It’s Not My Gift

This is the second message in our series “Think About It: Christian Cliches… what’s this even mean?” Last week’s cliche was “Let Go, Let God.” 

Imagine for a moment that all the church leaders came to you for advice, seeking your vast wisdom on the question, “What should the church be doing in the world?” What would you say?

You’d probably encourage the church to talk about God, to pray for people, to help the needy. What else would be on your list… and honestly ask yourself, “Am I doing those things?”

It’s so much easier (and comfortable!) to tell others what they’re supposed to be doing. When it’s our turn to be the doer… it becomes far more risky. When it’s our turn to start evangelizing or sacrificing our time and our stuff in order to serve those in need, that’s when we’re tempted to cry out, “That’s not my gift!” Too often, that’s nothing phrase is an excuse to avoid doing something risky and difficult.

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Unsung Heroes of Christmas: The Shepherds

My first job was at a place called “Sheep Pasture.” It was a fun job. My favorite responsibility was walking through the sheep pen and pulling thorny weeds. Sheep aren’t very smart animals, and they’ll eat the thorns, so you need to pull them. After working in the animal pens, I’d get home and be told, “Mike, you stink! Take a shower!”

As we continue to consider the Unsung Heroes of Christmas, I want to think about the shepherds who came to visit the newborn Jesus. The shepherds remind us that the gospel is for outcasts.

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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

Jesus as Miracle Worker

Series Intro: “Who is Jesus? Describe him to me”
How do you even begin to answer this question? There are so many ways to describe Jesus. For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the “Many faces of Jesus.” Last youth group we looked at Jesus as Friend, and remembered that if we ever doubt if Jesus is trustworthy we only need to look at the cross. This week we’re exploring Jesus as Miracle Worker, and in the next few weeks we’ll see him as Servant, and Shepherd.

Many Faces of Jesus

Do You Have Authority?
Moving is really stressful. When my family moved earlier this year we had to make a bunch of phone calls so we’d have electricity and gas and phones. When I called to have our electricity turned on, they wouldn’t let me do it because our account was under Tracy’s name but not mine, so I had no authority to make changes to our account.

Honestly, I argued with them more than they probably deserved, they kept telling me I’d have to wait for Tracy to get off work so she could call and have the power turned on.

It was frustrating to have no authority. But at the same time, I’m glad that only the person whose name is on the account is the one who can make changes. Think about it, what would happen if I called National Grid and asked them to turn off the power at your house tonight. Would you like that? Obviously not. But I can’t do that, because I don’t have the authority to make changes to your account.

We all want authority, don’t we? We want to be able to call the shots and have people listen to us. But it’s good and right life doesn’t work like that.

Which Power is More Impressive: A Miracle, or Forgiveness of Sin?
Would you rather have the power to perform miracles or to forgive sin? What miracles would you do? How would you use that power? How would you choose when to do a miracle and when not to?

As impressive as miracles are, the authority to forgive someone’s sin is even greater. A miracle is an instant, forgiveness lasts for an eternity. Imagine having that authority, to look at someone and to be able to decide if they should be forgive of their sin or not. “Nope, sorry, I don’t like you. You’re still guilty!”

Jesus had authority and power to perform miracles AND to forgive sin, and tonight I want to share one story from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus’ authority is questioned.

Matthew 9:1-8
“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”

The reason for the miracles: To prove his authority!
Which is easier… to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “get up and walk.”

It’s easier to say something that people can’t “prove” is false than to say something that can be immediately seen as true or false.

Any crazy guy can say “I forgive your sins!” Not anyone can make someone who was born paralyzed and make him immediately able to get up and walk.

Jesus explains, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man did!

Jesus wasn’t all about the show. He had huge crowds following him, begging for constant miracles. The reason Jesus came was for the forgiveness of sins, to reconcile sinful humanity to the Holy God.

When we pursue God because we want to see his power, we lose sight of something far more important. It’s obviously important that we worship a powerful God whose authority is real and endless… but it’s even more important that we pursue reconciliation with him so that his power is FOR us, not AGAINST us!

IMG_4356Why don’t I experience God’s power?

  1. You’re not living for God, you’re living in sin.

If you’re living with unconfessed and unrepented sin in your life, then you can’t expect to experience much of God’s power.

