Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I Lie

This year I'm spending a portion of my private worship in the Psalms. So far it's been rich and challenging.

The other day I came across a Psalm where the writer condemned dishonesty and "flattering tongues". In my mind I quickly dismissed it. You see, I learned "that shalt not lie" at an early age. Everyone knows that dishonesty is a sin and surely all of us are mature enough not to lie.

But after I sat and thought for a while it became clear that I can have a tendency for dishonesty. Sure, my dishonesty is more refined than a 3rd grader saying he didn't take the cookie from the cookie jar, but I still have a tendency towards dishonesty.

So here are a couple of questions I'm asking myself to make sure my life is filled with integrity not dishonesty.

Do you ever exaggerate?

It's really easy to make statements that put ourselves in a little better light. This can be done when talking about how much we work or how tired we are or how many people showed up at something. This is dishonesty. When tempted to get others to think well of us it's easy use hyperbole.

Do you ever withhold the truth so someone might feel better about themselves?

Have you ever had a friend or coworker come to you and ask you, "what do you think"? Now, this doesn't apply to 4 year olds who come to their dad and ask if he thinks the picture is a great work of art. Of course it is, a 4 year old did it. It does apply to coworkers or friends who ask about performance. If we love people we will tell them the truth, gently, but tell them the truth even if our opinion might hurt.

Do you ever misrepresent what is going on in your heart?

I'm not sure all this questions means, but sometimes I believe I act more passionate about something than I really am. In words I express great passion for something but in my heart I may feel moderate or even disinterested. For those of us who speak and preach we have to really be careful with this. We can quickly become inauthentic and trust me, people can tell the difference.

Here's the bottom line. I don't typically lie to get out of trouble, if I struggle with dishonesty it's about the intense effort of getting people to like and respect me. It almost always comes back to the battle against pride.

So here's my challenge to you, think about the words you have used over the last 48 hours. Were your words totally honest? May we be people who are careful to have integrity before God and others.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Daily Readings for Lenten Season

Here are a couple of sights and daily readings I've found helpful in giving focus to this season.

I'm actually working through a book written by my good friend Shawn Small.

Enjoy the season, remember it's not about "what are you giving up for lent?" but "what do you gain by taking a season to repent and refocus?"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent - It's not just for Catholics any more.

Over the last few days I've had some short discussions with some of my "lower church" friends about Ash Wednesday and Lent. When I ask them how they are observing the Lenten season I get responses like "every day should be a day we focus on Jesus" and "Lent is just a time for someone to give up chocolate or facebook".

Now, my tradition is not very liturgical, in fact for years I gave up sky diving for lent (I've never been sky diving) as an opportunity to make light of what many find sacred and important. But to be honest I'm turning over a new leaf. Some of the more ancient practices of the church (lent, advent, ash Wednesday and others) are beneficial for my ever growing walk with Jesus.

Here are a few reasons I'm observing Lent this season.

The Church has been observing the Christian Calendar and Holy Days since the first century.

Lent appears to have originated in the apostolic age and has been observed by various Christian groups since then. For me there is something profound about joining with Christians from centuries ago observing 40 days of deep reflection and repentance. It would seem a little weird and perhaps arrogant for me not to seriously consider what Godly men and women have been doing since the first century. Could it be there is some benefit?

It's always a good idea to reflect on our sinfulness and what Jesus did as a result.

I know, this should happen every day and repentance should be a part of our life, but taking an extended season to meditate on our need and God's solution is very beneficial. We non liturgists do this in other ways. We go on retreats or attend conferences to get our spiritual batteries recharged. I'm using this season to intensify my disdain for sin and need for grace.

Lent is not about what you give up but what you gain.

All I hear from people this time of years is, "what are you giving up for Lent"? That's really the wrong question. The question should be, "what are you doing to remind yourself of your desperate need for a saviour"? That's the purpose of any fasting or sacrificing, to place us in a position where we are easily reminded of our need for God over anything else. Yes, I'm changing something for this season, but that shouldn't be the focus. What I change or give up should be a constant reminder of my need for Jesus.

Observing Lent allows me to associate with the worldwide Christian community.

