A Letter To My 22 Year Old Self

A letter to my 22 year old self.

Dear Geoff,

In 2014 you’ll be 30 years old, have an amazing wife, and have two awesome kids! You will have experienced a lay off and find yourself serving parents and students in Texas. You will have seen a lot–suicide, drug addiction, leadership conflicts, and more–in student ministry, but will have more to learn.

Why not go ahead and get a jump on things? I want you to do four things: Serve. Learn. Read. Grow.

Serve, serve, serve. Serve everywhere you get the opportunity. Lead a small group–maybe even a small group of students you wouldn’t think you would connect with. Disciple a student. Plan an event. Clean coolers, clean the bus. Ask what gaps you can fill. Serve wherever there is a need.

Learn. Learn all you can, any way you can. Set up meetings and ask questions. Learn from past experiences and best practices of veteran student pastors and volunteer leaders. Ask parents what it’s like raising a teenager today and what they need from you as a student pastor.

Read. Read often. Follow quality ministry blogs, not just student ministry blogs. Read books, again, not just books about student ministry. Don’t worry about reading what is trendy, read quality.  I am sure these (non-comprehensive) lists will change, but here’s a start…

Grow. Grow as a Christ Follower. Read and study your bible constantly, buy a journal and jot down thoughts and prayers. If you’re not growing, you won’t be going.

Grow as a man. Take responsibility. Assert independence. Leave behind the things of your childhood and college years. Step up. Lead. There will be a time where the little boy needs to sit down and the man needs to stand up.

Grow as a friend. Don’t just acquire friends; be a friend. Be loyal. Love. Give. Listen.

In 2014 you will not be where you thought you would be, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
What would you say to yourself at 22?

795 Weeks and Counting (Down): Leveraging Your Influence as a Parent

795 WEEKS AND COUNTING (Down): LEVERAGING YOUR INFLUENCE AS A PARENT

Do you have kids?  Are they as crazy as mine is?  My three year old little boy is….well…ALL BOY!  If it’s sports equipment or if can he manipulate it into a makeshift gun or rocket launcher he’s all about it.  Just the other day we had to take him to the doctor to get his eyebrow glued back together after splitting it open at school—he was running after a basketball and tripped over a giant rocking chair/glider.

I have just 795 weeks until he graduates from high school.  That’s it.  795.

How many weeks until your kid graduates from high school?

Time is our most valuable resource.  We are constantly giving it away, without the option of getting more back in return.  It is the definition of a non-renewable resource.  As each Sunday rolls around I lose another week. 795…794…793…792, never to get them back again.  Maybe this seems too nebulous.

Here are some alternative angles:

  • Each year as a parent—if you work full time, get eight hours of sleep per night, and do not homeschool your kids—you get 3000 hours per year with your child.  At best the church gets about 40 hours per year with your child.
  • Or, using the same math, parents get over 57 hours per week with their child, compared to the church’s 1 hour per week.

I wasn’t a math major…not even close.  In fact, I hate math with a holy passion.  Which I find ironic and humorous considering I wanted to go into financial planning.  I didn’t and you’re welcome.  And yes, I was that kid, you know the one who slept through high school geometry every single day.  Even though math never suited me, I can do this math: 3000>40 and 57>1.

This tells me that I have the greatest influence on the faith development of my child. Period.  This also tells me, that I must learn to leverage my influence for the thing that matters most.

Not far from the place where God will let Moses see the Promised Land, from atop Mount Nebo, and near the end of his life, Moses does something that sends waves throughout history.  He casts a vision for the nation of Israel—for the People of God.  In Deuteronomy 6.4-9 Moses begins by speaking to the hearts of the Israelites.  He warns them that what he is about to say will be huge…history changing, life altering, eternity impacting.  Moses also leaves no room for loopholes: Hear O Israel…not listen up moms and dads.  He addresses the whole nation of Israel.  If Moses made this speech today, I believe he would begin saying: Listen up church, this is going to be huge!

