Snakes and Moose (Moosen? Meese?)

I’ve always thought it was pretty cool whenever I have seen a snake in the wild. I’ve only seen 2 or 3 different kinds of snakes my whole life so I think it’s the rarity that intrigues me. They are fascinating but of course I know to keep my distance. As cool as I think it is to see them in the wild, that’s exactly where I want them to stay. Snakes belong outside. One time my friend Matt and I were inside at church when suddenly we spotted a snake going by in the hallway. We eventually chased it down and at the risk of it crawling into an air vent and spooking a church member Sunday morning, we cut its head off. This snake had gotten inside on its own but what really doesn’t make any sense to me are people who purposely bring these things into their home as pets.

A friend once told me a story about someone who had a pet snake. Specifically, a python. Pythons are the type of snake that constrict their prey. The story goes that this girl let her pet snake sleep in the same bed with her every night like you might a cat or a dog (normal pets). The snake would cuddle up next to her and so it went night after night. One night the girl woke up to find the snake completely stretched out next to her from head to toe. The girl thought this was odd because usually the snake would be coiled up next to her. So she took the snake to the vet thinking something was wrong. The vet informed her the snake was in fact very healthy and behaving like a normal wild animal. He also told her what the snake was doing.

Essentially, the snake was sizing her up. That’s right, it was trying to determine if it had the ability to devour her.

There is a record in the Old Testament that reminds me of a similar situation. The account goes that Joshua and his men were going through the land God had promised the Israelites and with each city they came to they found victory. When they came to Jericho things became a little more difficult. Hearing about how the Israelite’s had been going through the region, Jericho had a little bit more time to prepare (Joshua 6:1). Nonetheless, by being obedient to God’s specific instructions (Joshua 6:2-5) they were able to overcome Jericho.

However, once in the city, not all of God’s instructions were followed. God had given them a very specific command to not take any of the ‘devoted things’. When one of the Israelite’s, Achan came across these rare objects, he didn’t keep his distance. He became more than fascinated with them and he even went so far as bringing them home with him.

“Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” (Joshua 7:20-21)

He kept them close to him and one day they started to size him up. Not just him but the whole Israelite camp. Prepared to take on the next city on their path, Joshua sends out a couple spies who come back reporting that the next city, Ai, should be fairly simple to overcome. It should have been but it wasn’t. Surprised by the sudden lack of victory, Joshua inquires of God what is going on.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” (Joshua 7:10-12)

As humans with feelings, senses and free will we become fascinated with many things. God has given us specific instructions through His word about how to deal with temptation but sometimes we don’t listen and we end up taking the snake home with us, snuggling with it, making it sacred and something it was never meant to be. Then in our lives we see the result; a lack of victory and made liable to destruction as it sizes us up. True we can ‘do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13) but so often we don’t do everything through Christ Jesus. Instead we try and do it our own way.

There’s a story I loved when I was a kid about another wild animal you shouldn’t bring home. It was called ‘If you give a moose a muffin’. Why shouldn’t you give a moose a muffin you ask? Because if you give a moose a muffin he’ll invite himself into your home for some jam. Then when you run out of muffins he’ll want you to go to the store to get some more. He’ll demand and demand he’ll want more and more. The Bible says that our enemy ‘prowls like a lion seeking whom he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Eventually the sin you welcome into your home and into your life is going to start sizing you up until it devours you. Before Cain murdered his brother the Lord told him that ‘sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you but you must rule over it’. (Genesis 4)

Maybe you’ve brought home a snake from the wild with you and you’ve been hiding it, keeping it secret. Israel couldn’t move forward and neither will you.

It’s time to cut off the snake’s head.

Achan didn’t yet have the blood of Jesus covering his sins but we do. 1 John tells us “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

Don’t give the moose the muffin, don’t bring the snake home. Do all things through Christ who gives you strength. How does He give us strength? By the same power that overcome the grave. If you want to overcome sin, it makes sense to fully trust in the only one who already has.

