Getting Wet

Some of the baptisms you do as a pastor stick with you more so than others. I baptized one kid a while back that asked me if the water was going to burn his eyes. After being assured that it would not, he told me, “that’s good because if it does, I’d probably freak out.” Another stuck with me because I spent years cultivating the relationship before leading this student to Christ and then doing the baptism. Sometimes its the event, other times its the relationship that makes them stick in your mind.

Regardless though, baptism is a special event. It is a milestone so to speak. But you can get wet in the bathtub. I believe there is nothing special about the water and that baptism does not itself save you. So why do it? Baptism is a symbol of our “new birth” into our life as a Christian. Being born again does not mean that you have been baptized, it means that you have been born of the Spirit. John 3:1-15 is where Jesus explains this to Nicodemus and he immediately follows this explanation with John:3:16-18 (ESV):

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Last night the students and I talked learned about the “Epic Proposal.” We looked at some pictures of guys who went all out for their marriage proposal. One guy rented a helicopter, another somehow involved parachuting, one video we watched had about 30 people choreographed to a song, but the most epic proposal of all time was Jesus’ proposal to us. He died on the cross for us, so that through him, “the world might be saved.” Epic.

Baptism is a symbol of your acceptance of his proposal. It’s like putting on the ring. It doesn’t make the engagement any more official, it’s just an outward symbol. This life that we live here and now, it’s like the engagement. When we die, we get to show up to the wedding. Using that analogy, life here is about getting ready for the wedding, making sure that everyone is invited. You should be living for Christ even more than a bride-to-be lives for her wedding day. When people accept a brides invitation, they get some cake. When you share the proposal of Jesus, they get to be brides themselves.

Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “to die is gain.” Have you considered why he would say that when every time we talk about death we talk about loss? If you have accepted Jesus’ proposal, when you die, you get to stand before Jesus face to face. You won’t need to pray anymore, you won’t need to read the Bible any more…because you will be standing face-to-face with God. That is truly “gain.”

The challenge for you and I from day-to-day is to live like we actually believe. Too often, we do nothing to demonstrate our acceptance of Jesus’ proposal on a daily basis. Baptism is the closest too many church goers ever get to public proclaiming their faith. That’s like a bride putting on her ring when he pops the question and then hiding it in the closet until the wedding.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 3:16–18.

Hungry?

What do you think of when you hear the word: “hungry?” You might think of starving kids in a far distant country. You might think of the Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial with dogs in cages. You might even think about the homeless person you drove past recently. But, unless it’s near mealtime, you probably don’t think of yourself. And, unless you live somewhere very different from where I live, you probably don’t think of your next door neighbors. But spiritually, we live surrounded by starving people. You may even be one.

Jesus thinks of hunger a little differently. Jesus tells his disciples in John 4:32 that “he has food to eath that they do not know about” (ESV). He defines this food in verse 34 as doing the will of God. Jump a couple of chapters to John 6 and you will again find Jesus discussion food in a way that his disciples do not immediately understand. Here, Jesus tells his disciples in verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (ESV).

Jesus is the living bread, the food that ceases hunger. Jesus IS God’s will. It isn’t just that he did God’s will, he IS God’s will. God desires to redeem man, but “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23, ESV). Jesus is God’s plan for overcoming our sin. It is impossible for you to follow God apart from Jesus. It is impossible for you to be satisfied apart from Jesus because he IS God’s will.

If you’ve ever tried a dating website, you’ll know that there is almost always a question about your “passion.” Social media too gives people a place to tell others what matters to them. Passion has become such a buzz word in both secular culture and the church. But, no matter your passion, be it music, entertainment, exercise, your significant other, your kids, food, friends, or even helping others…it will always leave you hungry for more. It will never be enough.

This is a major reason I believe life is so draining for so many people. They are passionate, they are excited, and they may even be committed, but it’s to the wrong thing. Music will never be enough to satisfy the hunger of your soul. You will never work out enough to be fulfilled. Your husband, wife, fiancé, girlfriend, or boyfriend will never be enough to satisfy your soul. Kids will never be enough to satisfy your soul, they can never fill your life. You will always need a little more out of these things, you will need to go just a little further.

So turn your heart to Jesus. If you are already a Christian, make sure that your daily diet has time with God, not as an afterthought or incidental, but as a true priority. Make sure that you are consuming God’s word and drinking in prayer. If you are unsure about whether or not you have a relationship with Jesus, then get sure. Talk to someone who can help, because nothing you ever do will satisfy the hunger you experience for life. Nothing will ever be enough but Jesus.

