Wednesday, September 24, 2014

JESUS & Nic

I shared with you previously that I am doing a series of stories with preschoolers about Jesus. I can't imagine anything more important to talk with kids about.

What if I told you I was friends with the most important person in the entire world? 

It’s not your mom or your dad. It’s not me. It’s not even the president of the United States. It’s Jesus, but many people don’t know that.

What if I told you that I knew the most important facts in the entire world? 

This is a little bit harder because there are lots of important facts in the world, like how long to bake a cookie so it doesn’t get burned. Or how to learn how to ride a bike so you don’t fall down and get hurt. Or how to treat one another. That’s important, but it’s not the most important.

The most important fact is that God sent His Son Jesus to the Earth.

What if I told you I had the biggest and best news…ever?

Have you ever had really good news that you couldn’t wait to tell someone? I have a really hard time keeping secrets. The best news ever is that God loves you. That’s why He sent Jesus to the Earth.

This year we are going to learn and memorize John 3:16. Some of you may have already memorized that. But it’s important to learn it because it’s something Jesus said.

Jesus was having a conversation with a guy named Nic. (His name was Nicodemus, but we’ll just call him Nic.) Nic was a teacher, but he was kind of confused about some very important facts. So Nic was asking Jesus some questions. And that’s when Jesus said,

For God so loved the world
That he gave his one and only son
That whoever believes in him
Shall not perish
But have eternal life. ~John 3:16

That’s the biggest news ever, which has the most important fact ever, told by the most important person…ever!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ministry Monday: Teaching Forgiveness

Here is part of what I shared with my youth group last night. The ability to teach forgiveness means understanding forgiveness. It means living forgiveness.

The woman caught in the act of adultery surely understood forgiveness. I want you to imagine this story (but not the act of adultery). You have a guy. You have a girl. And they are doing what they shouldn’t be doing. And they get caught. Yeah, it’s a set-up. Yeah, the guy caught with her should have been out with this woman.

But the corrupt religious leaders drag this woman out in front of Jesus. They make this woman, possibly half-naked, stand in front of Jesus and the crowd. As you may know, the religious leaders remind Jesus that the Law of God says she should be stoned to death for committing this sin. As if Jesus needed to be reminded what God’s Law said.

Jesus proceeds to draw stick figures (or something like that) on the ground. He tells them whoever is without sin can throw the first rock. People are shocked, they drop their rocks and they leave.

But picture this. She’s still standing there in front of Jesus. Sure, she’s not dead, but she’s still guilty. She’s still likely half-naked. Jesus forgives her and tells her to leave her life of sin.

Her life of sin ended just less than half an hour ago. Now she’s free.

Forgiveness begins the moment we aren’t condemned. 

Forgiveness covers all! But what does it look like? In other words, how do we grow in knowledge of Jesus and not become big, fat Pharisees?

This is how it looks. Say your whole family has been working in the yard all day. It’s been super-humid. You’re all sweaty and stinky. You know that stink…when even you can’t stand to smell yourself. Somehow you get first dibs on the shower.

You clean the stink off. You put the clean on. But chances are you have an idiot brother that wants to hug you after you get out of the shower. Do you let him? No! He stinks. He’s sweaty. He’s a dirty boy that you don’t want to be around, until he gets clean.

This may be okay when it comes to yard work, but unfortunately, this is how many Christians act toward non-Christians.

We were all stained with sin. We were dirty. We had the yuck of sin all over us and we all came from the same pile of dirt. But somehow we came to be showered by the grace and mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. Now we’re clean. We’re like new. We’re white as snow, while some of the people around us are still black with sin.

How do we keep in mind that we were just like these others, and some of us not that long ago?

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world.He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
Did you catch that? God wants to point to us as examples! But examples of what? We’re not examples of great followers. We’re not examples of people who just needed a little cleansing. We’re not examples of good people that God made a little better. It says we’re examples of God’s “incredible wealth of grace and kindness toward us.”

Do you understand what this means? It’s a perspective shift! Most people will point to themselves and say ‘I am a good person.’ Or at least, ‘I’m not as bad as others.’ But God is pointing to us, even us as saved followers, and He’s pointing at us saying, “Look what I was able to do with that. Look how merciful I am!”

