Believing the Truth so that we can know (John 6:69).

 

Excerpt from new smart phone devo: Who do you claim to be?

But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 ESV)

My true identity: I am God’s Child

Most countries issue a birth certificate to the parents of all newborn children. You most likely have a birth certificate. Have you ever seen it? It has details like your full name, place of birth, date of birth, and an official government seal and an official certificate number… and maybe your baby footprints.

Your birth certificate is what is called a vital record. It not only proves you were born, but proves who you claim to be. A birth certificate is the foundation for your legal identity. It proves your citizenship to your country of origin and in most cases guarantees you all the authorized benefits, privileges and rights afforded to you as a citizen of your country. If you want to enter kindergarten, play on a sports team, apply for a driver’s license, obtain a passport or enroll in Social Security, you will need a birth certificate. You can’t just claim these rights and privileges on your own. Your parent(s) have to vouch for you. They have to legally declare you to be their child. Then you are free to receive all your legal birthrights and entitlements.   

            When you believed in Jesus and embraced him as your Savior, you experienced what the Bible calls being “born-again” (1 Peter 1:23). This new birth, when publicly validated, guarantees you all the blessings and privileges of citizenship in your Father’s Kingdom. Upon your re-birth in Jesus, God officially declares you to be His child (John 1:12). This truth is the most vital thing about your identity. Who are you? Who do you think you are? Who do you claim to be? By God’s authority and will, you are his child. You are a child of God. Say that out loud; “I am a child of the most high God.” Say that again.

            Yes, because of Jesus, you are now a child of the Most-High God. You are not alone. You are not disadvantaged. You are a child of the Most-High God. Not because you say so, but because God says so. It’s official. This is your real identity. Rejoice in that today! 

Give us your feedback on this simple devo. Generation Freedom is hoping to create a smartphone app for the “Who I am in Christ Statements”! The writing is complete, now comes the upfront cost for design and code writing.

10 Spot Challenge…$10 to make a difference

So… a few weeks ago I attended a Sunday morning worship service where the strangest thing happened. Instead of me being compelled to make a donation, the church leadership actually gave away money to everyone in attendance! I kid you not. Everyone in this sizable crowd received a 10-spot ($10 bill). The challenge was “Take this money and use it to bless others.”

So here is my idea. Please take a minute to read this proposition and consider joining me in this 10-Spot Challenge.

 About a month ago there was a nationwide sting conducted by the FBI that resulted in the arrest of over 150 domestic human traffickers/pimps and the subsequent liberation and processing of over 100 teens who were domestic sex trafficking victims. In case you missed it, here is the link for the details: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/29/19754475-more-than-100-teens-rescued-in-weekend-sex-trafficking-raids-fbi-says?lite

 While a bust like this is all well and good, it is easy to overlook the intensive work now involved with caring for these rescued teens, the youngest of which is just 13 years old! Many of these teens have no real family to speak of and will be assigned by the courts to group homes and rehabilitation centers. It is very important to remember that just because a person has been freed does not mean that they will intuitively know how to live like a free person. These girls have suffered terrible abuse, exploitation, manipulation and neglect. Many struggle with drug addiction, mental disorder, personality disorder, physical sickness and spiritual anguish as a result of their enslavement. They now face a difficult journey of recovery, rehab and redemption.

 Through ongoing activism in the fight against human trafficking, I have come to know a highly effective intervention center that is trying valiantly to increase their intake capacity in the wake of this most recent sting. So here is my challenge. I am going to lead with a $20 donation to StreetLight USA http://streetlightusa.org/   $10 is the original 10 spot I received at church and the additional $10 is on behalf of the Campbell family. I have well over 600 Facebook friends. If everyone donates a 10 spot to StreetLight USA we will raise over $6000 in a virtual flash. If you want to be a part of this 10 Spot Challenge, click “like” and then immediately go to streetlightusa.org and donate. Spread the word and let’s see if we can pay this original $10 forward in a major way. 

