How do we respond to questions that just don’t matter?

When you’re around for 24 years, you learn some stuff… Don’t stick that metal think in the socket that looks like a happy face. Don’t touch a hot stove. Don’t associate with the wrong people. The bank might loan more than you can truly afford to pay back. Here’s a big one: I don’t know everything. I have come to learn this very well on my own. I have also come to learn it because anyone over a certain age likes to remind anyone under that certain age how naive they are. If I’m honest, being reminded of that has proved itself very helpful to me many times over the years. I am grateful for those who lovingly remind me that I am a fool in need of grace. Many people, however, aren’t so graceful and often the only thing revealed about them is their insecurity.

But what happens when an individual(despite age) has legitimate questions and needs someone older or wiser to invest energy in helping that person sort through things?

This post is meant to draw attention to two men who showed a great love by answering some difficult questions: Luke and John.

In the first section of the Gospel of Luke, he writes this in regards to a questioning audience: “..it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

The book of 1 John(written by John.. cool, huh?) comes to an end by saying this: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.”

These men were faced with difficult questions. A response wasn’t fully necessary, much less an entire book! But these men walked with Christ. They knew Him. They were known by Him. More than likely, John was well over the age of 90 when he penned his gospel. Aren’t you glad John didn’t pull the age card with his younger readers?

Whether we run across someone looking for dialogue about even the most controversial topics of scripture or someone looking for answers after they tragically lose their child, we are called to respond in love. It’s popular to have the mindset of let’s just love ‘em! But, if we aren’t pointing people towards the life-giving Gospel of Jesus, are we loving? A hot meal, a cool drink, a nice gesture is kind and could do such good for the soul.. but our deepest need in our darkest hour is the Good news that Jesus has conquered death and offered us life.

Even in my search for all the answers to the worlds problems, I realize that sometimes the best answer truly is “I don’t know.” But sometimes answers aren’t too far out of reach. We end up hiding behind cliches: “we just will have to figure that out when we get to heaven” or “because He’s God!” I can rejoice in the answer “because He’s God”. There are many though who have no understanding of God’s sovereignty or goodness or mercy in our lives. That sort of answer may do more harm than good when it only comes as an excuse for our lack of knowledge or interest in God’s Word.

May we devote ourselves to studying God’s Word so that we might be prepared to serve people with what they need most, the truth of a Savior. Found in his Word. For his glory. Not our own.

A Biblical Model for “Student Ministry”

If you have been around student ministry long enough, you have heard negative remarks towards a ministry that focuses on teenagers.  Yes, I am aware of the rocking 80′s and 90′s model where the focus fell on how many we could bring in, squirt with paint, and then send home with very little focus on the Gospel and seeing it really take root in their lives. Many student ministries are blamed(and guilty) of not doing all they can to see families involved in the lives of their kids and a youth group taking the place of discipleship which should be going on in the home.  There are some also guilty of offering no opportunities of fun and fellowship among the students and their families which leads to a greater understanding of Biblical community and Worship of God through many aspects of life.

All of these are real issues.  I have been guilty of all of the above. I have never been brave enough to throw paint inside the church buildin’, but I have been guilty of placing my focus on areas that really aren’t that important when my focus could be on more of the important things.

I have reminded my students that they are expected to learn, study and apply many difficult things in school and that when they come to church and as they live their lives through studying God’s Word on their own, they should expect nothing less than that: to be challenged.  Remember that being challenged is not all about theological jargon or deep Biblical study. Biblical truths are taught and new words are introduced to our 9-12th graders, but if I want to give you a real peek inside what we do, we challenge our students in the areas of accountability, confession and repentance.  To many of our students who have grown up in environments that encourage them to make everything look good on the outside and not be truly known, this concept of confessing sin and accountability is brand new… but it’s the Gospel.  It’s good news that I don’t have to have everything put together to worship Christ. It’s good news that because of what Christ did on the cross, my identity isn’t found or discovered in how I perform or behave.  It has been a year-long message for us: that freedom is found when we are confident in Him and the way we do that is finding someone close to us to share the dark areas of our life. It’s easy for us to know what the word says, but the challenge is applying it.