His next statement is revolutionary given the spiritual climate of the region.  He tells them that their God is true, strong, and one.  The Canaanites, the people who occupy the Promised Land, worship several wicked gods.  Least of which is Molech, whose altar was a furnace with the torso and outstretched arms of a man and the head of a bull.  Drums and flutes would play to drown out the screams of the child sacrifices made to Molech.  Canaanites had a god for amost everything.  Moses says: Our God is one.  Our God is true.  Our God is strong.  Our God is the Creator, not created.

The next statement Moses made would become one of the most recognized phrases in the entire bible: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  Jesus would echo this phrase in the gospels.  Here, Moses makes a movement from the inside out with his instructions to love God with our total self.  Moses also knew, as we should recognize today that this is a big deal.  If we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, then we leave room for mixing in false gods into our worship of the true God.

Moses continues to address the church in general, and parents in particular, telling us the things he has said must to be woven into the tapestry of our lives.  The point he is making is that we should leave a lasting mark of our faith on our kids.  But here’s the kicker: what you learn in your own time with God, repeat that again and again and again to your kids.

Moses not only tells us what, but he tells us how, too.  He urges us to find the rhythm of our family, of our day.  Then to use that rhythm to strategically leverage our influence as parents as we weave faith into our every day lives.  Reggie Joiner and the guys at the Think Orange Group suggest the following rhythm:

Orange Rhythms SLIDE-2

The rhythm for my family will look different than the rhythm for your family and your rhythm will change as your kids get older.  What is the rhythm for your family?

Talk with your kids about who God is, what He does, and the difference He makes in your everyday lives as you…

  • Drive to practice
  • Watch TV
  • Do chores and yard-work
  • Eat at the table
  • Pick up your kids after school

Moses knew that for faith to be vibrant and life giving it has to infiltrate every part of our daily lives.

As a parent you have the greatest influence over the faith development of your child.  Period.  Now, we must learn to leverage that influence for the thing that matters most.

Check out these resources for faith conversations and passing down your faith to your kids:

Market Driven Youth Ministry by Dr. Richard Ross

The following article was originally posted on September 10, 2013 from Theological Matters, a blog of SWBTS. The article is written by Dr. Richard Ross, student ministry professor.

Teenagers and Market-Driven Ministry

Three documents have crashed into each other on my computer. Their composite message is both troubling and hopeful.

First

Christian Smith is the researcher who coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) to describe the “faith” of most church teenagers. His seminal National Study of Youth and Religionresearch sent shock waves through the youth ministry world.

A church teenager might express MTD this way: “God exists. He is nice and wants us to be nice. He doesn’t bother me about my life. But since I’m very special, He’ll show up whenever I call. But as soon as He does something to make my life happier and easier, He goes away again—so I can live my life my way.”

Smith and his team of researchers have continued to research the students who made up the original sample. They have just completed Wave Four interviews with those subjects, who now are ages 20-24.

Last week Christian Smith emailed me with the initial results. Even with their church backgrounds, Smith found that about 90%:

  • “Know absolutely nothing about what the [churches] they grew up in believe theologically,
  • Have no understanding whatsoever of the ways that faith is not just an instrumental help but is something that might drive and transform one’s life, and
  • Think religion is totally about the basic moral orientation it gives (most of which they agree with but say they are not living by).”

He summarized by saying, “Only about 10% remain what we called ‘committed traditionalists.’” To use the vocabulary of evangelicals, that means about 10% can express their core beliefs, can lead someone else to saving faith, and embrace Christ’s mission for their lives. Ten percent!

Second

Blogger Matt Marino has generated lots of conversation with his post, What’s So Uncool about Cool Churches? Marino wrote, “What is the ‘pill’ we have overdosed on? I believe it is ‘preference.’ We have embraced the idea of market-driven youth ministry. Unfortunately, giving people what they ‘prefer’ is a road that, once you go down it, has no end. … In an effort to give people something ‘attractive’ and ‘relevant’ we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church.”

Near the end of that post, Marino says, “In summary, ‘market driven’ youth ministry gave students a youth group that looks like them, does activities they prefer, sings songs they like, and preaches on subjects they are interested in. It is a ministry of preference. And, with their feet, young adults are saying ‘Bye-bye.’ What might we do instead? The opposite of giving people what they want is to give them what they need.”

