Coffee, Theology and Jesus

working out our messy faith over coffee

Category: Relationships (page 2 of 4)

Denominations: A kingdom divided cannot stand.

Picture a mirror. Now picture that mirror with thousands of little cracks in it. Cracks that distort your reflection as look at yourself. This is what denominations do to the body of Christ. Extreme statement? Maybe, but Christ’s prayer was that we (His Church) were one as He and the Father were one. I think we dropped the ball on that.

There are thousands of denominations inside Christianity with their own set of of beliefs, principles, practices, and emphasis. They all like to think that they have church figured out more than the other denominations.

Here’s the glaring problem, we have made denominations walls that cut us off from other parts of the Church. Oh, disclaimer, when I say Church I’m not talking about your local Church body, I’m talking about THE Church, the big picture Church, the Church that we are all apart of. Anyway, as I was saying denominations have become walls, dividers, that have not joined us together but have segregated us. We are comfortable working with people who are inside our denomination, but working with Christians (your other brothers and sisters) outside your denomination? Now I’m just talking crazy. Here’s the crazy part, Christ, if he were here today would be heartbroken at how divided we are.

We have this mentality in the Church that our local Church we are a part of (or for most of us, attend) is the only Church that has it right. We are convinced that the only church body that matters is ours, or our parent/sister/brother/aunt/cousin church (meaning the other churches in our comfortable little circle that we say we partner with about once a year for something). I don’t understand it. I’m convinced that the Church is the only organization that not only is divided, but is literally cut off from itself. This is the kind of thing Paul warns the Corinthians about.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-21 ESV)

Paul hits it out of the park. If you’re a leader in a local Church reading this blog then take that Scripture to heart. Our identity is Christ, not our denomination, not our programs, or our ministries, or anything else. Our identity as a Christian is Christ! We ALL have the same identity, so why are we so DIVIDED! Forgive my use of capital letters, I am just so fired up that we can claim to be Christians and yet over look these parts of Scripture, or worse, we can take a section like I just posted and apply it only to our local Church that we serve in. Notice how Paul says we are in one Spirit baptized in one body, not a local body, not an individual body, one body. Do not apply this scripture only to your expression of the Church, Paul is talking big picture here.

Can we as Christians have different views on some issues? Absolutely. But should these things divide us as deep as they have? Absolutely not. It is in direct conflict with the heart of Christ. (See John 17).

Rob (the other writer for this blog) and I have some stark differences. In fact they are so stark that we probably won’t be planting a church together anytime soon. But these differences do nothing to sever our relationship as brothers in the same Kingdom worshipping the same God. We eat together, we share views together, we talk and hangout, we have great times together and we still have different views on things inside the faith.

America doesn’t need more church buildings, it doesn’t need more expressions of the local church, it needs a united Church. In New Jersey there are roughly 3 church buildings every square mile. We have plenty of church buildings, but a kingdom divided can’t stand. Until we are willing to bridge the denominational divide, we will continue to stifle Church growth, but more importantly we are stifling the growth of the Kingdom of God. We fight over things that are sometimes so ridiculous, our cultures look at it and says “seriously?”

What’s my solution? Here are a few.

1. Make every effort to connect with other local churches in your immediate area. Invite the pastors to lunch and talk about how to be more unified and then actually do things together with your congregations. For instance, what if the Churches in your area organized a park cleanup day? Or what if the Churches in your area went to the mayor’s office and asked what you could all do together to serve the community.

2. Take a week off from your Church service and go worship the same God with another local church body in your immediate area. I recommend doing this often. Not only does it give your pastor, worship band, and other people who help run the Sunday morning service a break, it starts to bridge the gap between local Churches. After all you are trying to reach the SAME community, why the heck would you not talk to each other?

If we are to be followers of the teachings of Christ, if we are to have His heart, then uniting the Church must be a top priority. But we are a prideful bunch, we don’t like to change and conform to someone’s [inferior] view. We don’t like to admit that we were wrong. We’d much rather be comfortable with our circle of believers, then to get uncomfortable and have some difficult conversations with other believers.

I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23 ESV)

Beer, Beer, Beer! Christians and Alcohol.

This is Side 1:  See Side 2 here!

I know right? How can a person who claims to be a follower of Christ say such a terrible word! Beer is evil! So is anything else that contains alcohol! How dare Christians drink! If this is your mentality, buckle up.

Alcohol! Not many things are as controversial among Christians as alcohol. I grew up in churches where the consumption of alcohol was looked down upon. My parents never drank, their friends never drank, and the church body I grew up in preached drinking as a sin from the pulpit. I have known many other Christians who took the same strict stance.

There’s a problem though. Not only did Jesus drink wine (which was strong enough to get drunk off of), the Bible condones drinking. There was wine at the last supper. Paul tells Timothy that the elders should not be lovers of MUCH wine not any wine, and let’s not forget that Jesus’s first miracle was turning water in to wine. If Jesus did that miracle at a church meeting, there’s a good chance he’d get a talking to by the pastor or other Church leadership. Alcohol is Biblical and there is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation. However there are still Christians who look down on other Christians who have a beer or glass of wine over dinner. It’s completely unbiblical to cast judgment on Christians who enjoy such a beverage, if that’s you, you need to check your heart and get Biblical.