Big Sin, Bigger Forgiveness

Do you remember playing the board game ‘Sorry’? You’re pawns are huddled together until one bravely crosses the starting line and began the derby around the board. Sometimes you would move forward, other times you would move backward and occasionally you would get a ‘Sorry’ card where you could change places with one of your opponent’s pawns getting you substantially closer to being back home safe. You would say ‘Sorry’ to them but you weren’t really looking for forgiveness. Instead you were just looking to win and running over anyone in your path. It was easy to say sorry because the whole time you had a smile on your face.

Other times it isn’t so easy to say sorry.

I can’t begin to count the numerous times I’ve had to say sorry for sticking my foot in my mouth, forgetting something important or even purposely putting my own desires above someone else. That last one was the worst because I was doing more than just making a mistake, I was de-valuing the worth of someone.

Saying sorry in these moments is hard. It takes humility and goes against our natural instinct to prove we’re right. Think about a time you’ve had to apologize. These are some of the most awkward, palm sweating conversations we have ever had but as hard as it is to ask for forgiveness, I think it is actually harder to forgive. It is harder because the forgiveness offered in order to be effective must be greater than the offense that was rendered. In other words, to forgive someone –to not hold what they did against them, no longer consider them as in debt etc- you have to look past the pain and hurt of your emotions and purposely choose to move forward. Have you ever worked hard at something and then someone else came along and worked harder making it look like you didn’t even do anything? That’s what forgiveness is like. It outshines the original offense. It’s a big deal and that’s exactly how we see it talked about in scripture.

Whenever the Bible talks about forgiveness it is often spoken of in strong language. Jesus forgave us BIG. One of the most common things I hear non-Christians say is that God can’t possibly forgive them for what they have done. To me this usually seems like an excuse. They know about God but they don’t want to surrender their life to him so they put the blame back on God. These people determine that it isn’t them who need to change it’s “I would come to God but he can’t possibly forgive me” or “I can’t step into the church, I might burn”. God becomes the problem, not them- God isn’t going to forgive me, God is angry at me etc.

This is a lie from the enemy used to keep people from coming to Jesus. It’s a pride not willing to humble itself and accept the absolute forgiveness offered through Jesus. If it were true, if someone had truly done something so horrific that the blood of Jesus could not forgive it, then we don’t serve a very big God. To be sure, the mistakes we have made can be big, Romans 5 tells us how big curse of sin is. The act of one man (Adam) resulted in the condemnation of all people and that when measured against the law we and our selfish actions and choices were deserving of death. It is impossible to count the billions and billions of sins that were laid upon the shoulders of Christ on the cross. It was so great and horrific that God himself turned His face away in that moment when Jesus cried out, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Matthew 27)

While Romans 5 describes how big of a problem sin is it also goes on to tell us ‘Where sin is, grace abounds.’ Plain and simple; What Jesus did on the cross, is greater than what you and I have done in sin. Our sin is big but His forgiveness is bigger. Psalm 103 tells us that God removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west and Micah 7 says they are on the bottom of the ocean floor. Big language describing big forgiveness from a big God.

This grace given to us is astounding and it’s an example for us in what our attitude toward forgiveness should be. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, forgiving each other just as Christ as forgiven you.” We are expected to be ready and willing to forgive and forgive big. When asked how big by Peter Jesus gave this answer.  Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.(Matthew 18) 7 times 70 is 490 but the math really isn’t the point. The point is to forgive big because you have been forgiven big.

So what is forgiveness? It is a choice we make, not based on our feelings but based on the example of Christ and our commitment to following Him. It is keeping no record of wrongs, not using the other’s offense as leverage against them and affirming the value and worth of the other person.

What is forgiveness not? It is not negating the natural consequences of our actions, those may still very well occur. It does however negate the revengeful consequences. When we forgive we give up our right to retaliate. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but great strength because it’s a lot easier to get angry when you feel angry than to be forgiving when you feel angry. Finally, it is not letting the other person win. With forgiveness, the offender is freed from their debt and the offended no longer has to carry around the burden of anger and revenge. In forgiveness both are set free.

Below is a powerful video describing the forgiveness God has given us. Watch and remember you have been forgiven big to forgive big!

When you don’t get married by 25

When I was a teenager working my way toward adulthood and through the tumultuous high points and low points of adolescence, a lifelong partner was always somewhere back in my mind. At first it was way in the back because at 16 or 17 it didn’t feel like I had anything to worry about. I don’t think I ever questioned at this point IF it would happen. I didn’t know exactly how it worked but it seemed like something magical happened in your mid 20s.