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. ~Ephesians 2:1-13
We need to remember that we were once like the woman caught in the act of sin. We were naked before Jesus. It was His to condemn, but He forgave. 

Forgiveness begins the moment we don’t condemn.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Are You Tired?

Are you tired? You probably are, so I'll keep this brief. After all, it's Friday and you have certain work projects that have to be finished before the weekend can be enjoyed. (If your boss catches you reading this, tell him it's encouragement for finishing tasks. In a second, you'll realize that's not a lie.)

My thoughts turn to Luke 5:1-7 this morning. It's when Jesus called Peter to come be a disciple instead of a bad fisherman. Seriously, find one instance in the Bible where it says Pete was a good fisherman. The stories I read all say he wasn't catching anything until Jesus performs a miracle.

But I digress..

Peter was tired. He hadn't seen any fruit. Or fish, in his case. No production for the effort. He'd fished all night long and caught nothing.

But because Jesus asked, Pete said he would give it one more go. And what do you know? He caught fish. Lots of fish! Two boatloads to be precise.

And it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been willing to try one more time. To go one more day. To push a little bit harder. Don't quit. Don't stop. Don't admit defeat.

Do you have just one more push in you? Can you go just one more time?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The JESUS & Series

I don't know if this is an actual post, or simply a post about a series of upcoming posts this school year. See, every so often I lead a chapel time for the preschool ministry at our church. Little kids are not my forte, but it's usually 10-15 minutes of me hanging out with them, asking questions, and attempting to share a story from the Bible.

Last year I worked with them on the Fruit of the Spirit, even helping them to memorize Galatians 5:22-23. There is nothing better than hearing 70 3,4 & 5 year olds quoting scripture.

So now I'm trying to plan for this year. I'm going to tell them a new story about Jesus each time and I think I will share it with you, for whatever it's worth. I'll call them Jesus &.

Why? Because you never get too old to hear a story of Jesus. And the truths we teach our youngest never change. They are the foundation upon which we build our lives. And a good reminder never hurt anyone.

Now, I am wondering how to approach telling the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8. (Please look up sarcasm before writing me a shocked note.)

What story of Jesus would you be sure to include?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ministry Monday: How Do You Know, part 2

Last week I shared about a recent discussion I had with my youth group about how we can know we are saved. You can see that here. Coupled with that discussion, I also offered them Ask Me Anything cards, an anonymous way they could ask tough questions without asking it out loud. 

One teen asked: How do you know for sure that Heaven and Hell exist and aren't just a 2,000 year old marketing scheme? After reminding the group that our room is safe haven from the way the outside world treats one another, I asked them to share their thoughts. Then I offered this:

How do we know for sure that Heaven and Hell actually exist and are not just a 2,000 year old marketing scheme?

This is a great question, especially in our jaded culture and age. When you think about it, what better way to get people to do what you want than to threaten that if they don’t, they will burn in hell forever?

My answer might seem simplistic, but be assured I don’t assume it’s easy.

I believe we can know Heaven and Hell are real because Jesus talked about them.

Jesus talked about a judgment that is coming.

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

John 5:24-29

He talked about a judgment that would decide where we go for eternity.

In regards to Heaven, Jesus referred to it over and over again (the kingdom of Heaven, My Father’s house, eternal life, etc.). Hell is something Jesus talked about more than any other topic. He referred to it as hell, our eternal condemnation, the fiery furnace, etc.

So my answer is simple. I believe in Heaven and Hell because Jesus talked about them.

My answer isn’t easy, because the next question becomes; do you trust Jesus? That has always been the most important question.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Someday I'll Write a Book About All I've Learned From My Wife

I am reposting this to celebrate my wife, who celebrates a birthday this weekend. This is one of many posts about my wife, whom I love to write about. Without further adieu... 

I was not happy, to say the least. My wife's words devastated me. What could she possibly mean? Was she trying to be hurtful or did she actually believe the words she was letting spill forth from her mouth?

We may need to get a new alarm clock.

I know, I know. I should have warned you so you could put the kids in another room to protect them from such filth. I'm sure you are feeling a bit woozy as I did when she uttered that despicable phrase.

I gently reminded her that this alarm clock had been with me since August of 1987. That was the summer my dad decided that my sister and I were old enough to be getting ourselves up in time for school. Here's a picture...

