Faith

FAITH…

  • Believes without seeing
  • Acts without all the answers
  • Hopes in the cross
  • Lives in the resurrection
  • Grows in the field, not the classroom
  • Enables my steps
  • Conquers my fear
  • Requires true belief
  • Pushes me beyond my abilities
  • Mandates trust in the power and sovereignty of Jesus
  • Trusts that His ways are always better than mine
  • Knows that He will never leave me or forsake me
  • Understands that you may not know all of the answers on this side of heaven
  • Leads you to places you never dreamed
  • Makes your feet move to His heart beat
  • Moves mountains
  • Awakens the heart
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see. Hebrews 11.1
How do you define faith?
Where has your faith (or lack thereof) lead you?
Enter your comment below.

Not The Brightest Crayon In The Box

I like the disciples. No, really, I like them. Mainly because they do some pretty dumb stuff and then I’m dumb enough to think that there’s no way I would do that if I was in their shoes. Think about it: these guys are rabbinical school dropouts, they couldn’t make the cut; academics weren’t exactly their strong suit. Yet Jesus saw something in them, some intrinsic value that he knew he could mold and shape into an unstoppable force.

The disciples had their highlights:

  • When Peter responded to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
  • When Peter walked on water
  • When the disciples left everything to follow Jesus

And then they had more than their fair share of lowlights:

  • When Peter continued his reply to Jesus’ question and he was called Satan
  • When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and sank
  • When they couldn’t heal the boy possessed by a demon because of a lack of prayer on their part
  • When James and John argue about who is the greatest
  • When Thomas doubts
  • When Peter denies Jesus not once, not twice, but three times
  • When judas betrays Jesus
  • When They don’t see how it is possible for Jesus to feed 5000 hungry men, plus the women and children with them

And there was the time that Jesus fed 4000 men, plus women and children. In Mark chapter 6 the disciples watch Jesus take 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish and after praying there’s enough food for everyone to be comfortably stuffed and still have 12 baskets full of leftovers. Fast forward to Mark chapter 8 and the disciples find themselves in a very familiar situation…you could almost call it déjà vu.

Except this time there are fewer men, 1000 fewer to be precise. One would think that if they found themselves in a similar situation they would respond differently the second time around…not so with this band of ragamuffins. They had the exact same reaction this time as the first.

I imagine it like this:
Jesus: Alright guys, here we are again. A large, hungry crowd at a remote location and it’s the end of the day. What should we do?
Disciples: Jesus we’re more tired and more hungry than they are because we had to put up with them. Let’s send them away and let them fend for themselves.
Jesus: Guys, have we ever been in a situation like this before?
Disciples: Yes…..siiiiiiigh
Jesus: Well guys, what should we do?
Disciples: Let’s see what we can find and we’ll bring it to you.
Jesus: Well?
Disciples: So, last time there were 5000 men plus women and children and we had five loaves of bread and two fish. This time we found seven loaves of bread and a few small fish for 4000 men, plus women and children.
Jesus: In a similar situation, guys, why did you think I was incapable of providing for you again? You have to believe. You have to trust. It is in my nature to take care of my people. Don’t you remember what Abraham said after my Father provided the scapegoat for Isaac? Abraham said: “The LORD will Provide.” And he even made an altar there. Don’t you remember what Moses said as Joshua was set to assume leadership? Moses told the Israelites, “He (meaning Me) will never leave you or forsake you.” And guys, seriously, what about when we were on that huge grassy hill beside the Sea of Galilee where I said: “If my Father takes such good care of birds and flowers why would he not take even better care of you.” Guys, believe in me.

The timelessness of the bible is beautiful. The timing of God when he speaks through the bible is perfect. I find myself in a situation I experienced a few years ago. Except this time I had the audacity to think that there was no way God could provide in a similar way in a similar situation. And then, in the perfect timing of beautiful timeless truth, God spoke. I read Mark 8 that day in my time with Jesus; not because I remembered the story being there, but because I am working my way through the gospels. The moment I thought there was no way God was capable of providing this time, He, in His infinite wisdom and complete sovereignty led me to read this story.