I personally don’t drink, it’s a personal conviction I’ve had for a very long time. My father’s family all had major alcohol problems. The Lord was very clear that I was not to drink casually, and that alcohol was not for me. However many of my friends do enjoy beer, wine, or a mixed drink, and they are followers of Christ. For me to look down on them as “less” of a Christian is wrong because the Bible is so crystal clear that drinking is not wrong, being drunk is.

It’s also interesting to me that I’ve met so many Christians that view any kind of drinking as wrong but they are either are unaware or forget that many of the people we look up to in the history of the faith had their own brewery’s for beer. In fact, I recently read that the founder of Guinness became a follower of Christ by listening to John Wesley preach. Guinness turned his company in to one of the most charitable companies in Ireland. He paid his staff extremely well, and took care of the poor all through his brewing company Guinness. Owning a brewery was common back in the earlier centuries, C.S Lewis (Author of Narnia), A.W Tozer, and many other titans of the faith all enjoyed their beer. It was not until the fundamentalist movement came along in the 19/20th/21st centuries that our view of alcohol changed as something dirty, unbiblical, and something that only party people do. This view is wrong and in the grand scheme of history is a very small view of any kind of alcoholic drink.

Now I know people will say “well Tim people who drink shouldn’t cause a brother to stumble” to which I agree. I’ve been blessed to have great friends who made sure to check with me before they drank in front of me. If I told them I found it to be a stumbling block they would never drink in front of me. There are Christians who drink who like to rub it in other people’s faces, this is a terrible approach. However, the opposite is true, Christians who don’t drink need to get off their high-horse mentality and realize that they are only going above and beyond what Scripture teaches and we call that legalism. If you choose not to drink you have that prerogative (not to mention you save a lot of money when you go out to eat), but to cast judgement on brothers and sisters who do is so out of line I think Jesus would look at you in the eye and say “Get the plank out of your own eye before you get the speck out of your brother’s eye”.

What’s my point? To the Christian who says “did you see so and so drinking tonight?!” check your heart. Alcohol is all throughout the Bible. The Jews drank it when they threw week long parties. Jesus drank wine, so many saints of the faith had their own breweries and enjoyed beer all throughout the centuries. I can give you example after example of people that loved The Lord, had thriving relationships with Him that enjoyed their adult beverages as well. I realize that our culture abuses alcohol, I realize that it’s seen as a party drink, I realized getting so drunk you black out is cool among people my age, but that shouldn’t make Christians view the actual beverage as sin when the Bible mentions it so often.

To Christians who enjoy a beer or glass of wine, be aware of who you do it in front of. Sometimes the drink isn’t worth your brother stumbling over it. Make sure if your around fellow brothers and sisters that you check with them to make sure it’s not a problem to anyone. Paul is so clear in this and it saves relationships. Be patient with those who have opposing views, speak in love and in humility when approaching this subject.

EDIT- I should mention here that by drinking I do not mean being drunk or getting tipsy. These things Scripture is also clear on. Just like anything, alcohol can be abused. I just wanted to make sure I was clear on this point that by drinking I mean simply enjoying a glass of wine or a drink, not drinking to the point of being impaired.

The Condescending Christian

Condescension: (n)
1: voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior
2: patronizing attitude or behavior

I think this is a word we are all familiar with.  A word we are all disgusted with? Perhaps.  A word we are all plagued with.  More likely.

I’ve been discussing Christianity with various friends recently and we have all come to the same conclusion: Christians are not very Christ-like.  It reminds me of the first time the label “Christians” was used in the scripture.  We have all heard this before, but in Acts 11:26 we see that “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”  The ironic thing is that this is an adjective and was not word that the believers called themselves but was a description that the pagans in Antioch gave them because they were following Christ.  The term was most likely a derogatory term given in mockery but the pagan world looked and saw people following Christ.  I wonder if they were being mocked because they actually acted like Him who they were attempting to follow.  Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18).  Contempt and mockery comes along with bearing the image of Christ.

Why do I say image instead of name?  “Christian” has become a nominal claim that holds no value but bearing the image of Christ is what we are called to do; be a reflection of Christ.  I believe a major problem in Christendom is that we are trying to be too “Christian-like” and forgetting to be “Christ-like.”