But I followed my wife, presumed guilty until proven otherwise, back to our bedroom to see what was wrong with this alarm clock. Sure enough, the numbers were not showing. I had a letter half-written to General Electric. Did this clock have a warranty? Would they be willing to replace it? Did anyone still believe in goo old-fashioned ethics like value and hard work? When we put our name on a product, that still stands for something, right?

After all, this alarm clock was only 24 years old. Wasn't I supposed to expect to be able to get my dad's money's worth out of this purchase? Or was this some kind of scheme where GE, and companies like her, allowed you to get only some use out of their products before having to spend more hard-earned cash on replacement products?

Where was the fairness in all of this? Will the hypocrisy never end?

Unwilling to give up, but still needing to be woken up the next morning, I started checking for other possible reasons why this alarm clock was no longer trustworthy. And that's when I discovered that the extension cord to which the alarm clock was plugged in was itself not plugged into the wall.

I plugged it in and those friendly red lights which I have come to cherish once again came on. Those lights which have told me innumerable times that sleep is no longer allowed for that day shone bright once more.

So, General Electric, I apologize for assuming the worst. And I thank you for restoring my trust in your products.

To my wife, we may one day look back and laugh at this moment. But it will not be soon. Oh no, it will not be soon.

This post is from 2011, so in case you start to wonder about the alarm clock, I've replaced it. But I haven't replaced my wife.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Picture Day with Boys is Easy?

I can't even wait to see the picture.

I hope it's good.

Because if it's not....

There will be tears. Lots of tears. First mine. Then his.

It was picture day. Actually, it was the night before picture day. My wife, whom I love, was talking with my 11 year old son, whom I also love...at least for the time. All my wife asked for was that he look nice on picture day. But perhaps the instructions were too vague.

When his protests started up, I stepped in.

~No son, a ratty t-shirt and gym shorts do not get it done.
~No son, it doesn't matter that they only take a picture from the chest up.
~No son, you only have an illusion of freedom. Your mom already knows what she wants you to wear and no amount of crying or pouting will change that.

His arguments ranged from how he doesn't want to look like a dork (as if clothes really make the man) to how he had soccer practice after school (the reason they made locker rooms). He really didn't want to be the only boy dressed up at school.

~Don't worry son, every other dad is having this same conversation with their son tonight.

Tears were shed, apologies half given and bedtime was reached. I assumed peace would fall and fate would be accepted.

I'm a fool.

The next morning began right where we left off the night before. My stance didn't change. Neither did his mood. But several arguments later, we were on our way to school. About one-third of the way there, he commented that he didn't have the picture packet (with check enclosed) on him.

~Well son, it was haphazardly placed on the table next to your lunch so you wouldn't miss it. It's not your fault.

We track back, retrieve the packet and get all the way to school. As I'm rolling away from the drop-off, with my passenger window open, my son looks in and tells me he forgot his change of clothes for soccer practice.

I'll bet he forgets to smile for the picture as well. I hope this goes better when retakes come around.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ministry Monday - How Do You Know?

Below is the intro of a discussion I had with my youth group. It occurs to me that this vital question often gets left unanswered as youth pastors can be tempted to be satisfied with teens showing up each week and being involved.

I have, at times, hoped that enough positive peer pressure and enough Bible would miraculously soak in by way of osmosis, that just by being a part of my program would change a teen's life. To be sure, being a part can change a person's life, but it's not automatic, and it shouldn't be assumed.

Make sure you know!



Have you ever wondered if you're really saved? (Saved is such a churchy word. We use saved in other areas of life, i.e. you found my iPhone, I'm saved. But when we use it in church, it takes on a higher level of importance.)

So have you ever wondered? Because you've been raised on this perhaps, or you just started attending a youth group or a church, and you just kind of assumed we handed get-out-of-Hell-free cards. (See me afterwards if you still need one…)

Because this is not an answer you want to get wrong. You can imagine that standing before God, after you've died, might not be the best time to find out you had it all wrong. Can you picture telling God that you had this mental checklist of what it takes to get into Heaven? Well, you see, God, I uhhh, sort of thought it kinda worked like this… That's not the time you want to see Him laugh. Or facepalm. Or just shake His head while pointing His finger away.

The Bible says this is a possibility.

