The First Easter Morning – Darkness, Fear, and Surprise

 

Today I had the pleasure of one of my students asking me what MY favorite part of Easter is. Love it when they ask me for my opinion. My favorite part? The surprise. That first Easter morning wasn’t full of the expectation and joy we experience now… the disciples were AFRAID, huddled in a dark room, let down by their rabbi, and uncertain of what to do next… and then Jesus shows up (literally), and just says “Peace be with you.” I can see the smile on his face, I can hear that first nervous laugh, and then everything breaks lose… HE IS ALIVE!!!

That’s my favorite part. The surprise. The hope that springs from fear. The joy that can only be known AFTER the terror. The gratitude that can only come from knowing what it would be like to have been alone.

I was also asked today whether or not I felt Judas went to Hell for his betrayal. Not an easy-answer question, that’s for sure. I am no judge of person’s hearts, and certainly could imagine that Judas went for years as a disciple while “faking it” the whole time. Perhaps he himself even believed he was a follower, but in his heart, he never gave up control. I can see that. I’ve faked it before. So have you, I’ll bet. On the other hand, I think we all have moments of weakness where we betray our Lord, whether in thought or deed. How deep that betrayal goes is certainly a matter of the heart, but needless to say, I as a Christian am fully capable of making a spuratic decision that’s effects would far outweigh my understanding of what I did. So I don’t know. And it’s not much of my business. My business is checking my own heart, my own sincerity, and matching my walk to my talk.

Did I mention that I love it when my students ask my opinion? My REAL opinion? Not my Sunday School opinion but my opinion as a person, as a fellow traveller.

 

Rebuilding Relationships – ME2U and the book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah Rebuild Wall

If you’ve never read the book Nehemiah, I’d encourage you do to so. Especially if you’re a leader of any sorts. You could pull this book out of the Bible, toss it up on a bookshelf of leadership books, and it would stand the test of time. Put into the context OF the Bible, though, it’s a wonderful story of leadership, delegation, working together toward common goals, and facing opposition. Something leaders everywhere get to deal with.

ME2U currently has an image of a broken down wall on our homepage. In the background of the page, we have a strongly built brick wall. Both of these images were picked on purpose, and I want to take a moment to share why. Consider the following summary of the book of Nehemiah:

Nehemiah was a Hebrew in Persia when the word reached him that the Temple in Jerusalem was being reconstructed. He grew anxious knowing there was no wall to protect the city. Nehemiah invited God to use him to save the city. God answered his prayer by softening the heart of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, who gave not only his blessing, but also supplies to be used in the project. Nehemiah is given permission by the king to return to Jerusalem, where he is made governor. 

In spite of opposition and accusations the wall was built and the enemies silenced. The people, inspired by Nehemiah, give tithes of much money, supplies and manpower to complete the wall in a remarkable 52 days, despite much opposition. This united effort is short-lived, however, because Jerusalem falls back into apostasy when Nehemiah leaves for a while. After 12 years he returned to find the walls strong but the people weak. He set about the task of teaching the people morality and he didn’t mince words. “I argued with those people, put curses on them, hit some of them and pulled out their hair” (13:25). He reestablishes true worship through prayer and by encouraging the people to revival by reading and adhering to the Word of God. (Source)

Nehemiah was not a priest. He was not a prophet, a king, or a writer. He was the guy that tested the wine before the king drank it to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. It was quite an important job, but not one that you’d consider full of leadership potential. But Nehemiah’s heart is burdened, he speaks up, and is granted the opportunity to return to his home and get the wall rebuilt.

In my own way, I consider the relationships between adults and teens to be in a very similar state in the world today. Relationships are broken, whether it’s between a parent and their child or a coach and their athlete. Stories abuse, neglect, and friendships turned horrible are all too common in the news – and for every story IN the news, there are probably a hundred (?) that aren’t. There is tremendous potential in these relationships, but unless it’s channeled into valuable life lessons through effective communication and encouragement, they remain dormant.

ME2U is not the solution to these problems. It’s a tool to help the people that are the solution to these problems. A tool to help “rebuild the wall” of strong relationships between invested adults and the adolescents in their lives. It’s our aim to provide ways for adults outside the parental relationship to have a place to equip and encourage teenagers, but to do so safely and alongside parents in ways that don’t allow dangerous boundaries to creep up and then be crossed. We believe that youth pastors, coaches, mentors, “big brothers,” and even teachers have great opportunities to work with parents to raise up the next generation, and we want to foster that.

Does this endeavor ring home with you? Are you already part of rebuilding this wall in your own way? We’d love to share this journey with you. While we’d love for you to use our system to connect with youth in methods that promote safety, accountability, and persistent positive input, we’d also love to simply know that you’re alongside. Click here to join our mailing list, or simply drop us a note.

Let’s rebuild walls of strength and security into the lives of our families, and start the conversation.

Nehemiah Rebuild Wall

"God, I just want what you want." Reeeeeally?

“Your will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

How often have we heard that line of the Lord’s Prayer and said, “Yes, God! YOUR will be done. Not mine.” And yet 10 minutes later we’re griping because we’re stuck in traffic because some old lady 10 cars up had the nerve to run over a nail and have a flat tire; and it doesn’t even look like she knows where her spare is! Or perhaps it’s more like a deadline we know is coming up, or a project we know needs to be completed, and even though we’ve had a month or more to really plan, set, and achieve the steps necessary to create an excellent end result, we somehow come to the hands, throw up our hands to God, and say “Your will be done! It’s out of my hands; I did my best.” Reeeeealy?