Now, this is not 100% true in every local church but it is a trend I am noticing more and more that the Church is shutting their “doors” tighter and tighter.  Obviously by doors I mean their hearts.  The attitude in local churches is that if you are on the inside you have been blessed and are a select group of “God’s elect” but if you are on the outside then you are not worth our thoughts.  It is interesting that Christ was never holed up in a building with the religious leaders of the day and reminiscing on how much better He was than the rest of the population (for He very well was MUCH better).  He was mocked for sitting and eating with sinners, for talking to a woman at the well, for calling children, for rescuing prostitutes, and loving the “scum.”  However, modern Christianity has turned their face from all of these ones that desperately need our love because we want to be “Christian-like.”  Christians don’t talk with non-Christians! Christians don’t get their hands dirty! Christians don’t sit and eat with sinners!  We want to stay in our “Christian boxes” and remind ourselves how great we are compared to all the sinners!  Paul knew nothing of this attitude when he writes to Timothy “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I AM chief” (1:15).  Paul knew he never lost his nature as a sinner and it motivated him to reach other sinners!  I remember hearing Billy Graham tell an interviewer that the first step for a gospel preacher is to first love sinners for whom Christ died.  Gospel preaching becomes dry and lifeless when the motivation behind the message is not a sincere love for the lost!  Why are people leaving churches to never return?  Because Christians are not “Christ-like.”  Christ didn’t have to provide entertainment to get a following and He didn’t need fancy projectors and loud music.  He only needed His love for every single person.  What happened?  They CLUNG to Him.  The world knows very little of God’s love because we have been called to be the vessels of His love but instead we shut ourselves in and pat each other on the back for being such a good Christian while lives are being torn apart, people are hopeless, and the world is spiraling out of control.

When I was in California recently I was talking to my friend and he was sharing with me some of the various things he has gotten himself into out there.  Every other Wed he goes and gives out burgers and Bibles to homeless people in LA.  Two of the ones he has reached come to services regularly on Sunday because he takes time out of his day to just sit and talk with them and helps them in any way he can.  This was just one of the things he was into and I really looked up to him for that.  He surely isn’t being very “Christian-like” but he certainly is being very “Christ-like.”

I’m not sure when we lost sight of the fact that we are only sinners saved by grace but we have.  Let’s step out of the box of our condescension and back into the life of love for people around.  I don’t care what race, sexual orientation, religion, or social status our neighbor is, they should all be getting a glimpse at the love of Christ.  Would my neighbor be able to call me a follower of Christ or is it just a label I’ve slapped on myself because I go to a Christian church?  What about you?  Lord, change my heart and help me to love like Christ.

-RM

 

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The X Rated Bible.

“When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her naked body, I turned away from her in disgust, just as I had turned away from her sister. Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled. (Ezekiel 23:18-21 NIV)”

Don’t be offended. It’s in the Bible.

I grew up with a pretty squeaky clean version of Christianity. Great parents who raised me very morally, and I was told early on not to say certain words, not to sleep with someone before your married, not to do drugs, not to lie, not to steal and so on and so forth. I was also raised with a pretty pure view of the BIble. I’ve heard before that the Bible is the word of God, that God has every word in there for a reason. The Bible is God breathed and in it he tells the story of redemption for humanity. While I fully agree with this, we’ve (conveniently) skipped the grittier parts of the God’s word.

God is honest. He doesn’t skip over the ugly parts of humanity. He doesn’t try and sugar coat things. In the Bible we see the ultimate depravity of man. Gang rapes, sacrificing children to pagan gods, incest, manipulation, affairs, murder, it’s all in there. Why? Because we compare ourselves. We say to ourselves “there’s no way God could use that person” while we forget that Jesus was born through the line of David, a man who had slept with a woman and then had her husband killed in battle. We forget that Paul wrote most of the New Testament and before he was converted, he was responsible for hunting and killing Christians. God uses what we as humans deem as the morally corrupt. People that we see as reprehensible, offensive, and utterly disgusting. God instead sees them as redeemed, and He restores them from death and corruption to life and integrity.

We need to see people that sometimes Christendom deems as unapproachable as approachable. For example when it comes to the sexually corrupt such as pornographers, exotic dancers, and people in that industry we often think to ourselves unclean, unclean! We say to ourselves “well sure God can save them but he sure won’t be using me to do that!’. When we think that we are too morally clean to get in the trench with broken, dirty people we fail as little Christs’. We fail to model who Jesus was. We all know the story of the woman at the well, the woman who was seen by the religious elite as too unclean. Jesus goes right up to her, approaches her, engages in conversation and she is changed forever. Next time you think of someone like a dancer, or someone you know who is sexually promiscuous remember the woman at the well.

What’s my point? God isn’t afraid to get in the trenches with the most morally corrupt. God isn’t afraid to write about them in his Holy book, and God doesn’t sugar coat what they did in that book either. He is upfront, honest, descriptive, and in it we see a good God redeeming humanity. The Bible is not a children’s book full of fairy tales of unicorns and ponies. It’s gritty, vulgar, and gross. The best part? It’s good.

We need to view the Bible for what it is and we need to let that be a sobering reminder that nothing is too unclean for God to use and turn in to restored goodness. Let’s not put walls in between us and certain people because the God of the Bible most certainly does not.

You. Are. Church.

If I sound like a broken record too bad. Ok that sounds mean.

I realize that sometimes my posts might come across as redundant, but when it comes to the Church, to the body of Christ, nothing (besides the work of Christ) can be more important. After all Christ believes in His bride. He gave His life for it, He established it, and He entrusted us with His message of redemption, grace, and restoration. This is why I’m always talking about the Church. This is why I’m so passionate about keeping the heart and mission of His body at the center, and not our politics, events, and red tape that sometimes we accidentally make the focus.