The next time you-as I often do-find yourself held hostage by a lack of confidence in the abilities of God to provide for his people, remember that Jesus once fed over 5000 people and then followed it up by feeding over 4000 people on a separate occasion just days apart.

Often the disciples were not the brightest crayons in the box, but then again, neither am I. Indeed, the LORD will provide and He will never leave you (me) or forsake you (me).

Mission Trip Bingo

Now that the summer is winding down and students are getting back into their routines, I thought we could have a little fun.  Keep this in mind for your next mission trip.

Enjoy!

Image

Things I Didn’t Learn In A Classroom

After ten summers in student ministry I thought I would write down a list of the things I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way. Here we go……

  1. You will always get weird looks buying supplies for the next event from Walmart. Who else buys pool noodles, shot glasses, a slinky, pickled pig’s feet, spam, and 100 ping-pong balls in the same purchase?
  2. Always. Point. Them. To. Jesus.
  3. Camp still works. When you’re at camp with your students join them during rec and don’t be too cool to lather on some face paint to rep your squad during rec. Have fun; don’t take yourself too seriously—even if you did get hosed in a Singing Bee competition.
  4. Dodgeball is still a fan favorite. Sometimes students don’t need an over produced event that you’ve been planning for 6 months; they need a pool or slip-n-slide and hot dogs. Don’t just plan an event, participate. Ask for help. Don’t do it alone.
  5. Don’t take the summer off just because you’re students are out of school. Be intentional; both planned and spontaneous. If they have a job, stop by to see them. If they play a sport, show up after conditioning with an ice chest full of Gatorade. Never underestimate the impact a cherry-limeade can have. Students like food and their friends do too: invite them to lunch.
  6. Coffee. Lots of coffee.
  7. Getting on school campuses is still effective. Build relationships with students, administration, teachers, coaches, and resource officers.
  8. Don’t forget the parents. Build trust by building relationships.
  9. Connect your graduated seniors to the college-aged ministry in your church BEFORE they leave for school in the fall. Also, give them the names of some churches near where they will be living to get plugged in to.
  10. On a mission trip something unexpected always happens.
  11. Students can change the world, like Jack Andraka. God still uses students to impact and influence the church, Like Zach Hunter.
  12. Spend quality and quantity time with your family when you’re not traveling. Set a quick pace, but don’t forget to Sabbath. In the hectic pace of the summer schedule don’t forget to carve out time for you and Jesus.
  13. Make sure students understand what a red flag warning means at beach camp. No joke. Seriously, not a joke.
  14. Students are more likely to respond positively when you ask them to do something rather than bark orders at them like a drill instructor at Paris Island.
  15. Don’t shy away from having the tough conversation with a student. After all, our job does not afford us the luxury of skirting the tough issues.
  16. Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump into the deep end.

Here’s to many, many more summers investing in the lives of students, parents, and families.

What’s on your list?

A Chemistry Refresher

Go back in time with me for a minute, will you? It’s your sophomore year of high school. You’re sitting in your chemistry class zoning out. Did your chemistry teacher hate you too? Remember that giant, wall-sized periodic table? You probably remember elements H & O; but do you remember which element is W?
W = Tungsten
H = Hydrogen
O = Oxygen
What on earth does the combination of elements W, H, & O have to do with Jesus?

If you get enough Tungsten and heat you can fashion it into a ring, like my wedding ring. If you get the right combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms you get water.

Now, what do a wedding ring and water have to do with Jesus?

Yesterday, maybe a lot.
Today, not as much as yesterday.
Tomorrow, maybe nothing at all.

Since I have mentioned the word “wedding” I feel like I should also mention two things:
First, this is not a commentary on the latest United States Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or California’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition 8 (Prop 8).

And secondly, “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…and wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…so tweasure your wuv. Have you the wing?”