I was listening to end of the Sunday podcast of the Daily Audio Bible this morning and Brian’s words caught me. Here’s some of what he said (you can read more here):

We find ourselves in some sort of trial or hardship. We then go to the Lord in an attitude of humility, hat in hands. We come before the Lord and we’re sincere about it. “God, I just want what you want.” That hadn’t been true up to this point, but we’re rocked to the point that we realize God is our hope. We need to align our wills with his, so “whatever you want, God, is what I want. Where you’re going, Lord, is where I want to go. Speak to me. Give me a clear direction and, no matter what that is, that is what I will do. That is what I want to do, is to be obedient.” So then we hear from the Lord and it’s not what we want to hear, which immediately reveals the motives of our heart. We just want God to bail us out, to put things back to how they were when they were going well. We don’t want God’s will. We want our will with God’s blessing upon it. 

We don’t want God’s will.
We want our will with God’s blessing upon it. 

How true is that? And how many times has that been me. You could probably ask any of the people that REALLY know me, and they could rattle off a few. Or you could ask me, and I could rattle off a hundred. Times in life where I haven’t truly want’s God’s WILL. I’ve wanted God to fork over a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, to bail me out, to set me on a new path, or simply to “re-assure” me that I’m on the right path where I am.

It takes tremendous patience and humility to admit that God’s will may be being done in my life, even if I’m in a season where I can’t understand it at all. I was speaking with a very close friend just yesterday who, from the outside, could easily be thought of in a very stagnant part of life. In between “real jobs.” Friends around him have truly great things happening, some of which have even thrown my friend into even less work as he’s allowed God to take them out of his life, in a way… and yet as I’m talking to him, I sense complete honesty when he says, “I’m OK with that. If God has set me aside in this season to pray for others and connect them with each other, that’s great.” He goes on to say that of course he’d love to get “in the fray,” so to speak, but he’s come to a point in his life where he can no longer raise his fist at God and say, in essense, “I know better!”

I’m in a stage of my life right now where a lot seems to be changing. I’ve hunted all year for “something big” and haven’t found it. I’m still doing much of the same type of thing I was a year and a half ago, which is not entirely what I’d say I want to be doing 5 years from now. The only difference is I’m doing more of it to make ends meet. I’ve pursued leads, considered strategies, and even put together a decent business plan to get there. But it kept feeling “off.” Like it was more of my version of what I thought God would want to do than His version matched with my unique person.

Recently some things have started to come together in some directions that I’m simply amazed by. A month ago I had an idea and started building on it for a concept I thought would allow me to encourage, equip, and empower teens all over the country through little groups they’re part of. Last week I had coffee with a man who sandblasted the idea with a word of wisdom I hadn’t even thought of that could have seemingly squashed the whole thing. Instead, though, we talked it through, and 2 hours later that obstacle had become a tremendous opportunity. It took me right out of the equation. Instead of “Chet” being “the guy” who sends out all these little “love drops” (Thanks for that word, Rob), it’s now parents, grandparents, and those who should be adding life to their children. Instead of looking to build some sort of income from cash strapped ministries, we’re looking toward families with some cash to spare. I was humbled, excited, scared, and thrilled, all at once.

That feeling remains. We’re now moving into plans to build marketing and sales strategies, and up comes this idea that we’ll need a 3-5 minute promo video to play in churches and before parents to share the concept. Video!? Wow. Um…. I hadn’t even thought of that, but it makes perfect sense, and since I’ve bitten the bullet and re-engaged my little network of people these past few weeks, I know exactly who to call on to help me with that. 

It’s amazing what happens when we switch from “my will with God’s blessing” to simply “God’s will.” I wouldn’t say that everything falls into place, because it certainly does not. Before ANYTHING can fall into place, it probably all needs to FALL DOWN. Depending on the height of the wall I’ve built and upon what foundation it was built, it may need to be torn down to the ground (or further). But Jesus will do that. He is faithful and true, and our God will come through…. always.

I’m no expert on this subject, and I think those who are “experts” are either full of crap or have walked the long, hard path of surrender and finally seen that to truly experience God’s blessing in our lives, we must lay it all down. Every. Little. Bit. I hope to continue to seek out and learn from these men, women, and even children. They are out there, and they are worth following. Perhaps, someday, God will use me in that way. Perhaps he already is. All glory to him, forever.

Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

(If you’d like to read more of Brian Hardin’s thoughts on this topic, check out the transcript of 10/23’s Daily Audio Bible here, or listen to it here.)

 

Kristian Stanfill – Always

My foes are many, they rise against me
But I will hold my ground
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm
My help is on the way, my help is on the way

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

Troubles surround me, chaos abounding
My soul will rest in You
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm
My help is on the way, my help is on the way

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord (4x)
From You Lord, from You Lord

 

Entertaining Angels While Playing Chicken on a Sled

So I don’t have any way to prove this, and you can’t disprove it, but it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to take the liberty to allow the idea in my head that I almost ran over an angel with my sled tonight.

Tonight a gaggle of us went sledding down a hill by my friend Tricia’s house. There were a bunch of teens and a few good adult friends, too. Colton came along too and had a blast. We were there for probably 2 hours or so. About 10 – 15 minutes before we left, another couple and a kid showed up and were doing some sledding. I amost ran into the woman while Isaac and I were playing chicken by aiming our sleds diagonally from opposite sides of the hill.

Anyways, we finish up, head back to Tricia’s, and as we’re getting out of the cars, one of my teenage friends Zorina exlaims, “I can’t find my keys!” Yes, she’d had them in her pocket while sledding. Yes, they had somehow, strangely, most obviously very abnormally, fell out amongst all the bumps of sledding. You could see it in her face. “What am I doing to do!? My mom is going to KILL me!” As most of kids get their snow clothes off and head inside for pizza and hot chocolate, I’m still getting rid of wet stuff out there in the garage with Zorina and another boy, Aaryn. “So here’s the worst that could happen,” I start out. That didn’t help. Not a bit. So I tell her I’ll take her back and look for 20 minutes, but that’s all I can do tonight. But we’ll do it. Aaryn decides to come along as well.

