Month: January 2015

Always Chasing but Never Catching

theempowerroom.comHow often do we look at Monday and pray that Friday will come soon? How often do we sit in the cold winter hoping for spring? How often do we wish for rain on a hot dry day, or sunny skies when it’s raining? How often will we look at the “Christmas” products on the superstore shelves in September and daydream fondly of what it will be like when Santa comes? And how often to we wake up on the day after Christmas only to wade through an uncontrollable sadness at the realization that Christmas is now 364 days away?

I hear students complain about how dreadful their school is only to follow up their thought with one that sounds like this, “But when I get to __________________, all my problems will be over!”

__________________ could be graduation, valentines day, Christmas, my birthday, another person’s birthday, summer, July 4th, spring break, Junior Year, Senior year, college, graduation from college, a date, a girlfriend/boyfriend, next episode of a particular show, next movie/book in a series, a job, a job that pays more than this job, or maybe just tomorrow.  Each of these perceived “green grass” situations blind students to the value of today, and more often than not, when they arrive at these “promised lands” they pale in comparison to imagination, and leave them longing for either the place they were, or the next place they will go.

When we live in a fantasy world, we intentionally reject the reality that exists around us, and we engage in the active devaluation of any kind of concrete stimuli.  Furthermore we engage a world that has no real rules, nor does it produce any real product.  Thus, at any point, that lack of product can leave us wanting even more than we ached for in the past, and send us spinning toward more nothingness in the future.  Our hopes are dashed, our dreams shattered by the unparalleled ability that fantasy has to deceive us, and defile us. 

My work with addiction and those who struggle with addiction has led me to believe that a substance is not the only thing that can overtake and subdue a person.  Processes, and simple ideas can invade a person’s lifestyle and cause them to believe things that are not real, to engage in pursuits that will never satisfy, and to lay waste to people in their lives who dare to stand in the way of their pursuit of such garbage. 

Drug addicts are not that dissimilar with the rest of the American population.  They often pursue something that will not satisfy, whether that be Christmas or Cocaine.  They try to escape their current relationships through pornography or Gray’s Anatomy.  They constantly hope for a better job, or a better partner, or a better life. 

But why do students act this way?

Probably because many of them see adults acting in similar ways. 

Parents are not always the main culprits, but more often than not it is family that shapes our worldview.  They notice that their mom or dad complains about the job they have, or how sad it is that the school bought this, or didn’t buy that.  Or that the town has something they shouldn’t, or that it fails to provide something that it should.  Or maybe they complain about the president, governor, taxes, police or other political leadership.  Maybe they see their parents longing for the weekend only to be saddened by the fact that it was only two days. 

Perhaps discontentedness is the banner that flies in most of our houses.

When confronted with dissatisfaction in my own life, I have become aware of how many times I ran into a fantasy world, only to find that that world was everything I’d hoped for, but still couldn’t satisfy me because it wasn’t real.  Whether it was drugs, alcohol, pornography, or simply wanting a new job, the fantasy world promised everything, but failed to ever fulfill.  We must be aware that our satisfaction can ONLY come from our service to Jesus Christ.  That is the only world in which we can find real satisfaction.  Not in some “heavenly fantasy” that is perpetrated in so many pulpits today, nor in the fictional world of  “your best life now.”  The satisfaction that we long for is in the establishment of God’s Kingdom here and now.  We don’t work for heaven, nor do we wait for it.  We don’t work for our kingdom now, nor will we ever find it.  We work for God’s Kingdome come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Our world looking more and more like His heart. 

When we work for His glory, we will be satisfied in Him.  When we work for our glory, we will be left wanting. 

Youth Ministry ≠ Pre-Game Warm-up

While meditating on Hebrews 12:1-3 I was encouraged by something that I have always thought, but have never been able to defend with scripture. 

Youth are not in a holding pattern. 
Youth are not prepping for their time in the trenches. 
Youth are the Church!

The writer of Hebrews uses the runner as an analogy for the Christian life.  If any of you know me, you know that I am certainly not a runner, but I have watched people run, and with that wealth of knowledge I continue this post with full confidence that I can in fact understand what is going through the mind of a runner prior to a race. 

The runners in the Olympics for example take amazing precautions to prepare their body for the race.  Whether the race is as short as 100M or as long as 26.2mi, the runner prepares themselves for what will take place after the starting gun fires.  Sprints and long distance races are different in how a person prepares for the race, but are similar in the fact that the runner must be prepared to endure them. 

However, Christianity is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  I feel confident in the fact that a person who is preparing to run the 100M dash is not training for “Endurance” which happens to be the word used to describe the way the Believer runs in Hebrews 12:1.  Running a 100M dash with endurance may be what I would do, but not a person who is prepared.  But what of the preparation for the Marathon of Christianity? How is it that we should be prepared?  When do we “Throw off every weight and sin…so that we may run with endurance?”