I’ve been thinking for years now about what it is exactly a lot of people who profess to be part of the Church miss. No, it’s not salvation, but I think it’s an understanding of what they are a part of. It seems too often we are too caught up in the Sunday morning meeting and we forget that the Church is not the sunday morning service but it is the people that come together to meet with each other and celebrate what The Lord has done and is continuing to do. Church is people. It is you and I. You. Are. Church. That is what this post is about. Recognizing your identity and walking in it 24/7.

Changing the format of “church”, changing the name, changing the way we’ve always done things, is not the answer to getting the body to recognize and walk in its identity and calling. In fact when the a local body recognizes its identity as the hands and feet of Christ, the Sunday morning service and other common Church functions are compliments. They are very good things that we must not throw out but must maintain. However, We must begin to teach and instruct the body on what they are participating in. This to me is one of the big things we sometimes miss. We assume that the people know that the Church is not a building or just a sunday morning meeting. But people assume that all the time. On top of that, sometimes we send mixed signals. Let me give you can example.

I was at a church service sometime ago. The pastor walked on to the stage and says “Are you excited to be in the house of God” to which the congregation gave an enthusiastic yes! The pastor said this at least 3-4 times during the coarse of his sermon. At the very end however he said “how many of you know the Church is not a building, but it’s people” to which the congregation responded by raising their hands (in this case the majority). This made me think “well which is it? Is the Church the building or is it the people?” This is a very confusing thing to hear (especially when people are not very familiar with church). It frustrates me greatly to hear people say things like welcome to the house of God, because according to scripture God dwells in people. We are the temple that the Spirit of God dwells in and when we make statements like “welcome to the house of God” we lead people to assume that we are talking about the building we are in.

I use this example because I think at some point the majority of sunday morning attendees have heard this phrase thrown out from the stage and it is simply not accurate. In my view it does more damage because it instills the idea that Church is a place we go to on Sunday morning as opposed to the view that Church is a body of people who are representations of Christ in their life, they meet together on Sunday mornings to celebrate Christ and His work. See the difference?

True Identity. That is my solution to this problem. If we being to teach the Church what there true identity is I think we can revitalize a sometimes stagnant Church. I mean let’s be honest the Church is in some ways very active, and in other ways very dormant. We are getting more and more outside of our four walls, this is a very good thing, but in a rush to get people out the door we’ve sometimes missed instructing them on their identity. God’s answer to brokenness in the world is the Church. The Church is the hope of the world. I am so convinced of this because I have seen the Church be the hope of the world. I watched when hurricane Sandy hit Christians volunteering their time to help families rebuild their homes. Local Church bodies that owned a building opened it up for people who had no place to go. I get to read stories of the Church (people) working in third world countries to stop human trafficking. The Church, the body of Christ is the hope of the world because we are Christ in the flesh. As Paul says, we are His hands and His feet, we are little Christs’ (Christians) representing the heart of Christ when he lived among us.

I can not express this idea enough. Our view of the word Church must be greatly expanded. Not only is the Church a group of people that meet on Sunday morning, they are a living body that exists even when the doors are shut.

If you are a Christian, congratulations you are Church. When you leave Sunday morning service guess what? You’re still Church. When you’re at work on Monday you are Church and you represent Christ in that work environment. I could go on and on, but you get my point. And let’s face it, I’ve said this stuff before and I won’t stop saying this because it is so crucial to the world and to Christianity.

Let me put it this way. Roughly 75% of Americans identify as Christians. If we could get all of them to realize their identity in Christ, that they are the hands and feet of God, the Church, that they can change the world for good, wouldn’t that be amazing? I won’t stop preaching this message of the potential in the Church. It’s what’s on my heart and it can literally change the world, it can solve poverty, it can solve hunger, it can bring hope to the hopeless, restoration to the broken, life to the dead, and true love to the world. The Church is what Christ established, it is the hope of the world. I won’t watch it be squandered and caught up in red tape, church politics, meaningless splits, denominations that won’t work with each other because of “belief differences” and other things that ultimately do nothing to encourage followers of Christ to walk in their identity 24/7.

Whose Idea Was This Anyway? Youth Groups, Where are the Parents?! (Part 2)

In my last post, I brought up the idea of youth groups. Some of my thoughts regarding what seems to not be working and an alternative solution to our current youth group models. I realized as I started writing that my thoughts could not be contained in one post. So I wanted to wrap up this two part writing and talk about another angle of youth groups. The lack of the parents being involved.

I don’t hold the youth group model solely responsible for the (alarming) lack of parents being involved with their youth, especially at youth groups. It seems like parents are too happy to drop their teens off and peel out of the parking lot faster than you can say pizza. When parents view youth group like a day care for their 15 year old, it takes the responsibility off of the parent and on to the youth pastor. When 40 parents do this, it’s overwhelming for one guy (or even a small team) to address the hearts of teens effectively. When parents view their teen’s spiritual health as something for a pastor to mainly take care of, and their teen doesn’t begin to change to the ways of Christ, the parents often lash out on the pastor, or church as not doing their job. The parent fails to realize that it is their job to raise their teens and not the Church, or anyone else for that matter. This isn’t to say the church should not be helping out in the process. I fully believe that the Church should be a living community coming along side and helping each other out, and this includes pouring in to the upcoming generation. But it is extremely important for parents to see that they have the biggest influence in their teenager’s life. Regardless of how that may appear, it’s the truth.

