A Time to Dance?
November 4th, 2009
It is safe to say that, around the age of 12 or 13, there is a huge difference in the way that your child will look at life. Your sweet baby no longer goes over to a friend's house after school to 'play'. If you even use the word 'play,' they will shrink down in the chair or shush you. Why? The reason is very simple. Kids in middle school do not 'play'. They 'hang out'.
It is also around this time that kids fully embrace the idea of relationships. They usually have the first case of 'puppy love' (and to think, you bought all of those Valentine's cards during elementary in vain.)They begin to wear cologne or perfume. They worry about their hair a little more. They even communicate with their girlfriends and boyfriends on the phone.
When I was in middle school, I dealt with a little of this myself. I had a young girl that I talked to on the phone. (It is so weird to think that we used to actually talk into the phone. On top of that, they were plugged into the wall!) We decided very quickly that we were going to 'go' together. As middle schoolers, this consisted of walking to classes together and occasionally carrying tray at lunch. We were 'going' together, but we really did not have anywhere to 'go.'
Then one day flyers were placed around school for our Halloween dance! We finally had a destination-a place to 'go.'
It did not start off too great. I showed up wearing a hockey mask and casual clothes in a half hearted attempt to portray a character from scary movies. I had my mom drop me off a good distance from the dance to keep from being embarrassed by the mere thought that I, a 12 year old boy, could not find my own way to the school cafeteria. I ended up being embarrassed because the distance of the walk caused me to break into a sweat. Luckily, the strong aroma of Polo cologne completely overwhelmed the nostrils of anyone who stood within five yards of me.
The second problem proved a little more difficult. In all of our conversations, the two of us had never discussed costumes. I aimlessly walked around asking everyone if they had seen any resemblance of my girl. Eventually, I found her. She was dressed as a football player. Her costume was complete with eye black, shoulder pads, a helmet, and cleats. She was taller than me anyway. The cleats made dancing with her as difficult as sitting on the front row of a movie theater. Combining her uniform with my hockey mask made it seem like we should be on the
Mid-dance, I was a little disappointed with the whole evening. So, as we stood in the middle of the dance floor, I did what middle schoolers do-I broke up with her. Upon completing this task, I took off my hockey mask and went and did what chubby kids do. I went and sat beside the Booster Club table that was selling popcorn and cokes.
Moments later, a friend of hers came over to me and told me that my now ex-girlfriend was crying on the other side of the room. I was more into the Little Debbie in my clutches than the conversation. I asked a question that made logical sense to me as a 7th grade boy, “Why?” The friend replied, “Because you broke up with her, dummy!”
In a moment of nothing besides sheer brilliance, I uttered said to her, “Go tell her that I was just kidding.”
So she did. And the girlfriend bought it! We ended up dancing for the rest of the evening. She was happy because she had her dance partner back. I was happy because I realized that, if I did not want to deal with the strains of middle school love, I could break up because she would take me back. My commitment to her was really a commitment to my own happiness. I could walk away if I wanted and come back with 'I did not mean it. It was just a joke.' It was just a look-warm, half hearted commitment.
Many of us are living out our journey with Jesus in very much the same way. We are committed when it is good for us and then stuck in the monotony of self absorbed living three weeks later. We stand on a spiritual peak singing promises that, too often, end up just being words. Our commitment to God is half-hearted at best.
The problem with this line of thinking is the Bible. Nowhere in scripture do we find God viewing this approach to Christ and His kingdom as something that we have the right to treat so flippantly. Christ says for us to love him whole heartedly (Mark 12: 28-31) and that His glory belongs to no one else (Isaiah 48:9-11). Too often, for the sake of our own desires and pleasure, our commitment to God translates as a vain, half hearted treatment of His love and a cheap view of His grace. When God is taken for granted and treated like this, our commitment translates as 'half-hearted'.
It does not take a terrible Halloween costume to realize that half-hearted commitment is not commitment at all.
The Gospel and Chicken Nuggets
August 19th, 2009
I have a friend who is a devout meat eater, a steak and potatoes kind of guy. A few months ago, he decided that he was going to only eat a vegetarian cuisine for forty days. However, vegetarian in 2009 is not what it was in 1987. To my surprise, he was able to pick up vegetarian hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue, etc. At any moment I half expected him to extract a T-Bone steak made solely of ground squash and zucchini.
Hope and I were at the store the other night, and for whatever reason, decided to buy Shepherd (our son) some vegetarian Chicken nuggets. Thinking they would be healthier than regular nuggets and lead him into healthier, herbivore bliss, we gave them a shot.
He would not touch them. We tried everything. We tried cheering for him. We tried acting like the nugget was an airplane coming in for a landing. We tried me eating a nugget to make him jealous. We even tried ketchup. Nothing.