For the believer, the starting gun has already sounded.  We are already running, and as we grow tired of our race, we look down and find that we are fitted with a stylish pare of Ugg boots.  Sure they look great on us, but they don’t help us run.  We lay aside the style and find ourselves some proper running shoes. 

Hebrews does not include a Pre-Game Warm-up phase.  The readiness with which we run, is given to us by the Holy Spirit.  It is even indicated in a different passage of scripture about how we prepare each day for the battle that is before us. 

…and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
Ephesians 6:15

Students are just as ready for the battle of Christianity as adults, and in many ways are held back by the idea that their day to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ exists in the distant future.  Those ideas cripple an entire section of the church and weaken the church’s ability to engage the lost. 

Churches, pastors, youth ministers, and parents must open their eyes to the fact that youth who have been called by the Holy Spirit to faith, are equipped to serve the kingdom.  We must create opportunity for these children of the Most High God to be obedient to the call of Jesus to make disciples of all nations.   Students should be serving the greater church in every way possible. 

He Came to Set the Captives Free

While listening to a podcast by Ravi Zacharius in which he depicts the conversion experience of General Manuel Noriega while in prison for his crimes, the question came to me, “Why do prisoners seem to accept Christ more readily than those not in prison?”

Fundamentally, I think this is explained by the inability of those who have been prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for crimes to escape the reality of their sin.  At that point they are unable to marginalize their behavior by saying, “It’s not that bad.”  They can no longer hide their wicked hearts in the dark.  The reality of their sin has been revealed to anyone who dared to look. 

In a place like prison, when all your exploits have already been made public, you finally get to acknowledge that all your sin has a price.  According to scripture, the price for sin is death, and death is the only sure thing we have in this life. 

But do they only accept Christ to get out of prison?

The conversion of the prisoner is not any more an escape of the ramifications of their sin than is the conversion of the unimprisonned.  Simply stated, those on the outside just have a lot easier time hiding their sin.  However, sin is no less present in the lives of those who have not been incarcerated. 

It seams like many people try to hold up a shield to cover the wickedness in their lives, and it seams like that shield grows smaller and smaller the more their lives are revealed to the general public.  The less we can cover our own sin, the more naturally we gravitate to the one who can wipe our sin away.  Those who are in prison seem to feel a freedom from the weight of hiding which allows them to engage the Holy Spirit in a far more honest way. 

How many times have you seen a criminal captured only to hear them say something to the effect of, “I’m just glad its all over.”

Where can this attitude come from other than the fact that we all hope to be found out for what we’ve been doing in secret.  Not to be brazened criminals, but to be able to repent.  There is a freedom in being caught.  Lies, deceit, and hiding are some of the more exhausting activities on earth. 

The best part is, when we are finally revealed to be the wicked, deplorable creatures that we are, we can also confront the salvation that is offered through Jesus. 

Until we acknowledge sin, we cannot see the savior. 

New Year’s Resolutions

Last year I had one resolution.  I resolved that I would read through the Bible in 2014 without trying to apply it to a lesson for my students.  I wanted to invest myself as a believer into the scriptures.  I wanted to make scripture a larger part of my life without trying to make it apply to a lesson for work. 

I failed to accomplish it.

I think my failure came as a result of the fact that I set a large goal, without setting smaller goals to help me get there.  Also, I tried to make a spiritual act worldly. Every time I would sit down to read, I found myself thinking about how to get more pages read, rather than investing myself into the words that could give me life.

I made the process of reading the Bible a task on top of another task.  Several times I would read and think about how to apply it to my students and would feel as though the time and the pages didn’t count.  I know it sounds stupid now, but over the past year, I have struggled to accept that when I read the Bible, I naturally apply what I read to my students, my family, and my future. 

Why was I resisting a spiritual gift, for the sake of reading more pages?

I think the answer is that the spiritual battles that go on every day are not limited to sinful acts.  It is important to note that the life we live in Christ is not devoid of struggle, and that struggle between the flesh and the spirit is one of life and death.  The dead has been put off for the life that is given by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  However, it is imperative that we know that it is only in Glory that we will be rid of the fight against sin, and the fight to grow the Kingdom.

I longed for the life that was offered through the pages of the Bible, but was being held down by the death that clung to my desire to limit the impact of those pages.  I wanted to know what it said for me, not for anyone else.  Such a misguided and selfish desire was never my intent when I made the resolution, but when I reflect on that decision, I can see how the flesh warred against my spirit. 

I pursued the scripture for selfish gain. 

So my resolution for 2015 is different.  I am resolving to accomplish 3 things this year:
1. I resolve to read the Bible to my family.
The purpose of this activity is to encourage my wife in her spiritual gifting, invigorate her passion for the Lord and for his church, and to begin to surround my son’s heart with the truth of the Gospel. 