Encouraging news reveals more to be done…

I’ve been watching this story unfold since this morning. Some thoughts: If you see something… say something -Polaris Hotline 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733); Email your congressman, applaud this latest sting and ask what is being done with regard to rehabilitation for these victims, ask what is being done with regard to prevention; Talk to your faith community leaders about ways followers of Christ can act with compassion and conviction; Seek to understand the way our culture cultivates such injustice so core issues can be addressed; Make it a matter of prayer… not just for the victims, what would God have you to do? Micah 6:8

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/29/19754475-more-than-100-teens-rescued-in-weekend-sex-trafficking-raids-fbi-says?lite

http://www.prevention-project.org/home.php


Major League Do-Overs…

“Foul ball!” yelled my buddy John.  “No way!  That ball was fair and you are O-U-T out!” snapped, Kevin.  And with that, the squabble was on.  Every kid playing baseball in the school yard at recess walked to the infield and pleaded their opinion on the grounder John had just hit.  Kevin, who was playing right field, swore it was a fair ball and he threw Kevin out at first.  John and the rest of his teammates said it was a foul.  Tempers flared, voices continued to rise and the girls threatened to quit if the boys didn’t grow up and stop arguing.  Finally, with no hope of an agreement, someone spoke up and declared “Do-Over!”

Ah, the “do-over”, what a wonderful rite of childhood.  With the invocation of a “do-over”, the clock was rolled back, the game was restored to its exact status before the contested hit and play was resumed.  It was a most logical way to overcome any mistake or disputed call.  If the original play was particularly important and the second attempt at play was dramatically different (e.g. the player hitting a home run instead of a ground ball single as in the original play), the “do-over” might be invoked again. This second invocation would give game play another chance thereby insuring that fair play was being honorably maintained.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just declare a “do-over” whenever you have goofed up?  Seriously, I miss that childhood luxury.  But you can’t.  By now you have probably realized that life moves ahead and the moments we misuse are gone forever. 

Regret is burdensome.  Knowing that you made a mistake can be hard to live with.  Knowing that your behavior impacted others in a negative life altering way can be a heavy load to bear.  Without a doubt, there are 5 consecutive years of my life where I would gladly declare a “do-over” if I could.  There are also many moments in the past when I did not make the most of God-given opportunities.  Those moments are gone in an instant and we (and sometimes others) live with consequences.  If you know what I’m talking about and have felt the weight of regret in your soul, let me encourage you with a conversation that took place a short time after the resurrection. Jesus enacts a “do-over”.

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. …Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them,… When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat… When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread… Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish… When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Excerpts from John 21 (ESV)

Talk about regret, how do you think Peter must have felt after denying Jesus three consecutive times during his suffering and crucifixion?  Just prior to his failure, Peter had declared his unfailing allegiance to Jesus.  And then, when he had the opportunity to identify himself with Jesus, he blew it.  On his third denial, Luke records that Jesus actually made eye contact with Peter the moments those words of denial spilled out of his mouth (Luke 22:60-61). Ughh.

Even though that moment was gone and those words could not be taken back, God does have a way of returning things to fair play and bringing us back on course.  The Christian term for “do-over” is restoration.  Restoration involves confession, repentance and a willingness to respond correctly when God faithfully presents us with new opportunities.  Remember, 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sin, God will forgive us and cleanse us from sin’s ugly stains.  But even more than this, God wants to see us grow and thrive in the life Jesus died to give us.  The story of Peter’s restoration illustrates this truth and brings hope to all who wish for “do-overs”.

You might find it interesting to know that there are only two places in the New Testament where a charcoal fire is specifically identified.  The first is in the courtyard of the high priest on the night Jesus was betrayed.  The servants of the high priest were warming themselves that night around the charcoals and it was around that very fire where Peter denied Jesus.  (John  19:18,25-27)

The second place you find a charcoal fire in the New Testament is in today’s reading; Peter’s encounter with Jesus on the sea shore.  John recorded that Jesus called to his disciples from the shore and instructed them on their fishing.  When their nets were full, John recognized Jesus and Peter dove in.  By the time everyone made it to shore, Jesus had a charcoal fire going and was making breakfast.  Now, if you stop to think about it, that is a peculiar thing.  I’ve walked the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.  I’ve seen people building fires to light the night or to roast food over.  The way to build a fire in this location is to forage for scrap wood, twigs, dead tree branches, and such. There are no charcoal outlets to be found today much less in Jesus’ day.  And yet, Jesus miraculously builds a charcoal fire.  Why do you think he did that?

