I was driving around recently, as I was looking for some shots of Boyne City, and was listening to the podcast from Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO. They have been doing a series on some of the prophets in the Old Testament. Which got me to thinking about a few of them, when I felt like we were being given the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:38-42, and Luke 11:29-32), when Jesus was talking to the pharisees. It felt like we are missing the point on the sign of Jonah, if you stop reading a verse too short.
A lot of people stop at the verse that says (from Matt 12:38-42, The Message), “Like Jonah, three days and nights in the fish’s belly, the Son of Man will be gone three days and nights in a deep grave.” And while this is true, there is more to this section, like the next verse: “On Judgment Day, the Ninevites will stand up and give evidence that will condemn this generation, because when Jonah preached to them they changed their lives. A far greater preacher than Jonah is here, and you squabble about ‘proofs.'” Other translations are very similar with the next verse in Matthew about the Ninevites condemning this generation. I think as Stephen Grabill says in a recent Seedbed video, that the church is struggling with not being the dominate force in the culture. So we have become like Jonah. The church currently comes across as loveless, like Jonah, and would rather see our “enemies” destroyed, than repent and be saved.
So many times in my Facebook feed, I see angry Christians with their conservative bent, sharing articles that seem more like they would prefer their enemies smited, than loved in to the kingdom. If you look at Jesus who says, “take up your cross and follow me,” but little do we realize, that if we follow him, we may have to die, literally, to do his will. This may mean to challenge the status quo. However, the church isn’t into challenging it, but rather would put out anyone that doesn’t hold together with the health and wealth gospel (notice that is with a little g) afraid someone is coming for them, when they rarely step out and look at the systemic sins of our society. You know the systemic sins of society, slavery, lack of justice, or when there is justice, lack of mercy. Fear of the foreigner, etc.
I also have liberal friends that would rather that the conservatives be smited, than loved into the kingdom as well. So many times the P.C. bullies talking about microaggressions, while they use just as hurtful and words and tactics on conservatives.
Part of the problem is they all listen and put their faith into the fear mongering stations of the cable news system (and I mean all of them, from MSNBC to Fox News) which constantly spout half true, superficial stories meant to make you cower under your blanket with your guns, if you are conservative, or your drug du jour to numb you if you are liberal. They say they are there to inform you, but they are all accountable to large corporations, bent on making money and if they threaten to pull their money, then stories are whitewashed.
But what do I know…
If you remember from the past, I wrote a series on Grace and Guilt. Here is a post from College Ministry Thoughts:
Shame/guilt and conviction are not equals. In fact they couldn’t be more opposite. They stem from different “sources” and lead us to two completely different places.
This fits in with what I was getting at, but didn’t get around to posting about conviction. You should read the whole thing.
via Sin is serious, but….
I was reading a story at the Huffington Post about something totally unrelated, but the story used the prodigal son parable (Luke 15:11-32) for an analogy.
Really, this all comes down to an illustration of a parable that Jesus told about two sons. In the wide world, it’s known as the prodigal son, but the story is really about two brothers. The story tells us that a younger brother gets the inheritance from the father (demonstrating his hate for the father through wishing he were dead), goes and spends it and then is welcomed home by the father. The eldest son sees this, resents it and hates the father by yelling at him for taking the younger son back.
However, I want to look at this from the view of the father. In this case, in terms of things that I have talked about in a previous post, grace and guilt.
As I said in a previous post, one of the things that we learned in Celebrate Recovery is that it is a process and, at least in Celebrate Recovery, that this process has 12 steps. Several of these steps are at work here.
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
We’ve talked about this before, but I when I read this the other day, I wanted to approach this from the father’s perspective. In this case, with youth who have been going behind the backs of their parents. As a volunteer youth leader for some time, I have seen where the kids even are doing “things” and have a hard time coming clean with it to us. Usually, we in the youth ministry know that something has been going on, whether from friends or just interactions with the students. The thing is that even though we know, they are reluctant to confess. When they do, I have said to them, “yeah, I knew that was going on. ” The thing is, that we wait for them to make the first move. There are times that they need to be confronted, but once the sin has been done and it isn’t going on anymore, they often don’t need to be confronted, but they do need to confess it. The problem for me is the waiting.