Third

Writing in The Atlantic Monthly, Larry Alex Taunton summarizes a study performed by his Fixed Point Foundation. They conducted extensive interviews with collegiate members of atheist organizations that Taunton calls “the atheistic equivalent of Campus Crusade.” He found that almost all the young atheists had backgrounds in the church and in youth groups. Here are some of the conclusions of the study:

  • The mission and message of their churches was vague.
  • They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.
  • They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously.
  • Ages 14-17 were decisive. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

Taunton wrote, “Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed [much respect] for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: ‘I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.’”

Eric Metaxas adds, “Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them. The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But … young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction—provided they know what they’re talking about.”

In the last two years I have read 60 books from the clearest thinkers in youth ministry. I have studied summaries of 14 research projects related to youth ministry. The major themes that emerge are these:

  • Teenagers are transformed primarily through their relationships with adults who themselves are deeply transformed. Teenagers begin to live for the glory of Christ as they walk beside others who live for the glory of Christ. Baptist Press editor and youth volunteer Art Toalston recently tweeted, “Even middle school boys drop their silliness and tune in when Scripture flows from our souls.”
  • Teenagers are transformed through heart connections. The stronger the relationship is between a teenager and an adult, the stronger will be the transmission of transformation.
  • Teenagers are transformed by the Spirit through the truth and power of God’s Word. Teenagers respect and are drawn toward adults who joyfully proclaim with full conviction, “Thus saith the Lord.” The youth leader who spends 15 minutes preparing his Bible talk and two hours on a creative video might actually increase attendance by reversing those time allotments.

I celebrate any church willing to spend a million dollars on a youth building. It can be a useful tool. But no one should assume that’s the key to getting teenagers willing to live or die for the cause of Christ for a lifetime. The key is:

  • Leading parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to fall more deeply in love with Christ and to transparently exude their passionate desire for His glory and the coming of His kingdom on earth. Who in your church is gathering parents and youth leaders with the specific goal of leading them into a deeper relationship and walk with King Jesus? How often do they meet?
  • To equip parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to know how to build deeper heart connections with teenagers. Busy adults can have life-on-life discipling relationships with about three teenagers. What is the adult-student ratio in your church’s Bible teaching groups? Who is regularly challenging adults to put down their lattes, leave their comfortable adult groups, and invest in the next generation?
  • To equip parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to know Scripture, assimilate Scripture, and confidently proclaim Scripture to teenagers. When your average dad pictures himself with his family and Bibles open, does he feel competent to share the Word? Who is taking the lead in equipping him for this role? When do they meet and how often?

Churches that have depressing answers to the questions above—BUT have some great facilities, programs, and trips for teenagers—should NOT expect most of their teenagers to walk in faith for a lifetime. Facilities, programs, and trips have a role and they are a helpful supplement to ministry, but they are not the core issues. If we do not shift much more of our focus to the core issues, we will continue to lose most of a generation after high school.

Challenge Your Youth by Dr. Alvin Reid

The following post is taken from The Gospel Coalition by Dr. Alvin Reid

 

CHALLENGE YOUR YOUTH

 Posted By Alvin Reid On September 3, 2013

Morgan introduced herself after I spoke at her church. She enthusiastically described the ministry she and her friends had started to fight the blight of human trafficking. They were seeking to offer gospel hope to girls vulnerable to the industry and those rescued from it. At the time I met her, she and her friends had raised almost $4,000 to send overseas to rescue young women. Now, nearly two years later, they’ve raised more than $40,000 to build a safe house in Calul, Moldova, a nation whose number one export is trafficked women.

[1]

Did I mention Morgan was only 14 when I met her? Morgan and her friends Brianna, Maleah, McCall, Claire, Kristie, and Elise launched a movement propelled by the gospel. A bunch of middle school girls decided not to waste their high school years in order to make a remarkable impact for Christ.