I believe a charcoal fire was necessary for Peter’s “do-over” (restoration).  On that incredible morning when the disciples were reunited with their risen Lord and Master, Peter was given not one, not two, but three opportunities to rightly identify himself with Jesus in front of a new group of witnesses as they gathered around a charcoal fire.  It was sort of like the setting on that tragic night when Jesus was betrayed.  Only this time instead of being full of pride, Peter was cloaked in humility.  Instead of being driven by fear to lie, Peter confidently spoke the truth.  And the truth was that Peter, like the rest of us, had room to grow in his love and devotion to Jesus.  After Peter’s every confession, Jesus affirmed him; “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep”.  Jesus used the figurative language of a shepherd to restore Peter to a place of ministry and service.  This conversation between the Lord Jesus Christ and a broken disciple teaches us about acceptance, security and significance, which, can only be found in Christ.  Peter walked away from that encounter forever changed.  In a very short time he would deliver the first sermon of the Christian church and around three thousand people would respond at once and believe upon Jesus.  (Acts 2: 14-41)

What about you?  Do you have regret?  Are there things in your past that you are ashamed of?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “do-over”?  In Christ, there is restoration.  Even though you can’t go back in time, Jesus is ready to meet you where you are.  He wants you to reconnect with your failure; not to beat you up over it, but to free you from it and restore you.  Are you willing to humble yourself and go to that place with Jesus?  Are you willing to confess your sin?  Are you willing to honestly acknowledge your weaknesses and receive Jesus’ help?  If so, God will not only forgive and cleanse, but he will place you in new opportunities where you can rightly identify yourself as a follower of Jesus.  In Christ there is acceptance, security and significance.  In Christ, you can be restored and brought back into the game. In Christ, the mistakes of the past are overcome by grace and the power to live for God’s glory.

Being and doing…

The latest resource for youth workers is set to print! Identity Based Spiritual Formation for Teens (CFM 302) is the latest CFM University training course in youth ministry. On the eve of its release I thought I’d share an excerpt from the introduction. To find out more, make sure you visit the Generation Freedom website and click the Community Freedom MInistry University banner.

…Nicodemus, of course, was a Pharisee.  The Pharisees were comprised of a select group of men who had purposely separated themselves for radical devotion to the Law of Moses. To the Pharisee, pleasing God was synonymous with executing the righteous requirements of the Mosaic Law and the traditions of the Law that had been carefully developed and extrapolated over the course of some 2000 years.  Devout Jews had taken the basic Ten Commandments and developed an elaborate code that consisted of over 600 rules that supposedly defined right, pious behavior. Strict compliance to these rules, guaranteed God’s personal approval, favor and blessing. With stringent adherence to the Law and traditions of the Law, the world (at least for the Jew) could be radically transformed into the Kingdom of God. To the Pharisee, spiritual maturity consisted of teaching the Law and doing the Law. So, imagine the confounding impact of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus when He quickly steered the conversation toward Nicodemus’ deepest desire and motive for living and declared;

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”    (John 3:3 ESV)

Confusion and alarm quickly surface on the part of Nicodemus.  “How can this be?…” “Surely a man cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb…!” In one sweeping sentence, Jesus undercut all of Nicodemus’ worldview and exposed Nicodemus’ strategy for spiritual maturity to be based on falsehood. Nicodemus had fallen for the subtle lie of religion. Religion encourages us to first strive to be like God, in so doing we will make ourselves acceptable and somehow obligate God’s care and blessing.  The gospel of Jesus declares that we must first be supernaturally changed before we can do what is right. Jesus shakes Nicodemus to the core by dismissing his every pious accomplishment.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”   (John 3:5-6 ESV)

Nicodemus is blown away.  Jesus continues to push at Nicodemus’ understanding of authentic spirituality:

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  (John 3:7 ESV)

And there it is; the contrast between the lie of religion and the gospel.  Being acceptable to God is not in the doing of righteous acts, but yielding to the transforming power of God. The pathway to spiritual growth does not begin with just a firm resolve and a will to impress. Instead it begins in a radical new identity given by none other than God Himself.  “You must be born again.”; and as Nicodemus rightly discerned, being born again is an impossible proposition in the natural. However, in God’s infinite wisdom and power, this rebirth would indeed be possible through the atoning mission of His Son, Jesus Christ.  What would be mankind’s part in the rebirth and the new identity? Simply respond in belief.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.          (John 3:14-18 ESV)

Over the years, I have become increasingly disappointed with much of the prevailing youth curriculum being published along with trendy teen discipleship strategies perpetually marketed as the next big “fix”.  These elaborate efforts to impact the mind of teenagers far too often resemble Nicodemus’ strategy for spiritual growth before encountering Jesus.