Can I make a confession: I lied to National Grid. I called them back half an hour later and told them I’m Tracy. Since she’s my wife I could answer all of her security questions as if they were about me. Thankfully, their files don’t say whether or not “Tracy” is a boy name or a girl name.

God alone has authority, and he won’t be manipulated or tricked into doing what you want him to do. Confess your sin, and repent. Repenting from your sin means “to turn away.” It means you’ve confessed it (“God, I admit I’m guilty of _______.”) and that you’ve prayerfully committed to stop sinning and start doing what God wants instead, (“God, give me strength to stop ______ and start doing _______ instead, to the glory of your name.”).

  1. You’re living too safely.

When we take no risks, there’s no need for God to show you how strong he is. You simply don’t need God or faith if you live in a way that you can comfortably live without Him.

If you want to see God’s power, take some risks.

Don’t be foolish and put yourself into situations where you’re “daring” God to rescue you.

Take a risk by standing up for someone who’s being bullied, by speaking up when Christ is being dragged through the mud, and when people who claim to be Christians are making decisions which are firmly and clearly not what God would want.

  1. You rely on your own strength, not his.

Jesus said that he came for the sick, not the healthy. If you think you’re just fine without God, then you can’t expect to know God’s strength. You don’t need it anyway.

I think this is one of the reasons we experience suffering and trials, to remind us of our need for Him. If I never discipline my kids, how are they supposed to know the difference between good behavior and bad behavior? If I never let my kids fail at anything, how are they going to learn how to ask for help?

Ask the Lord to show you your need for him, and start trusting in HIS strength instead of your own.

Trust in God’s Power, Not Your Own
Will you trust in yourself, or will you trust in Him?

If you claim to trust in him, but you never take any godly risks, then you can say you trust him all you want… but you don’t.

If you want to trust him, but you think living for sin is better, then you’re going to live a two-faced, double-hearted life… always wanting one thing and doing another. And that’s a pretty guilty way to live. Eventually, what will happen, is you’ll either repent of your sin or you’ll give up on God so you don’t feel guilty anymore.

I want you to know and experience the power of God.

His miracles aren’t just fireworks to draw a crowd. They are powerful reminders that he has complete authority over both heaven and earth.

The question is… will you confess your sin, your need… and will you trust Jesus Christ to change you and make you new?

If you want to know more about how to be made new and how to be forgiven of your sins, your small group leader or me would LOVE to talk with you.

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.

Thankful for Teams

Let me admit it: I can’t do it all.  And you know what… you can’t either!

This morning as I was making my second cup of coffee I was thinking about this weekend’s youth group event we’ve dubbed “The Night of Awesomeness, part deux” (part one was two years ago).  The goal for the night is simply to have a game night where all the students and leaders can reconnect with each other a few weeks after winter camp and to help catch any visitors who came to camp but haven’t plugged into Youth Group yet.

Here’s the problem: I’m really not that much fun.  Ask anyone who knows me well to think of five adjectives to describe me, and I doubt the word “fun” would come up too often.  My point in all this isn’t to bash myself or to look for any pity (for the record, I’m perfectly fine with not being “fun,” I like my other traits just fine) – my point is that for me to plan something like the “Night of Awesomeness” I need a strong team to help me out.

Left up to myself, a “Night of Awesomeness” would probably be better describe as “Night of I-Didn’t-Have-Anything-Else-To-Do-So-This-Was-Fun-Enough.”  Instead, as I consider what we have planned for Saturday night, I’m legitimately excited… and very thankful for the team of youth workers whom God has brought to our youth ministry.  Everyone has something they’re passionate about, something they’re good at, something to contribute to your team.  If you’re like me, you might feel a little guilty standing back from the planning of different events because someone else is taking the lead – but trust me, sometimes the best thing we can do is to trust our team to use their strengths while we fade into the background.

So Keith, Alyson, Kevin… thanks for your work on the NOA2, it’s going to live up to it’s name because of all your work (and if it doesn’t live up to it’s name, then it’s on me!).  To the rest of the team, Trisha, Michele, Josh, Cait… I love everything you contribute to our ministry.  This really isn’t about the NOA2 at all, it’s just what spurred on my thankfulness for you.  We’re better together…

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)