People who love Jesus all over the world are spending special time today repenting of their sins and will spend the next 40 days in greater focus of their need for Jesus. That's kind of cool. The church is much larger than my little American perspective, I need to remember that.

Throughout history God uses calendar and symbols to point us to Jesus.

God has used rocks and passover and lambs and fires and all kinds of symbols and seasons to bring us into greater intimacy with him. More recently he has established water and wine and bread to give us great clarity on who is is and what he has done. It makes sense that people taking a season to reflect on their need for forgiveness would please him.

So, would you consider going into the wilderness with Jesus for the next 40 days? As we observe Ash Wednesday may we say to God, "search our hearts and know us". And "create in us a clean heart oh God".

Consider a greater focus on your relationship with Jesus as we move closer to Easter and celebrate Jesus' victory over sin.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Dating Game

Because yesterday was valentines day we spent the evening with high school students discussing love, sex and dating. I'm not going lie, I really dislike the way the American high school student dates. I've never read "I kissed dating good bye" nor do I have a desire too, but I believe strongly that students need to consider a different way to play the "dating game", and we need to help them.

There has to be a better way for students to get to know the opposite sex than the current system. The way it happens now almost seems like marriage without the sex, well sometimes without the sex. A guy and a girl get to know each other, romance wins out over reality and then they start "going together".

From what I remember and understand "going together" means you're in a exclusive relationship and if you pursue or talk to another person jealousy grows and you could be "cheating" in the relationship. For a student who wants to follow Jesus this can be a struggle.

Here's a couple of reasons the current system is concerning for students, especially students who are pursuing Jesus.

The sacrifice of other friendships.

Many times other friendships are sacrificed because there's so much time and energy put into the boyfriend / girlfriend. I know a guy who dated a girl for 3 years during high school. He still struggles having deep friendships into college. Could it be that he never learned what it means to have a friend and be a friend? It can easily disrupt the community God intended with so much focus on one other person.

Boyfriend / Girlfriend Worship

It can also result in "dating worship" which means the boyfriend / girlfriend becomes God and is expected to meet the emotional and many times physical needs of the other. Not only is this unhealthy relationally but God isn't thrilled about it either. At some point they will do whatever it takes to please the other and find acceptance from them. You know where that ends us.

There are many more to add here but you get the point. Here are a couple of principles that challenge the way most teens are doing dating. If students were to consider these seriously it may cause them to take a deep look at how they play the game.

Number 1

1 Tim 5:1-2
Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Pretty simple. If you wouldn't do it with your brother or sister you probably shouldn't do it with your boyfriend / girlfriend. A student asked last night, "how can I kiss my boyfriend if I think of him as my brother"? Great question isn't it?

Of course there is a time in relationships when the person becomes more than a brother or sister, but that person can still be treated with absolute purity if the relationship shifts to engagement and then marriage. Radical thinking I know, but it's something we and high school students should consider.

Here's the 2nd principle.

Phil 2:3-4
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In my experience most dating relationships are driven by self centeredness. It's all about how it makes me feel and what I can get out of it. The dating game doesn't have immunity. The Bible's teachings on how we treat each other also apply to our boyfriends and girlfriends. In the context and craziness of young romance it's difficult to put the others first in a healthy Godly fashion.

Now, I know there are many dating relationships out there that are healthier than others, but can't we find a new system? Is there a way we can help students relate to one another that is better? This is a big deal because deep romance is in the air high school students breath. It consumes their time, energy and discussion. We have to find a way to be different.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is Evidence That Demands A Verdict really dead?

A couple nights ago I had a conversation with a girl who is interested in going on one of our summer mission trips. She's about 15 years old, smart and really fun to hang around. I don't know her very well but somehow our conversation turned towards her opinion of Jesus.

She willingly and openly admitted she's not sure about this Jesus thing. She's not sure he actually existed or that it even matters. As we continued to talk I was really blown away by her transparency and willingness to discuss these things with the "youth pastor."

After reflecting on our conversation there are a couple of things I'm reminded of...