On the way I tell Zorina that since I’m driving her back, she gets to pray. And so she does. Short, a bit desparate, a bit funny, but isn’t that how we often get when we feel silly asking for Jesus to fix something that’s totally our own stupid fault? Along the way I get to tell Z that, yeah, I agree with her that she did something stupid, but that doesn’t make HER stupid… but even so… yeah, don’t sled with keys in your pocket, especially your only SET of keys. Then again, looks who’s talking. I’ve locked ALL FOUR sets of keys in my car at the same time. I know this pain.

So we get there, and start walking from the car to the hill for the inevitable 20 minute search. I’m praying to God, “God, you could do this in 5 minutes. You could do this in 2 hours. You could do this in 30 SECONDS. Or, you could let Z suffer the consequenses. I just ask that you show up, that you’re glorified, and that if you please, we find her keys.”

It’s about that time that Zorina says, “hey, what’s that?” A stick is stuck in the snow with a pink glove on top, kind of like a flag. Also dangling from that stick are her keys. We looked for literally about 30 seconds, and within 2 minutes, we’re back in the car zooming back to Tricia’s house. You could feel the cloud nine relief all over the place. Z thanks baby Jesus on the way back, and then I start venturing into my little “visit by angels” idea.

What if… what if that family that showed up were angels sent from God? They showed up just before we left, so that we knew they were there. They were gone by the time we got back, which wasn’t much more than 20 minutes. So they didn’t stay long. It’s like they showed up so we’d be sure to see them, and once we left, they “miraculously” found her keys, stuck them on the stick with the “flag” of a pink glove, and then left. Like their mission was accomplished. Like they’d been sent for that purpose alone, and by the time we got back, they weren’t even there to thank. And so God gets the thanks instead. No names, no car descriptions, no need to try to figure it out… we’ll just stick to the Entertaining Angels story.

So we get back and Z tells the story. Aaryn backs it up. It’s cool to listen to other people tell stories you first shared with them. I get home later and tell it to Erin, and she asks me a couple times, “is that really how it happened?” No tricks? No pranks? Nope. Just plain and simple good people (or were they NOT just people?) happening to find her keys within a few minutes, put them where we’d find them, and then leave… that or they were sent for that purpose. I’ll believe the latter, because I can. And because the Bible says it happens.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.Hebrews 13:1-3

I AM, however, glad I didn’t run over the lady on my sled. How messed up would that have been?

One of "My" Glimpses of the Bigger Picture

This past Sunday I was reminded about the reality of the bigger picture, even the “more real” world that The Matrix gave us a great picture of, although it was quite allegorical. Much of my world is nice and neat, surrounded by what I would imagine are God-fearing and God-honoring people. If I want to really reach out into the hearts of teenage kids, I need to go hunting for them outside my church doors, right? I mean, these guys and girls are doing fine, doing great, and loving and worshipping God at any chance they get… right?

Right?

Wrong.

Dead wrong. And I should know better. I’ve seen how “hurt” a heart can get by just putting a mirror on my own. Not just hurt by mean people, but hurt by my own false impression of myself, of God, and my picture of what others think. Even if it’s totally false, I still bought into it. How much more so the young men and young women I’m getting to know better and better. While it’s not a mid-life-crisis as we often think of it, it certainly is a crisis, at least according to the definition Google gives me: “an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty.” How many kids get lost in the high school years? Lose their way? Lose respect for (or of) their parents? Lose hope? Lose confidence in themselves? It’s all over the place, and I saw a glimpse of it this Sunday.

I grabbed a whiteboard this past Sunday as I taught Sunday School and asked the kids three questions. We were wrapping up a video series called Gospel Journey: Maui. It was an attempt at a reality series where they brought a group of several open-minded people together from different faiths and talked openly and honestly about faith, God, and life. It was actually pretty good, if I say so myself. I especially learned a lot from Jasser, the Islamic guy, who had a great respect for his god, and while my faith, beliefs, and God tell me he’s headed in the wrong direction, this boy was utterly sincere, and it shone through.

So at the end of the series, I asked our kids three questions, and had them write their answers, completely anonymously, on a sheet of paper I then collected and transferred to the whiteboard. The questions:

  • How would you describe Jesus (in a word)?
  • How would you describe Jesus’ message?
  • How would Jesus describe you.

The answers tell a story that I knew was real, but was suprised to get out of these guys at 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Check it out below:

 

 

All sorts of great things about Jesus, right (I added the “offensive” and “divisive” words about his message later on). High words. Lofty words. True words. But look at the words they used to describe how these kids feel Jesus (God) feels about them:

  • Fallible
  • Super
  • Pitiful
  • Lacking
  • Princess
  • Ignorant
  • A Child
  • Genuine
  • Wayward
  • I’ve never talked to him about it.

For the first time ever, I could hold something up in front of these guys and authoritatively say, “Look around you! You don’t have to go hunting broken hearts. You don’t have to go searching for someone who needs to know the Jesus you have, or the Jesus you want to have! They’re right here!” I know these kids, and I could probably pick certain people to go with certain words, but then again, I might be totally off base, as they might with me. We hide things so well, and it appears that we do so at a very early age. Many of the kids in this group have grown up in this church, and here they are, 15, 16, 17, 18 years old, feeling that God thinks they’re pitiful, ignorant, and lacking.

