

Here are the next few verses of Revelation 21, continuing where v.5 left off:

Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-9)

One of the most amazing parts of this passage is verse 8, where God lists who will be sent to judgment.  I need to be constantly amazed that I have somehow escaped judgment, because I know that by the standards listed in v.8 I’m guilty and deserve hell.  In fact, v.8 could simply say “But as for the idolaters, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur…” and I’d be done with!  (Remember, and “idol” is anything that is loved and honored more than God is loved and honored.)

There are 4 ways eternity needs to shape today for Christians:

  1. We have hope in the middle of suffering.  Because we see the big picture, we don’t lose heart when the going gets tough.  Legitimate suffering and pain is never easy to live through, even for Christians… but we fight through it because we know that perfect restoration is coming.
  2. We take sin seriously.  We take our own sin seriously and we take other people’s sin seriously because God took sin so seriously that it cost him the life of his Son!  When we say that sin is “no big deal,” we’re saying that Jesus was stupid for suffering and dying on the cross!  Let’s not get rid of the word “Sin” by simply calling it “mistakes” or “bad things” or “offenses.”
  3. We take God’s love seriously.  God takes sin seriously, but His love is so great that there was nothing that would stop him from defeating it!  Celebrate the love of God that is most clearly seen through Christ on the cross… and tell your friends.  Do you love God so much that you really desire to see your friends receive the love of Christ?  God’s love is not just a good idea, it’s the very source of eternal life!
  4. We live today to the fullest, because today will carry into eternity.  What you do today matters.  Don’t take today for granted, tomorrow isn’t a guarantee.  Plus, who you are today will help determine who you are into eternity!  Do you realize that what you believe about the future controls what you do today?

The Drama of Redemption: The Fall into Sin

When you hear the word “Temptation,” what comes to mind?  Well, probably the thing that tempts you the most!  It might be gossip, stealing, lying, violence, greed, sex, porn, or any number of other things.  Last week we explored how temptation works and what sin does by looking at the very first sin.

The other week we remembered that God created the world and made us in his image so we would glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.  But something clearly went wrong… except it wasn’t because God messed up.  When Adam and Eve sinned, all creation fell into sin along with them.

Genesis 3 tells us about “The Fall” into sin.  I believe that Gen. 3:6 sets the pattern for how temptation works, check it out:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

There are a few things to notice here about how temptation worked on Eve (and how it works on us):

  1. Eve “Saw the fruit of the tree was good for food.”  The fruit would fill a physical need.  How often have we said, “If God didn’t want me to _________, then why would he give me this need/desire?  It can’t be wrong!”
  2. Eve “Saw the fruit of the tree was… pleasing to the eye.”  It simply looked good and pleasurable.  If it makes you happy and feel good, then it can’t be wrong… right?
  3. Eve “Saw the fruit of the tree was… desirable for gaining wisdom.”  There was so much to gain by eating the fruit.  She would learn all sorts of things that she didn’t know.  Afterall, who wants to be naive and simple-minded?!
  4. Eve “Gave some to her husband, who was with her.”  Sin spreads.  It’s contagious.  Eve sinned first, but Adam didn’t step in to protect her.  At some point, he should’ve stepped in and said, “Eve, honey, it’s time to walk away.  Let’s go.”  But he didn’t.  Maybe he “cared too much about their relationship” to risk stepping in, or maybe he was just as intrigued as she was – but either way, Adam didn’t help Eve resist temptation and once she sinned he soon followed her.

What actually happened here and what can we learn about temptation?

  • Doubting God’s Word.  Satan started off, “Did God really say…” (v.1).  How many times do we convince ourselves that something isn’t sinful while we’re being tempted even though we really know it is.  When we doubt God’s Word and lose confidence in what God has said, then we give the enemy an open door to tempt us.
  • Adding to God’s Word.  Eve responded to the serpent that the cannot eat from the tree or touch it or else they will die (v.3).  The problem here is that God never said they couldn’t touch the tree, He simply said not to eat its fruit.  On the surface, this really isn’t a big deal, but I think this points to the importance of remembering what God’s Word actually says.  It’s good to generally know what God has said, but it’s another thing completely to actually have His words memorized.
  • Forgetting who God says you are.  Satan’s promise in v.5 is, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Eve (and Adam, who was with her) obviously forgot that SHE ALREADY WAS LIKE GOD!  God created us “in his image.”  We don’t need to seek additional wisdom and promises from the enemy… we have more than we can even remember through God’s Word!

