"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Tim

A youth ministry friend of mine read an article that stated the sweet spot for a youth pastor’s age is between twenty-two and twenty-four years old.  Here is the reasoning.  For youth pastors under twenty-two, students may see them as too close to their age, and not view them as an authority figure.  Those over twenty-four are already considered by students to be too old and out of touch.  I didn't read this article, so I do not know the primary thought this author was trying to convey.  However, I do know that when I was a twenty year old youth pastor, a student asked me to prom.  I had to explain that it would be a bit inappropriate (now you know why I grow a full beard and dress like a grandpa).   When I was twenty-four a student referred to her twenty year old cousin as a “dinosaur” (Jr. Highers have a way of making everyone feel old).   I guess the author might have been on to something.  Even so, hearing an argument for a youth pastor’s influence being based on age really frustrated me.  I spent five years in college to prepare for a career in youth ministry.  I may not be great at math, but I do recognize that spending five years preparing for a career with a two year long sweet spot doesn't add up.

Here is why it frustrates me even more.  Not every church needs a youth pastor…but every church needs a Tim. 

Tim Hanson is not what most youth would call “cool”, but he is awe inspiring (now, in case that came across as a backhanded compliment…I’m no longer “cool” either.  I’m a “dinosaur”…and you probably are too).  Tim does not know what the hottest indie band is.  He does not know what the best movie in theaters is, he can’t tell you about last week’s SNL sketches, he doesn't play video games, and he has never tweeted.  Tim is not what the millennial generation full of aesthetic savvy hipsters would call “culturally relevant”.   Tim is something much better than culturally relevant—he is critically relevant.  Here is why: love is always relevant, and it is always critical.  Here is a truth I have learned.  Students don’t care how cool you are.  They are starving for love, and if you’ll give love to them, they will invite you into their lives.  Love opens doors, and often that open door allows Christ to enter a student’s life and do His transforming work there.

Tim has been doing youth ministry longer than I have been alive (by a decade and then some).  Several months ago, when we asked the students who one of the most influential people in their life is, many said Tim Hanson.  I think it is because Tim actually cares about students.  He takes the time to talk with them, and to know what’s going on in their lives.  Because Tim isn't “cool”, he is not afraid to give a teenager a hug.  Teenagers need hugs.

I am guessing that Tim never wrote a philosophy of ministry.  He just loves students and deeply desires that they know Jesus.  Students know his love for them, and they know his love for Jesus.


I would be a much different youth pastor if it weren't for Tim, and I guarantee I wouldn't be as good of one.  I am so thankful for Tim.  I hope I never use my cool quotient and my cultural relevance (or lack thereof) as an excuse to not be critically relevant in another’s life.  Students live surrounded by what’s cool every moment of every day.  What they long to be surrounded by is love.  The sweet spot for youth ministry isn't an age; it’s a heart that loves.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A love that transforms

There was a Disney movie that came out in 2001 called Princess Diaries, staring Anne Hathaway.  If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s probably because you didn’t have elementary aged sisters and/or a crush on Anne Hathaway in 2001.  I may or may not have had one or both of those things…  The premise of the movie is that Hathaway plays a teenager named Mia who discovers she is the heir to the thrown of Genovia.  The movie chronicles her transformation from a slobbish, unmotivated, apprehensive, and awkward teen-aged girl, into a beautiful, confident, elegant, gifted princess who is ready to step into her role as princess of Genovia.

There is a young man (of course) who right from the beginning saw beauty and value in Mia.  He helped her draw it out as she chose to accept her role as princess.  Whether you've seen this particular movie before or not…you know the story.  It’s seen in countless fairy tales—Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Cinderella—there is a character who is broken, trapped, and flawed, but a hero comes to heal, free and transform them.  The monstrous beast and slimy frog, are transformed into kind and gentle princes.  Cinderella, a poor servant girl is transformed into a beautiful princess.  The awkward teen Mia learns to see her value through another’s eyes, becoming a lovely princess.  In every fairy tale there is a catalyst for transformation, and almost always, that catalyst is the love of someone else.  The Beast could not be transformed without Belle confessing her love.  The frog could not be transformed without the kiss of a princess.  Cinderella could not become a princess until the prince slipped the glass slipper onto the foot of his true love.  Mia had to learn her value by accepting another’s love.

Notice that in none of these tales does anyone have the power to transform themselves.  In a very grim (…Brother’s Grimm, in fact…) version of Cinderella, the evil step sisters hack off their heels and toes in order to fit their NBA sized feet into the glass slipper.  Despite their pain and hard work, they couldn't earn the princes’ favor…it had to be given to them.

I think these fairy tales speak of a truth all people know intrinsically.  Love transforms…and love cannot be earned.  Jesus Christ looks into the brokenness of each of our lives…and offers to transform us with a love far greater than that of any fairy tale.  Like a prince on a royal steed, he gallops in to rescue us from the dark dungeon of our sin.  He pays the penalty and dies the death we deserve, but conquers death like a dragon slayed once for all.  All we must do is accept his love and allow it to transform us.