Here is what is written about Jesus as a teenager, following his time in the temple: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”(Luke 2:52 ESV)

This is not a verse created for youth pastors. It’s not one that makes a case for youth groups but so much more importantly is a verse that is applicable to every area and age of our life.  We are to constantly be growing in Christ and honoring Him with our actions so that they may point to Him and bring Him Glory.  The solution is not to find a better plan for student ministry, but to find a Biblical model for students’ spiritual development.

We do remind parents of our secondary role in the lives of their students, while their’s should be primary in discipleship.  But frankly, there are many homes that either don’t understand this, or simply don’t have the resources for it.

I hope you have fun with your students.  I hope you are crazy funny and can relate with your students well.  I hope you take every opportunity to connect with students on their turf.  I pray you will model God’s command of having people in your life to confess in to so that your students will rid themselves of one of the greatest lies society has to offer in that our worth is wrapped in what others think of us.  I am thankful for the youth group I grew up in and I believe God sovereignly used it to impact my life in many ways, including fostering the desire to enter the ministry. Provide your students with opportunities to grow, both in wisdom and stature.  Wisdom: in the study of God’s Word and teaching them to apply their lives to what it says; learning from mistakes; finding rest in Him and confessing sin one to another.  Stature: giving them opportunities to serve one another, the community, their families; helping them build a positive reputation and lifestyle and confessing sin one to another.

May we be focused on the right things.

Emptiness found in Social Media. (wookin pa nub)

Today, students are more connected to the world than they have ever been.  More information, access and communication is available at their fingertips than anywhere else.  As a student pastor, this works out well in publicizing information that is important for the students I spend my days with.  That all being said, I have also discovered an aspect of loneliness, boredom and insecurity in many of the students I interact with.

I am astonished when I hear stories of the gossip and vulgarity that streams through the cultures most utilized social media outlets…. Even more astonished when it is 8th and 9th grade students telling me these stories.  A year ago when I accepted the opportunity to serve in the church where I now minister to high school students, I thought “I got this… I’m just a few years older than these students.  If there’s anyone who could relate to them, it’s me!”  A year later, my response to these thoughts isn’t the typical cliche “boy was I wrong”…. it’s more of a humbling, heart-breaking realization of what it is that these students(as well as those who serve them) are truly in need of and our sinful default to try out all the other things but that one thing- Jesus.

Our deepest longing as individuals is to feel connected.  We connect through social media avenues and we connect with others and these things all make us feel a little bit better about who we are.  I find it interesting that amidst all of the world religions and groups, there are two things they share in common: community and worship. After trying everything there was to try and having all the resources needed to succeed, the writer of Ecclesiastes assures us that there is nothing of eternal value found in the things we attempt to fill our lives with.  Another spectacular truth he offers is that since we are all created by the Creator of all, that Creator has set within every human a sense of something more.  He has placed the concept of eternity into every persons wiring.  In Lehman’s terms, we all want more!  We all worship something.  We all spend our energy and effort chasing after something.  Before the fall, our hearts chased after God.  This is the thing that shifted after the fall, because of sin, we now chase after the wrong things.  Same instincts, different objects.

The loneliness students experience today among all of the blaring voices in their life is an evidence that they want more!  The loneliness that the most prominent and wealthy men and women are experiencing is a result of wanting more.

I work in a city where the economic spectrum is wide.  In my youth group, I have students who live with no wishes… their parents wealth beats them to the wishes they would have if they had nothing.  On the other side, I have students who live with very little.  I have found a richness of joy in those who live with not very much.  I am not saying that all of the wealthy students are worthless…. we have some incredibly faithful students who live with more than plenty.  What I am saying is that there is a confidence, security and joy found in those who trust Jesus with it all: in the excess and in the scarcity.