For millennia the Church has celebrated believer’s baptism or baptism by immersion as one of the central ordinances of the Church. It followed the new convert’s vocal confession of “Jesus is Lord” and signified membership and alignment with a local congregation. Not much has changed. And I am not suggesting that it should.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a new believer come up out of the baptismal waters. A few weeks ago I was asked to assist my pastor in helping him baptize people (a first for me); I’ll never forget those moments.

In fact, one of the best parts of my “job” is seeing and being a part of the light bulb moments in the lives of students. The other day I was having a conversation with a student who went to camp. While we were at camp she experienced the most pivotal lightbulb moment of her life: she put her life in Jesus’ hands. She’s a new believer! Our conversation on this particular day was about next steps, specifically about baptism.

Typically when I speak with students about baptism I use my wedding ring to help explain the significance, symbolism, and meaning of believer’s baptism. Well, after speaking with this student I realized that this illustration may no longer mean what it used to.

My spiel usually goes something like this:
Me: Do you see my wedding ring?
Student: Yes.
Me: What does my ring mean?
Student: It means that your married.
Me: You’re right. My wedding ring tells the world a few things: (1) that I am married, (2) that I love my wife, and (3) that I am committed to my wife forever. Make sense?
Student: Yes.
Me: Baptism is a lot like a wedding ring. It shows the world and the church that (1) you’re a Christ follower, (2) that you love Jesus, and (3) that you’re serious about this relationship and committed to him forever.
Me: Now, there’s nothing special about the water. It’s literally the same water you take a shower with at home. We don’t sprinkle anything into it. It really is just tap water. The reason we call it believer’s baptism is because getting baptized doesn’t save you, Jesus does. Since, you have put your faith in Jesus and given him control of your life, the next step for you will be baptism. What other questions do you have for me?

Again, this is not a commentary on DOMA or Prop 8. On this particular day, after the student and I were done talking I remembered that their parents live together, they are not divorced, have had 4 kids together, but have never been married. They are committed to each other, but not married. So what did my illustration mean to my student?

My ring as an illustration may not mean as much to a student like this one or to a student from a broken/blended family. However, it means and signifies a great deal to me. You see, my ring is a symbol of my love and commitment to my wife and my wife to me.

Even though a wedding ring might not mean what it once did, and even though it feels like nearly half of my students come from broken or blended families I will continue to use my wedding ring to explain baptism. Because, like baptism my ring signifies:

Eternal, unconditional love
Unwavering commitment
Complete trust
Covenant relationship

Also, my ring, like baptism, is a symbol of life change. I went from being single to being married–for the record I enjoy married life much more than bachelor life. I went from being an outsider to being an insider with Jesus; from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus personally; from having a relationship with the church (religion) to having a personal relationship with Jesus.

Our government will probably continue to redefine things; it may even redefine marriage yet again. In spite of all this, a wedding ring will continue to symbolize a covenant relationship between fallible humans; baptism will continue to symbolize a covenant relationship between an infallible God and redeemed believers.

Student pastors: keep using the wedding ring to help explain baptism and above all else, keep pointing students to Jesus.

Like A 2×4 To The Face

This year in our life groups I have the privilege of leading my seniors. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the guys and girls better. This Saturday I will watch them graduate from high school. I can’t help but think of that awful purple cap and gown with gold trim that I wore over ten years ago (I feel old writing that).

At the beginning of the school year I let them choose what book of the bible they wanted to walk through on Sunday mornings. They told me their choice was Revelation. They did that to see my reaction. They saw it. Laughed. And told me they were joking. They were serious when they said Romans and I smiled a bit inside because this book is no cake walk.

Several months ago we got to chapter 4 of Romans. Personally, I have been stuck on Romans 4.17 ever since. I can’t shake it. It consumes my thoughts, imaginations, wonderings.