The rest of Genesis 3:14-21 describes what happened because of the Fall into Sin.  Everything changed because of Adam and Eve’s sin.  When they sinned, we all became sinners.  Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Scripture repeatedly teaches that all people fell into sin when Adam & Eve sinned.

We are all natural born sinners.  We still bear God’s image, but we are like broken mirrors – reflecting God’s image, but not well.  Because of our sin, we have separated ourselves from God and have made ourselves guilty of sin and deserving of his wrath.

Next week, we will examine God’s amazing grace and how He redeems us from sin and judgment.

Final Questions to Consider:

  • What sins are most tempting to you?
  • How are those sins “Good for food, Pleasing to the eye, and Desirable for wisdom” to you?
  • Are you spreading sin to others, or are they sharing their sin with you?
  • How can you grow more confident in God’s Word?  What verse will you commit to memorize (I recommend starting off with Romans 12:1-2)?
  •  Do you see yourself as a sinner, in need of God’s grace and mercy?  Or do you minimize sin so it’s not a big deal?
  • What Christian friend can you commit to be “accountability partners” with, helping each other resist temptation and encouraging each other to pursue God’s grace when you do sin?

The Drama of Redemption: Creation

Why do you think God created the world, and people in particular?  Was it because he was bored?  Lonely?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism has famously declared, “The chief end of man (aka: the reason we were created) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  God created out of love, that we would worship Him and be filled with his joy as we worship.  We were created by God in His image in order to “mirror” him by glorifying/worshipping Him in everything we do, because we received joy when we honor God.

What’s it mean to “Glorify” God?  One of our high schoolers gave among the best definitions of “glorify” I’ve ever heard: she said, “It’s to recognize who God is and what he’s done and to show that to other by what you do.”  1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Eating and Drinking are pretty normal things, not super-spiritual things – and yet we’re told to do them (along with whatever else we do) “for the glory of God.”

So what’s it look like to glorify God?

  • When you’re in school and learning about biology, you recognize that God made your body to function so perfectly that every cell is designed to do a specific task.  Meanwhile, you also learn about the universe and how ridiculously small and “insignificant” planet Earth is when compared to all the galaxies far far away.  Just think: God created all those galaxies, and yet He cares for you so much that he sent Jesus to live and die and rise again for you!
  • When you’re on the practice field, you want to use your physical body and athletic gifts to honor the One who gave them to you.  That means you practice hard, take care of your body, and play as a good teammate (that means you pass the ball when someone else has a better shot!) and you aren’t an arrogant glory-hog when you play well.
  • When you’re home, you help with chores around the house, respect your parents, and are generally pleasant to be around.

Christian author, John Piper, has said “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  Are you satisfied with God?  You were made to glorify God in everything you do, and to enjoy God forever!  Remember, en-joy, God wants to fill you with joy!  That doesn’t mean life is about being happy and living out the “American Dream,” because God often calls us to difficult things and He brings us through seasons of suffering – but He fills us with peace and joy even in the midst of those experiences.

Out of love, God created you to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever.  Don’t want until “forever” begins… start now.  That’s what God made you for.  Obviously, “something” (Sin, which we’ll discuss next week) has gone terribly wrong; but it’s absolutely necessary for us to remember WHY we are here and WHAT God made us to do.

Chevy Trucks, Security, & the End of the World

As I was watching the Super Bowl last weekend (and having my heart broken… again… by a deflating loss to the Giants.  I really can’t stand those Manning brothers), I was paying more attention to commercials than I usually do.  It’s well known that Super Bowl commercials are pretty special, and they better be at $3,500,000 each!