It was like the board game Life, you landed on the marriage block on the game board and you added a pink peg to your car. You somehow found each other out of all the other pegs in the sea. This was followed by a solid career, a family and many pay days along the way. It was just bound to happen. She would be beautiful and you’d be well, -you- but it would be okay because somehow she would look past all that and be there for you.

At 18 I had my first serious relationship (aka one that lasted for more than a couple months). Trust me when I say she was out of my league. At first things were just fun but as our relationship developed into something more long-term than I had ever experienced before, I couldn’t help but think about what the future may hold.

At 19 I bought a set of ‘True Love Waits’ rings, one for her and one for me. If she was going to be the one I would marry I wanted to do things right and I wanted to show my commitment to her and God.

Two years later I experienced my first break-up. My heart felt a new kind of pain and I struggled with how to move forward. Would there still be more pegs in the sea for me?

It was around the age of 21 that I dated again. It felt like such a relief. I was going to be ‘ok’, I was going to get married ‘in time’ and ‘on par’, with my peers. I wasn’t going to miss this drastic next step in life.

When that relationship ended at age 23, I felt a panic set in. I was so close to the ‘deadline’ and if I didn’t find someone fast I was going to miss it. Panic like this only leads to relationships that are anything but healthy and without going into much detail, that’s exactly what happened.

I’m 28 now. I live at home still, haven’t found my pink peg, still unsettled in my career and don’t have any little pegs in the back of my car.

But I don’t feel panic.

Sure, there are lots of times I would love to have a ‘special friend’ to share life with and many more times when I want to move out. Do you know how awkward it is to have your Dad tell you make your bed when you’re 28?

I still wear my True Love Waits ring but I’ve gotten a lot better at the waiting part.

Waiting seems to be God’s specialty even more so then fulfilling the American Dream.

One of my favorite phrases in the Bible is ‘who knows maybe God will’ (See Jonah 3:9, Joel 2:14) The particular context of these has to do with God relenting but what the powerful phrase does is insert possibility and hope. It’s one answer there is to an unknown future. Another answer is this:

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:8)

This verse comes from Jeremiah 29 shortly before the verse 11 phrase we are more familiar with and more likely to use to reassure us of our American Dream. In this particular moment the Israelites found themselves in a position they didn’t necessarily enjoy, yet God’s answer to them was to find peace in it and prosper. He had them there a reason.

I believe that God wants single people who have fallen into the uncomfortable not-always-fun caste of unmarried and almost 30 to do exactly the same thing He wants those who are married to do.

Seek Him.

‘Who knows maybe God will’ can go either way according to His sovereignty but seeking first the kingdom of God and all its righteousness is certain (see Matthew 6:33). So if you’re single and almost 30 then join me in waiting, join me in seeking because with or without a life partner, we never have to face anything alone.

“And surely I am with you always until the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

On saying things I don’t mean

I’ve always struggled with memory. One of the more frequently forgotten items on my list is my wallet. This has put me in some peculiar situations like going on a first date and trying to figure out how to explain to the girl that she was going to have to pay and assuring her that I would get the next one.

There wasn’t a next one.

Aside from first dates, wallets are very important when you plan to go on a plane. Confirming your identity is the first step in the TSA’s obstacle course. So when I got to the airport and felt nothing in my back pocket my heart sank. With only 2 hours left until departure there was no time left to try and do a quick 360.

Panic, a kind I haven’t felt in years set in.

When I was a teenager, I used to have these terrible anxiety attacks. Some of them had their roots in social anxiety while others seemed to hit me out of nowhere. For the most part, in the last 10 years or so I have learned to manage these panic attacks that once left me cowering in the corner. I am now generally a pretty easy going person.

Until you put me on a plane.

The previous night had been wrought with trouble sleeping, butterflies in my stomach and anxious thoughts about being high in the sky. These worries now gave way to the even bigger fear that I had completely ruined my chances at going on the trip at all. As I made my way into the airport terminal, with a blood pressure sure to exceed any normal range limits, I said a few things I didn’t mean.