Let’s get real, because this is real. This is the most honest set of words I’ve ever gotten had them give me, and I choose to accept it, and let it change me. I’m not going to pretend like everybody’s alright. I’ll accept that from them if they tell me, but just like me, there’s always more to the story. And I can do something about that. I can care for them. I can pray for them. I can let them know absolutely, without a doubt, at least one person believes in them, and so does their Heavenly Father. We all have earthly parents that fail us in one way or another, and I think we wind up attributing that to our Heavenly Parent, and then suddenly he’s looking down on us, disappointed in us, and unwilling to ask us to do big things.

I totally get that. Because that was much of my own life. I now know my Heavenly Father AS my True Father. My earthly father introduced me to him in his own way, and I appreciate that beyond words. But until we realize that that’s not all there is in the God that really loves us, we’ll be bound up in these words.

I truly loved this lesson. It opened my eyes, and the anonymity and randomness of the mixed up answers made it even more impressive to me that the fields truly are white for the harvest. I don’t even have to walk out the door to my “back yard” (the Plainfield High School is literally in our church’s back yard). They’re here, waiting, wanting, and fearfully wondering if there really is more out there than life is promising them.

Let’s show them that there is. THERE IS LIFE. FREEDOM. And JOY.

When did I become a leader?

“When did I become a leader?”

I had that question asked to me via text message last night by a teenage friend of mine. I had mentioned to her about how a little prayer ministry she was championing didn’t have anybody except little old me show up this past week while she had been away. “But I don’t want people doing something just because I want them to do it,” she said. “I want them to want to do it themselves!”

How common is that desire in the heart of so many people. We find something we are passionate about, we bring in some others and they seem to love it too, but the moment we take a break or miss a meeting or ask them to step up for themselves, no one shows up. And immediately, at least for me and (I think) my friend here, we get kicked into this “well maybe it’s not such a great idea if no one else really wants to do it” mode.

I pulled a thought from Andy Stanley’s book, Visioneering, out for my friend last night. Leaders see what should be, and what could be, and they go after it. They see things well before others do, whether it’s a need that they can meet, a problem that they might be able to solve, or just a passion they can set their heart on, and they go after it. They inspire others to come along side of them, and even if those people don’t totally “get it” right away, they care enough about both the concern and the person whom is concerned about it to make it important to them, too.

So what do we do when suddenly, one day, nobody shows up? When they forget? When their passion begins to fade? When we suddenly look around and realize we’re the only one doing the work again, and it feels like we’re just dragging others along on our ride, or that perhaps they’re trying to get off? Do we quit? Find something new? Go all introspective and wonder, “was it really meant to be?”

I tried to share with my friend that just because others forget, doesn’t mean it’s not important to them. Yes, they may have some growing to do to make this a priority in their life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it to be a priority. And that’s when I told her those words… “you’re that leader.” Essentially, you started this, like it or not. You initiated it. You’re driving the ship. Others want to be on that ship, and they may specifically look to you in the upcoming weeks to see how you’ll handle a week off, and a week with a bit of a let down, now that it’s past. Will you let go, and demonstate to those around you that this really wasn’t as imnportant (not just to you) as you made it out to be? Or will you press in, invite them back, and act like what you are doing is important enough to do, regardless of whether or not it’s a priority to anyone else.

BECAUSE IT IS.

You’ve seen what could be. You’ve seen what should be. What needs to be. And you’ve gotten a hint of how to make it be. Whether that means praying before a service for freedom to express yourselves in worship, holding hands to gain courage to lift your hands while singing, or walking up to an “old person” and asking them why they frown and stick their hands in their pockets when they’re singing “joyful joyful we adore thee,” you’ve found something that you feel needs to be changed. And there are others there behind you, both itching to see what you care about succeed, and at the same time a little apprehensive to jump in with both feet because they too, are afraid of being let down again.

When did you become a leader?

When you discovered what should be, thought about how it could be, and invited others to join you to make it be. In other words… When you started leading.

I loved hearing that question last night, and even more now that I think about it. So many “leaders” get there because that’s what they want to do… “Lead.” They become leaders because they want followers, not because they’ve discerned a passion on their heart and choose to follow it wholeheartedly, regardless of their following. Wholehearted people attract others, because most of us are wandering around with empty hearts, half-filled hearts, or hearts filled with false truths and lies that we’d just love to see replaced with a truth that inspires and motivates.

I’ve found one of the main things that causes me to want to follow someone is just that: their ability to motivate and inspire me. Not with some fancy idea or great sales pitch, but with a life that is 100% authentic and sold out to a cause bigger than themselves. They do what they do because it’s important. To them. To their understanding of life. To their understanding of eternity. What they do now matters for eternity, and they “get that.” Whether people follow them or not, they know what is important, and they go after it, abandoning all else that might hold them back.

So to my good friend who may be a little discouraged or let down that nobody except little old me showed up last week, I hope I can reassure you: What you are doing is important. Others want to do it as well, and you are an inspiration to them to the point that they’ll do it.

Each of them will come around or they won’t, but they’ll have to do it in their own way. You, on the other hand, can only determine the actions of one person… and those decisions you make to stick with it or go find something new to do will greatly affect the influence you have over others… because they (we) are watching you.

You have what it takes. God is jealous for you to the point that He wants your whole heart, and won’t let you live a life where you share it between Him and others. He wants to be your portion, your strength, and the motivation that drives you each day.

Leadership: Grow and Learn

How can I be a godly leader? That’s the question of the disucussion I’m leading on our church’s high school youth group tomorrow morning. This is the third lesson in a series of four, and I haven’t been present for the first two lessons, nor do I have the materials to look back and see what they covered. So first things first, I want to walk through down the road of where we’ve been so far. After that, I want to pose the questions, “should we all be leaders,” and “is leadership something we should all aspire to?” While I believe we all have circles of influence, I don’t think that being known or visible as a “leader” is a sign of a more mature or more important person. In fact, I think it’s good to ask, “what good is a leader without any followers?” I think this YouTube video shows that while leadership is of course important the initial step to “get the ball rolling,” it is by no means all that is needed to get a movement started.

