Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dating In 2018:

It’s Valentine’s season. Love is in the air and on the internet… and it’s probably in your youth group too.

You might not call it love.

You might point out that they’ve only been dating for twenty minutes and that you taught a lesson, not even two weeks ago, about the difference between love and lust.

But they’re calling it love, and here’s what you need to know about it.

It’s not the same as when we were teenagers.

It’s tempting to think that teenage romances are the same animal they were in the eighties and nineties and early 2000’s. After all, how different are teenagers, really?

While I’d argue that teenagers aren’t that different from teenagers of generations past, the fact is their world is drastically different. That different world is informing the way they date each other. Dating today is different – a lot different – than it used to be. If you want to speak into the dating life of a modern teenager, it might helpful to understand just how different their relationships are.

Teenagers live out their relationships online.

I don’t mean that they have boyfriends who live in Sweden that they met in a chatroom (although that might be true for some of your students). I mean that every moment of their relationship is fodder to gain attention and likes on social media.

Consider the girl who shared a selfie of her and her boyfriend kissing on her Instagram story and tagged it with the caption, “First kiss.” That’s right. She took the moment to photograph and share her first kiss with the world. In fairness, it did get a ton of comments.

Or consider the phenomenon of ‘promposals.’ If you’re not sure what these are, YouTube it. Promposals are elaborately staged events where one person asks another to go to prom with them. They feature decorative poster boards and expensive flowers and sometimes flash mobs with choreographed dance numbers. These are built and designed to be shared on social media, and according to one senior girl, “You can tell how romantic it is based on how many likes it gets.”

They love FaceTime.

When I was a teenager, I would talk on the phone with my girlfriend for hours every night. Today? Not so much. Phone calls, after all, are for old people. FaceTime is where it’s at.

What does that mean? It means that sometimes, teenagers spend an inordinate amount of time “getting ready” before a FaceTime call. A teenage boy reported coming home from school, taking a shower, brushing his teeth, doing his hair, and getting dressed in nice clothes even though he was staying in for the rest of the night because he was supposed to FaceTime his girlfriend. Another admitted to buying another lamp for his bedroom simply because he didn’t like the way the shadows looked on his video.

Break ups hurt more.

One of the hidden costs of a pervasive social media is that our painful moments can be amplified and broadcast to the world. It’s bad enough to be rejected by a person you care about; it’s worse when it happens on a stage and you’re made out to be the loser.

When I was a teenager, a break up meant you had to give the other person back their stuff. Today, a break up often means deleting hundreds or thousands of pictures from social media. When I was a teenager, the days after a break up were spent at home in solace. Today, there is no solace. Teenagers get caught up in online fallout for weeks.

Technology isn’t always a friend.

Tristan Harris said it best in this TED Talk:

“It’s tempting to think that teenagers use social media the same way we used the telephone, but the difference is that when we talked on the phone, there wasn’t an army of psychologists and engineers trying to figure out how to get us to talk more.”

From Snapchat streaks to Instagram stories to Twitters feed algorithms, technology nudges students to spend more and more time in connection with each other. That’s not always a good thing.

A new understanding of teenage relationships.

When I was a teenager, an adult explained that there were three parties in an any healthy relationship: a man, a woman, and Jesus. Today, there’s a fourth party, technology, and no matter how much we try, it’s not going away.

Any conversation about purity, courting, or God-honoring relationships must acknowledge and deal with the fact that smartphones are a much a part of any modern teenage relationship as hand-holding and hormones. If you can teach with that in mind, you’ll be more successful at guiding your students toward a healthier dating life.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

When My Students Come Out To Me:

Lately, I have had more and more students want to meet and talk about same-sex attraction. We have moved from “my friend” is struggling with this, to “I” struggle with this. I am broken for my students who live in a world that has so many confusing messages surrounding this subject.

Cards on the table…

I believe that God established marriage for a husband/male and wife/female and to act on homosexual desires is sinful.  I’m not saying this to start an argument but just to be honest about where I’m coming from.

As ministers, our job is to diligently study, understand, and interpret Scripture for those we serve. In my own commitment to study, I’ve maintained a traditional view of scripture and definition of marriage, and it shapes how I lead students and families in my ministry.

At times, it can be hard to voice my beliefs with so many in my life who do wrestle with same-sex attraction – family & friends alike.  However, I’m called to lead those I minister to in a way that honors what I’ve found to be true through my study of Scripture.