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ ~Matthew 7

Awk-ward! This is the ultimate in facials that you don't want to receive. I can remember, back in high school, seeing the girl I had a crush on, wave to me. I would walk over, confident that my dreams had finally come true. Reality would slap me in the face when I would hear another cute girl behind me, suddenly knowing my crush was not waving at me. Like George McFly, I would mumble something and slink away. People would laugh and I'd hold it together, until I cried myself to sleep that night.

As bad as that was, it would be nothing to having that happen at the Pearly Gates. Replace the hot girl with Jesus and my sad high school reputation for your eternal destination and you suddenly understand that this is a very important question.

So how does anyone know they're saved?

Friday, September 5, 2014

But I Didn't Know?

But I didn't know. It's an excuse I hear from my kids when I call them out for not doing something that was expected of them. For example:

Me: Why is your room still dirty?
Them: I didn't know you wanted it clean.
Me: When I asked you to clean your room, that wasn't a clear representation of my expectations?

Yeah, I use big words with my kids. It usually confuses them so they do what I want.

I'll walk away mumbling about how they should have known. I didn't know? 

This is not an excuse that works real well anymore. I think this applies to many areas of life.

Holidays? No one can get to October 30 and say they didn't  know Halloween was coming. Costumes have lined the aisles of stores since just after Labor Day.

Don't even get me started on Christmas. I've already seen Christmas trees peeking out in certain stores. Yep, better buy fake trees before all the good ones are gone. They won't plant more until after Valentine's Day next year. 

But this is also true about God and Heaven and Hell. Christians may not do the best job of proclaiming the good story. But that does not change the truth of the story. We may still be needing to discover some lost people-groups in some jungle somewhere, or learn a language so we can share the Jesus-story, but anyone with a WiFi connection can hear about Jesus.

Seriously, it may not be clear and rational Biblical truth, but just check out the comments section on any article or video...anywhere. Was the article about bunnies? Doesn't matter. Scroll down far enough in the comments section and you will find an argument about world religions. Or Obama. Or Obama and which of the world religions he adheres to. 

Yeah, I believe God has made Himself known. I believe He has made us capable of discovering Him a whole lot easier than we seem to make it. I believe all creation cries out to its Creator. 

But...I didn't  know?

I think you should have known. I think deep down you really did know.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Shhhh, It's a Secret!

There is a secret in the book of Revelation. It’s not my secret, mind you. I’m just as in the dark as you are. But there is a secret. As if it wasn’t enough to attempt to comprehend what everything written down means, there is a secret that is being kept from us.

It’s found in Revelation 10. John is faithfully taking notes on everything he hears and sees. This, in itself, is a miracle. My apologies to everybody else, but if I get swept up to a vision from Heaven, I probably won’t be taking along a pen and paper. I won’t even care to jot down notes using whatever piece of tech in my hand just became inconsequential to being in God’s presence.

But John is taking notes. Copious notes in fact. Somehow this guy remembers 22 chapters worth of Heaven. Meanwhile, if I’m shown a picture for 30 seconds and then asked questions about what I saw, I would likely fail.

In Revelation 10, we read of God telling John to put his pen down for a moment. A mighty angel stood and roared like a lion. When he did, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. Being the good reporter he was, John was about to write what he heard, when the voice from Heaven said to hold on. Scholars will tell us that thunder is connected to divine judgment and what the thunders spoke, like scrolls which have been sealed, will not be revealed until the proper time.

To be honest, this is what I like about God. Just when we get a bit saucy, thinking we know about Him and His plans, He does something like this to remind us there is plenty we do not know. See, God has been gracious enough to pull back the veil ever so slightly. “We see but a poor reflection”, to borrow the words of the Apostle Paul. “We know in part.” “We prophesy in part.” Paul, for all his knowledge and his great role in the New Testament Church, admits he only knows in part (1 Corinthians 13).

It shouldn’t surprise us that the future is a mystery. We deal with the unknown every day. Even as I plan all summer for a school year’s worth of mystery, I am left with many questions. What will this year bring? What students will accept Christ for the first time? Which teens or adults may reject Him?

And no matter how much you may wish for it be different, you have no more control over the future than anyone else. What will happen to you and I is a secret that is being kept from us until we need to know. Rather than leave us apprehensive, this should cause us to worship God all the more. After all, He is the only one who knows it all.