As I have gotten older, I have begun asking God, “Is this what it’s like for you?” This is no different. God is the father in the parable, and is waiting for the younger son to come home. As patient as I can be, it becomes frustrating for me to wait for those things that I know that people need to get out of their system. So I wait. I’ve waited with things from one of our sons, and I have waited for kids in youth group to return to the fold. It isn’t easy. So I wonder if God gets this frustrated with us, when we don’t run to him.
God wants to throw a party for us, if we will just come back and confess. Ease your conscience, confess and set yourself free.
Drew Spanding has been doing a talks at Chosen for a few years now. I have to say that the talk he gave at Grand Rapids on Saturday was one of his best. I didn’t take notes through the whole thing, but here was a point that has been stuck in my brain since then.
I’ll start with a story that Drew has told in these sessions before. There was a kid in a small group that he ran who once called to ask him if it was a big deal to smoke weed. Drew said it wasn’t a big deal. The kid asked, “so it’s okay to smoke weed.” Drew replied, “It’s not a big deal.” The kid was about to say good by and hang up when Drew said this, “I want you to be a big deal.” I’m paraphrasing this, but the point was that God created you to be a big deal. When you go off and do the stuff like everyone else, then you diminish who you could be.
So what does that have to do with sex and God’s plan? As Drew put it, and I agree, if you are avoiding sex, so you don’t get pregnant (or getting someone pregnant), or to avoid an sexually transmitted disease, then you might as well grab some condoms and go forth. However, if you have faith in God, then don’t, and realize that God has faith in you. In fact, to drive the point home, let’s look at what Jesus did.
First, think of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the Pharisees and others drag her in front of Jesus. After Jesus tells them that he who is without cast the first stone, they all leave and he then has the following conversation (NIV):
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus doesn’t condemn her and tells her to leave her life of sin. We never hear any more about her. However, in a way He has faith in her to go forth and follow Him. Some think that this woman was Mary Magdelene although the passage is unclear.
Here’s a more direct story. Matt 14:28-33. This is where Jesus walks on the water. Now, Peter asks if he can walk on water. Why, because Jesus is his rabbi and the disciple wants to be like the rabbi. So Peter walks out there. However, he falters as he looks at the winds and waves. So what happened? did Peter lose faith in Jesus? No. He lost faith in himself to be like his rabbi. Drew’s point is this, Jesus has faith in you, but you need to have faith in yourself to be like your rabbi (Jesus).
Are you or have you been in relationship? Does it have to be sexual before marriage? You think that this person is the one, but are they? We often, in the church, fall back on the shame and honor culture of the Old Testament, when we need to introduce people, especially teens to the New Testament. If we do, the doubt they often experience comes from their own self image, and not their doubt in Jesus to forgive. They don’t think that they can be like their rabbi (Jesus).
Remember this, Jesus has faith in you to follow Him. The disciples often messed up, but Jesus always brings them back and they follow. So you think that there is no way for you to get into a relationship without sex? Think again. God will bring the right one. You have to have faith not just in God to do bring the right one, but also you have to have faith in yourself that you can hold on until He does.
I was listening to a couple of things tonight. One was the most recent Mars Hill Bible church sermon by a guest teacher Peter Rollins. They are doing a series on Ecclesiastes. However, one of the stories he tells was of somebody person on a train that loses their wallet which has their ticket in it. Because of this she has a lengthy conversation with the conductor. The story ends with the conductor telling the train rider that there is no problem with the lost ticket, because she noticed him. Most would think that he is noticed all the time, but really he is just a part of the machinery. Nobody notices him.
Then I was listening to some music right after that and the song by The Letter Black, “Hanging on by a Thread,” came on in the playlist, and this part of the song struck me:
Save me from losing myself
I’m hanging on by a thread
Can You see who I am
Underneath my scars?
I’m afraid to fall
So I’m holding on to You
No I won’t let go
I’m hanging on by a thread
The song is asking for God to notice them and love them. That’s what Peter Rollins asserts that noticing your neighbor is loving them. People are in need of love, being noticed is a part of that.
So now I take it a step further. With teens, what are they longing for? Belonging, being noticed, by their friends, in their world, and for some in their families. Being noticed, being accepted, belonging. The one thing that I have noticed about the TV show Skins, the kids are all looking for belonging. The show is all based on them finding ways to be noticed by their friends, and in many cases finding ways to be noticed by their families. Many times, it is in not so healthy way.
So one of the ways that experts have found to keep teens and young adults to remain in church, is to give them responsibility in church. When the church notices them, they stay in community. Plugging people into the community is key to discipling them.