Here’s the deal…

Whether you agree with me about my understanding of Scripture or not, the thing we can agree on is that our response to our gay students matter. It matters a WHOLE lot. As I’ve been navigating relationships with my students who have come out to me, here is what I’ve learned:

When a gay kid comes out to you, they are scared about how you’ll respond. Make sure every facial expression, every movement of your body, and every word you say communicates that you love them like crazy, that you are there to listen to them, that you want the best for them, that you won’t leave them, and that God feels the exact same.

I literally heard a mom recently say, “oh no, my kid is gay and they are going to go to Hell.”  Part of supporting teens that are walking through this is also helping parents.  Parents need help navigating just as much as their teens do. Prepare yourself for those conversations and find some resources that your church leadership approves that you can have on hand ready to pass to a parent. Remind parents that how THEY respond to their kid matters a lot too, and the next few points below are just as important for them as they are for us as youth workers.

My word. So often teens just need someone to chat with that will listen to them, not judge, try and correct or tell them they are wrong.  With so much information in our world, sometimes students don’t know what they are experiencing and are genuinely confused.  Giving them an ear to listen oftentimes helps them to flesh things out.

I have no power to change anyone, neither do you, however, the Holy Spirit can bring the change that needs to take place.  Any sort of convincing, guilting or persuading will only bring more confusion and hurt.

I have had great conversations with students when we opened the Bible together and they took time answering questions from scripture, rather than listening to me talk about this subject.

There is so much confusion in the church over the difference between temptation and sin.  So many students believe that being tempted is sin.  Back to point 4, open to James and help students see that just because they are tempted with something, doesn’t mean they have begun to sin in that area.

Just as Jesus offered to us, we can offer the same to others, give grace, we are all sinners trying to learn how to walk with God.  Remember verses like Romans 5:8 – while we were still in sin, Christ chose to die for us!

Let us not neglect this part of ministry.  Praying for students who struggle with sin.

There are times in ministry when you have to recognize your own limitations. It is no secret that gay kids are almost 5 TIMES AS LIKELY TO ATTEMPT SUICIDE than heterosexual kids. Do the hard work ahead of time to identify mental health professionals who your leadership recommends and build a referral process that can help take care of your kids in ways you aren’t equipped for.

Check on them a week after meeting, text, e-mail etc. Then check on them a month, then 6 months.  This helps you stay connected and helps them to know you really care.

7 Ways Short Term Mission Trips Are Helpful:

Increasingly, people are becoming critical of short-term mission trips. Some of this criticism is appropriate. However, in the midst of it all, we must not forget the ways short-term mission trips can be helpful. A qualification should be made here. This post is primarily about gospel-driven mission trips versus trips that are primarily service oriented with little to no verbal witness.

So, here are 7 ways short-term missions trips can be helpful:

1. They can help confirm one's calling. Short-term missions can help one experience the mission field in order to see if this is the environment into which God is calling them. Many a missionary’s clarity of call came through short-term trips. Additionally, other vocations are frequently confirmed or rejected as a result of the uniqueness of the mission trip.

2. They create an environment in which one can hear God speak clearly. Short-term trips provide a unique environment outside of our normal routines, and often outside of normal mobile phone receptions, where we tend to be more apt to discern the promptings and whispers of the Spirit.

3. They help get the gospel into hard-to-reach places. Some native Christian ministries are unwilling or unable to go to some of the places that are hardest to reach. Due to the vast amount of needs of the more populated areas and the limited resources some of these ministries have access to, not to mention the political and social corruption through which they often have to navigate, remote villages remain unreached. As a result, short-term mission teams are critical in reaching these people with the gospel.

4. They provide another avenue for fulfilling the Great Commission. At the end of the day, believers are called to be witnesses wherever they are and wherever God leads them. Short-term mission trips help people fulfill the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Also, people really do get saved through these trips.

5. They support and encourage career missionaries. Career missionaries often get lonely and feel forgotten. They are literally strangers in a foreign land. Short-term trips help provide them with biblical support and encouragement in a unique way.

6. They help people see, smell, and taste other areas of the world. Videos are not sufficient to communicate the needs, the lostness, the living conditions, and other difficulties that many of our brothers and sisters around the world face. Going in-person often stimulates prayers, passions, and support in a way stay-at-home experiences cannot.

7. They remind us of the diversity of heaven. The Kingdom will be made up of people from every tribe. When we travel, we are reminded that God is building his church and the church is much larger than our ethnicity or nationality. It reminds us of the beauty and the granduer of the kingdom that awaits all who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

CREW Student Ministry will be taking a Short Term Mission Trip to Honduras July 13-20th. If you would like to help sponsor a student please see Pastor T.