The other problem I see is that our current youth group model doesn’t really allow for parents to be involved a whole lot. Often youth groups try and appear more relevant to the life of a teenager by accidentally aiding in making the parent the uncool person, or the out of touch adult. This does not help more than it hinders the parent/teenager relationship. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve been a part of that problem as well. Failing to see that in order to raise teenagers who are more devoted to Christ, it takes parents fully involved, partnering with the Church to close the youth/adult gap. Unlike culture, which thrives in the separation of the two, the Church can thrive by bringing these two groups closer, working together, learning from each other with the older mentoring the younger.

What’s my solution? Start getting the parents involved with their youth. Plan parent/youth retreats, have the youth realize the importance of learning from the generation above them, have the older generation realize how it essential it is to be pouring themselves in to the upcoming generation. Do teens need their time apart from their parents? Absolutely. Teens need a place they can be honest, and sometimes that’s difficult with parents around. But we’ve been so segregated in the Church that we would benefit much to start closing the gap.

Youth Group: Who’s Idea Was This? (Part 1)

I have many good friends who are youth pastors. This post is not about bashing them, or anyone else who has been called to work with youth. This post is about looking at what’s happening in our youth groups in churches and how we need to adjust quickly to save the next generation coming up behind me. I want to make this clear because we should be looking for solutions, not pointing fingers. But before we get to solutions, we need to address the problems. So, here we go.

Most (not all) youth groups are run the same way. Usually, the youth group meets once a week outside of the Sunday morning service. They meet in a room that is designed to be visually attractive to youth. Video games, tv’s, ping pong, music, couches, posters, things like this usually adorn the room in an attempt to make the youth feel like the Church understands them, that the Church is reaching out to them on their terms. For the first half hour to hour, everyone just hangs out. Sometimes music is blaring in the background and the place takes on more of a party atmosphere. After that, the worship band usually comes on and plays a bunch of high energy songs (sometimes accompanied by a full blown light show), with kids jumping around and singing as loud as they can. The band will end with a slower song, one that is more emotionally gripping while the speaker makes his way to the stage, after a half hour sermon about something “relevant to them” (Usually a topical, watered down message), the pastor dismisses the group and it’s back to loud music and video games, occasionally they throw in pizza. Parents then come by and pick up their kids, and repeat the process the following week.

Clearly, there are more aspects to a youth group than just the once a week meeting. Missions trips, events to theme parks or big Christian youth rallies are also part of the youth group. But for the sake of this post I’ll be focusing my energy on the youth group service. Also, I most definitely generalized my take on what happens in youth groups. Not all youth groups run this way, but most do. Most run with a format similar to what I just described.

I bring this up because we are doing something wrong. How do I know this? Because according to the Voddie Bauchman author of Family Driven Faith, 80% of youth walk away from the church by the second year of college. Here are some other statistics courtesy of the Barna Group

A Barna survey focused on finding out how teens beliefs differ from their parents found that:

63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths.
51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.
65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity.

Let those numbers sink in. They should be cold water on your face (especially if you work with youth in the Church). What we are doing, is not working.

And why would it? Let’s face it, a lot of times our youth groups look like glorified baby sitting clubs. Devoid of parents (in fact a lot of times parents are encouraged to let their teens participate in church functions separately), devoid of solid Biblical training, devoid of intimate discipleship and mentorship. It’s no wonder our youth groups are failing.

Look, I’ll be blunt. The Church in this regard decided to compete with the world for the hearts of the youth. We decided to make our youth meetings full of fluff, emotional feelings, and games. We traded that for sound teaching, discipleship, mentorship, and training on how to defend their faith. So many youth really don’t even understand what they believe (See above statistics) and it’s a major problem.

We must rethink how we approach youth ministry. Because we are missing them. They are coming out mostly unchanged, and no different from the culture around them. And how can we expect them to be different when we take cultures approach to youth and apply it in our churches? I think we really misunderstand teenagers. We think that they want to be fed light hearted things. We assume that they don’t have questions that are tough, and we think that if we get too theological that we will lose their ear. This can’t be further from the truth, if done in a relational way. We live in a culture where many, many teens are growing up without a mom or a dad. Teens are hurting, they are looking for someone older to reach out to them and just listen to them. Contrary to popular belief, teens do look up to their parents, and teens do desire mentorship from not only their piers but also from people older than them (I’m talking to you people in your mid 20’s).

So what’s the solution? Well there is no one solution, depending on your local church it will look different. I do have one particular example in mind for a solution however, and I’ll share it with you.