Last year we used Walt Mueller’s “3D Guide to Media” and his “Download” curriculum to help us “Discover” the meaning, “Discern” the message, and “Decide” what to do with the Media we watch/listen to/read/consume.  Here’s my favorite commercial from this year’s Super Bowl, and I used this last week to kick off a new series in Youth Group looking at different Media (Music, Music Videos, TV, Movies, Advertisements, etc.):

DISCOVER the meaning
Obviously, since this is a commercial, they want to convince us to buy a Chevy truck as our next car purchase.  The idea they’re trying to sell us it twofold: 1. Chevy trucks are better than Ford, and 2. Chevy trucks will keep you safe when other trucks won’t.

Here are a few things to notice about the commercial (in no particular order):

  • The music (Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It”) is upbeat, positive, and hopeful despite all the destruction.
  • The main guy simply nods his head when he hears “Dave didn’t make it” because he drove a Ford.  Meanwhile, none of their Chevy’s are dented, scratched, none have broken windows, they’re simply dirty.  The message is clear, drive a Chevy and you’ll be safe.
  • Transformers seem to have a role in the destruction of the world… really?  Then there’s a random UFO, a huge chasm in the middle of the earth, asteroids, a volcano spewing lava, and even frogs falling from the sky (symbolic pointing back to the Plagues of Frogs against Egypt).

DISCERN the message
This is a brilliant commercial for a number of reasons.  It feeds off the “buzz” surrounding the Mayan Apocalypse and people’s general fearfulness and desire for security.   People really are talking about this Mayan Apocalypse… they don’t believe it, but it has them talking about the end of the world, what that will be like, when it will come, and who will survive (in case you didn’t know, supposedly, Twinkies and Cockroaches are the only two things that will survive a nuclear fallout).

A few insights, implications, and questions:

  • The Hidden Message About Women.  Where are the women?  The one guy has his dog, but none of the men have their wives… why is that?  What does that communicate about being a man – all you need is your truck and a dog?  What’s the message here telling men about what it means to be a man?
  • The End Will Come, But We Won’t Know When.  In Matthew 24:36-39 Jesus clearly says, “About the day and hour no one knows.”  Judgment will come, that much is certain.  But we do not know when.  If someone comes telling you that the end will come on a certain day, I think it’s fair to cross that date off as a legitimate option.  The point: We should be ready for “the end” to come any day.
  • Judgment Will Be Complete, No One Will Escape (even if they’re in a Chevy truck).  2 Peter 3:10 and Acts 2:19-20 both point to natural disasters as one of the means through which God will judge the Earth.  God has never lost a game of hide-and-seek.  God’s judgment should make us fear!  By God’s grace, those of us who are trusting in Christ Jesus will also be judged, but we have an Advocate who has already taken our punishment upon himself (Romans 8:1-2, 31-33).
  • God Judges In Order To Re-Create.  God does not delight in destruction, he rejoices in re-creation, redemption, and restoration.  Revelation 21:1-5 opens the final two chapters of the Bible where we are given a glimpse of the New Heavens & New Earth.  God’s Judgment is our HOPE, not our destruction.

DECIDE what to do
Do we actually believe this stuff?  This is why we need to evangelize, send missionaries, and talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people… because we actually believe this will happen and we don’t want people to perish under judgment, we want them to find life and hope because of God’s judgment!

If we don’t believe that the end of the world actually will happen (not because a Mayan calendar tells us it will) then live and let live and don’t worry about any of this.  I’m not going all wacky and gloom-and-doom on you here… Scripture clearly teaches that there will be an end.  Are you ready for it?

And are you ready to take the opportunities you’re provided with to encourage people to Hope in Christ?  We’re going to hear a lot of talk about this Mayan Apocalypse… be prepared to contribute to the conversation.  Use this commercial in your conversations.

Take the liberty to tell people, “Jesus is my Chevy truck.  I’m not going to be safe because of anything I’ve done.  I believe that Jesus is the only one who can keep me secure when God decides the end is here and it’s time for judgment.”