Something Missing from the Story

What a tragedy to speak the truth of Christ in the spirit of Satan.

What’s the story? I hear a song and I often imagine the story behind the song. Casting Crowns, “Does Anybody Hear Her,” is one of those songs I can’t hear without picturing the story it tells. JJ Heller’s, “Father-Daughter Dance,” is another. This is probably why abstract painting does just about nothing for me. I need to be able to give life to the image, be it a landscape or portrait, I need the picture to begin the story. Sometimes, I see a face in the mall or driving down the road and I can’t help but wonder, “what’s their story?” Perhaps though the more important question would be: What is missing from their story? Maybe we should be asking, is something missing from my story?

I had to improvise this last Wednesday night a little bit. I began losing my voice Sunday and by Monday afternoon had almost no voice at all. Wednesday was very slightly better, but I certainly didn’t have the voice needed to get through a normal Wednesday night. So, we tried something a bit different. Two of our high school students did the announcements and ran the game for the junior high students, it was great, they stepped up big time.

The video we ended up watching for our Bible study time was from a study called “Gospel Above All” by JD Geear. There was one part of the Bible study that just really stuck with me. In speaking of how we relate to others, Greear (2019) says, “It’s important to not only hold the truth of Christ, it’s important to hold the truth of Christ in the spirit of Christ. What a tragedy to speak the truth of Christ in the spirit of Satan” (14:10).

It took me a few days to really get my head around what this might mean. But as I looked at scripture it became clear. The Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes that Jesus encountered were masters of God’s word. They knew scripture and they used it. These men were not the super villain of marvel movies, they were just ordinary men who had committed themselves to their beliefs. But, there was something missing from their story.

The people of Israel were supposed to be a city on a hill. They were supposed to make God known to all peoples. They failed because the system was ultimately corrupted, and it was corrupted most effectively from the inside, by people who knew the words of God but did not hold the spirit of God. Consider further, how does Satan tempt Jesus? He uses scripture but unlike Jesus he uses scripture to take life rather than give life.

The problem is there is a disconnect between knowing the words of God and having the heart of God. Greear noted that, “it is as you become overwhelmed with the love of God for you that love for God and for others grows in you” (10:31). Are you overwhelmed with the love of God for you? I don’t think you can be and not want more than anything more or less than to love God and love others.

One of the illustrations that he used in the Bible study, was that of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one missing. Luke 15:7 reminds us that there is greater celebration over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. I don’t for a second believe that there is even one out there who doesn’t need to repent. This verse is speaking, rather, to the mission found in the spirit of Christ: Find the lost!

Jesus, from the moment he began his ministry was about seeking and saving the lost. Propriety was secondary to seeking and saving the lost. Tradition was secondary to seeking and saving the lost. His life was secondary to seeking and saving the lost. “What a tragedy if we speak the truth of Christ with the spirit of Satan.” We can go to church, read the Bible, quote scripture, take our kids to church, lead a Bible study, give food and clothes, and uphold the greatest traditions in history…but if we don’t do so with the spirit of Christ, it is for nothing. What a tragedy it would be if there was something missing from your story. Give purpose back to going to church…to living life: Find the lost!

Greear, J. (2019). Gospel Above All: Session 1 [Video File]. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Christian Resources.

In Too Deep

The openness of kids is rarely found in adults. We learn to mask our thoughts and hide our struggles as we grow up. Unsurprisingly, teens fall somewhere in between adults and kids. They are more open than adults, far more willing to discuss where they are struggling, but less open than kids. Working with teens, I get to see the struggles that they deal with because they are still willing to share their burdens.

One of the things clear in scripture is that sin is a heavy burden. The pressure of sin never lets up, it quickly feels like we are “in too deep.” Sin can be removed, but it never just goes away. Whether it is lying, pornography/lust, gossip, pride, gluttony (self-indulgence), sloth (laziness), or anger, sin continues to pile up and weigh us down. One lie will always lead to two, one look will always lead to a second, one moment of pride always leads to another, one piece of cake leads to another, one hour on the couch doing nothing leads to a second, one outburst of anger leads to another… sin never gives up.

I really like the image that I developed for this post, even more than most of the graphics that I’ve used. It ties in near perfectly with what I want to talk about today. Sin will drown you if you give it the chance. It will sink you so deep that you will feel like there is no way to get to the surface. The overwhelming nature of sin, makes you just want to give in and go with it. I want to look at John 8:30-38:

30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 8:30–38.