I had a great opportunity to work with an amazing youth group last year. Contrary to the popular way of doing youth group, this youth pastor was much more interested in getting his teenagers to open up and discuss hard things that they are going through. Essentially, he wanted them to feel safe during youth group. So he ditched the typical youth format. Instead of meeting in a youth room they met in his apartment, instead of leading the youth by himself, he recruited 10 people in their 20’s and early 30’s, instead of flashy services, they met in a small living room with some snacks. Instead of video games there was conversation. Instead of people pairing off, there was one group, functioning together. I think we were all a little worried about how the teens would react to this change. I’m happy to say that not only were the youth more than thrilled, often begging us to not end the discussion time, our youth group exploded in a matter of weeks. Soon they were bringing their friends and we were cramming 50 people in to a tiny living room. What was our secret? Relational mentorship. You know, how Jesus modeled His life for us. I was blown away at how open these teens were, and how honest they were. They had genuine questions that often lead us in to deep water. The trinity, how to love their friends who lived lifestyles they disagreed with, how to love people who were bullying them, how to respect their parents, how do we know the Bible is true. These weren’t things that the leaders were bringing up, these were things the teens were bringing up! By the way, let me also mention that the ratio to leaders and students was roughly 1 leader to every 3 students. This was key in building solid relationships with the youth. One guy can’t handle an entire youth group, it takes a team that devotes their time to relationally engaging them.

Ravi Zacharias said “In our modern day philosophies of church growth we are unhealthily preoccupied with programs and I suggest to you programs are always a secondary to people. God prepared a person before he implemented a program, we create a program and then find a person”. We have done this to youth groups and we are reaping the consequences. We have taken reaching youth and turned it in to a formula, we have turned it in to a program, and we missed the youth in the process. We are sometimes so concerned with making sure that our program runs smooth that we haven’t taken the time to even examine if the program works! It doesn’t.

I can’t tell you how many people I know that I’ve met recently or that I’ve grown up with that were at one time, active youth group participants and have walked away from the faith. Our common way of having youth group is mostly not working, and anyone who I have met that loved their youth group always tells me that it was because of a deep relationship that got them through. I have yet to hear someone tell me that because of the youth group program, their life was changed. I hear instead, that because of someone reaching out to them, being their friend and mentor on a personal level, that they came to know Jesus in a more relational and intimate way.

Jesus discipled not by going through a curriculum, or by teaching his disciples the 3 steps to a better life. But by living life with them, and teaching them in life, having discussions with them, eating a meal with them, and physically teaching them the ways of the Kingdom. If we want to reclaim the next generation we have to take the time to invest in to them. One hour, once a week, with a static format, is not going to cut it.

In part 2, I’m going to be addressing the parents role in this. Thanks for reading!
-TW

Sometimes Christians Get It Wrong

Originally, I was writing a post about absolute truth and how it exists and how important it is. But then I realized that I don’t know nearly enough on the subject to articulate myself well enough for a post. But as I began to write, another topic emerged. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I needed to take my post in another direction. So buckle up here we go.

As Christians, sometimes we think we own the corner on truth. What I mean by that is we sometimes assume that everything we say about the Christian faith is true, as opposed to truth dictating what we believe about the Christian faith. If you look even briefly at the history of the Christian faith, you will see that we have done things that we look back on and say “what were they thinking?!” For example, the crusades were a very bad idea and not true to the Christian faith and the teachings of Christ. Although at the time they felt justified in their actions, we see clearly now that what they did was contrary to Christ and His Kingdom.

When we look at modern day Christianity (especially here in the states) we must be careful in how outspoken we are regarding what we think we know. Sometimes we over extend our hand and assume that the way we were taught to interpret the Bible is the right way, or the way we were taught to see our culture or the unsaved is the right way. We must extremely careful not to get so wrapped up in our dogma that it blinds us to truth when it is presented.

One of the dangers I see in the Christian faith is that we have let other things such as world views, politics, and compromise come in and alter our view of the way of Christ. We have taken certain messages from the world (such as the liberal message or conservative message) identified parts of it in the Bible, and then made up our own version of Christianity. Essentially, we have let other things dictate how we see the Bible and ultimately our faith, instead of digging more in to the context and history of our faith and seeing how to apply it here and now.

One of the biggest missteps I have seen over the past ten years is the way many public Christian figures (and not so public figures) have handled the homosexual movement. In a faith that is so clear on grace, redemption, love, and forgiveness, we instead pointed out the action of homosexuality and essentially condemned people solely for the particular action. In the process we not only lost the heart of the gospel (that no matter what we do, we are in need of Jesus and His healing), but we lost the ear of many people engaged in that lifestyle. From people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who blamed 9/11 on the homosexual movement, to the pastor who suggested that we round up all the homosexuals and put them in a quarantined area with an electric fence, we have made some missteps in the way to engage this growing topic in our culture.

Sometimes, we as Christians can accidentally get so arrogant, so full of pride, because we think that our eyes have been open to all truth because of Christ when this is not the case. Sometimes, we think “well I believe in Jesus and affirm his resurrection, therefore whatever I think must be completely true” and this is a dangerous slope because no human knows everything. No human has the corner on all truth. The pursuit of truth is a lifelong pursuit and one that we can never fulfill in our lifetimes. We are wrong on some things. Even now, I’m sure that all of my beliefs are not accurate when stacked up against God and his absolute truth. Even though many of you reading this who are Christians are agreeing with me, your actions sometimes say quite the opposite.

