Monday, June 29, 2015

What Christians Should be Saying to Gays These Days (Part 1)

Like many, there's much on my mind in light of Friday's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

First off, I don't support the decision, as I strongly believe God instituted the covenant of heterosexual marriage for our highest good (not to mention what God creates and establishes is infallible*).

Yet while it's difficult to watch our country celebrate an assumed idea of freedom (i.e. culturally defined) as opposed to an absolute reality of freedom (God defined), I’m not discouraged.

Why? Because ultimately…God is in control**.

I mean…if hell is God’s way of showing respect for human freedom, why would the issue of homosexuality be any different?

Granted, I know the topic is a hot one...and we all love to be right…to be the victim…to be the hero; I’m not writing this to start a war.

However, I do want to make a few things clear I feel would benefit everyone:

1) Just because I don’t support gay marriage, doesn’t mean I hate gays.
2) Just because I don’t hate gays, doesn’t mean I support gay marriage.
3) How we react to our belief, even in the unseen closet space of our heart, is everything.

I know in the heat of our passion, it can be easy to fall into the debate’s crazy cycle. But for me, I’d rather focus on speaking what few seem to be saying…and that is, quite simply, the truth…in love.

As John Piper says, “We speak the truth in love into this confusion, saying, simultaneously, “That’s wrong” and “I love you.” We’re not the left; we say, this is wrong. And we’re not the right; we say, you’re loved. We speak good news, with those sweetest, deepest, most glorious words of the cross — the same words that God spoke us — “You’re wrong, and you’re loved.”

So regardless of where we stand on the issue, my hope is that we’ll all choose to love and pray for one another, especially since:

1) All have fallen short of the glory of God (Thus, it makes no sense to take offense for anything).
2) If we truly desire God’s original design (i.e. His final decision) and intent for marriage to be known, then we must be willing to speak life in the form of “You are loved" to everyone!

Only then can we begin to know what true freedom is all about.

Footnotes

*And if God created something that man had the right to change, then God wouldn't be God and everything would cease to exist.

**Speaking more from a marco sense here; clearly, God can give man over to “dishonorable passions”, as it says in Romans 1:26, in which...it's not God who is in control but rather those corrupt passions (Thank you for the added commentary, Aaron Weaver)

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

3 Challenges for 21st Century Youth Leaders


In a previous post, I outlined five important lessons for 21st century youth pastors. Today, I’m going to switch gears by discussing three of the biggest challenges youth leaders face on a daily basis.

1) The Parent-Youth Pastor Relationship

I’m not a parent1. Obviously, I can’t fully relate to the stresses they endure. Yet, I do know parent and pastor don’t always see eye to eye. Granted, parents know their youth better; however, this doesn’t mean they automatically understand the youth group better2.

55018ce7-83c3-48ef-a922-8a40ef187ca0Truth is: The parent can be a youth pastor’s most difficult relational experience3 ; however, if trust and communication is established from the get-go, the relationship will have a greater opportunity to flourish.

In my experience, I’ve seen it all: parents asking other parents or staff questions they should be asking me, parents criticizing my effort to other pastors and parents4, parents pulling their kids out of youth group without any explanation, parents not making any effort to connect, parents not making any effort to encourage their kids to connect, parents who think they know me because they know my parents, parents who volunteer with hidden agendas, parents overprotecting their kids based on vain assumptions or outdated perspectives…I could go on.

Yet, while I could have passive-aggressively “walled up” as a way of self-medicating, it wouldn’t have allowed me to press through the adversity with a pure heart, not to mention discover the heart of certain parents who now serve on our youth team.

My advice?
  • Believe the best, not just hope the best
  • Be faithful in the big and small
  • Fully rely on God (without mixing in interdependences)
  • Proactively own mistakes
  • Partner with parents5
Trust me: You’ll find the more you reach out with these conditions in mind, the more parents will buy into the vision God has placed in your heart.

2) The Engage Factor

Based on what I observed as a youth and what I’m observing as a youth pastor, youth ministry is trending in an obsolete direction. And while I could dig up a bunch of stats, personal experience (conversations, discussion with mentors, real life/social media observations, etc.) has proven this enough within my sphere of influence.

Truth is: With each passing year, many kids disconnect or stiff-arm youth ministry entirely, with parents catering to their child’s indifference/emotions or the fear youth ministry will somehow contaminate or conflict with their own standards.