3 Things Those Created In The Image of God Should Do Every Day:

In Genesis 1:26, we are let in on a conversation that took place between the members of the Trinity.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Genesis 1:26a)

If you think about it, this is an amazing text because it tells us that we were designed and created by God. He thought about us, planned out what we would be like, and then He created us. When He created us, He didn't create us like the other animals. No, we are distinct from all other living things because we are created in God's image, in His likeness.

As creatures created in His likeness, there are several things we should do. Here are three of those things we should do every day.

1. We are to reflect His image and likeness to the world.

In other words, we shine forth God's characteristics to the world. Love, faithfulness, justice, wisdom, and more should characterize our lives, just as it characterizes God.

2. We are to act as His representatives. 

If you have ever traveled to another country, you know that the American Embassy can come in handy, especially if you lose your passport or get into trouble in another country.

While embassies and ambassadors posted there can come in handy for travelers, they aren't just there to assist travelers to the region. They have a much more important job to represent the US and its interests, while at the same time working to gain and maintain diplomatic relationships with the foreign government.

Just as the US and other countries appoint ambassadors, God has appointed us as His ambassadors or representatives on this earth. To that end, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20 says,

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

As His ambassadors, we are to carry His message of redemption and reconciliation to the world.

3. We are to exercise dominion and work to bring order and beauty to God's creation.

Along with carrying His message of redemption and reconciliation to the world, as His representatives, we are also to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28-30). He gives us that right so that we might bring order and beauty out of chaos.

Here are ways we can do this:

  • By keeping our yards, tending the garden, or working the farm, we are bringing order and beauty out of chaos.
  • By creating technologies such as airplanes, cars, and computers, we are bringing order and beauty out of chaos.
  • By planning and developing neighborhoods and cities, we bring order and beauty out of chaos.
  • By loving our neighbor, caring for the sick and poor, and leading our families in a godly way, we are bringing order and beauty out of chaos.
  • By evangelizing, along with preaching and teaching God's Word, we are bringing order and beauty out of chaos.
  • We also bring order and beauty out of chaos when we work for the shalom of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).

In all these ways and more we can push back the chaos and bring order and beauty to this world.

While there are other things that we are to as those created in God's image, these are three that we can do each and every day.

The Stupidity of Sin:

The Puritans use to speak of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. And they were right to do so. Sin is a heinous insult to a holy God. It is lawless, treasonous, rebellion.

It’s also really dumb.

Everyone who knows the Bible, knows people, or knows his own heart, knows this to be true: sin makes us stupid.

Think of the Garden of Eden. You literally live in paradise, and you listen to a snake whisper something about a tasty fruit. Why risk it?

Or David and Bathsheba. You are the king for crying out loud. You have everything. You’ve seen the Lord bless your socks off since you were a boy. And you send for a pretty bathing girl? And then try to cover your tracks with one boneheaded sin after another?

The prodigal son is another classic example. He could have had fine food, familial warmth, and a roof over his head. But he got greedy, blew through a wad of cash, and ended up with the pigs.

Or what about the thief on the cross (the bad one) who can’t think of anything better to do with his final breaths than to mock another dying “criminal”?

And then there’s Ananias and Sapphira who get themselves killed over a silly lie about how much they got for their property. What a waste.

Sin makes us stupid.

When we are thinking rationally, we can see the insanity of sin. Why would anyone throw away a livelihood, a family, or a reputation for a 30-minute roll in the hay? What good will it do to seek revenge, and feel satisfied for an afternoon, if it means reaping a whirlwind of consequences for decades? Why would we keep drinking, telling ourselves it’s only in moderation, if we know a thousand bad things can happen if we fall off the wagon again? Why would we flirt with a married man? Why follow the woman up to her room? Why flip through those channels in the hotel room?

Sadly, we’ve all seen it before. From friends and family. Maybe from a trusted pastor or ministry colleague. It’s easier to see in others—the defensiveness, the blame-shifting, the excuse making, the nonsense of exchanging decades of faithfulness for minutes of folly. But what’s clear when looking at others can be hard to spot in ourselves. Just like the proverbial piece of lettuce on the lips, we can be last to realize how stupid we’ve become because of sin.

We may sin in serenity for a season. But God cannot be mocked forever (Gal. 6:7). Our madness will be made manifest. Eventually, his words will overtake us (Zech. 1:6).