First, I said things to myself about myself- “You’re a this” “You’re a that”

Second, I said things to others, blaming them for my situation-“Why didn’t you remind me”

Third, I said sarcastic things that we’re poor testament to my faith- “I need a drink”

No matter how much I grow in my relationship with Christ, there is always some kind of breaking point where my humanity steps in and only fragments of my faith are apparent on the outside. Emotional thinking takes the place of listening to the Spirit.

Even the greatest of Christians could testify to ‘the breaking point’.

Peter, for example, watched as his resolve fizzled out before the threat of persecution (Matthew 22).

I was far from persecution and I am ever certain I have a lot further to go in my journey with Him but the beauty of His love is that He takes whatever little we give Him and multiplies it. It’s a theme Jesus used throughout His ministry.

He took a small snack and fed thousands (Matthew 14), He took two mites (small coins) and saw the possibilities (Mark 12).

You see sometimes I say things I don’t mean and sometimes I don’t know what to say at all.

I was with a friend some time ago who was asking me tough questions about Christianity. As I trudged my way through puzzling philosophical inquires I felt like I was making things worse. On the way home in the midst of explaining to God what I was trying to say I paused and said two of the most powerful (and probably dangerous) words I could think of:

“I’m willing”.

It was my own “Lord I do believe, help my unbelief” moment (Mark 9:24)

It’s so important to recognize our breaking points and our room for growth. It’s even more important to recognize our utter dependence on Him and to be willing to let Him use us flaws and all. When we do this we get to watch the work He can do with the so very little we have to offer.

After some convincing, I was eventually let on the plane. I would like to say I will never forget to bring my wallet with me to the airport again (I’m pretty sure I’ve learned my lesson after experiencing a full-service TSA pat down) but more importantly I can say no matter what mistakes I make, things I forget, words I come up with that I don’t mean or words I cannot think to say at all, I know this-

“He is who started a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6)

PR

PR (or public relations) is how companies and organizations portray their brand to the public. It’s not publicizing what happens in the office on a Friday afternoon, it’s not giving away their strategic plans or trade secrets. PR is simply what a company wants you to see, the message they want you to hear. The goal can be to gain even more followers or to simply become known.

On a personal level, it’s kind of like how we use Facebook. We put up our best pictures, word everything perfectly and carefully edit it all before we hit ‘post’. Why do we scrutinize everything so carefully? Because PR matters and we know it. This past Sunday and every year around the same time for the last 49 years, companies have spent enormous amounts of money to increase or improve their PR. This year’s Superbowl commercials cost $150,000 per second making a 30 second spot cost approximately 4.5 million dollars! Fortunately for us Facebook is free!

Some companies like Loctite Glue spent their entire annual budget for advertising on one Superbowl commercial. It worked and I don’t mean in sales numbers. In fact, in a news interview, the creator of the advertisement said that was never the point, at least not in the short term. In thirty seconds, Loctite Glue has gone from a little known local product to being talked about nationwide. Speaking of Nationwide, they’re also being talked about for their PR attempt. They chose to use their 30 seconds to talk about the dangers of preventable accidents, a factual commercial that awkwardly disrupted the celebratory atmosphere. Nationwide didn’t say anything untrue, just uncomfortable.

Jesus had a similar PR commercial during his ministry.

“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them” (John 6:53-56)

Woah, Jesus. Someone needs to get him a new PR rep stat. He can’t possibly know what he’s doing.
Messages like this didn’t make Jesus popular as much as they did controversial. If His immediate goal was to generate more followers, it would appear that He failed.
“66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.”

But Jesus wasn’t looking for just anyone to follow him. He was looking for full-time committed disciples willing to lay down their lives for Him. Unlike major companies, PR for the church was never meant to be a front message. The goal is to reach people with life transforming truth, not just whatever they want to hear.

The twelve never did leave him (sans Judas). Instead, they went forward with what was to be the largest and most successful public relations campaign to date because it still continues to this day. The book of Acts tells us that they added thousands to the church daily and yes they even stuck with the idea of eating the flesh and blood of Jesus. Somewhere between Jesus’ initial campaign and the book of Acts, the disciples fell in love with what Jesus had to offer. It wasn’t always what they wanted to hear and it didn’t always fit with the mood but it was life transforming truth and the ambassador of truth –the Holy Spirit- would come upon them to help them share this truth with others.