I have worked hard at making sure that our kids are noticed by Mary and I. I have worked hard to make sure that kids in youth group are noticed. Has it all worked out? Not always. I still struggle to notice and love people sometimes. Things get in the way. If you read Ecclesiastes, King Solomon admits that everything is futile. In Ecclesiastes 2:1-10, he lists off all of the things that he has experienced: pleasure, alcohol, building bigger houses, accumulations of possessions, etc. Everything is empty. His conclusion? Be content with what you have (Ecc 2:24-26) and enjoy your work. When you skip to Ecc. 12, you find that he has come full circle, honor God, because this all disappears.
So while I was driving into Gaylord the other day, I was listening to the podcast, Pray-As-You-Go. The verse for the day’s prayer was Mark 8:27-33. I had been thinking about this the other day and so when this verse came up, I decided that I needed to share this.
On Wednesday, James had a great message for the kids about the vision you have, being narrowed by the things and people that surround you. The story that he told was of a girl that he knows in a metropolitan area who knew Christ years ago (The verse from Mark 8 of Peter confessing who Jesus is.). So she knew Christ, but in the course of life surrounded herself with friends that hang at the bar all the time, so the guys she dated were losers. So her opinion of guys were that they were only one thing. She thought that maintaining her purity was unrealistic, because the guys that asked her out were always from the bar and they only wanted one thing.
This goes along with a post I recently wrote about the danger of listening to one story. Watch the video from that post (It’s 20+ minutes), but worth getting through. In this case this girl listened only to her story and girlfriends’ story that all guys are losers, and to her the life of purity and doing the things that God and Christ would want us to do, is a fairy tale.
However, as the author from the TED talk points out she would be suffering from the fact that she is thinking about only one story. The analogy of life and story is a pretty good one. So we often hear from kids that they are stuck in their story. Don Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, often talks about life as a story, and recently offered a conference about changing your story. Write a new chapter. This also blends in with what James preached on Sunday about vision and how God and Jesus allow you to have a larger vision, and in essence, find away to write a new chapter in your story.
I think that in some ways in Sunday School and youth ministry we have taught the black and white thinking to black and white thinkers (pre-adolescent kids) that when we are sharing what should be transformative, ends up sounding like rules, and behavior modification. And while modification in behavior is a good things in some respects, I think that has left out the grace that God promises through Christ.
I’m beginning to think that the moralistic therapeutic deism that Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean wrote about, is brought about by rules and behavior modification. Recently, I was reading from another youth ministry blogger, that the kids aren’t leaving the church as much as the church is leaving them. What I mean, is that we teach a form of behavior modification, and once they go to school or find jobs in the world, they get challenged. Since they are locked in on a rules based story, once they screw up with something that they think is major, they think that they can’t change their story.
Grace is the key to change this. Not the cheap type of grace that Paul preached against, but one where if you screw up, you can come back, God will take you back, and change your story. We see this in the prodigal son, and in John 21:15-19, which is where I was headed, where Jesus restores Peter.
Remember, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and then denied Him just before He was crucified. Peter was ready to go back to fishing, seeing that he could only see the story that was laid out for him. However, Jesus shows up on the beach and Peter swims ashore (cue Far, Far Away by Five Iron Frenzy). Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, 3 times. While it is painful to Peter, Christ restores him. Peter then went on as a leader in the early church. Peter saw that he had a different story to live.
So what situation blinds you to a story that you think you can’t get out of? What is limiting your vision? Do you know that God wants to write a new chapter to your story?
I’m not sure why, but the last couple of months, I have been pulled into thinking about shame, guilt, and grace. Since I work with teens, I know that some of this has come about because of their questions and dramas, and some from other adults. These questions of how do I handle others sin and how do I handle my own sin have been running around in my mind. Of course, I think this started back when I wrote about things that I can’t blog about, and then about transparency.
It seems that I have been running into lots of writings and sermons with these themes as of late. Here was a great one from Imago Dei Portland: The Gospel of Matthew, Part 22: Matthew 9:1-17
Update: I realized later that I don’t think that I answered the question, and I read another bloggers post on grace that I want to share. The update is after the 7th paragraph.