Let me ask the Christians out here a question, when was the last time you apologized to a person who was not in the Christian faith? When was the last time you told someone “I was wrong for thinking that about you”? Christians are called to be humble, people are looking to make things right, not to inflame the situation. I have heard with my own ears people who profess Christianity talk so arrogantly about what they think they know and as soon as someone enters the conversation with a different view, the Christian shuts them down immediately with prepackaged Christian culture answers. This is not the way to engage people and to win their respect so they will hear you out and continue a conversation about deep, complicated things.

Let me ask you (the Christian) one final question. What’s your motive? To prove to the world that everything that you say is absolute truth? Is it to prove that you are right and they are wrong and therefore everyone must see everything the way you see it? Or is your point to introduce them to Jesus so that they may know Him and His way, His teachings, His kingdom? When your motivation is introduce people to the risen Christ, the way you engage people with different views than you changes greatly. It changes from attacking and overloading them with your worldview, to being a listener and conversationalist, trusting that it is Jesus who redeems and saves people, not you.

If all we do as Christians is tell the world how wrong they are, and how right we are, and people reject Christ because of that (as many have) then we still lose in the end. Our only focus should be introducing people to God and His kingdom. The Bible makes it clear, God judges people, not us. Why? Because all are equal at the foot of the cross. Without Christ we are all in the same sinking boat. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, how you live, Jesus is the only hope for humanity.
-TW

The Kingdom; It’s Bigger Than You

This past week I had an amazing opportunity to fly down to the Dominican Republic with an organization called The Initiative. The Initiative is a leadership based program that helps students put their faith in to action. We took a team down to the Dominican to teach a school how to use The Initiative program and implement it in to their school. The response was overwhelming and the students were ecstatic by the end of the 3 day conference.

While in the DR I got to experience a completely different way of life. Our house had no hot water, people ride small motorcycles and scooters everywhere, and the terrain is much different from where I live in New Jersey. Out of all of the many differences, there was one blaring similarity. I realized more and more how the Kingdom of God is the same no matter where I go. There are people in completely different cultures worshipping the same God. These people are our brothers and sisters, people we are spending eternity with, people who are wrecked by the Gospel and compelled to give their lives to it.

One of the most sincere people I met (even though I only met him for a short while) was a pastor working in a part of the Dominican called the rails. The rails is an extremely poor community. The people live in small huts with no plumbing, most of the kids walk around barefoot, and it was clear this area was extremely poor. Little kids ran up to me grabbing my hand and tugging on my beard calling me Santa Clause. Other kids ran up to some of the girls on my team grabbing their hand and not letting go the whole time. This was where the pastor devoted his life. With help, he built a church that he sleeps in, and devotes his time to helping the community around him. At the end of our visit we gathered around him and laid hands on him, praying for his work. It was a moment where we all realized that we were united in Christ, that this man is our brother, doing the work of the same God I serve here in the states. What a sobering moment.

During our time walking through the rails, we got to sit down with 30 or so people (mostly children) and sing songs praising God for His goodness. If there is ever a time where you get hit with the reality of how God’s kingdom is all inclusive it is in times like that. We were in the middle of tiny huts, surrounded by people that had no money and were barely scraping by, worshipping the same Jesus who gives us all the same hope.

The rest of our time was fantastic. The conference we put on for the students was received extremely well and we got to know these students as people. We worked with a couple named Mitch and Debbie who devoted their lives to reaching the people of the Dominican. They are radicals, people who gave up their life in the states to become like the people of the Dominican to reach them for the gospel. God has blessed their ministry immensely, and it was great working with them.

I want to get back to my point. The Kingdom of God is so diverse and inclusive. Sometimes it’s hard to see that in the states. Being so jaded by political affiliation and other things, we think sometimes that being a Christian means that people have to be like us, that they have to think the way we think, and if they don’t, then they know don’t fully understand being a Christian. This at times, can’t be further from the truth. God’s kingdom is way beyond us. Heaven is going to be such a diverse place full of different cultures, full of different ways of living life all under the banner of God and His kingdom. Jesus expands beyond our suburbs, our nice and neat church buildings that we spend so much money on. Jesus goes way beyond the limits we put on Him.

Right now, as I type this, there are millions and millions of my brothers and sisters worshipping God, living life with Jesus in a much different way than I do here in the states. The best part? That’s ok. We must begin to realize that there are other worlds beyond the States, that we don’t always do things the best, and that we can learn from other Christians in other cultures.

One of the most shocking things I learned while in the Dominican Republic was hearing Debbie tell me about groups who come from the states and come with an attitude of superiority. Debbie told me about a guy who would call the Dominican people stupid and try to correct everything that he thought they did wrong. Another group that was coming in said that they need pizza every night and that they don’t want to eat any Dominican food. What a shame that sometimes we travel to other parts of the world with arrogance and pride. Thinking that we have the corner of doing things right and that everyone else (especially people in third world countries) are not as smart or as intelligent. Pride is something that God hates, and we need to rid ourselves of it and walk in humility, always looking to learn wherever we are, and help when we are needed.