What if the beast decided that the free gift of Belle’s love couldn't transform him?  What if he bought a crate of Gillette razors, and a few hundred canisters of shaving cream so he could shave off his fur every day in an attempt to transform himself?   What if Cinderella decided she’d try to work her way to royalty rather than accept the love of the prince?  There is no happily ever after to those fairy tales, because there is no real transformation.  So why do we attempt to transform ourselves?  Let’s embrace the love of Christ that transforms and brings new life.  Our Heavenly kingdom awaits, and it’s a true happily ever after.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lessons on love from an old, dead, saint


This Thursday is Valentine’s day, the day that men give much appreciated clich├ęs such as heart shaped boxes of chocolates, bouquets of roses, and cards with embarrassing little notes to their sweethearts.  It’s the one time of the year that a naked baby with a bow and arrow is somehow romantic (most of the time naked children with deadly weapons aren’t romantic at all!).  Though some would bemoan a day that seems to exist just to put another dead president in the pocket of Hallmark, I excitedly celebrate a day that celebrates love.  But why is February 14th this day?  What are its origins?  Who was this man named St. Valentine?
Like love itself, St. Valentine is a bit of a mystery.  I should know…I spent this morning on Wikipedia.  The feast of St. Valentine, February 14th, was first established in the year 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included St. Valentine among all those “…whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”  Though there were many different St. Valentines throughout history…and it is difficult to separate legend from truth, there are a couple of stories that share some similarities.  According to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was imprisoned and tortured in Rome on February 14, 273.
The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 tells that St. Valentine was a Roman Priest who was arrested and imprisoned by Claudius II for both performing marriage ceremonies for Christian couples and aiding Christians in other ways during a time when Christians were persecuted in Rome.  To help a Christian was a crime.  Though Claudius persecuted Christians and imprisoned Valentine, he took a liking to his prisoner, that is, until Valentine tried to convert him.  At that point he was beaten and executed by beheading.
A similar story says that while under the house arrest of judge Asterius, Valentine (Valentinus to any Romans reading this) discussed his faith with him—namely the validity of Jesus.  Putting Valentine to the test, the judge brought him his adopted blind daughter.  If Valentine could restore the girl’s sight, the judge would do anything he asked.  Valentine laid his hands upon the girl’s eyes, and her vision was restored.  Humbled, the judge asked what he should do.  Valentine told him to break all of his idols, fast for three days, and then be baptized.  After doing these things, the judge released all the Christian inmates under him, and all his family along with forty others were baptized.  Later, Valentine was arrested once again for continuing to serve Jesus, and was sent to Emperor Claudius, who, at first took a liking to Valentine, but as Valentine attempted to convert him, Claudius commanded that he renounce his faith or be beaten with clubs and beheaded.  Valentine would not renounce his faith.  His love for his Lord was stronger than his fear of death.
What do we take from these stories, and how do they help us celebrate the 14th?  It’s true that some of the details of the namesake of this day are fuzzy, but what we do see is a tremendous amount of love in this man.  Love for his Lord—that he would serve Christ despite the cost.  Love for his brothers and sisters in Christ—that he would serve them despite the cost.  Love for an enemy—that he would bring the truth of Christ to the man who ultimately killed him—because he knew it was worth the risk; worth the cost.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).  This Valentine’s day I want to remember that love is risky.  Not a baby with a bow and arrow kind of risky…that’s just ridiculous.  Great love takes great risks for the sake of another—that kind of risky.  Would I, like my Lord, give my life for another out of Love?  That’s the kind of Valentine…and Christian…I want to be. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Character of a Christian


Walk down a busy street in almost any of our country’s biggest cities and you’ll likely notice this: our country is becoming more and more diverse.  Ethnicity, religion, education, age, politics, income, philosophy, ideals, lifestyle, experience, history—differences surround us.  Even so, we may not experience the richness of this diversity…because generally, people tend to spend their time with others like them.   This is a learned trait.  In school, jocks hang out with jocks, the drama kids hang with the drama kids, skaters hang with skaters, gamers hang with gamers, etc.  The bigger and more diverse the school, the more pronounced this becomes.

There are some groups we naturally become a part of, and others we are naturally excluded from.  No matter how much I enjoy football—I will never be in the NFL (have you seen my body type?)  I may think it would be neat to be in Mensa but I do not have the IQ to join.   No matter how many posters of Justin Bieber I put on my wall, no matter how many times I watch the Twilight movies, or throw slumber parties…I, as an adult male, will never be a middle school girl.  This (thankfully) is a group I will always be excluded from!  

What are the characteristics that unite Christians as a group?

Unfortunately, some people may feel that they could never be a Christian—to them the thought is as ludicrous as an adult male living like a middle school girl.  They don’t look right, dress right, talk right, or act right.  Like an average guy with dreams of NFL, they may think that they don’t have the “skills” to be a Christian.  They might feel that both God and other Christians couldn't possibly accept them.