The last part of Romans 4.17 says, “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”

I knew that. I knew both parts of that verse to be very true. I have read through Romans and studied Romans personally and academically. I had never seen chapter 4, verse 17 before. It was like a 2×4 to the face. It connected two key dots. That Sunday we were to cover chapter 4, we actually just covered verse 17.

Stop. Go back and re-read verse 17. Now do it one last time. Sit there. Let it soak in. Now, think about it, ponder it, delight in it. That smile that you feel on your face, it’s ok. That quiet laughter in your soul, it’s ok, too. Now let’s look at the last part of Romans 4.17: “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”

Our God is the God who brings dead things to life. Literally, God has the power to bring dead things to life. He has the power and ability and history of bringing physically dead people back to life. Don’t believe me? Go read John 11 and the story of Lazarus; or Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 to read about Jesus’ resurrection. God also has the power to bring spiritually dead people back to life, look at the Apostle Paul, or me, or perhaps yourself. The result of my sin was my spiritual death and separation from God. But God fixed that through Jesus.

The last phrase of that verse says that God is the one who called into being things that were not. Literally, God created everything out of nothing. He is the God who spoke into being everything that we know and see in six days and rested on the seventh. He is the God who put the sun and moon and stars in the heavens. Who created the universes and galaxies that are beyond our comprehension and that we are still discovering. He put the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, and the animals on land. He is the God who took two fistfuls of dirt, molded it, and breathed life into it to create man. Then he caused man to go into a deep sleep, took a rib out and fashioned woman. He is the God who has created e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

When life spirals out of control…
When you’re compass leads you to the wrong north…
When the GPS doesn’t get a signal…
When the fog becomes normal…
When 2 + 2 = 5…
Then delight in the God of Romans 4.17; the God who is in charge, who creates, and who gives life.

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15.16

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” Isaiah 40.12

Which part(s)of God do you delight in?

The Hardest Week In Student Ministry

One unavoidable aspect of ministry is walking with people during dark days. It means that when they “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” we are walking beside them. In student ministry this is amplified when it is the unexpected death of a teenager by suicide.

In less than six short months the small community I live in has experienced teenage suicide twice. One boy. One girl. Both high school sophomores. Different schools. Same hurt.

As I heard the news of the second suicide last week my heart sank. It brought up memories from six months ago: countless conversations with hurting, grieving, angry, and confused students. I cleared my schedule and spent three days in the high school library talking with any student who needed someone to listen. That Wednesday night we partnered with some local churches and opened our door to the community–parents and students alike.

That night I shared the gospel with over 200 hurting students. In each of these cases both students were believers and that is where we find comfort.

That night I spoke from John 14.1-8, a familiar passage read at funerals. It is a passage that I tearfully read at my grandfather’s funeral six years ago. The hook for my talk that night was: “Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our strength.” These truths are what we and our students must cling to when we face tragic, hurtful circumstances.

Many of my students (I view myself as having a multi-site student ministry: church campus, middle school campuses, and high school campus) were hurting, confused, and grieving. Many of them were looking for hope and strength…believer and unbeliever alike. Most of them were looking for answers to tough questions–I know because during my days in the library I was asked several of them. And here’s the thing, the beauty of the bible is that it speaks to many issues. The bible doesn’t mention sexting, it does tell us that there shouldn’t be even the smallest hint of sexual immorality amongst us (Ephesians 5.3). It may not talk about the speeding, but it does address obeying the laws of the land (Romans 13.1-2). The bible does not speak directly to suicide, but it does talk about life and death and heaven and hell.

John 14.1-8 begins by telling us to trust in God. By calling on us to trust in God, Jesus is making three succinct statements:

  • We can COUNT on God.
  • We can RELY on God.
  • We can LEAN on God.

A few verses later Philip, who’s brother Nathanael was the disciple who’s initial response to Jesus was bewilderment that anything worthwhile can come from podunk, backwoods Nazareth, speaks up. Philip states that he wants to see God and that will be enough. Indeed, it would. What Philip is saying is that he believes that if he can just see God, for a moment, that all of his problems will disappear. While this seems certainly true, Jesus’ response is intriguing: “Philip you have seen God because you have seen me!”