What are the different roles portrayed in this video?

  1. The leader (the “nut”).
  2. The first follower (he’s a little “nutty” also).
  3. The second follower and his friends (now this is getting popular).
  4. Those who jumped in once it became popular (now we have a movement).
  5. Those who jumped in once it became unpopular to sit in the dwindling crowd.
  6. Those who never left the crowd on the ground.
  7. The camera man.
  8. The YouTube poster.
  9. Me.
  10. You.

Which role do you typically find yourself in? Are there any “unimportant” roles in the starting of this movement? Would it have gone anywhere without the leader? Without the first follower and his friends? Would it have received millions of views on YouTube without the camera person and whoever posted it to YouTube?

So the question in today’s lesson is “How can I be a godly leader?” Is is “assumed” for some reason that we all need to strive to be leaders in one way or another? Why or why not?

I believe that, while we may not all start movements with our leadership, we all have influence. And that makes us potential leaders. Regardless of the amount of change we may cause, we affect those around us. Whether it’s our peers, our brothers and sisters, or people we don’t even know that look up to us, we all play an important part. And that’s what today’s lesson is really about… stepping into the roles God has for us to play. Whether they are big, small, or somewhere in between, they are all important. So instead of just asking, “how can I be a godly leader,” I want us to really seek the answer to the question, “how can I step up into the role God has for me?”

1. USE WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU

  • What are some facts you’ve heard of about Timothy? He was young. He was mentored by Paul. He was a young pastor.
  • Read 2 Timothy 1:6: For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
  • What’s the purpose of “fanning a flame?” To keep it burning, to cause it to grow. What are ways we do this with real life fires?

2. DON’T BE AFRAID

  • Read 2 Timothy 1:7: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
  • Why might Paul have been reminding Timothy of these things?
  • What are some excuses why we don’t lead, or step into the roles God has for us? Are we afraid that He has “too big a part” for us to play?

3. LIVE OUT YOUR FAITH

  • Read 2 Timothy 1:8-12:  So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
  • Is there something that is precious to you that you’re still “ashamed” or “shy” to share with others? You don’t need to share what it is… but let’s admit it, there are things about us that we know are unique, even special, but we can’t explain them… we can’t explain them in a way that we think others would “get.”
  • What would it mean to be ashamed of your faith? Why do you think Paul mentioned it twice in these verses?

4. STAND FIRM

  • Read 2 Timothy 1:13-14: What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
  • What’s it mean to “hold on” to something, to “guard the good deposit?” Does it mean we just store it in the back of our brain, or is it more active than that? What does it look like in real life?

WRAP IT UP

Is there such a thing as a “born leader?” Who are some people you think might be born with this as part of their nature? What are some of these “qualities” that you’re saying they’re born with, then? I think almost all of these qualities are developed, not simply given to someone in their genes. Unless a person steps into their role, their “story,” and exercies and builds their leadership “muscles,” they’ll go unused, and will never amount to what they were created to be, or do.

I read a definition of leadership this week that I think is worth repeating:

Leadership is the process of helping people accomplish together and what they could not do as individuals. Leaders are people who get leadership going.

Remember the video from the beginning? What did it say… “Leadership is overrated.” and that the leader got the focus off himself as soon as he had others walking with him. Leadership is not about who’s the leader and who are the followers. Leadership is about stepping up into the role you can play, playing it, and then being pround not just of your participation, but of the end result.

I think we as a church, and even as Christians in general, often overrate leadership. Just count the programs that start but never get maintained or finished strong. Count the “leaders” that have a dream but never gain a following because their dream is just their own, not something anyone else would like to follow.

So, to go back to the video from the beginning. Do you want to be part of something great? Then I think this might be some great advice:

The best way to make a movement is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in. Being a first follower is an underappreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark. There’s no movement without the first follower.

Destructive Path – A Lesson for Teens that is Supposed to be about Alcohol

I’m leading our church’s high school youth group tomorrow in a discussion that seems to focus on the “destructive path” of alcohol. I’m having a tough time with some of it’s arguments, as I feel they are a bit more of a fear tactic than a a logical progression of thought involving the Bible’s complete perspective on the topic, alcohol’s real affects (especially on young bodies and brains), and more than anything else, personal convictions. While there is something to be said about statistics and slippery slopes, there is much more to to be said about real-life experiences and thought out decisions based on values, priorities, and convictions. These are my thoughts on the lesson as I prepare to both teach it, and move from simply talking about the dangers of alcohol to the importance of personal decisions in every area of life, from alcohol and drugs to cheating, lust, and anger.

[Note: This is still a work in progress. There are definitely some areas I want to add to on personal convictions and hopefully a testimony or two from someone who’s walked down the wrong side of this path.]

The question of the week, according to the literature, is “Why is drinking such a big deal?” The answer? According to the book, “Drinking alcohol can lead to tragic consequenses.” Couldn’t I present this same argument for any number of areas of teenage life, from alcohol and drugs to speeding, driving without seat belts, and fighting? How many things in life lead to tragic consequenses, when abused? And I think that’s where this lesson leaves something out in it’s argument. In every-single-point, it’s “Alcohol can.” Alcohol can do this. Alcohol can do that. Alcohol can kill you, you know. I’m all for presenting facts, figures, and accurately used proof-texts to support an argument, but I sure don’t see any Sunday School lessons entitled “why is having money such a big deal… because it can KILL you!” No, when it comes to money, we know it’s greed and misuse (abuse) that lead to the tragic consequenses. Used correctly, money is a tool. I don’t believe alcohol is a tool, especially in the hands of children and teens whose brains are still developing, who are confronted on all sides by peer pressure and inexperience. I also do not, personally, believe it is taboo.