As children of God and student pastors, our lives serve a single purpose to glorify God in all we do.  Whether that is in the fellowship we have with students on their turf throughout the week or whether that is in our preaching, we owe them one thing: a genuine love and concern for them through proclaiming the transforming work the Gospel has done in our lives.  Not every moment with our students is one of exposition of Romans but every moment with them is an expounding on the joy we have found in Christ.

How will we be good stewards of this truth in the lives of our students?

What if we are the most consistent and relationally effective parts of their week?

Hope. Despite DOMA.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. But as it is written, ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him-’ these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the the depths of God. (skip to verse 14) The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:6-10; 14-16)

I believe verse 16(all of chapter 2, really) to be one of the greatest ‘arguments’ for the sovereignty and goodness of God in all of scripture. Many like the passages from Romans and Ephesians(which I also love), but there is nothing more straight forward and frank as 2 Corinthians 2:16. It tells us that the wisdom we have as believers comes only from God and His good purposes for it.

On June 26, 2013, one of the most monumental decisions was made in regards to same-sex marriage and homosexuality. Many Christian leaders are saying that we will look back on this as we look back at the 1973 Roe vs. Wade, a turning point in American History. In regards to the statement made by President Barack Obama(found here) following the Supreme Court handing down the DOMA situation, Albert Mohler shared on his June 27 edition of The Briefing that it will only be a matter of time until the “same-sex” issue will bleed into other areas of marriage and sexuality(polygamy, polyamorous relationships). That being said, this decision has heavy ramifications for religious freedom in America. These same-sex marriage laws will not stop with same-sex marriage. It can’t. The logic with which Obama spoke with carries over into previously stated issues.

Again, that all being said- how do we respond? Do we replay the scene of Beauty and the Beast when Gaston and his men went with torches in hand and raided the castle? Is this what we do to those who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle…? Dragging them into the streets beating them with our Bibles and Biblical knowledge, or lack thereof.

Or do we realize the difficult, yet beautiful truth of 2 Corinthians that there is a reason these people don’t understand? Not that they won’t ever understand or don’t have an opportunity to. But that for whatever reason, at this time, God has chosen that “only through Christ the veil is taken away.” Not through our convincing, Gospel-saturated dialogue. For as the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 2: “The natural person(the unbeliever) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for those truths are foolishness to him and he is unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The Gospel means Good News. I believe that in the chaos and dishonesty of the DOMA situation, there is Good news to be found. Good News that has found a way to not lose its way, power, or popularity since Christ walked this earth.

I remember my first semester at Bible college. Showing up with my guns loaded ready to fight those who thought homosexuality and drinking and tattoos were ok. I found myself very soon in a heated conversation with another student that homosexuality was evil and wretched. I felt, and still feel, that my beliefs and convictions toward homosexuality are the same as they were then. I failed, however, to realize that the colleague I was debating was not a believer… nor had any desire to become one. As many know how conversations like this end up, there was no resolve or change on either end. The Lord graciously placed a couple of people in my life that day to speak truth into my life and share with me reasons why that kind of debate was of very little use in that context. Over the next several years, even into today, God tenderly gave me the peace that it was He who saves. It is He who changes hearts. Paul makes clear in chapter 1 that it actually pleases God to use idiots and fools like me to save those who believe. I can talk until I’m blue in the face and at the end of the day, God saves. God saves how and who he pleases.

John MacAthur says in his commentary on 1 Corinthians: “It is impossible for a lesser creature to understand a more advanced one. How can anything understand something more complex and advanced than itself? For a flea to understand a dog it would have to be at least as advanced as a dog. For a dog to understand a man, it would have to be at least as advanced as a man. How much greater distance is there between Creator and creature…Man’s opinions are irrelevant, because they can never be more than speculations. By his own resources the creature cannot possibly comprehend his Creator. “

Christians, we have to keep this mind. We must continue to speak truth and proclaim the Gospel unapologetically. We are not like those who can’t comprehend. We are not like those who are unable to understand certain truths about God. As Paul says, “But we have the mind of Christ.” Christ thinks God’s thoughts, understands God’s wisdom. We have His mind. We are unable to know everything but there are also truths we are able to cherish and obtain that others simply cannot. There is still a legitimate command and task to share the Gospel with our words and lives everywhere we go. There is a legitimate case for even opening our mouths about these controversial topics and being voices of wisdom in our communities. Remember though Paul’s example, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

The truth is, that while this situation is difficult to swallow, it is actually trumped by Good News(Gospel). It is Good News that God in His goodness and justice chose to save us. It is good news that despite this bad news, God will continue to save. He is able to save those that right now are 100% behind marriage equality, and He might! We must be faithful to press forward.