This passage reminds us, student pastor, student, and parent alike that Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our strength. You see, hope is the ability to see beyond right now. We have to remind our students that there is more to life than the next fifteen minutes and what seems like an apocalyptic catastrophe will only be a blip on the screen of life. We have to be honest with them and inform students that there are going to be tough days ahead. But it’s a process…sometimes they will have to take it second by second…others, day by day. They will get through it. Strength is the ability to get through today. And this strength doesn’t come from a bench-press. This strength comes from resting in the grace, mercy, and peace of God that is beyond our understanding. Remind students to get back into a routine. Go to bed that night. Wake up the next day. Eat breakfast. Shower. Go to school. Go to extracurricular activities or a job. Come home. Eat dinner. Do your homework. Go to bed. Repeat. And yes, you may have to get that basic with a grieving student.

I love how Jesus reminds the disciples that they know the way. He reminds them of all they have done with him and seen him do. He then tells them: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Again, succinctly Jesus makes three statements:

  • He is our LINK to God.
  • He is COMPLETELY RELIABLE in who he is and what he does.
  • He is our EXAMPLE for life on earth, but also the GIVER of eternal life.

And for these two sophomores in high school death, although as tragic as it was, was not the end of the story for them. Not in the least! No, they are now face-to-face with Jesus in heaven for eternity. This is not to glamorize suicide, but to provide comfort in grief. I believe that there is no situation for which suicide is a viable option. Yet, that does not mean that God, in his infinite wisdom and sovereignty, cannot turn tragedy into beauty. As pastors to students that is our job in every situation: point them to Jesus.

You see, these students realized several things about a relationship with Jesus.

  • They realized that Jesus loved them and wanted a relationship with them.
  • They realized that they were sinners…rebels instigating a coup against God.
  • They believed in who Jesus is and what he does and that he is the only one who could pay the penalty for their sin (death on a cross).
  • They gave control of their lives to Jesus.

And because of this they are in heaven with Jesus, right now.

Seminary did a great job of teaching me the content and theology of the bible as well as how to teach it faithfully and accurately. However, one area where I feel that seminary needs improving is in training ministers in ministry. I learned theology in the classrooms and ministry in the trenches. In the last six months I have been increasingly frustrated with this void in seminary instruction. I have come to the conclusion that the reason seminary education lacks a course or even a lecture in counseling people in the wake of a suicide is because it is literally impossible to recreate in a lab/practicum format. I would have gladly given back my degree for some talking points; things to say and not to say, questions to ask and not to ask.

Walking with students. “through the valley of the shadow of death,” I discovered the following and I pray they will help you should the day come in your ministry:

  • Find out if the student (or person) who committed suicide was a believer. More than anything this vital information will determine the direction of your conversation. In my context, fortunately both students were, in fact, believers.
  • Explain to the person you are counseling that Gods grace is sufficient; i.e., it covers all of our past sins, present sins, and future sins once we place our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. They need to know that the method of death has no bearing on their eternal security.
  • Ask them how they are feeling.
  • Ask them what is going on in their heads.
  • Ask them if they could paint a picture of their heart and mind right now, what would it look like.
  • Ask them to describe the person who committed subside to you in 3 words.
  • Ask them to give you their favorite memory of the person. Then have them give you a second.
  • If they are an introvert, consider that they may prefer one-on-one counseling.
  • Again, if they are an introvert it may be easier for them to express themselves through journaling. Encourage them to journal for the next 24 hours, then meet with them again and discuss what they have written.
  • Learn everything you can about teenage brain development. You can check out a blog I wrote titled: It’s Like TNT or read A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Teenage Brain.
  • Remind them that everyone grieves at a different pace. And that’s ok. Give them a heads up of what they’ll likely face in the grieving process (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross):

DENIAL. Shock. This didn’t happen. This isn’t real. They’ll walk down the hall any minute.