So repent, says the prophet (Zech 1:6). Let us turn from temptation before it is too late. Let’s all of us—myself included—hide the Word in our hearts, or better still, tell a friend, “Please tell me when I’m being stupid, and if I don’t believe you then, remind me that I believe you now.”

And if we ever do find ourselves sitting among the swine, let’s remember that the Father is ready for us to come home. With open arms, a warm embrace, and a top-notch party.

When we come to our senses and put aside the stupidity of sin.

Have You Been Hurt By The Church:

Have you ever found yourself dreading Sunday mornings when you know you should feel joy? Or have you felt that the church fellowship hall has been laced with land mines? Perhaps the nastiness or neglect of fellow Christians has made you feel like Christ has forgotten you.

If so, you’re familiar with church pain.

Not “If,” but “When”
One guarantee of committing to any local church is that, sooner or later, it will hurt. Whether it involves low-level disappointments, fallout from scandal, or the ravages of civil war, the local church will always leave us aching for something better.

Relatively minor church hurts can leave us with a burned-out feeling during service, while the more serious wounds can leave us soul-scarred and physically sick at the thought of walking in the church doors. Far from being innocuous, the pain can open us up to various temptations: sitting in judgment over the church and its struggles, refusing to participate in any church ministries that are not up to par, tearing the church down with our words, or even withdrawing from the church altogether.

If we want to battle these temptations instead of growing disillusioned, we need to remember the truth about the church’s members, the church’s enemy, and the church’s King.

Remember the Church’s Members
Scripture contains beautiful metaphors of the church: a stately building (1 Peter 2:5), a radiant bride (Revelation 19:7–8), a human body (1 Corinthians 12:12), a house for God’s Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22). Why do we often feel such a stark contrast between these images and our experience in an actual church body?

Bear with me while I state the obvious: the church is made of people. Although Scripture describes many ways in which human beings echo the image of God back to creation, there are at least three ways in which we do not: we sin, we are finite, and we change. Each of these can take a toll on our life together.

Sinful people hurt each other. Put a group of people of diverse ages, backgrounds, convictions, personalities, ethnicities, and sin struggles in relationship together, and life’s going to get messy quickly. And none of us is above it. When it comes to minor church hurts especially, sometimes adjusting our expectations can be helpful. Since we are all capable of doing damage, it is unreasonable to expect the church environment to be pain-free. Furthermore, Jesus foretold the ominous reality that wolves can enter the flock, wreaking havoc, scattering sheep, and leaving behind collateral damage (Matthew 7:15). God will hold these people accountable, but he may not do it right away.

People are also finite. Only God is limitless in his knowledge, love, power, and wisdom. Rather than expecting of others what only God can perfectly provide, we need to trust God to be God and let each other be human. On the other side of the spectrum, it is helpful to remember that every believer, regardless of deficiencies, is essential to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21–25). This can help us have grace for our church leaders and each other, and remind us of the necessity of our own contribution to the local church body.

Finally, because people change over time, churches are dynamic, not static. Even the best churches will eventually disappoint. Although we rightfully long to be part of healthy church bodies, our ultimate hope is not in how strong our local church is, but in the Head of the church himself. God’s purposes will prevail as he builds his church in his way.

Remember the Church’s Enemy
Jesus has an enemy, and it’s not the person in the next pew.

Satan has hated God from the beginning, and he wants to destroy, or at least diminish, the church because it is God’s chosen instrument to grow his kingdom. Satan wants to tear down the church as fast as Jesus can build it. He is not above shameful tactics or shock-and-awe moves, either. His many notorious titles in Scripture include liar (John 8:44), thief (John 10:10), accuser (Revelation 12:10), adversary (1 Peter 5:8), and murderer (John 8:44).

When it comes to the deep wounds the church can inflict, remember who the real enemy is. Behind the raging conflict or the oppressive leader is a crafty strategist whose ruthless plan involves consuming God’s people, or at least rendering their faith inactive. If you are wondering whether to stay in a church or leave, remember either way that Satan is actively seeking people to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And cling to Jesus, whose death and resurrection tolled the initial death knell for Satan.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). We know that Satan was defeated at the cross, when Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Satan will ultimately hold no power over God’s people because, when Christ returns, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every enemy of God, including all demonic powers that rage against God (1 Corinthians 15:24–25), and even death itself (1 Corinthians 15:26). Christ the Victor will conquer all, and God’s people will enjoy him forever in the absence of sin, death, and Satan.