So I’m going into tomorrow’s lesson by texting all teens whose numbers I have with that very question… “why is drinking such a big deal.” Here are the answers I received:

  • It’s a big deal because it boggles the mind.
  • It’s a big deal because anyone can drink it, and it more than often makes for bad choices.
  • It’s a big deal because it’s often a way to “prove” yourself.
  • It’s a big deal because it has a lot of bad effects on your liver.
  • I don’t think drinking is bad. I think getting drunk is bad.
  • It’s a big deal because some people feel like they can “escape” their life for awhile and others do it cause it’s fun for the rush.
  • Teenagers think it’s a big deal because it’s portrayed as something fun and exciting and they get a rush because it’s illegal and they know it. They want to drink to get back at their parents, the government, and anyone who thinks underage drinking is wrong. For the most part they drink at parties because “it’s fun” or simply because it’s there.
  • Drinking for me is a big deal because so many bad things happen, like unplanned pregnancies, DUI, murders, domestic abuse, fornication… in other words many of the things that we all talk about as terrible have a root in alcohol. I know that “if you don’t get drunk then it’s ok” to drink, by the Bible even, but for me I’m against it 100% because, even if it’s controlled, it only takes one mistake to ruin multiple lives and that’s not a chance I will ever take.

It’s clear to me that a good portion of the youth I’m teaching either have an understanding of the fact that “alcohol is bad for me,” at least in the stage of life they are in at this time. The argument made in this week’s Sunday School lesson, while legitimately factual, is not where I feel we really need to focus with our group. I want to spend time covering it with them for the sake of those who may not have any experience or knowledge:

1. ALCOHOL CAN LEAD TO TROUBLE

Proverbs 22:29-30 – Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has conflicts? Who has complaints? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has red eyes? Those who linger over wine, those whogo looking for mixed wine.

As we go through this lesson today, I want to spend the time we spend on the points covered in your book focused on alcohol as it relates to you, your friends, and your peers. I don’t feel that these arguments are the same you’d make in a group of college students, for example, or with adults. The facts are still the facts, but what motivates people does change over time. In a book I look to often for facts and figures, Youth Culture 101 by Walt Mueller, he lists his own “top 10” reasons teenagers use alcohol (and drugs). I’ll list them here:

  1. Curiosity and Experimentation: “I’ve never met a teenager who used drugs and alcohol with the intention of getting hooked.”
  2. Peer Pressure: “My own conversations with middle and high school students indicates that pressure to drink alcohol is one of the most intense pressures churched kids feel from their peers.” True or false in your world? Give an example. “With a constant desire to fit in, be accepted, and be loved, teenagers who feel insecure and unloved at home are more susceptible and will give in to the pressure more easily.” (“it’s worth the risk”)
  3. It’s Fun: Boredom… cheap, easy, fun to do with a group
  4. To Look Grown Up: Don’t want to look like kids, it’s a rite of passage
  5. Availability: More than 60% of 8th greaders and more than 80% of 10th graders say that alcohol is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get. Parents providing, or not limiting access.
  6. Advertising: What message does advertising give to alcohol (Homer quote: “Alcohol – the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”)
  7. Pop-Culture Presence: Where do you see it here – what’s the pressure?
  8. Family Problems: Divorce, sepratation, absenct parents… discord, pressure, expectations, poor communication… sends teens looking for relief.
  9. Escape: Get away from stress and problems, even if temporary.
  10. To Cope: “Self medicating” to perform better? Take the edge off?
  11. Addiction: Experimentation, social use, misuse, abuse, chemical dependency

I’m going to give these items to the teens in the form of 3×5 cards (probably do two people per card so they can think through it together) and let them line up in the order they think the pressure to drink comes from. I’m curious if it will match Mueller’s findings.

Look back to the proverb we read. Does that make sense when it comes to drunkenness? What about the “happy drunk” who seems to be the life of the party? What about your friend who “doesn’t get drunk?” What types of trouble can you imagine – types of sorrow, conflice, complaints – come from alcohol abuse?

What do you think of this Shakespeare quote:

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! THat we should with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!

2. ALCOHOL CAN CAUSE LOSS OF JUDGEMENT

Again, I think it would be appropriate to put the word abuse between “alcohol” and “can” in this statement. Actually, if you did that, you could probably change “can” to “will.” Is it appropriate for us to kind of up the ante here and say it’s “a drop of” alcohol that will lead to that loss of judgement? That’s how that statement comes across to me. I think these teens can see through that. I’d think they can see that it’s a slippery slope argument… “you’d better steer completely clear of this, because if you don’t… you won’t be able to stop.” I don’t want my teens to be confronted with this type of argument, because in the initial stages, it simply may not ring true. If you accept the truth of that statement as “down the road” a bit and that keeps from doing anything, fine… but if you see past the statement to the fact that your initial experience with alcohol (or drugs, or sex, or whatever) may actually not have any of the “bad” consequenses anyone has warned you about, will it stop you? I’d rather my teens develop personal convictions for both this time of their life, and as they enter adulthood, based on more than just “I don’t want to go near it because it might reach out and hurt me.” Life is full of things that can trip us up and literally KILL us if we give them control, and alcohol is definitely one of those.