A quick search on the web through sample curriculum, reading the latest youth ministry books or going to the trendiest workshops and conferences confirms a deficiency in our understanding of what it means to successfully live a life that is pleasing to God.

Instead of beginning with the basics of the new identity afforded to us in Christ, teens are exhorted to grow up spiritually by eradicating certain behaviors classified as “bad” and engaging consistently in behavior classified as “good”. The promise is if teens will simply give up foul language, pornography, violent video games, drinking and drugging, premarital sex, rebellion and worldly music and instead devote themselves to prayer, Bible study, church attendance, helping the poor, defending the weak and only dating Christians they will secure God’s blessing and favor; And the result of teaching teens to assert themselves in practices of morality? Hundreds of thousands if not millions of teens are trying to work out their salvation in the flesh and growing discouraged. The idea of following Jesus and even becoming more like Jesus seems unlikely and a generation is led into defeat rather than victorious Christian living.

CFM 302, Identity Based Spiritual Formation, is a strategy based on the teaching of Jesus and His method of making disciples. The apostles used this same strategy and the epistles to the early Church confirm it. Identity Based Spiritual Formation begins with the believer’s identity in Christ.  Once a teen begins to understand and personalize the “new birth” and who they have now become through faith in Jesus, a whole new realm of possibility opens and they are free to discover the victorious, righteously productive life that Jesus died to give them.

A Belated Valentine’s Day Suggestion…

Well… a belated Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone. This particular blog goes out to my male colleagues, specifically dudes who are married or dudes who one day want to be married.

Hopefully you took the opportunity yesterday to let your wife know she is loved. Yes, I know that Valentine’s Day is a commercialized scam meant to separate us from our hard earned money, but it is also a timely reminder to think of your marriage in romantic ways and not from a strictly utilitarian or pragmatic perspective. Translation: flowers, a nice card and an intimate dinner for two will trump a bag of wrenches or a gallon of windshield wiper fluid every time. In the vein of offering more unsolicited suggestions in the form of a blog, I humbly offer some post-Valentines Day thoughts regarding how husbands can pray for their wives.

 A marriage that is God-centered and free in Christ is a relationship where acceptance, security and significance are experienced regularly. Many times our culture mistakenly thinks that unconditional love must preclude a successful marriage, but I would argue that unconditional love is actually the byproduct of spouses who honor the Christian marriage covenant. In the warmth of unconditional love, insecurity has no foothold. Selfishness begins to feel very awkward. And the greater joy truly comes from giving rather than receiving. One of the simplest and most effective ways a husband can serve his wife is to pray for her. That probably sounds obvious, but if your wife tends to have it “together” most of the time, like mine, this principle can easily be overlooked. Or, if your wife is not bashful with regard to tough love and you find God often uses her as the primary sanctifying agent in your life, like mine, you may tend to pray about your wife rather than for your wife…ha! Whichever the case, let me humbly suggest some ways we (husbands) can pray:

  • Pray for her to experience good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Pray that she would experience wellness through and through (Isa. 26:3, 40:28-31).
  • Pray that she would be released from worry or guilt over things she can’t control and that she could easily recognize that which she is not responsible for (Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-32).
  • Pray that she would grow in her knowledge of God, her experiences with God and that God would be glorified in and through her life (Jer. 9:23-24; Hosea 6:6; John 17:3).
  • Pray that she would understand her unique “wiring” or gifting(s) and come to know the will of God for her life in both a short-term and long-term vision (Col. 1:9-10).
  • Pray for supernatural productivity. Pray that her agenda and tasks today would go smoothly and that much would be accomplished (2 Thess. 2:16-17; 3:1-4, 13).
  • Pray for spiritual protection. Pray that God would give her discernment and wisdom and that she would be protected from those who would deceive her (1 Tim. 2:14; James 1:5-8).
  • Pray that God might send a godly mentor to her (Titus 2:3-5).
  • Other?….. I bet you can think of more ways to pray for your soul mate!

 While you’re at it guys, you might want to pray for yourself. It is a sober thing to realize that the primary ministry of a Christian husband is to his wife (Ephesians 5:22-33). What if the countenance of your wife really reflects the quality of your role as a husband? Encourage our brothers. Let’s strive to be men who love their wives as Christ loves his church. Grace and peace to you gentlemen. 