Remember the Church’s King
In very difficult church situations, staying (in faith) or going (in humility and love) may both be valid options. When possible, seeing a tough church situation through can be the strongest statement a believer can make — not about the church, but about Jesus. Our commitment to the bride is a statement about the worth of the Bridegroom. Jesus died for his bride to make her spotless and splendid forever (Ephesians 5:25–27). Jesus believed the beauty of the church was worth his life, so he laid it down to purify her. She reflects back to him not her own intrinsic worth, but the worth of the One who created, called, and redeemed her.

Jesus’s bride sometimes reflects more of sin’s stains than her Savior’s splendor. We are in the process of being sanctified until Jesus returns. But we know that one day we will be glorified, perfected as sin’s presence is removed. Then, even the most cantankerous believer will be radiant in Christ’s righteous robes, and we will worship together in harmony. Until then, God’s people can continue to declare his worth by committing themselves to his warty and, at times, vicious bride, trusting that he will make her lovely in time.

The Bridegroom will return and conquer the church’s enemies, including sin, death, and Satan. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Does My Teenager Really Need Youth Group:

For families with teenagers, time is a valuable commodity. Between the rat race of school, sports, work, social lives, and many other activities vying for time, why should you, as a parent, encourage your student to be active in your church’s youth group?

Youth group, student ministry, the young folks – whatever your church calls it – has received some criticism over recent years. Student ministry has its flaws, believe me; I can give you a list. But, student ministry also provides many positives for a teenager’s life, faith, and even for their future.

Here are my top 5 reasons why your teenager needs a youth group:

Teenagers need to know the “why.”

The President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, Thom Rainer, once said, “If you can’t explain to a [young person] why you do what you do in your church, they’ll reject everything you do.” His point was directly tied to Millennials, but the same will likely be true of the generation coming up behind them. If we don’t contextualize matters of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, the Bible, the cross, the resurrection, the Church, the great commission, and other essential matters of the faith into their world, many young people cease to understand why they should even bother. Effective student ministry should provide the answers to the “why’s” of the Christian faith in a teenager’s context.

Teenagers need someone to look up to.

Teenagers become less concrete and more abstract thinkers as they progress through adolescence. During this time, their brains quickly gravitate toward some non-parental person that seems to have a better grip on the world around them that they can mimic. During the teenage years, parents are replaced by teachers, coaches, other teenagers, college students, celebrities, athletes, and a myriad of others as the primary role models that a teenager follows.

But, is that always what’s best for them? If you could choose who these role models were, wouldn’t you rather have an adult who loves Jesus and is actively following Jesus to come alongside your teenager? Small group leaders, volunteers, and (yes, even lowly) youth pastors can be one of those people a teenager looks to for guidance during this time. This is not one person's job. This is the job of the church. They say it takes a village to raise a child; well it takes one to mentor a teenager as well.

Teenagers need community.

“Who all is going?” – every teenager ever.

Teenagers feel a deep sense of belonging. To many of them, where they belong is less important than that they belong. What better place for a teenager to find a place to belong than their church? The church should aim to provide a place where teenagers can learn to love and support one another, share their lives, and grow up together as they are taught what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Teenagers need a greater purpose.

Teenagers long to be part of something bigger than them. Sports, bands, and clubs have capitalized on this longing for decades. If we can effectively communicate and contextualize their greater purpose as a follower of Christ – to love and be loved by their Creator and to carry out the Great Commission – we can tap into something deep within their souls.

I think too many youth groups try to throw the biggest party for their students. As teenagers get older, and especially out of high school, they find out the world throws bigger and, let’s say, “more fun” parties. So why should we compete with the world? Give them something the world cannot – a greater purpose for their soul, and guidance in how to live for that purpose.

Teenagers need a safe place to be vulnerable.

If we’re being honest, don’t we all need a safe place to be vulnerable? Don’t we all long for the chance to be ourselves? Don’t we all desire to be loved and accepted as we are? Don't we all want to be enough? Few places like that exist in this world, and if we can cultivate our student ministries to be places where teens can ask honest questions, share genuine struggles, and deal with real problems, we invite them to a place that many of us as adults also crave – a place where we are loved like Jesus.

Student ministry is not perfect. But, if structured properly, it can be a place that helps teenagers become what every Christian parent desires – mature followers of Jesus Christ.

"Then, we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ." Ephesians 4:14-15 (CSB)