Again, I’m not a parent. But I have been a youth or youth leader over half my life…and when I reflect on my middle/high school days, I’m proud I not only went to church, but engaged my local youth community.

Why? Because I got to…
  • Cultivate obedience and Holy Spirit reliance
  • Learn the value in investing in community regardless of how I felt or how busy my load was
  • Experience the power of Hebrews 10:24-25, loving God and God’s people in the same setting
Unfortunately, many nowadays take their cues from circumstances rather than conviction and base their perspective on assumptions rather than truth6.

As a result, the “engage factor” in youth ministry continues to fade.

What will it take to reverse the trend?

Honestly, I’m not sure, but I do know stressing about other people’s busyness and excuses doesn’t accomplish anything. For me, whenever I’m discouraged about how others are engaging/disengaging, I refocus my attention on prayer, specifically for God to revive an universal understanding on what real covenantal community is.

3) Pressure to Perform

stressAnother challenge for the 21st century youth leader involves the pressure to perform. While this struggle may vary from person to person, the common denominator is usually a fear of judgment or failure.
For instance, a youth pastor may embrace a performance mentality in light of feeling less spiritual than his elderly superiors…or be more concerned about aesthetic matters than shepherding community.

Whatever the case, it’s critical for youth ministers not to let fear generate action.

‘Cause when the primary focus is placed on execution as opposed to genuine service, then youth leaders won’t be able to fully demonstrate what relying on God looks like. And if such modeling is only partial, how can we say we’re equipping young people to conquer sin and better their spiritual walks?

Truth is: If our initiative isn’t “simply Jesus”, then we not only dilute our leadership, but also minimize the potential of God’s Spirit transforming youth from the inside-out.

I don’t know about you, but I want be a leader who daily wins the battle with expectations…who consistently denies the pressure to perform and accepts greater grace7 instead.

Why? ‘Cause in the end…life is all about Jesusand pointing people in His direction.

Besides, fear has an offensive odor; if youth smell it, they’ll likely run in the opposite direction of where you want them to.

Footnotes

1) Although this will soon change (cough, cough)
2) Specifically vision and mission. Also, it does concern me how some are not taking ownership of their kids’ spiritual growth. While some parents are extremely overprotective, others can rely too heavily on the church to change their kids
3) Sometimes, visa-versa
4) Which is gossip, by the way. Just because it happens at church, doesn’t make it legal
5) In other words, pursue relationship with parents, as opposed to settling for intermittent interaction
6) Something we’re all guilty of
7) When we make this exchange, we maximize our faithfulness through greater obedience and faster forgiveness (on ourselves and others)

Photo credits: youthministry360.com, thegospelcoalition.org & zachhaas.com

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

LEGACYouth: "Why Go to Church?"

No question, we were made for community…to dwell in peace and harmony with one another (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:14).

Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s far too easy to lose sight on what real community is. And while many point the finger to “rugged individualism”, technological advances, and unholy tolerances…perhaps the biggest culprit lies in how we culturally define relationship, specifically…that relationship and community are the same thing…and that community is the byproduct of formed the relationships.

Granted, such falsehood is easily bought, especially when you factor in we’re living in the most narcissistic age the world has ever seen. Yet, when we take what we hear and experience and contrast it to God’s Word, we find the truth looks radically different.

You see, before creation, community existed within the Trinity. There was no need for God to bond with Jesus…no need for the Holy Spirit to befriend God…no need for Jesus to send a Facebook friend request to God. Why? Because the Trinity wasn’t ever created! Contrarily, it has existed for all eternity. So when we consider the Trinity, we ultimately discover: a) Relationship and community are not the same and b) Relationships are built, but community is.

In other words, community must first establish itself before real relationships can form. If we think community only happens if the right relationships take off, then we’re not only believing a lie, but we’re living without an accurate perception on covenant.

What’s covenant? Well, for starters, it’s a holy promise designed for our prosperity…a code of conduct with specific guidelines for us to follow; however, it’s also a relationship based on mutual commitment that connects us to the will of God. So while a covenant could be seen as a spiritual bill of rights, such perception is incomplete without community.

For the believer, it’s important to live covenant in a way that shows how a relationship with God is the greatest gift we have, even more than rewards reaped from holy living. Sadly, many don’t have a clue on what covenant is, let alone its place in our briskly paced, “me and my relationship” world.