Here is the difference. My friend had conditioned himself to accept the shortcomings of the vegetarian cuisine for his experience. Shepherd, who loves real chicken, wanted nothing to do with our sloppy substitute made of cauliflower.
Too often in the life of a follower of Jesus, we accept substitutes for the gospel. Today, when we can have our Christianity in every size, flavor, and with cream on top, we deal with a multitude of false doctrines. There is the prosperity gospel which states that if we are ‘blessed’ by God, then our financial endeavors and our joys in this earthly life will be exponential. This theology being made popular by certain television networks and toothy grins.
There is also what is called the Social Gospel, which is consistently being reinvented. The long and short of this theology is that the main focus of the believer is to have an impact on society ONLY in the here and now and make up for the sins of humanity. The
The problem with these two ‘gospels’ is the Bible. If the prosperity gospel is true, then the stories of Job, John the Baptist, the disciples, and Stephen as well as numerous missionaries throughout history and around the world (not to mention Jesus) are pointless. To ascribe to a purely social gospel and simply focus on the here and now is to dismiss Paul’s longing for heaven and consistent Biblical theme that only in the presence of God will our view of Him cease to be distorted. Both of these focus on the actions of man outside of the work of Jesus. To paraphrase a pastor in
Even personally, we distort the true gospel found in the Bible and orthodox Christianity. When we stand satisfied in our own good deed with no connection to Christ, then that is not the gospel. If, in our weaknesses, we blame God instead of depending on Him, that is not the gospel. To act like God exists for us rather than us existing for Him is to dilute the overwhelming Biblical message that all things exist in order for God to be made much of (Psalm 24). The problem with misunderstanding does not end with misguided theologians. It is propagated by the fact that the message of the Bible is, at best, considered for only an hour a week.
The gospel is this. We were created to be in perfect harmony with God. As a result of the fall, we no longer have that harmony; rather there is enmity between God and man. God sent Christ as a result of His rich love and mercy to reunite us with himself and has therefore given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). If that Gospel has penetrated us, it will overflow and impact those we come in contact with regardless of their lot in life because, in Christ, we are a New Creation through Jesus (Eph. 2:8-10). Christ will shape the way that we view our place at work. He will define our role as we take our kids to practices. He will impact our marriage and give us a Biblical view of parenting. In retirement, the Gospel is the our desperate need for Jesus and satisfaction found in Him will spill out into the way that we live rather than what we define as our ‘beliefs’.
How have you been affected by Jesus? How has Christ shaped the way you treat others? Is your life defined by gospel rooted in the truths of Scripture? Or have we conditioned ourselves to accept the shortcomings of these heretical treatments of Christ and his message?
Are you settling for chicken nuggets made of cauliflower?
Bad Ideas Really Sting
May 6th, 2009
Youth ministers are some of the most entertaining people on planet earth. They design interesting T-shirts. They order mass quantities of pizza and frozen lasagna. They can tune out all the noise on a fifteen passenger bus for hours at a time.
If you look up 'multi-task' in the dictionary, there should be a picture of a youth minister. I have the incredible opportunity to spend time with at least one youth pastor each week. And, if nothing else, my sermon illustrations are better for it.
Last October, I was with a group of students from
When Joe realized this, he came screaming in his Toyota Corolla to our location. Joe took off sprinting into the woods. He then moved to his next location, because, as most youth ministers, his schedule was a little off kilter. The hunt was competitive, as most youth scavenger hunts are. The event was more intense because on the line was a free ski trip. This intensity culminated before my very eyes as every group showed up within seconds of one another (except for my buddy Mike's group, which was lost.)
I quickly gave them their clue. All four groups, within seconds of one another, took off sprinting into the woods. Moments later, all of the groups were sprinting back. This made no sense, because they could only read the clue one team at a time. Then I noticed there was a cloud above their heads. A flying, buzzing cloud. Due to his frantic hurry, Joe had not realized he had placed the clue below a hornets' nest. Due to me not wanting to walk into the woods, I did not notice either.
One boy had his shirt off, swinging it above his head like a helicopter. Another boy was yelling, in a voice many would consider too deep for his size, "We have to go back in there! My brother did not come out!" I reassured him that it was a trip into the woods, not World War II, and that Hitler and the Axis Powers were not going to hold his brother hostage. I also comforted him by reminding him that his brother wouldn't even be stung that much, because he had on a long-sleeved paint ball shirt with a spider on it. I reminded him that hornets were afraid of spiders, especially spiders that play paintball, and he calmed down a lot.
The retreat was a lot of fun. There were a few stings, but nothing that some Benadryl could not handle. And some kids did get to go to