For the church, the defining factor between good PR and bad PR is the Holy Spirit.

He is always the defining factor. We can trust that He will be with us to get His message across in the best way possible, again the true message not a front message.

We often idolize the disciples with a special divineness that makes what they did seem out of reach. To be sure the disciples were heroes of the faith and will be rewarded in a distinct way for all they did (Matthew 19:28). At the same time, we must always remember that these were what John MacArthur calls ‘Twelve Ordinary Men’. In other words, the same spirit is available to us and anyone who chooses to be dependent on Him is indeed a wise person.

Youth workers need to especially take note. Teenagers have a special knack for detecting phony while at the same time having a passion to live for something meaningful. This combination is best fed by a youth ministry that always speaks truth even when it’s hard to hear and gives students opportunities to live out these truths in in a way that are just as authentic. This kind of ministry isn’t led by a Youth Pastor but by the Holy Spirit at the helm.

“I am the vine and you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Content

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12 So we’ve all got this thing down, right? Well, I know I don’t. Right now I am on the hunt for employment. I had a couple of interviews last week but so far nothing has panned out. When I got the phone call from the first interview letting me know that they ‘went with someone who has more experience’ my heart sank. The uncertainty of my next steps is anxiety provoking to say the least. Prior to the interview, on my drive down I spent time praying and practicing answers in my head. Interview questions are often abstract and unrealistic. They’re like the ‘scenario’ questions found in text books meant to prepare you for real life situations but fail to accurately replicate the little nuances and intricacies of actuality. I prayed as genuinely as I could, attempting to align myself with God’s will for my life instead of my fear of being financially strapped during this time. I prayed for an answer and I got one. ‘No’ is an answer and according to Paul the response of a mature Christian is to be content. Some ‘No’s’ are easier than others. A ‘No’ from a job interview is difficult but a ‘No’ when asking God to heal cancer can be emotionally devastating. Being content is a lot to ask in times like these but Paul also gives us a clue in this sentence as to how it’s possible. Paul says that he has ‘learned the secret’. In the days of early Christianity secret gospels peaked the curiosity of ancient peoples. Adherents of Gnosticism claimed to have secret knowledge and teachings that were not widely available to the public. Texts such as ‘The Secret gospel of Mark’ or ‘The Gospel of Judas’ appeared as an attempt to substantiate these claims. So when Paul says ‘I have learned the secret’ he captures his audience’s attention because they know exactly what cultural phenomenon he is referencing. Unlike the Gnostics, Paul doesn’t hide is secret. He clearly lays it out for us in verse 13. “I can do all things through Jesus who gives me strength”. This is one of the most inspirational verses of all times. It’s associated with having the ability to achieve success or overcome obstacles and attain victory. It’s the kind of verse that marathon runners or mountain climbers might make it their motto. While it’s true that the strength of Jesus can help us to do all of those things, in this particular context Paul means something different.

Paul is telling us that we can be content no matter what situation we find ourselves in, whether it good times or bad because Christ will give us the strength.

It takes a certain amount of spiritual maturity to master this virtue and with each answered prayer whether yes or no, we get an opportunity to practice. When I got a ‘no’ answer to that job, however difficult it was to swallow, I chose to believe that God doesn’t want me in that particular place, at that particular time for His particular reasons. It’s not easy. Not at all. But the point of Philippians 4:13 wasn’t meant as an inspirational verse to climb mountains, run marathons or close business deals. It doesn’t mean the answer will always be ‘yes.’ Success here is defined as being in a close relationship with God, where you trust fully His answers to your prayers. In its context, it’s about God giving us the strength to be content (to not have any complaints) whether he gives us a yes or a no.

Thrive

A week later and I am still recovering from dancing, screaming, competing and celebrating. I welcomed 2015 the same way I welcomed 2013 and 2014-off the beaten path at a rural north east Michigan youth camp with some 50 energetic teenagers. I nearly lost my voice twice, lost my temper at least once in an intense game of Kemps and no doubt lost hours of sleep. It was loud, intense and a blast.

In the midst of all the activity students had opportunities to connect with God and moments to be honest with leaders about the burdens they had carried on their shoulders in the last year. The theme this year was ‘Thrive’ and it was based in a simple concept: Knowing who you are (Identity) will result in doing the right things (Obedience) which will produce right results (Power).