ANGER. How did this happen?! Who caused this?!

BARGAINING. What if…. Or I’d give “x” to have that person back. Or why not me? Or I should’ve done “y.”

DEPRESSION. Too sad to focus. No hope.

ACCEPTANCE. It’s real. It happened. I won’t forget, but I can get through this.

  • Encourage them to get back into a routine as soon as possible.
  • Do not use the word “successful” in context with the suicide. Rather, use “completed” so as not to glorify the act.
  • Ask them if they are thinking about hurting themselves. Even if they say “no,” probe this for a moment to be sure. If they are thinking of hurting themselves refer them to a professional counselor immediately. Also, see if you can find out their plan and even take possession of the item that they intend on using to take their life.
  • Pray with them.
  • Pray for them.
  • Follow up.

Lastly, some additional resources:

Confronting suicide in student ministry is never easy, but our job does not afford us the luxury of skirting difficult issues.

“We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” 1 Thessalonians 2.8 (NLT)

And the Oscar goes to…

My generation, the Millennials Generation Y, Mosaics, or whatever you may call us is obsessed with fame.  It is an underlying cause to the explosion of social networks/media.  It’s why our self worth is intricately connected with the amount of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Instagram followers.  It also helps to explain the success of reality tv and YouTube.  The heart cry of my generation is: LOOK AT ME!

There is one story that is different from every other story.

The difficulty with the Story of God is asking oneself, “Where do I fit?”  The Story of God is unique.  It is an eternal story. The critical reality to reconcile in the Story of God is that you and I are not the main character and we will never be the main character. Let me say that again: you are not the main character in the story of God.  Some of you are relieved by that, others of you are enraged by that.

If you and I can never play the role of the main character in the Story of God, then where do we fit?

Are you a supporting actor?

Are you actively involved in the story of God?

Supporting actors have a relationship with Jesus and they are consumed with advancing his kingdom and not their own.

If you are a supporting actor, might I suggest that you ask yourself three questions?

  1. What is God saying to you?
  2. What are you going to do about it?
  3. Who are you going to share it with?

Are you an extra, involved only in the crowd scenes?

If you would call yourself an extra, then my assumption would be that you have a malnourished relationship with Jesus.  You prayed a prayer somewhere along the way.  Perhaps at youth camp or children’s church or DNOW.  You are not actively involved in the Story of God.  You might even think that ministry is for the “professionals.”

Sure, you show up to church; but you probably only read your bible or pray during a crisis.  And let’s be honest, you probably want all of the benefits, without undertaking any of the responsibility of being a Christ Follower.

For the extra on the set, might I suggest that your next steps could be the following:

  • Ask yourself, “Am I ok with being an extra?”  If not, what are you going to do  about it?
  • Perhaps there is some sin you need to admit to God.
  • Lastly, maybe you should to start reading your bible…again….

Do you have a ticket to watch the movie from the comfort of stadium seating in a posh movie theater?

If you would identify with this description, then my guess is that you do not have a relationship with Jesus, but you are very curious.  You find yourself asking questions frequently about matters of faith and religion and what happens after you die.  You realize, as Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum {hole} in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

This Jesus guy and the things he does and says piqué your interest.  You are reaching out and asking questions of people you believe to be Christ followers.

If this is you, then may I ask, “What’s stopping you from beginning a relationship with Jesus?”

Do you know what it takes?

  • Ask God to forgive or sins.
  • Believe that Jesus is who he says he is and does what he says he can do.
  • Commit your life to following him everyday.

Click here for a short video explaining this.

Did you even know that a story like this existed?

If you were unaware of the Story of God the chances are that you do not have a relationship with Jesus. You’re not even sure what to make of all this Jesus stuff. May I make a suggestion?

Grab a cup of coffee or coke with someone you know that is a Christ Follower, and ask questions, begin a dialogue.  Maybe it’s a coworker, a neighbor, a dad on your kids football team, or a pastor…just try not to listen to a tv preacher….