I talk about the Kingdom a lot because it is what Jesus talks about a lot. Jesus mentions the Kingdom of God over and over in the Gospels. The Kingdom is tangible, it is everywhere, and it is the future. Eternity will be spent with God in his kingdom, in His world, and He has entrusted us, his sons and daughters with being agents of that Kingdom. We are called to be Little Christs, and Christ modeled the Kingdom life for us. He constantly told us what it looks like, what it feels like, and what it’s going to be like. We are called to represent that Kingdom with our lives. That means putting aside everything else and making it our priority. Christ offers us new life, and that life is the Kingdom of God. Everywhere we walk, the Kingdom is walking. It doesn’t matter if we live in the rails, or in New York City, it is the same kingdom, the same God, and the same freedom.

-TW

What Salvation Is: Part 1

The next two blog posts will be a little different.  Julia’s dad (my father-in-law) has professed faith in Christ last week and even got up and gave his testimony during CBC’s services on Sunday.  This is a place he hasn’t stepped foot in for years.  I was with him briefly on Monday night and could definitely see a change.  With that in mind I was thinking of what true salvation is and the ways salvation changes us.  This post will be what salvation is and the following will be what salvation does.

What is Salvation?
A mere decision to a proposition?  Not in the slightest.  A mere conclusion of logic?  Also, no.  Salvation of the Bible is something much more than simply a logical decision or a decision of change.  The shortest message of salvation I think you can read is found in Acts 16:30-31:
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

“Believe on” has the idea of trusting on, resting on, trusting oneself to, or depending on.  What it doesn’t mean is assenting to, acknowledging that, superficially accepting, or any other form of such things.  In Biblical Greek, the word “believe” and “faith” are very closely related (much closer than we know in English).  In fact it would be correct to translate Ephesians 2:8 as “For by grace are you saved through belief; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”  Believing and faith in the Bible are the same thing.  This is a much stronger word than what we use “believe” for in today’s English language.  We use it to say “to think” or “to assent/accept” and even “to come to understand.”  These meanings are not the meaning of “believing on” in Acts 16:31.  There is an illustration I’ve heard often of a tight rope walker in the 19th century that goes by the name of Charles Blondin (real name Jean Francois Gravelet).  He stretched a tight rope across the Niagra Falls to show his pristine balancing skills.  He started across with a balancing pole, then did a back somersault while walking across.  Each crossing after that he completed in a different manner: blindfolded, with a wheelbarrow, even making an omelet in the middle of the rope.  Then he comes to the crowd that was watching him and asks if they believe that he could carry someone across on his back.  Everyone at once screams “YES WE BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT!”  But then his question changed and was now, “Ok, who will get on my back and cross?”  The crowd suddenly went silent.  Everyone believed ABOUT Blondin.  They saw what he did and believed he COULD do it but no one was willing to believe IN or ON Blondin and get on his back.  Many people believe about the Lord Jesus Christ but only those who believe on Him will ever get real life.

“the Lord Jesus Christ” does not say “Jesus” or “the Savior” or even “Christ.”  He is the one of whom we read that died and rose again.
Jesus tells us that this is the one who became a man to be the savior.  We just recently celebrated the birth of Jesus.  Joseph was told “thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).   The name Jesus tells us of his humanity.
Christ is the anointed one.  He is the promised Messiah, the servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 42).  It is a shame to proclaim Jesus as a cool, party attending, rebel character that is found being proclaimed in many churches.  This is the anointed one, the Messiah, the promised one.
Lord is a term used of one in authority over you, one who you submit and bow to.  There are not two separate events of accepting Jesus as your Savior then accepting him as your Lord.  Salvation is the acknowledgment of Him as Lord!

So the gospel of salvation is that man is without ability to save himself but upon the confession of helplessness, the repentance of sin, turning to the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on Christ (both the person and the work) “you shall be saved.”

Romans 6:17 is Paul looking back to before they were “saved” when he says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin.”  He is commenting on the fact that we were astray from God and servants of sin.  Then he reflects on their moment of conversion when he says, “but ye have obeyed from the heart.”  The tense of the verb “obeyed” is in the Aorist tense which says it happened at a definite moment of time (the moment of salvation).  But what is interesting is the last phrase, “that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”  Salvation is doctrine; it is truth to be received.  God has revealed the truth of the person and work of Christ and given man the responsibility to respond to the doctrine.  Salvation is truth to be received.

So in the ultimate sense, what is salvation?  It is the supernatural work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  It is the redemption of a fallen race and is available to all.  It is not just giving your life to Jesus or accepting a Savior as I hope I made clear.  Now, at Salvation we may not have known everything we were coming into, I know I didn’t.  But we can look at that moment and see that all of these things are true and prove true in the life of a true believer.  Thank goodness we can say:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16

Next time, we will look at what salvation does.  Stay tuned.

~Rob

 

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