Open Your Eyes

Morgan gives credit for this ministry to her family and to her church—a congregation serious about taking the gospel to the nations. At 13, she and her mom went on a church trip to India. Morgan would be the first to admit their ministry never could have taken off without their parents, student pastor, and congregation encouraging and supporting them. The ministry these girls birthed (Save Our Sisters Today) is just one example of believers living the mission while they’re young. Virtually every church has youth like Morgan. But are the churches doing what they can to find these youth, direct their passions, and commit to encouraging them?

Parents who love Jesus yearn for their children to love Jesus as well. Student ministries seek to engage students with the gospel and help them live out the gospel. But there’s a problem. Too many churches assume a posture toward youth more reflective of MTV than of the Bible. Too often, and with little reflection, we view teens as adolescents in a timeout between childhood and adulthood. “They are just kids,” we say. “Boys will be boys.” Youth ministries are often pressured to offer events more than engagement, trivia more than truth. But if students can learn trigonometry in high school, they can certainly learn theology in church.

Extended Boyhood Epidemic

Our culture today teems with immature young men: the average 21-year-old male in the United States has played 10,000 hours of video games [3]. When you consider, as Malcolm Gladwell has shown, that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something, no wonder so many 20-something males struggle in the adult world. Moreover, the National Study of Youth and Religion found young adults in churches have often been taught the Bible from the perspective of what sociologist Christian Smith has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The cumulative result is a generation of churched youth marked more by activity and moralism than by the mission of the living God.

But what if we stopped this trend? What if we challenged the youth in our churches to live missionally?

Often in Scripture we read of remarkable young people. Sold into slavery at 17, Joseph lived for God regardless of his circumstances. Samuel heard God’s voice as a lad when God’s word was rare. David killed Goliath as a teenager, the youngest and scrawniest of many sons. Josiah led a revival, and God called Jeremiah, each while they were young. Daniel and his friends were possibly as young as today’s middle school youth when they were deported to Babylon, yet they stood for their faith. And in the New Testament, we encounter Jesus’ disciples—young men themselves—as well as Paul’s specific exhortation to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. This array of evidence must not be ignored.

Jonathan Edwards said the Great Awakening was essentially a youth movement. Less than a century later, in 1806, college students sitting under a haystack sparked a worldwide missions movement. Near the end of the 19th century, a student volunteer movement saw thousands of young people take the gospel to the nations.

So, granting the vast changes in the past 200 years, how should we see youth today? Not as children finishing childhood but as young adults entering adulthood, capable of understanding and living out the gospel as missionaries in an increasingly unChristian culture. We who lead youth as parents and student pastors must see ourselves as missionary strategists equipping students to live on mission now, not later.

Five Suggestions

What does this transformation look like?

1. Build your student ministry and your parenting on the gospel. Show them, as Tim Keller observes, that the gospel isn’t merely the ABC of salvation but the A to Z of Christianity. A missional vision that doesn’t arise out of response to the gospel leads to legalistic activism, not biblically driven ministry.

2. Involve them in the mission locally. We’ve tried to help our own children, now grown and married, to see how this mission looks through simple things—from how we engage our next-door neighbors to how we treat servers at restaurants.

3. Don’t keep them in the dark about the mission globally. One of my mantras is, “Get your children out of the country before they finish high school.” By the time our daughter Hannah was 18, she’d been on mission trips to four continents. Our son Josh has traveled to three continents and done mission work in several major U.S. cities. These trips help teenagers see that the gospel isn’t just their parents’ home-brewed superstition; it’s true and worthy of proclamation to everyone, everywhere.

4. Demonstrate missional lives. Let them see you living missionally while you teach them how to do so. Discipleship is usually more caught than taught.

5. Believe in them. Youth need three things: a vision for their lives as big as the gospel, encouragement to live radically for Jesus Christ now, and the permission to do so.

Missionary statesman Stanley Jones was asked once how he helped so many young people become effective missionaries across the globe. “I take a young person,” he replied, “and I put a big crown over their head. Then, I help them to grow into it.”

If we’re centered on the gospel and committed to living missionally, we can do the same with today’s youth as well.

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).

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?

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)