Need evidence? Look no further than how others perceive their likability as “on par” with pursuing relationship.

Now, some of you might be thinking: But I’m not sure how else to think.  Are you sure this isn’t the best way to view your identity?

Of course not!

Why? Because in God’s eyes, your likability has already established. Thus, we don’t need to pursue relationships to validate our identity…our likability. Instead, we have been given the blessed opportunity to pursue covenant as God intended.

So how does this all relate to the church?

Let’s start by discussing the church as the bride of Christ.

In the New Testament, Christ, the Bridegroom, has sacrificially and lovingly chosen the church to be His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Just as there was a betrothal period in biblical times during which the bride and groom were separated until the wedding, so is the bride of Christ separate from her Bridegroom during the church age. Her responsibility during the betrothal period is to be faithful to Him (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:24). At the Second Coming of Christ, the church will be united with the Bridegroom, the official "wedding ceremony" will take place and, with it, the eternal union union of Christ and His bride will be actualized (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:1-2).1

video


Consider Joe’s spousal analogy. When you marry your spouse, you don’t just stop doing life together or contemplate leaving when things get rough. Rather, you stand by your commitment to stick things out through thick and thin.

Yet, with the majority of relational paradigms void of covenant, no wonder the divorce and premarital sex rates are so high. As sad as the trends are, you gotta admit: the stats makes sense when you consider most people just don’t get covenant.

But as crazy as it may sound, our notion of church is just as flawed.

Think about it.

Nowadays, the main reason people attend church is to hear a good sermon…to have the ear hairs tingle at the sound of spine-tingling truth. In response, church has been reduced to a quick pick-me-up at a convenience store, a pit-stop along our motor speedway life…

…or as Joe said, eating cereal, listening to an online sermon.

But truth is: church isn’t podcasting. Sure, can listening to an online sermon qualify as effective quiet time? Absolutely.

But when we see ourselves through God’s filter…then we realize how we’re adopted sons and daughters into the family of God, a body of believers, intended to be a source of peace, comfort, and care.

Of course, this doesn’t mean everything will be all fine and dandy.  No doubt, there will be times when we feel uncomfortable…and times we don’t immediately get along with another.

But if we’re doing relationships right, then we will experience tensions and conflicts. So when we find ourselves in an awkward situation, we must remember a) no one is perfect, b) isolation is never the answer and c) having a “home base” where we can be convicted of sin (even rebuked when necessary) is one of the greatest blessings in this life.

Just because you encounter a temporary relational road bump, doesn’t mean you have to withdraw from community.

Why?

‘Cause a) it’s not about you2 b) you’re part of the body (1 Corinthians 12), c) church is necessary to fulfill the Great Commission.

I know many have been ‘church hurt’ at some point in their life. Yet, this doesn’t entitle us to go rogue.3

I love what Joe says at the end of his vlog: “When you find a perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll ruin it and it’ll no longer be perfect.”

In other words, if you’re going to church not to get hurt, don’t bother going ‘cause church was never meant to be a ‘walking on eggshells’ experience.

After all, what sets the church apart is the fact we’re all aiming for something higher than anything this life has to offer. We’re all looking to anchor our hope in the same God. We’re all coming together to drink from the same fountain of grace.

If the Gospel “optionalized” our calling, then God’s message wouldn’t be one of love…and if God’s message didn’t require obedience to Himself, then we couldn’t experience the kind of personal, passionate devotion that comes with a real relationship with God.

Sure, we may admire, respect, and revere God, but we cannot love Him on our own. The only One who truly loves the Lord Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and it is He who has “poured out in our hearts” the very “love of God” (Romans 5:5). Whenever the Holy Spirit sees an opportunity to glorify Jesus through you, He will take your entire being and set you ablaze with glowing devotion to Jesus Christ.

But I’m telling you, friends, we shoot ourselves in the foot if we don’t position ourselves to receive…if we think personal growth can happen in a vacuum. Yes, we can encounter God individually, but we were never meant to walk alone. And that is why church is so important. It gives us community, accountability, a sacred place of prayer & worship, a place to increase our understanding…and a home to experience God in His glory.

In closing, I pray a blessing of peace and joy to saturate your life. May you be encouraged, challenged, and changed as you reflect on these truths.

Footnotes

1) From Beth Moore
2) I know we love to individual everything, but if we think the Bible was written to individuals, then we’ll read any passage on community with the wrong lens. 
3) If we think we’re an exemption, then we risk pride in addition to isolation (not a good mix).