If the heart cry of my generation is: look at me. Then, the heart cry of the story of God is: I LOVE YOU!  Therefore, our greatest struggle will be to humbly and honestly answer this simple, yet profound, question: “Where do I fit?”

  • Which one are you?
  • What is your next step?

What’s so good about Friday?

Millions of Christians around the world tonight will pause and remember that 2000 years ago an assuming child was born. He grew up in an unassuming village as the son of a carpenter. This same boy would grow into a man and come onto the scene at a wedding in Cana. After that wedding in Cana he would go on to turn the religious establishment upon its head.

The the religious elite would respond by conspiring to have him eliminated, assassinated, crucified. You see nearly 2000 years ago this day they took this King down from his cross and laid him in a tomb. Hope had vanished. His followers hid. The world was dark. Satan rejoiced.

But then, there was that day, that Sunday. Friends went to an empty tomb and spoke with angels who gave them the news the continues to echo today: “HE IS NOT HERE. HE HAS RISEN!” You see the child was God in flesh, the God who became man, yet remained God. And this King, Jesus, returned to his throne and awaits the day that God will send him back to the earth to make all things right and to make all things new.

Several hundred years before Jesus’ birth the prophet Isaiah wrote the following words foretelling the drama that would unfold of Jesus’ arrest, beating, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

From Isaiah 53.2-10, ESV
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

When he was born no fuss was made. As he grew no one noticed. He came from a back woods village where Nobody’s come from. He was not a handsome man, he didn’t fit our ideal for a Warrior-King-Leader-Savior.

3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

We were ashamed of him and dismissed him when we turned our backs on him. No one wanted to be associated with the radical son of a carpenter.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

Yet, even though we turned our backs on him, he turned his heart towards ours. He put the unbearable weight of our sin on his back.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, he knew that at a level we never will. He was beaten to a pulp and tortured and mocked, and whipped, then standing on death’s doorstep they stopped only to humiliate him on the cross. His pain was our healing. His suffering was our comfort.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

We are helpless, wandering, and naturally lean toward unfaithfulness. We have chosen our pathetic path over his perfect path. We spit in God’s face and turn our back to him screaming, “You’re wrong!” And because God embodies grace Jesus exchanged our sin for his perfectness to honor his Father.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.

Jesus had at his disposal legions of angels waiting in battle formation with baited breath and weapons drawn for the command; the words they wanted to hear him say: “Now!” With all this at his fingertips Jesus was silent. He set aside his authority to obey the Father, even to death on a cross, regardless of the cost.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

The establishment gave him a unjust trial and an unjust conviction. Hearts ached believing the lies that he was not the Son of God. Not the Messiah. Not Immanuel. Not Jesus. And so the people lost hope.

9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

He was treated like a violent career criminal though he had never done any wrong.

10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

And God let this happen. Not because he is unjust or loving, but because he is just and is loving. You see without the shedding of blood there will be no forgiveness of sin. No lamb could ever fully satisfy this requirement, it took a perfect, sinless God-Man Savior. It took Jesus.

“…then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV)

IT’S LIKE TNT

What is the most volatile substance in the world today? TNT (Trinitrotoluene)? Plutonium? North Korea? A teenage girl? The answer is none of these. In fact the answer might surprise you.

brain

Think about it: a raging torrent of hormones and abstract thinking are bombarding a physiologically changing brain like a blitzkrieg. It’s no wonder that the teenage brain is unstable, unpredictable, and volatile.

One of the many reasons I enjoy working with students is that they are always changing. And the most significant change going on in their rapidly growing bodies are not zits, or arm pit hair, or voice changes, or even those pleasant odors that accompany teenage boys going through puberty. The most significant change a student experiences is the one we cannot see: the brain.

If you have ever taken an intro psych class or ad psych class or watched an episode of Criminal Minds then you’ve probably heard of these two guys: Piaget and Erikson.