Playing in a hostile environment…

Recently, my oldest daughter Bailey and I were discussing her high school basketball team’s game plan for their biggest in-county rivalry. She rightly remarked that game plans are really put to the test when you have to play in a hostile environment. (The game in discussion would be played in the opposing team’s gym.) I agreed and assured her that scenario is really nothing new to her. She looked a bit puzzled and asked, “What do you mean dad?”… Teachable moment…

Everyday, those who desire to walk in the way of Jesus must execute a game plan in a hostile environment. In the physical realm, the apparent intensity of this antagonism varies. But in the spirit realm, the bleachers are lined with a hostile host of schemers who try their best to distract, intimidate and generally get in the head of every rival team’s player. The Apostle Paul recognized that ultimately, our opposition is not about worldly rivalries:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,..  (Ephesians 6:12-18 ESV)

 Even though it is every Christ-follower’s personal responsibility to recognize this hostile environment and appropriate the right resources for victory, Paul also exhorts us to pray for each other that we all might stand firm and be victorious. With this in mind, let me offer some ways to pray for teens who desire to live for Christ:

Pray that they would know and embrace truth. The world is full of deception that comes in the form of false identity equations. Such as Superstar performance + Great Accomplishments will make me feel Accepted and Valued; Or Good Looks + The Admiration of Others will make me feel Secure; Or Status/Popularity + Recognition by Others will make me feel Significant. These are all lies. The truth? You + Jesus = Acceptance, Security and Significance. Pray that teens would know and embrace the Truth… His name is Jesus.

Pray that they would grow in their understand of their identity in Christ. Self-righteousness is offensive. Low esteem is incapacitating. Both make up the equivalent of an aluminum foil breastplate. In other words, they provide no protection for the vital organs, which the Bible compares to the seat of our emotions. Understanding the impartation of God’s righteousness on all those who believe in faith upon the Lord Jesus and turn their hearts toward God in repentance will produce Christ-esteem. The righteousness of God forms a Kevlar-like barrier of protection over the tender heart.

Pray that they would have a convincing peace. It’s not enough that the inner-storms of life can be calmed and a teen can be at peace with their God regardless of circumstance. That same peace is designed to resonate outward and impact others who are not at rest. The peace of God has a way of giving us certain footing in the theater of testing and at the same time enabling us to traverse difficult terrain in order to reach others who are longing for peace.

Pray that they would grow in their faith. The reward of our faith is dependent upon the faith object (Hebrews 13:8); the knowledge of the faith object (Romans 12:2); and our willingness to act on what we are choosing to believe is true (James 2:17).  This means that we all have room to grow. Everyday is an opportunity for the teens you know and love to become a little more Christ-centered in focus and trust. God will providentially create the circumstances for faith to grow. Pray that teens might recognize their personal challenges as ways to grow in faith.

Pray that they would cherish the assurance of salvation. Pray that they would learn to treasure Jesus’ sacrifice for their eternal salvation. Teens who recognize that good works can never take away sin can also understand the preciousness of God’s grace and its ability to sustain their right standing with God. Teens who do not understand this truth will either become discouraged in their walk or consumed with works intended to win God’s continued favor. Pray that the teens you love would have the assurance of their souls being secure in God’s capable hands.

Pray that they would have a hunger for God’s Word. The Word of God has the power to renew the mind and transform the life (Romans 12:2). The Word of God has the capacity keep a person from sin. Conversely, sin has the potential to keep a person from the Word of God. The teen who integrates the Word of God into his/her life has the capacity to cut to the heart of issues that face them and their friends. The Word of God is not only sharp weapon, but also a light that can lead teens and their friends through a very dark world.

Pray that they would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one-time event. Rather, it is a daily act of submission. We give Him (the Holy Spirit) full access to our inner-selves. When this happens, something marvelous happens during our times of prayer. A greater sense of the supernatural union with God becomes evident and communion with God elevates to a whole new level. Sometimes it happens in ways that words are insufficient to describe. Other times the mind of the teen will be guided precisely to the issues that are most important to God’s heart. Authenticity is practiced. Trust is built. A life is equipped and empowered for the sake of God’s glory.