The book we’re using has a graphic that shows the different levels of blood alcohol content and the effect they produce on our brains and judgement. I went to www.bloodalcoholcalculator.org and plugged in some figures for my own weight to see just how much drinking it would take to get to these points (based on a  60 minute drinking timeframe). This is by no means an endorsement of “just one or two” but rather a realistic look at the “average” effect of alcohol on a brain like mine.

  • Euphoria (.03 – .12 %): 3 – 8 beers
  • Lethargy (.09 – .25 %): 6 – 16 beers
  • Confusion (.18 – .30 %): 11 – 19 beers
  • Stupor (.24 – .40%): 16 – 25 beers
  • Coma (.35 – .50 %):  22 – 31 beers

Wow, isn’t that a relief! I’d have to drink two 12-packs to put myself into a coma. Ha. What I find interesting is that the top level of “lethargy” is the same as the bottom level of “stupor.” The difference between (1) my body slowing down, losing coordination, and being obviously unfit to drive and (2) lapses in consciousness, possibility of alcohol poisoning, and loss of bladder control … the difference there can be quite negligable. I’m not totally sure what I learn from this.

Proverbs 22:31-33: Don’t gaze at wine when it is red, when it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a snake and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and you will say absurd things.

To be honest… that Proverb (written by the wisest man that ever lived) sounds like it is spoken out of experience, doesn’t it? And how many things are there in life that, unfortunately, we will only learn by experience.

I can look back to a specific day in my life that built much of my own personal conviction about alcohol and drug abuse (and even use). I used to live behind a strip mall, and almost every day I’d walk over to the Hook’s Drug Store to buy a candy bar or can of pop. I remember walking over there one day, and up by the highway, seeing a mangled mess of a car surrounded by fire fighters, a couple ambulances, and a large group of people. I went over to watch, and for 10 minutes looked on as the paramedics worked to cut open the car to gain access to the person inside, barely hanging onto their life. Rumor circulated that the driver was drunk and had crashed right there in the parking lot, and that he probably wasn’t going to make it. It only became apparent to me later on that this entire event was staged as an effort to show the dangers of alcohol. For me, it worked. Scare tactic or not, it was a reality check I can still picture in my mind. I think before we develop almost any personal conviction, we need some sort of reality check like this. We need to look the substance (or the action, or the emotion) in the face and say, “I don’t want you. You are not worth it.” I didn’t put it into words until years later, but as I look at my life now and my view on alcohol, that image played a part in my conviction: “I will not lose control. I will not come close to losing control.” What that means to me, is very personal, and even hard to explain. But I know it, I live by it, and it holds personal value to me.

3. ALCOHOL CAN LEAD TO ADDICTION

That thought, that “loss of control,” leads to this final point as outlined in the lesson. When do you cross that line of controlling yourself and your actions and your actions controlling you? Is it a black and white line? Will you see it before you cross it or do you need to head it off way beforehand?

Proverbs 23:34-35: You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea or lying down on the top of a ship’s mast. “They struck me, but I feel no pain! They beat me, but I didn’t know it! When will I wake up? I’ll look for another drink.”

I’m not totally sure what this verse has to do with addiction, other than the last portion, where the man who’s drunk out of his mind sets out to reply the journey he just spoke of. But is that what an addiction truly is? Does it have to go that far, that we are totally under the control of the substance, habit, or feeling?

I like this definition of alcohol addiction: “Addiction is the repeated involvement with any substance or activity, despite the excessive costs of this involvement, because of craving (intense desire).” The key portion of that definition, I believe, is the words “despite the excessive costs.” In other words, it’s worth the pain. It’s worth the side effects. It’s worth the risk that I will get hurt or killed, or that I might hurt or kill someone else should I make just a few wrong decisions.

Take a look at this quote by Denzel Washington, one of my favorite actors:

I made a commitment to completely cut out drinking and anything that might hamper me from getting my mind and body together. And the floodgates of goodness have opened upon me.

Was it “worth it” to Denzel to competely remove alcohol from his life? Why? Why wasn’t a bit of social drinking with the risk for him?

WRAP IT UP

This is where I really wanted to wind up from this entire lesson. “Is it really worth it?” I don’t ask that just in the context of, “is it worth it for me to give into peer pressure” or “is it worth it for me to try just one?” I ask that in the sense of, Is it worth it for me to decide right here, right now, what I’m going to do with alcohol? Is it worth it for me to put into words my feelings of how it’s (1) not worth the immediate brain and body function risk, (2) not worth the long-term risks of addiction or the lifestyle.

The things we read today are something of truths. They are facts. They are statistics. They are true. But simply knowing they are true, acknowledging they are true, and even saying we “believe them” does not mean we will have the strength to stand when confronted with something uniquely designed to trap and defeat us.

Think about the areas of life where you’re confronted with something you don’t want to give into. It might be alcohol. It might be drugs. It might be the wrong boy or girl that’s trying to develop a friendship with you. It might be pornography. Or it might be something small that could LEAD to those areas. Is it worth it for you to take that “first drink” in terms of a first date, a first smoke, a first flip-through-a-magazine-in-the-grocery-store. Or will you say, here and now, that your allegience is with God, His word, and come up with a statement describing your feelings and commitment?

Affirmations – A Discussion with Youth

Tonight I’m once again leading the youth group at our church. Tonight we’re going to talk about Affirmations. An affirmation is telling yourself, in times of doubt, that which you know to be true at other times. This takes some forethought, of course, because that time of doubt when you need that nugget of truth is not the time to go discovering it. Tonight I’m going to talk with the youth about some of the affirmations we may already hold (positive and negative) and work with them to develop a couple on a note card they can take home and put on their bathroom mirror or something.

I love this popular youtube video about the young girl who knows all about these statements of truth. Even if this is prepared for video, the fact that this girl has these statements memorized and can recite them with passion and emotion makes me say “Bravo, parents. You’re doing well.”