But the truth about Christianity is that it’s not defined that way.  Christianity is for anyone!  Income doesn't matter, talents don’t matter, gender doesn't matter, education doesn't matter, ethnicity and background don’t matter.  There is no earthly characteristic that sets apart Christians.

Jesus revealed the defining characteristic of the church in John 17.  This prayer to the father takes place right before he was arrested and executed.  If you knew your violent death approached, what would be on your mind?  This was what was on Jesus’ mind.  John 17:20-21,

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

On the last night before Jesus was murdered—he prayed for the future believers—for you and I.  He prayed that we would have something so other-worldly that it would distinguish us from all the rest of the world.  That was our unity—and that unity is built on our love for one another.

Living in a college dorm taught me this well.  I remember walking into the sub lounge one day and seeing a grown adult man making the Millennium Falcon out of Lego.  In the same dorm, there was a guy who continually led our school to the national championship in soccer.  We had artists, and sports geeks, video gamers, and sci fi nerds.  We had guys from all around the world.

 The only thing we had in common was that we loved Jesus—and we grew to love one another.

This Love is so important because it is this love and unity that convinces the world of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps some of you have seen the movie End of the Spear.  This movie recounts the story of Five missionary men who reach out to a tribal people in Ecuador called the Waodani People.  All five men were speared to death by this people group…and even still, their wives and a sister went and continued their ministry—leading many to Christ.  Warring tribes became united.  A culture of polygamy and violence was ended….all because of a love that pointed to Christ.

When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, this is how he responded.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.—Matthew 22:37-40

Why does Jesus say that the second is like it?  How is loving some broken, imperfect person anything like loving God? 

1 John 4:20-21 says,

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

And in Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that the primary way we express our love to Christ is by loving others. 

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’—Matthew 25:40

Our love for one another is what actually shows that we belong to Christ.  1 John 2:9-11 says,

If  anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. 

If we as Christian’s aren't characterized by our love…there is nothing that sets us apart from any other social group!  We are void of identity, and our testimony is empty and useless.  May our love for one another unify our hearts and point a hurting world to the love of Christ.  Amen.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Christ's resolution to make us new


Happy New Year!   I love this time of year—it’s a perfect time to do some soul searching and reflection—a time to look back and an exciting time to look forward.  New Years feels like a fresh start—it’s like the spring cleaning of my life; I get to hit the reset button.

Because of this I think New  Years is a great time to celebrate the new life we are given when we put our faith in Christ.

Many people make New Years’ resolutions, but our greatest joy comes in the truth that through the cross, Jesus resolved to make us new!

What does it look like to be made new by Christ, and what does that mean in how we live our daily lives?  2 Corinthians 5, starting with verse 14, says this,

“14…Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.”

Statistically, only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them.  I think part of that is because we are sorely incapable of transforming ourselves.  We need the author of our book to make the edits in our life.  God is the one who re-writes the story.  He’s the one who can transform lives.

If we are Christians, we are made completely new!  Our old self is dead, we don’t have to dwell on the brokenness and mess of our old lives, because in God’s eyes—we are spotless!

  Why is it that for a new year, we make resolutions?  I think we long for meaning, and we want to be more then we have been.  When Christ makes us new, he gives us that opportunity.  Christ gives us life direction. 

Rather than continue trying to live to please ourselves—to find that missing piece that will bring the satisfaction we crave—we are invited to live for Christ, because it is relationship with him that we crave…even when we don’t realize it.  2 Corinthians 5 goes on to say,

“ 16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Paul, the author of this passage, used to hate Jesus before he became a Christian.  He wanted to see all Christians dead or imprisoned.  Paul had a human point of view of who Jesus was, and who others were.  He hadn’t been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to see that Jesus is the son of God, and he didn’t look on other people with the love of Christ that says every person is valuable enough to die for.  Then Christ gave him a new life…and a new perspective.  Christ gives us new eyes.

                I had a classmate who was a drama geek like me.  He knew how to sweet talk the director…so he always got the best parts (it couldn’t have possibly been because he was a better actor than me).  He was selfish and self-centered—nearly as much as I was—and because I am a Christian and don’t use words like hate…I strongly disliked this guy.  Years later, when I’d hear his name, my blood would boil a little bit.  I realized this was not a good thing.  I wrote him and apologized for the way I acted towards him in High school.  It was time to make things right—time to see this person through the eyes of Christ, and not my mere human, hate-filled point of view.   

                2 Corinthians goes on to say,

“ 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” 

When God calls us to be his, he also gives us a purpose—drawing others to the hope we have found.  Our resolutions at New Years strive for—long for— purpose.  We make goals and commitments so that we can accomplish something…and then we feel lousy when the next week we’ve already failed. 

Maybe the reason I fail at my resolutions is because I am pushing after my own flimsy goals, rather than joining Christ in living out the purpose he has placed on me.

Christ gives us a task.  Love God, love people.  Reconcile others to him.

19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Christ has made us new to live for him—this year will you choose to live out the task he’s given, resolving to look on others with Christ’s eyes, and reconcile people to him?