May the Lord spoil every hostile scheme of the enemy fan base today by forging a solid resolution in the teens we love and root for. Grace and peace…

 

A New Year Wish…

For those of you who work with teens, let me humbly offer the following suggestions for the New Year:

  •  Prioritize your personal relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Pet. 3:18). Easier said than done…right? Very often the “To Do” list swells and has the potential to overshadow the importance of abiding in Christ (John 15:1-8). Effective ministry with eternal fruit is always the result of a spiritual life that is overflowing from within. Spend time with Christ your Savior, Worship God alone and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Pray for the teens within your realm of influence (Matt. 6:6; Acts 2:42; 1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer changes things; not only in the life of a teen, but in the sensitivity of the intercessor as well.
  • Choose to see the best, even when teens are at their worst (Rom. 5:8; Luke 15:11-31). It is easy to let our imaginations get ahead of us and assume the worst. Remember that God is presently aware and active. Ask to have the mind of Christ and God’s perspective toward troubled teens. Allow God to show you what he loves about difficult people.
  • Express gratitude toward those who support you and pray for you (Eph. 1:6; Phil 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:3).  A thankful heart is a joyful heart and joy is contagious.
  • Strive to be family-friendly and parent inclusive (Acts 16:33, Eph. 6:1-3). Ideally, youth ministry is a supplement designed to enrich the training that should already be taking place at home. Rather than pitting yourself against parents, ask how you can partner with parents. What can you do to help set parents up for a win? Reach out with humility. Parenting is one of life’s greatest responsibilities. Whenever possible, encourage parents in their calling and be sure to help teens to intentionally honor mom and/or dad.
  • Never give up on “fringe” teens (2 Pet. 3:9; John 21:15-19). Some teens can be intimidating. Interaction can be awkward and it is easy to feel like a “weird adult”. Maybe you are weird… so be it. The important thing is to demonstrate respect, genuine interest and compassion. I recently had a young man look me up and thank me for the investment I made in him while he was a teenager. “Investment?” I thought, “All I remember is you rejecting me and walking away from the church when you were 15 years old.” This young man went on to say that his non-responsiveness was a front for his insecurity and confusion. As a young adult his life fell apart and when the chips were down God recalled the eternal truths he was exposed to as a young teen. Today he and his wife are Christ-followers raising their child in a Christian home.
  • Don’t just evangelize, disciple and train servant leaders (Mark 9:35;2 Timothy 3:16-18; Eph. 4:11-13). This is where the principles of Freedom in Christ ministry comes into play. The full-gospel is three-fold:
  1.             In Christ, there is forgiveness and cleansing from sin
  2.             In Christ, you are made Complete (Believer’s new identity)
  3.             In Christ, the Devil is a defeated foe

Helping teens know who they are in Christ and teaching them to live free in Christ according to the authority and power of the Lord Jesus unleashes Kingdom builders.

  • One day at a time; one step at a time (Matt. 6:11; Heb. 12:1-2). Ours is a journey, not a sprint. There will most likely be times in the upcoming year when you will become fatigued, confused and wounded. Resist the temptation to be overwhelmed. Trust God, walk with humility and serve as unto the Lord.

I post these thoughts while simultaneously whispering a prayer for those who are striving to make a difference for Christ among adolescents wherever you are in the world. Grace and peace to you.

Hope in the aftermath of Advent tragedy…

            The days leading up to Christmas this year have been marked by the funerals of young victims of a senseless tragedy that unfolded last Friday in Newtown Connecticut. It should come as no shock that the United States leads the world in school shootings[1]. We’ve occupied this top spot for some years now. Locations like, Columbine, Paducah, Austin (University of Texas), Virginia Tech, Nickel Mines tend to conjure up reminders of cruel school violence rather than peaceful images of small town living and pristine campuses. These locations are but a few in the long list of attacks that have taken place on school campuses throughout the United States. My quick research has confirmed no fewer than 31 school shootings in the U.S. since the Columbine shooting in 1999. Equally sobering is the fact that America has mourned at least 61 mass murders over the last 30 years.[2] And what about violence on a global level? How often does the average U.S. Christian, or U.S. citizen for that matter, make themselves aware of murderous acts that happen in large volumes throughout the world on a daily basis? Many of these unjust acts of violence target children and result in deliberate death.  There is also the issue of human trafficking. Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Approximately 27 million people around the world are in slavery today. Within the United States, over 100,000 children are trafficked per year. The United States purchases more women and children for sex than any country in the world. In the United States children are targeted by traffickers as young as 12 years of age. Approximately 800,000 to 900,000 victims are trafficked across international borders every year.[3]

 

How can these atrocities be happening in a world of stark advancement and development? I would respectfully suggest the following:

  • Mankind has a propensity for violence and is capable of doing great evil (Romans 7:18)
  • The world culture, as a whole (kosmos), is darkened in their understanding of truth and the reception of special revelation from the Creator God (Ephesians 4:18).
  • Spiritual forces of evil are continually at work in the world to instigate violence, theft and destruction (John 10: 10; Ephesians 6:10-12).