Notice, “many people believed in him.” He is addressing the “many people” here. They believe in him, but many of them are still not free, because they do not ABIDE in his word. Many people today claim to believe in Jesus. They might even attend church from time to time. When there is time in the schedule, they make sure their kids go to church. And yet, many of these very people are drowning in addiction, lies, frustration, debt, loss, or some other sin or hardship. They are not FREE!

Why? One of the biggest promises Jesus gives the church is freedom, so why do so few Christians seem to experience freedom? I think this passage answers that question. They do not ABIDE in His word. To truly be one of Jesus’ disciples, you have to abide in his word. Abide in his word requires more than showing up to church from time to time.

I shared what I believe/hope was a made up story that I heard on a TV show with some of the students yesterday in Bible study:

A cop is on duty one night and he comes up behind a car that is driving very slow, like the driver isn’t even on the gas pedal but just letting the car role with his foot off the brake. Additionally, the car is swerving all over the road even driving so slowly. So he throws on his lights. The car swerves into the curb and comes to a stop.

When the cop gets up to the car he sees three young men riding and one older man driving. The old man rolls down the window and the cop is astonished to find that he is talking to a blind man. Apparently, these three young men had realized that they were too drunk to drive, so they convinced a blind man to drive them back to campus by paying him a nice little stack of cash. They were directing him from the passenger seats as he drove.

As I said, I hope this story is made up. But it illustrates my point. Too often, Christians go through life like the blind guy. God promises that he will get us out of our sin. God promises to give us direction, but these promises require that we are engaged with God’s word. For too many Christians, this means a sermon on Sunday morning and maybe a Bible study. This is like driving blindfolded letting someone else give you directions. You need to take the blindfold off and look at the map that God gave us.

You need to stop hoping your sin will go away on its own and ABIDE in God’s word. You are not “in too deep” to get out of your sin or to get back on the path that God has for you. But you are going to have to lean on him. You are going to have to abide in his word to receive the freedom he promises.

Self-Identifying Christian

We live in a culture of self-determination. You determine your career and educational trajectories. You pick where you’ll live. You pick who you’ll be. This has even extended to what gender you claim for some. Throughout history, most people had very little freedom of self-determination, you were what your family, community, country, or faith system needed you to be. Your place was influenced more by outside forces than internal forces. Today, we have the ability to buck the external forces and self-determine our place in the world.

Working with teens sometimes leads to odd epiphanies at odd times. Last night I was hanging out with my students before our Bible studies when something occurred to me. I would say that my mind drew a parallel that I had not previously noted. We have moved self-determination into the realm of faith.

Who we are in the church, what we do for the church, how we approach faith and church-life is largely determined by ourselves. This attitude is reflected in songs like, “My Church.” But, I fear that this approach is flawed. The reason I believe that this approach of self-determination is flawed is that it ignores the central tenant of being a Christian. If we accept that God is the creator and that as Jesus Christ he is the redeemer, then as Christians we have to recognize that who we are and what we do as Christians should not be self-determined but rather determined by our creator and redeemer.

We, as a Christian culture, have accepted that it is okay to self-determine our church life and Christian walk. I believe in freedom of conscience, but within the framework that God gives us in scripture. The most basic skeleton of which is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40), the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Great Commitment (Acts 2:42). Love God and others (Great Commandment), go and make disciples (Great Commission), and do not neglect church fellowship (Great Commitment).

God gives us a lot of freedom as we follow him, but he does place constraints on the Christian life and you cannot follow him outside of those constraints. Self-determining that I am going to be a Stay-at-Home-Christian ignores the Great Commitment, it ignores the gathering together of Christians for the work of the church. Self-determining that I am going to be a church attender and nothing more, ignores the Great Commission, the command that Jesus gives all Christians to go and make disciples. Being a gossip or a negative force is self-determining that you are going to ignore the great commandment.

You have freedom, but don’t forget that God has standards to which he calls us all. You have a creator, a God who loved you so much that not only did he create you, but he sent his son to die for you. Who you are as a Christian is determined by your creator and redeemer far more than by your own desires and whims.

Perspective

“Jesus the anthem of my heart. Jesus, the anchor of my soul. I’m overwhelmed by all You are. Oh how I love You.” These lyrics come from “Anthem” by Phil Wickham. Inspired lyrics, but they come with a question: “Is the anthem of MY heart Jesus?”