2. I resolve to pray for my family aloud.
My wife and my son should know that I am willing to go to spiritual battle for them regularly, if not daily, for their growth and maturity.  I must help my wife know that I am willing to engage in the most important activity of spiritual battle for her protection and provision.  I must teach my son that men pray.  Men pray aloud.  Men do spiritual battle for those they love most.  Men are not ashamed to set a spiritual climate in their home. 

3. I resolve to go to bed tired.
I want to wake before my family does, lay the groundwork for my own spiritual growth, and serve my family before they can even greet the day.  I want to end my day in the same way.  I want to pursue my son’s heart and engage him in spiritual conversations.  (I know that he’s only 1YO but this isn’t really a one-year kind of resolution) I want to pursue my wife’s heart and encourage her to grow in her gifting.  I want to end the day knowing that I have done all I can possibly do to fight against the evil of the world by fighting for my family. 

I will fail.
I will at times be overcome with selfishness.
I will not be able to repress the siren song of sin completely. 

So what must I do when I fail? What must I do when my own selfishness rises up and soils my efforts to pursue my wife or son?

I must confess my sins to my wife and son, in the presence of a merciful God, repent from my actions, and continue to walk in the grace provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

#1 Problem Facing Teens

I saw a question posted on Facebook yesterday morning that asked this question, “What is the #1 problem facing teens today, and how do we fix it?”

This is a great question and it will have many different answers depending on the problems facing the teens in the area in which you live, but it deserves a great deal of conversation.  I answered the question in the following way, and am interested in what you guys have to say about it.  Feel free to comment here or in my inbox if you prefer to converse that way. 

I believe the #1 problem facing youth today is the hollow claims that many parents have made as to the value of their child. Over the past 20+ years, society (in at least one demographic) has begun to tell children that they are the most valuable pieces of existence. They have been told that they are more valuable than their parents, more valuable than their peers, and more valuable as an individual than society as a whole. This may have it’s roots in Psychological Determinism as parents have attempted to, “Make em be doctors and lawyers and such….” but what finally occurred is far more detrimental. We have taught our children that they are gods. They have no equal on earth, and every want they might have should be met regardless of the cost.

The stark reality hits when society fails to maintain this deification once a child reaches their late teens or early twenties. As evidenced by short tenures at school, jobs, and even first marriages, a failure by teachers, professors, co-workers, bosses, and spouses to maintain the undue worship that had been experienced during childhood and adolescence is often too much to endure. Passively aggressive boys and girls in their early twenties are forced to wander through life unable to find direction.

What can be done?

We can stop lying to children about being the center of the universe. We can stop telling children that they failed a class because the teacher is mean. We can stop giving children everything they want, just because they want it. We can stop holding their hand every time they face some adversity.

We can start demanding that children be responsible for their own actions. If you make a grade in a class, it’s because you earned it. If you make money and can spend it on things you want, it’s because that’s how the world works. We can start displaying our own failures for students. We can be honest about how life will actually be. We can be open to being asked real questions and giving real answers.

Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, King Saul wanted to be prophet priest and king, Alexander the Great wanted the whole world to bow to him, and John D Rockefeller died wanting “one more dollar.” We have merely gathered these sins together and fed them to our children one spoon-full at a time.

See Past the Temporary Notion of Death, and Realize the Reality of Eternal Life

When my son was a little younger than he is today, we would play a game in which I would hid an object behind a sheet and he would believe, even if for the briefest of moments, that the object had ceased to exist.  We were able to play this game because he had not entered in to the stage of brain development necessary to understand object permanence. 

Adults understand object permanence because when they want to leave the house and they can’t find their keys, they have no problem destroying their house to find them (or at least that’s how it works in my house).  Adults know that they keys exist, they simply cannot see them yet. 

Additionally, I have never been to India, but I have no problem believing that it exists.  I have heard many people discuss it as though it exists, and can believe that all the evidence supports it.  But this doesn’t stop us from struggling with the idea of heaven, hell, and a life beyond death. 

Humans struggle with the afterlife for one reason; the afterlife REALLY matters.  My keys matter to me, and India matters exponentially more than my keys, but I don’t struggle to believe that either exists even though I can’t see them.  Eternity matters infinitely more because it will either be spent with our Lord Jesus, or without him.  The enemy will not bother to try to deceive me about India, although I believe he has moved keys around my house while I looked for them, but the truth of eternity is of far greater significance.  Even those whose place in heaven is secure are being tempted to believe otherwise because the manner in which we live will help to determine the eternity of those around us.  

Yesterday, I was able to celebrate the life of a wonderful woman of God who went home to be with the Lord.  Ann Schwarts lived a life that was fully committed to the idea that Jesus was the Way the Truth and the Life and that she would come to the Father through Him.  She knew that Heaven was real even though she had not seen it.  She knew that she would see her beloved husband again, even though he was being left here on earth a little while longer.  She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she would be taken up with the rest of the saints when she took her final breath.

Honestly, I know more people who currently reside in Heaven than have ever even been to India. 

Death is simply the door to forever.  The sooner we get that, the more seriously we will be able to take the days we have left here on earth.