 These underlying core issues cannot simply be overcome by legislative, executive, judicial and educational strategies. Wait for it… you know it’s coming…

 What is needed is a renovation of the human heart.

      That is a predictable supposition. I know. Truthfully, in light of the most recent school shooting and my ongoing work as an abolitionist, I find this normal evangelical tag line to be a gross understatement. Yes, every human being has an inborn sin nature that needs to be contended with (Romans 6). God has made a way for that old nature to be forever severed from our personhood through Jesus Christ (Romans 6). In Christ, God bestows grace, love, forgiveness, cleansing and a new identity (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 John 1:9). But, this solution involves the individual free will and is not obligatory. In spite of this incredible exchange offer, our sin for Christ’s righteousness and a new nature, some choose to opt out.

       The age-old debate of nature versus nurture comes into play. How does a person become so deprived to commit such unspeakable evil? What factor does mental illness play? What can be done about the mentally ill to prevent violent behavior? How can we feel safer in the world today? How can we trust that our children will be protected from diabolical attacks? The human heart instinctively looks to leadership to provide the answers. But where do we begin when leaders are entrenched in bipartisanship? The smoke barely clears from the gun barrel and the heated arguments over gun control ensue. Someone needs to do something! Someone needs to take charge and confidently make executive decisions that benefit peace-loving people! We do not need another complicated piece of legislation; we need to be safe! We need trustworthy, proven, leadership with the authority and power to get things done! We need a king!!!!

       Whoa. And with that proposition, every red-blooded, democracy loving American stops in their tracks. This parade has just come to an abrupt end. The suggestion of a monarchy is perhaps the least liked option to be offered in the aftermath of the latest injustice, but hear me out on this. What if we had a king who was full of integrity, wisdom and possessed a strong sense of justice? What if we had a king who was perfect in his comprehension and judgments? What if we had a king who led sacrificially and put the best interests of his subjects at the forefront of his monarchy? What if this king’s perfect character was matched with unparalleled authority and power? What would the quality of life be like for the loyal subjects of a perfect king?

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

Advent is the celebration of God stepping into history in the form of a human. This baby grew in perfection, proved His deific identity and became the Savior of the world for all who believe (John 3:16). This Savior laid His life down out of obedience to the Heavenly Father’s plan of redemption. He carried out His mission with humility (Philippians 2:5-8), love (John 15:13) and joy (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus Christ, the Savior, rose from the grave in glorious triumph, thus confirming God’s good pleasure in His sacrifice. The human race is now afforded heart renovations. It is a gift of God that is guaranteed for all who have the faith to believe (Ephesians 2:8). But the story of the Advent does not end there, for we weren’t just promised a savior, but also a king. The physical departure of the Jesus from planet Earth was accompanied by a promise pointing to a future fulfillment of His mission and Divine appointment. 

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:10-11 ESV)

Jesus is coming again. And just as the Bible had much to say about His first coming (advent) and redeeming mission, the Bible has much to say about His second coming (advent) and His rightful rule as king.

      Gone forever are the days of humility and suffering. He is a glorious King of splendor full of power and wisdom (Revelation 1:9-18). He will rule with zero tolerance for injustice and lawbreakers (Psalm 2). His zeal for righteousness is unparalleled and unstoppable.

            The LORD goes out like a mighty man,

            like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;

            he cries out, he shouts aloud,

            he shows himself mighty against his foes.

            For a long time I have held my peace;

            I have kept still and restrained myself;

            now I will cry out like a woman in labor;

            I will gasp and pant.