Reflecting on this song, I was drawn to a trip that I took my senior year of college (2007). A group of guys and I went on a mission trip to Alaska but before we dove into the mission work, we spent three days hiking and camping. The beauty of Alaska in October was both unexpected and overwhelming. There is no way I could do it justice with words or even with pictures, of which I have many. The first day we hiked up a mountain to see an incredible view of Anchorage and the surrounding area. The second and third days we backpacked in a little ways and spent the night. What we found as we explored was more magical than “The Chronicles of Narnia” and more alive than the movie world of “Avatar.”

An interesting thing about hiking though, to really see something requires multiple perspectives. You need to see it from a distance to get the big picture. You have to stand back to take in a mountain, but that distance does not give you the full picture, it gives you the big picture. You also have to climb, you have to look at the trees and feel the rocks, you have to stop to see the flowers growing in the under brush and breathe in the smell of the mountain. Taking in a mountain requires both perspectives.

Even then, you’re still going to miss things. That’s where the community comes in to play. One of the other guys spotted a cow moose in the distance, I spotted place to get water. Our individual experience was enhanced and improved by the experience of our community.

I fear that part of the reason many even in the church cannot sing, “Jesus the anthem of my heart,” is because they only have the experience of others when it comes to God. They depend on the pastor and maybe a Bible study teacher to show them pictures, as if they can really know God through someone else’s pictures. There is no diving into the Bible on their own, where they explore the “mountain.” They never fall madly in love with God, because they are dependent on the pictures someone else painted.

This does not mean that there is no value in sermons or Bible studies. We need others’ perspectives. God is far greater we could ever comprehend even collectively. We need our faith community so that they can help us see. 1 Timothy 4:6 (NIV84) says: “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus.” Our pastors and teachers are charged with pointing things out to the church. God know that we need the perspectives of others believers and of good Christian teachers. But you need to explore on your own. You will never know the mountain unless you take a hike.

Photo from pixabay.com.

A Student Pastor’s Perspective: Social Media Parenting

Train Up a Child 1920x1080A friend recently posted a link to a blog found on the Wait Until 8th site. The article was about how smartphones have changed the way kids experience the world, in particular, how they have changed what used to be an embarrassing moment into a viral video. You can read the article here, and I would encourage you to do so. While I am not sure that 8th grade is the “perfect” age for kids to get these devices or to be allowed on social media, I think the author brings a very good perspective on some of the issues that our kids face. This post is not about that in particular, but the article got me thinking about something else: parenting on social media.

Shortly after reading this article, I saw a viral video in which a dad posted a video of his daughter walking to school because she was kicked off the bus for bullying. His post went viral and everyone had a take on whether or not making her walk to school was a justified punishment for her actions. Again, not really my concern in this post. What no one was really talking about was whether or not its a good idea to post a video of your kid’s punishment on social media.

The reality is that everyone makes mistakes, every single kid is going to do something dumb at some point. I got caught driving like 60mph down an ally in a tiny Ford Focus fleeing the scene after wrapping someone’s yard. (It might actually have been like 30 or 40 but it felt fast in an ally.) We all do dumb things. Your kid, no matter how good, will eventually do something stupid. That doesn’t make it right, it just means its part of growing up in a broken world.

I hate that I’m old enough to say this…but when I was in school, your punishments were largely between you and your parents. You might tell your closest friends and some other people may find out, depending on how publicly you made the mistake. But for the most part, punishment stayed at home. We could make a mistake, take the consequences, and move on.

The teacher posting in “Wait Until 8th” has the same problem with smartphones in school that I have with parenting on social media. It keeps kids from moving past the mistake. It opens a dialogue that doesn’t need to be opened. When your kid gets to school, all their peers and some of their teachers will know they are being punished and have some sort of commentary on it. Either mocking the kid for their mistake or mocking them for having parents that punished the mistake.

This opens a discussion between kids and other parents about how you parent, creating doubt about your parenting even with your kids. You need help and advice on parenting, everyone does, you do not need social commentary on your parenting. Additionally, your kids need to be able to move on. They need to be able to make a mistake and learn that mistakes have consequences, then they need to be able to move on with life.

I know some will disagree with me, but I see every week what this weird permanence is doing to our students. Too much of what they do and too many of the mistakes they make are put out there for the world to judge. Please consider this before you post about your kid’s punishment and mistake. Does the world, do all of their peers and teachers, does the random lady down the street who added you on Instagram and Facebook really need to know what your kid did and how you dealt with it?