Photo credits: theracelessgospel.com

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Friday, June 5, 2015

3 Ways to Overcome a Fear of Rejection


No doubt, we all burn to belong.
Makes sense…considering we were made for relationship…to put on love and commune in harmony (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:14).
But let’s be honest…such desires aren’t always realized, are they.
Relocations…busyness…life changes…even the walls we put up…cycle through as hindrances interfering with our need to find unity in community.
Yet, perhaps the greatest obstacle we face when we talk about healthy relationships is the fear of rejection1.
Now, I admit: I’m still progressing through my own set of relational insecurities. But while I may have much to learn, I’ve also grown a great deal having persevered through idolatrous pursuits of acceptance in my early 20's , in addition to recent challenges as a bivocational minister.
So when I say a fear of rejection is one of the most paralyzing strongholds, you can take my word to the bank.
As far as dealing with this fear type, you’ve probably heard much on the topic already.
Yet, for bivocationals juggling multiple responsibilities on the fly, it’s worth re-emphasizing given fear's tendency to find its way on the backburner.
Thus, in the spirit of stirring awareness, here are three practical ways to conquer a fear of rejection:
1) Own it. 
Statistics show the vast majority of what people worry about is either vain (false reality) or beyond their control (false expectations). In most cases, we fear once we sense a loss of control on a desirable outcome. For example, we want people to like us, but find we lack "chemistry". We want to be living our dream, but find our reality is far from it. We want to reap securities, but find all we have is fractured hope.
No question, the chasms are real; however, this doesn’t mean we’re chained to them until the bridge forms. Why? Because it’s only when we relinquish our lust for control we start to conquer our fears.
So next time you find yourself fearing rejection, questioning your fit, place, image, safety..or that of a loved one, own it, surrender the stress, pray the Word, embrace self-control, and faint not.
2) Reject it.
Sometimes, we treat fear like a giant game of dodgeball. We think if we can just finagle through life without getting hit, then we’ll be okay. The problem with this idea is…at some point, you will get hit, if not with the fear, then the temptation of it.
The best way to combat fear, especially the fear of rejection, is to value what equips you. ‘Cause when you realize you have what it takes to overcome, you won’t hesitate to stand your ground when the dodgeballs start flyin’, not to mention you’ll be in position to catch and dispatch them.
tumblr_mcij592NhJ1qasthro1_400
Just remember: When a fear of rejection is elevated to the point of dodging certain people and situations, you're ultimately giving it the power to manipulate your emotions and decisions. Instead, why not dare to be a conqueror (Romans 8:37) and reject fear rather than let fear do the rejecting2?
 3) Replace it.
Perhaps one of the most misinterpreted passages in all of Scripture is 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” At first glance, we may think Peter is suggesting love cancels out certain offenses; however, when we dissect the text, we find love, in this context, is a covering, more specifically...an opportunity for us to confront3, forgive, and press on in love-soaked honesty.
How does this apply to a fear of rejection? Well, for starters, the opposite of love is fear (not hate). Furthermore, love must speak truth (Ephesians 4:15) and requires action with respect to sin. Thus, if we value honesty as the first step of love4 and recognize fear as a reciprocating response, then we’ll realize how a) a fear of rejection numbs us to what we were created for5  and b) the absence of fear is not the endgame, but rather the beginning!
In other words, if you want to move on the right way, but are still burdened by a fear of rejection, don't just recognize and renounce it. Rather, take the next step and ask God specifically how He wants you to replace it!
'Cause when you do, you'll not only discover a new commitment to communicate the truth in love, but also unlock a stronger fear of Him6.   
Footnotes
1) Note: Initially, I had planned to write this piece on the fears of rejection and mediocrity; however, I’ve since decided to split this up into two parts, with today’s discussion focusing on the fear of rejection and next week’s feature on the fear of mediocrity.
2) There’s basically two responses to fear: “Forget everything and run” or “Face everything and rise
3) ...without taking offense
4) Inspired by Steve Fry’s sermon at The Gate Community Church on Sunday, May 31
5) Seriously…what sense does it make to forfeit even the potential for relational restoration and/or clarity in exchange for passive living, isolation, guilt, and dissatisfaction.
6) As honesty abounds, you'll find a fear of rejection will confound.
Photo credits: shifttohappy.com


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