(Isaiah 42:13-14 ESV)

I don’t know about you, but I can readily be subject to a King like this. There will come a day when the window of opportunity for willful compliance closes and the setting of all things in order will begin. For those who love rightness and gladly welcome a perfect sovereign, this will be a day of rejoicing and great relief. For the proud who refuse to bow the knee, this will be a day of great sorrow and defeat.

Some years, it is easy for me to overlook the full promise of the Advent Season. I become preoccupied with the onset of Jesus’ first coming, and His meek arrival with a teenage mom, a blue-collar adopted father and a manager for a crib,… but not this year. If you are like me, you are growing weary of mankind’s inability to right the course of the ship we are on. I find myself longing for this coming King. I find myself whispering the ancient prayer of the advent season, spoken by multitudes of wishful Christ-followers… “Come quickly Lord Jesus/ Maranatha”.

In the wake of yet another tragedy played out against the backdrop of our flawed world, let us rejoice in the advent of our Savior and in the promise of His immanent return. There is hope for the world. In the meantime let us follow the earthly example of our Lord Jesus. Let us love unconditionally. Let us forgive those who wrong us. Let us willingly walk with the world into their pain. Let our communities of faith willingly welcome the downtrodden, the mentally ill, the skeptic, the seeker and the poor in spirit. Let the body of Christ become a worldwide conduit of grace and justice that blesses mankind in these latter days. Let us face the inevitable resistance and persecution by the wicked with humility, forgiveness and the quiet reassurance of an aggressive King who will champion the cause of justice in complete and final victory. May the Advent Season give us hope and instill in each of us the desire to bring a message of joy to the world. Merry Christmas.



[1] Ochberg, F. (2012, February 28). Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings? Special CNN report. Retrieved from http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/28/why-does-america-lead-the-world-in-school-shootings/

[2] Shen, A (2012, December 14). A Timeline of Mass Shootings in the U.S. Since Columbine. Think Progress. Retrieved from http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/12/14/1337221/a-timeline-of-mass-shootings-in-the-us-since-columbine/?mobile=nc

[3] Stats obtained from the Polaris Project and are up to date. PolarisProject.org

Joy To The World

Joy. We all want it. We all crave it. We all recognize the capacity of Joy to raise our quality of life. But how do we attain it? How do we keep it? How do we cultivate and grow it?

This past weekend I was privileged to speak on the subject of joy as it relates to Christmas and the first Advent. As I was contemplating the teaching, my mind drifted to the many times I have personally chased after joy. Joy is most readily identified, as a positive emotion that I wish would dominate me. Therefore, I am often enticed to approach the procurement of joy through a systematic process of acquiescence and elimination.  I go to great lengths to bring into my life the things that make me happy and I seek to eradicate those things, which frustrate me or steal my perceived “joy”.

The basic problem with this strategy is in the fundamentals. As it turns out, real joy is an eternal virtue that can only be made manifest by God himself (Romans 15:13, Galatians 5:22).  Oh… at times I am convinced that I know a way to experience lasting joy, but inevitably the thing(s) that I thought I needed was beyond my ability to acquire or, the thing(s) I acquired turned out to be a short-term pleasure and a long-term disappointment. I have gone through this frustrating pursuit far more times than I care to admit. But I have discovered a timeless truth about joy. Are you ready for this? Joy, as it turns out, is the by-product of humility. I know… I know, that doesn’t quite seem right because it would seem that misery is the by-product of humility, but consider the Christmas story:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)

 Why would Jesus set aside all of His entitlement and privilege to become a servant in the form of a human? Why would he subject his perfection to our messiness and ultimately lay his life down in the most humbling way? 

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

 It was for the joy set before him.

When we clothe ourselves with humility (1 Peter 5:5), we position ourselves to receive God’s grace and discover that joy is an eternal working of God’s Spirit as He changes us from the inside out. The Christmas story reminds us of humility and gives us the gold standard for humility; the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pride impedes our joy. Pride is an open invitation to wrestle with God (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Pride is satanic in origin and in practice (Isa. 14:12-15, James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8). Pride is “me-ism” that consists of selfish ambition, vain conceit, and inconsideration of others (Philippians 2:3-4). Pride is easily achieved, while humility is a journey. Pride is a stronghold that must be confessed, repented of and renounced in order to walk humbly and experience true joy.

 Here’s a gift idea for Jesus this Christmas season. Let’s repent of our pride and learn to clothe ourselves in humility as we serve the world around us. Joy to the world, the Lord has come to reign in the hearts of his people.