Willingness to Suffer

Some people enjoy working out. For some, its one of their favorite things to do. I am not one of those. I do it because I must. I’m officially back in medium shirts…mostly. But it is not a labor of love for me. It is grueling. I wake up a little before 6am, not because I look forward to it, but because I know my options. I suffer through the workout for the sake of the results. I would like to spend just a second on this word, suffering.

A few weeks ago I started studying the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. I wrote about the first church, the Church in Ephesus in a previous post. I would like to continue talking about these churches and what we can learn from them by looking at the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). The letter to the church in Smyrna is unique in that it is the only letter that includes no admonishment (criticism). Jesus, through John, doesn’t really “get onto” this church like he does the others. Essentially, he says I know your trouble. Do not be afraid of what you will suffer. Be faithful to the end and God will give you the ultimate victory.

Growing up in the American church, I have suffered almost no religious persecution. Particularly when compared to other places in the world. We hardly even know what it means to be persecuted for what we believe here in the U.S. You need to understand something though, suffering is a part of our walk with God. Suffering has the ability to do incredible things for your faith, but you have to be faithful to the end for it to do its work. You have to instinctively turn to Christ. It has to be in your character to turn to God when things get difficult.

Are you nurturing that kind of relationship with God in yourself? Are you working on a daily and weekly basis to draw near to God so that when things get difficult, He is the one to whom you instinctively turn?

Two Kings

There were two kings, both real, historical figures. Both men were long shots to be king. Neither was the oldest son of their father and neither family had a clear claim to the throne. Both men married at least 6 wives and had at least one affair. Both men had people murdered to cover up their moral failure and to get their way. Both men had enormous impacts on the history of God’s people. And yet, one is remembered as “a man after God’s own heart” while the other…well, he left a different legacy.

King David was the second king of Israel and one of only three kings who ruled over all Israel. He was known from his youth as a man of faith and was described as handsome in the Bible. He was chosen by God to replace Saul as king at an early age but was not actually made king until probably in his 30s. David was an incredibly successful warrior and general. He married at least six wives, probably more, and he had dozens of children. It seems that his greatest failures were with women and his children. David is famous for his affair with Bathsheba, whose husband he had murdered so that he could marry her and cover up the affair. He almost lost his kingdom when one of his sons led a nearly successful rebellion.

King Henry VIII was known in his younger days as a vigorous defender of the Catholic Church. He was the second of the Tudors to rule England. He was the picture of a king, athletic and full of vigor. He was a great jouster. Henry VIII’s military endeavors were largely successful. He married well by the standards of the day. The king was discontent with having a daughter for his only heir, however, and was known to keep a number of mistresses on the side. Eventually, his discontent grew to the point that he determined to divorce his first wife so he could remarry. This he accomplished by splitting from the Catholic Church and founding the Church of England and naming himself the head of the church. He would go on to marry five more times, beheading two of his wives, divorcing one more, losing one in childbirth and being survived by his sixth and final wife.

The key difference between these two kings is their response to their sin. Henry VIII dove deeper and deeper into his sin. He broke with the Catholic Church to get his way, he killed dozens of political and religious leaders to make sure that he got his way. And yet, the Protestant Reformation would have probably not been nearly as successful (at least at this point) had it not been for him. Many of the largest denominations today exist in part because of Henry VIII. God has used the events that followed to bring thousands of people to Christ and send missionaries all over the world through these denominations and at one time from England. He appears to have been largely unrepentant. God worked in spite of this king.

David, on the other hand, appears to have returned to God in full contrition. The words of Psalm 51 describe a man who knew his failure and repented of his ways. They describe a man who turned back to God and asked that God redeem his life. David chose to unite himself with God and to pursue a life of righteousness. God also used David. Jesus earthly ancestry goes back to David. God worked through David.

So are you going to be unrepentant like Henry VIII or are you going to run back to Jesus like David?

Be Still My Soul – Song of the Week

This can be one of the busiest times of the year. It certainly is for me. There’s all the end of the school year events, VBS, student camp, and our student mission trip all packed in just a 6 week period. It can be a hard time of year to feel peace, to still your heart. But that makes it all the more important.

“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labour in his service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. . . . Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord. . . .”Charles H. Spurgeon

When we are busy and life is hard, it is all the more important to find time for God’s word. You cannot vigorously live out your faith if you are spiritually anorexic. If you do not feed yourself, you can never grow or receive the peace that God offers. So set time aside during this busy season. Still your soul and spend time with God.