Piaget is known for defining Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking. Piaget claims that at the onset of puberty students shift from understanding the world in a concrete reality to that of an abstract understanding. Essentially, students begin to think about thinking.

  • They start asking what if and why might that be questions.
  • They begin the process of speculation and utilizing a third person perspective.
  • They ask questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” And the question every adult who works with students dreads: “How can I trust that God is real or that the bible is accurate?” Essentially everything about faith is abstract.

Approaching the same issue from a different angle (See the use of abstract thinking there?). Erikson claims that students are in the life-span stage of Identity vs. Identity Confusion. Beginning around the onset of puberty and lasting until the early twenties students are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit. This is a journey that they must initiate and discover at their own pace. Otherwise they will not feel like they know who they are. The hard part for parenting is not forcing the identity we desire for them on them. You know this kid. In fact, she was probably in some of your college classes. This is the girl who wanted to be an art major or teacher but caved into the pressure to be a pre-med major to take over the family practice some ambiguous day in the future. All the while never liking medicine.

Take for example a former student of mine. One year he wore a Texas A&M t-shirt and hat with Wrangler jeans and ropers (boots). After summer break he comes back dressing like a trendy/goth kid wearing dark clothing, vests, fedora style hats, and a chain wallet. That look lasted a semester and after Christmas break he was dressing differently again. Do you see what he was doing? He was trying to figure out who he was and where he belonged.

This is why so many of my current students play four or more sports per year. They fancy themselves athletes, they’re just trying to figure out are they a football, soccer, or baseball player. What are they the best at?

As if this wasn’t enough we’ve found out exponentially more about the teenage brain in the last 10-12 years than we thought we knew for the last 100 years or more. Let’s take a look at some of the new findings.

Temporal Lobe
The temporal lobe serves as the center for emotional response and interpretation. The temporal lobe is underdeveloped in teens, and significantly underdeveloped in guys. This is why when a teenage couple that is dating get into a fight the girl turns into a sobbing puddle of emotions while the guy gets on Xbox live and plays Call of Duty like nothing happened. It’s not because the guy doesn’t care, in fact he probably does; his ability to interpret and express emotions is not fully developed yet.

Frontal Lobe
Do you want to know why your student frustrates you to no end and leaves you scratching your head? Do you want to know why they do such stupid stuff? Meet the reason for your frustration: the Frontal Lobe, more specifically the Prefrontal Cortex.
The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for:

  • Decision making
  • Organization
  • Prioritization
  • Focusing
  • Planning
  • Impulse control

Do you feel like your student is deficient in these areas? This could explain several of the stupid things I did in college (ok, so stupid is an understatement).

In relation to this, CNN published an article in October 2012 entitled: Why The Teen Brain Is Drawn To Risk. They concluded:

  • If the risk is unknown teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • If the risk is known teens are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • Teens seem to love the unknown.
  • It’s the opposite of what adults do: if the risks are known teens engage in risk taking less than adults; but if they are unknown teens engage in risk taking more than adults.
  • The more vague the consequence the more likely teens are to engage in risk taking.

Oh, did I mention that we now know the brain is not fully formed at age 6 like previously thought; it actually isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. And yes, this includes the Frontal and Temporal Lobes.

Neural Pathways
Neural pathways are groupings of neurons (brain cells). Now, get this: research has shown that in the 2 years or so leading up to puberty the brain goes into warp speed producing millions of new neurons. Then, when puberty goes into full swing the brain starts to kill off neurons. Weird huh? Here’s why: the brain has a use it or lose process for neurons. The neurons from the parts of the brain that are stimulated or used are kept, while the neurons from the parts of the brain that are not used or stimulated are killed off. This tells us that during the teenage years the brain is crafted and molded for how it will function in adulthood.

I want to leave you with two questions to chew on from Inside the Teenage Brain by Mark Oestreicher:

  • How can I best steward the opportunity I have to permanently shape my teenagers’ brains?
  • And more specifically, how can I best steward the opportunity I have to shape their brains for a lifetime of robust faith?