I do a lot of thinking. Probably too much, but it has its advantages. I’ve become quite adept at picking up on patterns. After 10+ years in youth ministry, if I get a good chance to get to know a kid, I can usually tell when they are beginning to get unfocused. The problem I run into is that I have to confront them about what I observe. I have a hard time doing that. If the kids are into something that they shouldn’t be, it usually comes out sometime down the line. However, it’s that intervening time that always amazes me. The fact that they will get themselves into something, and when they want to get out, they can’t say it. Something stops them. Usually, it is shame or guilt of the thing that they are doing.
About 5 years ago, we had a group of kids in the ministry that were highly dramatic. One evening, one of them left the praise and worship time during the service, with at least one or two friends in tow. When I asked them what was going on, the one that left originally said that I would get mad if she told me. I reassured her that I wouldn’t, but she wouldn’t tell me. Later, I found out much later that she had been cutting herself. Shame or guilt prevented her from coming forward and speaking the thing that had her in bondage, and taking the freedom from guilt through grace.
As I think about it, this is part of the justifying grace that we talk about in church. Just as if I’d not sinned, as we like to say in Emmaus. The thing that I try to get kids to do is take that step. When I’m aware of something that is holding them back, I try to get them to speak it, as is says in James 5:16. However, sometimes that is only the beginning. Usually, the guilt or shame has to do with the feeling that they have let everyone down. Like they aren’t the good kids their parents tell them that they are. Typically, they are still good kids and the things that they have done, while not what we would want them to do, doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.
If the guilt or shame hasn’t been dealt with in the past, it becomes a wound in the spirit that continues to require attention. It keeps bringing the wounded person back to the fact that they feel unworthy of the good things that God has given them. I know of few people that don’t have to admit their guilt in some way. Experience has taught me that one of two things happens, they find some way to numb the pain from the wound, or they admit it, get help and comfort and move on. The latter is what God wants for us. I find that with youth, they may tell their youth pastor or some adult that they trust, which may partially heal the wound, but they never tell the person that they feel won’t understand the most, their parents. Then go onto the next relationship, or drug, or drink, or what have you, to medicate the part of the pain that is still around. That pain comes around intermittently driving us into a dark place, leaving us feeling helpless.
A youth worker conference I once attended had a speaker (I don’t remember who) related a story that he had counseled a girl who became sexually active with a boyfriend who she ended up breaking up with eventually. Somewhere in the course of their escapades, she had a pregnancy scare. If I remember his story right it was after they had broken up. She wouldn’t go to her parents for comfort, but rather to her friends. She got some comfort, but was always reminded by something that she wasn’t a “good kid,” because she wouldn’t admit what had happened to her parents. He lost touch with her after she met this really great guy, and went off to college. So he doesn’t know if her pain was resolved. The one thing he said was that even though her parents would have been disappointed, they would have done anything for her, and walked with her through this pain. Instead, she probably still gets reminded about it. Hopefully, she won’t keep running from that pain, and has spoken about the pain.
The idea is that God wants us to be whole healthy people, not walking wounded. In Celebrate Recovery, we go through the 12 steps, one of which is realizing that we eventually have to make amends for the things we have done to others. Making amends usually helps to heal the old wound so that they can go on living their life without the pain recurring later. Something that usually gets numbed by something else.
There are times when I wish I knew how to coax the kids in the youth group into living a more transparent life. However, we adults aren’t much different. We succumb to shame and guilt to hide what we have done, only to tell people that it isn’t any of their business, when they try to help. That’s why one of my most despised phrases is, “but you don’t understand.” It’s just an excuse to throw up a wall and keep the shame and guilt in. However, pain is pain. The experiences are different, and through shared experiences we are healed and can move on. That’s what God wants. We are to be hands and feet, helping to heal and continue our short journeys, in this life.
Update: I realized that I didn’t answer the question about why do we put ourselves through it. The simple answer is pride. We think we can do this by ourselves. We think that if we screw up, that it doesn’t really affect anybody, but ourselves. We think that we are beyond fixing. We are too bad for God to use us. We feel that we don’t deserve the love from family, friends, and God.
Failure is a part of our walk with Christ. Some would say it is the beginning of our walk with Jesus. It’s part of being a leader. It’s part of maturing. It’s part of learning.
You simply cannot walk with Jesus in a state of false perception of yourself, your mess, and your unique ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.
(Read the whole thing.) We need to embrace the fact that we are all imperfect and that walking with Christ means we have to accept our mess and that He does as well. From there, He will work to fix you.
So give yourself some grace and everyone else. God already has.