I’m not a big fan of making statements about who you want to be and feeling that just because you say it sincerely of often enough that it will become reality. I am a fan of dreaming, and am also learning even now how to take those dreams, crystallize them into goals, and see them come to be reality.

But if something’s already true, why do we need to put it into a verbal sentence, much less write it down, and even less than that, put it somewhere we see it every day? The fact is, “statements of truth” are proposed to us every day. Whether it’s the massive amounts of stories on the news telling us that “my future is insecure” or “school is a dangerous place.” We get these messages from parents, who while they are trying to teach us invaluable lessons about manners and maturity, often fail to affirm us as we grow up. Instead, we hear as a child, “don’t touch that” or “stop talking so much,” which in turn, later in life turns into “I’m a clumsy dufus” and “I don’t have anything to say that so-and-so would like to hear.” We are surrounded by negative statements about ourselves, and they DO affect us. The exercise of examining ourselves, finding what is true, and then putting it into words we either repeat often or see often is invaluable to combatting this negativity that is pounded into us every day.

Here are a few affirmations of my own… the first I’ve had drilled into me every time I view my facebook profile for over a year, and the others are relatively new, and a joy for me to read.

  • I am an adopted son of God, brave and courageous.
  • I am a success. I set goals that are important to me, do what is necessary to achieve them, and finish strong.
  • I am a loving husband and involved father, who places my family above all other relationships in life.

I as I looked at these last week, I saw some of the negative statements that I was either brought up to believe (intentionally or not) or came to believe through past experiences:

  • I am a disappointment and a failure. I have nothing to offer.
  • I am too tired and busy to figure out how to accomplish this goal.

So in the youth group tonight, we’re going to work on some of these statements. We did this in a round-about-way a few weeks ago when we watched the video “God’s Chisel” by the Skit Guys. The statement of truth that day was something like, “I am God’s original masterpiece.” How true, yet how often we believe otherwise.

The Bible are filled with affirmations. Affirmations by psalms men like David about their true self, and affirmations about who God is, even when He seems anything but. Just a few examples:

  • Psalm 131:1-3: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
  • Proverbs 16: 3: Commit your work to the Lord and then your plans will succeed.
  • 2 Timothy 1:7: For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

There are many verses that while not directly “affirmation statements” are very true and appilcable, and could easily be turned into such. For example (source):

  • I can see the Kingdom of God because I am born again. John 3:3
  • I don’t worry about everyday life. God knows my needs and meets them because I make His Kingdom my primary concern. Matthew 6:25-33
  • Jesus shows himself to me because I love him. John 14:21
  • Because Jesus died for my sins, I am no longer separated from God. I live in close union with him. Romans 5:10
  • The fruit I produce brings great joy to God, my Father in Heaven. John 15:8
  • God’s power works best in my weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9

There are many more affirmations-from-verses on this source site, and I’ll include them following the end of this post.

So this is what we’re going to review at church tonight with the youth. We’re then going to take some steps to make our own affirmations, based on facts of truth we know about ourselves, Bible verses, or a combination thereof. We’ll “supercharge” these affirmations by writing them down, saying them, and adding emotion to otherwise bland statements of truth. This site describes these superchargers well.

Affirmation Mirror work

Perhaps the most powerful way of using affirmations is to state them whilst looking in the mirror. Some of the most important messages you have received have been from people looking you straight in the eye. By looking yourself in the eye as you state your affirmation you magnify the importance of the message to yourself.

Written Affirmations

A great way of keeping your affirmation at the forefront of your mind is to write them down, leave notes or cards around so that you notice them throughout the day. The AffirmIt! program uses mobile technology to text powerful messages to you with the goal of keeping your mind focussed on your intention. Another idea is to write your affirmation down many times (10-20), this helps imprint it on your mind.

Say Affirmations with Passion

Say your affirmations with passion, the higher your emotional state as you say them, the more effective they are.

Sing or Chant Affirmations

One of the most effective ways to use affirmations is to sing them! The mind is much more accepting of affirmation messages when they are sung.

I’m going to include myself in some of these exercises. Even though I know some of what i want to remember, it still lingers on a sheet of paper buried in a notebook. I’m looking forward to putting in on a 3×5 card and placing it around my home, and then encouraging others in my family and circle of friends to do the same.

More Affirmations from Scripture

  • I can see the Kingdom of God because I am born again. John 3:3
  • I don’t worry about everyday life. God knows my needs and meets them because I make His Kingdom my primary concern. Matthew 6:25-33
  • Jesus shows himself to me because I love him. John 14:21
  • Because Jesus died for my sins, I am no longer separated from God. I live in close union with him. Romans 5:10
  • The fruit I produce brings great joy to God, my Father in Heaven. John 15:8
  • God’s power works best in my weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • Through the energy of Christ working powerfully in me, I teach others His truths. Colossians 1:29
  • I have been saved, not by works, but grace, so that I might do good works. Ephesians 2:9-10
  • My faith makes me whole in spirit, soul and body. Mark 5:34
  • When I call out to God He answers me. He tells me things I wouldn’t know otherwise. Jeremiah 33:3
  • Because I place my hope in the Lord my strength is renewed. Isaiah 40:31
  • As I follow Jesus…..as I walk with him, I have peace. Luke 24:36
  • Because I obey Jesus I remain in his love. John 15:10
  • The cross of Christ is my power. 1 Corinthians 1:17
  • My God meets all my needs. Philippians 4:19
  • God is my refuge and strength …. always ready to help me in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1
  • God gives me strength when I am weary and increases my power when I am weak. Isaiah 40:29  Continue reading “Affirmations – A Discussion with Youth”