So as we remain passionate about the Truth God has called us to consistently proclaim, may we recall the Grace God showed us in pulling us from the same pit we believe those who openly live in sin to be in. May we be reminded also of the call to place our faith in Christ and recall His grace every single day(1 Corinthians 15). The Gospel that saved us is the Gospel that is continuing to breath life into our hearts each day.

For more information and background on DOMA and Prop. 8, read this article by Ed Stetzer.

ASM Retreat Info

Just wanting to give you a message about Retreat coming up this Sunday!  I have received many questions and inquiries about information regarding retreat.  I was waiting on hearing some final info from the camp before I sent out information.  That being said, we are set and ready to go!

This Sunday, students need to bring their luggage with them to church.  Immediately following the last service, we will eat lunch here at the church and head out around 1.  We will be there Sunday Night and Monday night and will return on Tuesday around 1. All meals will be provided at the camp but we will stop in Clinton and allow the students to go into Wal-mart and collaborate their life savings to buy snacks.
For those of you who will be paint balling, obviously old clothes will be best.  They should wear pants and a long sleeve shirt.  Possibly layers.
As far as swimming attire, ASM abides by a no bikini policy.  Shorts and dark colored t-shirts for girls are required.  Tank tops are allowed but no low-cut tank tops.  Basically, be smart. It will suit you well to bring water shoes to wear for the river.
Attached is a suggested packing list from the camp.  I would add for your student to bring their Bible.
There will be no cell service in the camp.  Mine and Stephen’s cell will be checked frequently and your parents are welcome to leave us a message.
If you will click here, you can visit the website and receive any information and insight to the camp we are going to.
Please let me know if you have questions!

Click here for the SOTO Camp suggested packing list.

Moore, Oklahoma: Tornado Relief

I have several people asking me and several people asking others who are there what the immediate needs of the the people in Moore, OK are.

A week ago yesterday, an F5 tornado ripped through about a 15 mile stretch of Central Oklahoma.  I had an opportunity to go see the damage for the first time myself on Sunday and Monday before returning to Central Arkansas to continue relief efforts here.  I was obviously flooded with a host of emotions as the sun rose on the streets I used to rome as a child and across the fields where houses of many of my very close friends used to be.

All of that to say this: these people need your prayers.  Whether you are an atheist or a believer, one cannot deny the atmosphere of faith and redemption Moore is experiencing right now.  What looked so grim and hopeless 8 days ago is now a picture that something so awful can really be turned into a beautiful picture of love and community.

Here is a list of very immediate needs that Moore could use:

-Plastic Garden Rakes

-Heavy Duty Trash bags

-Gatorade(preferred over water at this point with a surplus of water)

-Laundry Detergent

-Work Gloves

-Money, Gift Cards

-Buckets

-Flat head shovels

-Wheelbarrows

-Hair bands

-Deodorant

-Sterlite Plastic Bins

-Muck Buckets

-Dust Pans

-Brooms

-Bow Rakes

-(No longer accepting clothes donations at all locations, please check with local Goodwill)

These donation centers will accept donations until 5pm on Thursday.

If you are in Central Arkansas.  Here is a list of spots you can drop off items:

Antioch Baptist Church- 150 Amity Rd. Conway, Ar 72032

Central Baptist College- 1501 College Ave. Conway, Ar 72034

St. Mark Baptist Church- 5722 W. 12th Street Little Rock, Ar 72204

JD Byrider- 6055 Landers Rd. Little Rock, Ar 72117

Oasis Church- 7318 Windsong Dr. North Little Rock 72113