A little blog I read everyday, is Jessica Hagy’s Indexed. Her post from today (12/13) was great and I felt that it was something to pass along to all of my young friends in our youth group as well as a few others.
As you all get older you will discover more about yourselves and in so doing, begin to discover what you know about others. I think this goes along with my post about being transparent. Some recent events have lead me to think that you can tell the people who don’t know much about themselves, because they don’t have such a hard time with knowing others. I’m in youth ministry because I have felt a call to help the teens and young adults know who they are and thereby, know others. Those alive in Christ know themselves, and can be transparent about who they are. This is a never ending process, as the graph would suggest. As I admit in my previous post, as transparent as I try to be, there are aspects of me that are still unknown to me and probably the world. So I keep trying to allow people to know about me and in turn know them.
This little discussion has come about from a few youth group conversations and some recent conversations with family members. Earlier this year, with the church split, I was basically in a meltdown mode. I was emotionally all over the place. My dad suggested that I blog about it. I did, kind of. However, I knew that if I did there might be people hurt, confused, or mad with what I have wrote. So for the detailed stuff, I went to my Evernote account. Evernote is a note taking service. I can write notes and stuff and keep it behind a password. This has helped me get through some of the more difficult days as of late, without putting strange, depressing status message on FB and Twitter, or post that would hurt on my blog. I struggle with the balance of speaking truth in love. I love all of my friends and family. I would love some to be able to read some of these posts, but they would have to be put in context on what I was feeling and why I felt that way when I wrote it. Not that there is anything mean or nasty, but I have said things, when I was younger, that was meant to be positive, only for it to come across poorly and what was received was less than being loved by me. So I resort to having to put these things behind a password. The only exception is my wife, well my parents too. We usually talk about everything.
However, (now the real post is beginning) that isn’t what God meant for us. The original idea was that we were to be transparent with God and with each other. This is illustrated, by the fact that in Genesis 2:25 where it is said that they were naked and felt no shame. Isn’t that what we strive for? Being naked, well, in this case in metaphorical terms of being transparent, and having no shame. Obviously, there was nothing that came between Adam and Eve. They may have been physically naked and not had any shame, but I’m of the opinion that they could talk to each other and to God for that matter without holding anything back, and still feel no shame.
It is when “the fall” occurs that the transparency is gone. In Genesis 3:6-11, as God was walking through the garden, they hid because they were naked. Because they had done the wrong thing (eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil), in this case they became aware of the fact that they had disobeyed God. So they try to sew fig leaves together to cover themselves. This is pretty typical. Do the wrong thing, and cover it up when you realize that it was the wrong thing, and don’t tell the ones you love that you messed up, or even blame them.
Ever since, we have constantly had a disconnection from God…and from each other. I think it is important to point out that when the fall of man occurred, that there wasn’t just a separation from God, but in our personal relationships. Even the best relationships still hold back information afraid or ashamed to admit something from our past. However, through Jesus Christ, he comes to bridge that separation with God, and each other. Imagine that we did nothing for selfish gain, but in a true Spirit of love. Even if we did mess up, even if it was something that was considered major, and in most people’s eyes you were considered bad, that family, friends, and the community would rally around you and not excuse the sin, but help to restore you to wholeness. This is possible with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
“But you don’t understand…,”How many times have I heard that? In 10+ years of youth ministry, I’ve heard that so many times, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. God has put people in your path, that are full of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you! So you may not have experienced the same thing, but pain is pain. In my post about how I was leaving Facebook for a while, I shared that it was as painful as two break ups with girls I dated. One of which, was a girl that I lost my virginity to. The pain from each break up and the church split were on par with each other. Soul ties were made, in some case from physical intimacy, and in the other from close friendships that are for now not necessarily lost, but at least awkward because of the fall out from the split. In the case of the girls, I wandered around disconnected from most people and ashamed of what had happened. In the case of the church split, I am healing well, as friends, family, and community, not caring what side of the line I stood on, have rallied around me in the spirit of love, and restored me, well at least some of them. So remember, find someone you trust, to be transparent with, and follow James 5:16. To confess your sins to another and God, will set you free. It did me, so many years ago.
While I am more transparent with people now than I was 10, 15, 20 years ago, I still have more to do. However, what holds me back, are the ones who are not as spiritually mature and would have a hard time being transparent themselves. So I continue to work on the way that I love people, being as transparent as possible. I pray that they are with me. That way one day, I can post things that I find hard to blog about, currently.