As youth leaders we must have conversations

Ok, for years authentic relationship has been the mantra for student ministry. Moving away from production to relationship has been the focus for a long time. I was reminded of the power of a conversation. The questions she asked were not addressed by any speaker from our stage and if they had there's a chance she wouldn't have paid attention. We need a lot of leaders to be present for these conversations. Conversations are typically more powerful than any song, video or sermon we can give.

Every student (and person) is created in the image of God

My friend has not yet been changed by the gospel but has a desire to help people who are hurting. Sure, her desire to serve and do good stuff isn't "righteous," but any desire a person has to help those in need probably comes from "Godness" in them. Part of our job is to seek out the "image of God stuff" in students and talk about why they actually care about others. And yes, every student we are serving was made in the image of God.

Students are still skeptical about Christianity

In the early 90's I was all about having answers to all the questions. As we moved to a more postmodern ministry we rightfully focused less on apologetics. Students were and are asking, "does it work?" instead of "is it true?" Even now we are focused on helping students "belong" before they actually "believe." Over the years I have seen more and more students come to faith because they experienced the gospel through community before they actually embraced the truth. This shift was actually positive for the church because it forced us to take a deep look at the authenticity of our lives (that's just my opinion). We couldn't just talk about following Jesus, we actually had to follow Jesus. The question of "is Jesus liar, lunatic or Lord" was replaced with "if Jesus is real does it make a difference in my life and the world around me?" Students answer these questions many times by what they see in the lives of Jesus followers around them.

Here's the point, we must be prepared to listen and answer the tough questions in the context of relationship. We must create an environment where students have the freedom and the space to question Christianity. Let's face it, our faith doesn't really make sense. Paul actually says it's foolishness to those who don't believe. There are and should be hard questions about the crazy stuff we believe.

So here's an idea. What if we provided a safe, interactive, anonymous opportunity for students to share and ask the tough questions? This week I'm on the hunt to find a free chat room program where students can sign in anonymously and ask whatever they want. Every week at the same time someone from our staff team will be moderating the chat room answering questions and entering into the conversations. Sure, sometimes the answer is "I don't know" or "it's a mystery isn't it?" but hopefully these discussions will lead to deeper face to face conversations with students who are struggling.

As you can see this is new to us. I know we're not the first to think of this so if you have any input or advice on how to do this effectively it would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sprinkle or Dunk? Celebrating students coming to faith.

Last Sunday night was an unbelievable experience for our people at Irving Bible Church. After our afternoon worship gathering around a thousand of us gathered to celebrate the salvation of 25 people. The atmosphere was truly electric as people crowded on stairs, balconies and bleachers to cheer on people proclaiming their faith through baptism. Of these 25 people 17 of them were middle school and high school students.

It was particularly significant to me because it's been 10 years since I baptized anyone. I'm ordained baptist, therefore the first 11 years of ministry I performed believers baptism by immersion. In fact there was a time I baptized a 350 pound man. I almost drowned. After that experience I was wishing we just simply sprinkled or poured, that would have been much safer.

In 2001 I went on staff at a Presbyterian church whose tradition was of course infant baptism.
My point isn't to argue believer's baptism verses infant baptism. But I do want to challenge us as youth leaders to think through celebrating God's grace when students come to faith.

Listen, I understand the Biblical evidence to support infant baptism as a sign of the covenant and fully supported and embraced it as a pastor at my previous church, however I did struggle with how to appropriately celebrate a teen's coming to faith. It is a special time when a child of the covenant (a child baptized as an infant) embraces the gospel of their parents as their own. It should be celebrated with the entire church community.

I realized Sunday night how much I and the body missed out on celebrating God's salvation because there wasn't an effective, appropriate way to celebrate. After one is baptized as an infant there's no second baptism when a person comes to faith. That's fine, my concern is how do we as youth leaders help students embrace and share the transformation in their lives when they come to faith?

So let me pose the question this way, how are you bringing the community together to celebrate middle school and high school students coming to faith? Is that even on your radar or when a student embraces the gospel does it just kind of melt in with the rest of your programming. It gives God glory and us joy when the community of faith celebrates those who move from death to life.

BTW, my daughter (who I baptized Sunday night) understands and embraces the gospel and doesn't really remember a time she didn't know Jesus, she must be a child of the covenant.