Sadly, through the conversations I had with these kids, I learned many of them are not thriving at all.

In fact, only a few were being obedient in their walk with Christ. I won’t share any specific names or conversations and I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not flawlessly obedient myself, but I think it’s important for youth workers to understand what the stories of these teens are telling us.

This isn’t about placing blame on any youth program, worker or family. I simply want to talk about how we can move forward. The words of these teens point to a deep sense of personal insecurity that if allowed to continue could be detrimental to the Great Commission set forth by Jesus to ‘go and make disciples.’ After all, the blind cannot lead the blind- nor can they heal them.

In Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9 Jesus’ disciples are presented with a boy who is demon possessed. They try and try but are unable to help the boy. This must have been especially humbling to the disciples who we are told in Luke’s gospel were just commissioned by Jesus to go and heal the sick and cast out demons (Luke 9:1-2)

Finally Jesus comes along and without difficulty drives the demon out of the boy. Puzzled, the disciples ask Jesus why they were unable to help the boy. Jesus provides some insights as to why the disciples were unsuccessful.

  1. The disciples have very little faith (apparently less than the size of a mustard seed Matthew 17:20-21).
  2. The disciples were not being dependent on God (lack of prayer Mark 9:28-29).

Their faith was dead and without works.

They had yet to fully understand their identity (and subsequent potential) in Christ.

A previous conversation shows us the lack of understanding among them-

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? (Matthew 16:5-11)

How could the disciples miss the point of what Jesus was talking about? How could they not fully understand Him, who He was or what He meant after having witnessed His miracles or the transfiguration?

How can our teenagers not fully understand who they are in Christ after going to church every Wednesday and Sunday, memorizing Bible Verses and knowing every answer to every Sunday school question there is?

Paul in the book of Philippians chapter 4 writes “Only let us live up to what we have already attained”.

As a youth worker, I have the responsibility to act as a mandated reported. This means that if I know of or suspect the abuse of a minor, I am obligated to report it to the appropriate people. I can’t know this information and do nothing about it. If I did there would be some serious consequences.

But that’s exactly what so many of our teenagers are doing (knowing all of the information but not acting on it) and there are some considerable consequences.

James reminds us that faith without works is dead (James 2). This particular passage has been the center focus of the works vs grace debate for centuries. The faith of our teenagers (or lack thereof) is showing us just how one can be saved by grace but dead without works. It’s showing us how if branches don’t remain a part of the vine they die and never thrive. It’s the same problem the disciples encountered when they approached a big problem (demon possessed boy) with little faith (smaller than a mustard seed) and no works (lack of prayer).

There is a certain amount of practicing what you know that helps to develop a sense of identity. What our students have is book knowledge. This kind of knowledge is factual not practical. This kind of knowledge is a foundation not the structure itself. Instead of confidently knowing who they are through what they do, our teenagers know who they are because of what they’ve been told.

And most of the time, they’re told their not good enough.

Zero tolerance policies without a second chance, a Christianity that only promotes rule after rule and photo-shopped impossible to obtain images on the cover of magazines are just some of the sources that send a ‘not good enough’ message to our teenagers and I believe it is causing a culture of personal insecurity and jealousy. Many of them looked at each other and wanted what the other had. Most of them thought that others were better than them, smarter than them, less sinful than them.

The disciples provide another example for us of what is happening. This time in the book of Luke Just after the same incident where the disciples couldn’t heal the demon possessed boy Jesus is a little harsher with the disciples. “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

In Luke’s account of the story just after Jesus calls out the disciples on their lack of belief we see this-

“An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.” (Luke 9:46)

The identity crisis of our teenagers not only encompasses a lack of practicing what they already know, it also includes a lack of understanding how vital of a role they play and how they uniquely play it. No, not how great they are but yes how important they are.

Paul tells us that the body of Christ is made up of many parts. (1 Corinthians 12) The eyes aren’t any more important than the ears, the arms are no more important than the legs. The teenager who can exceed in sports is no more important than the one with a physical disability, despite our culture’s tendency to glorify one over the other. Each has a role in the body of Christ, each has a calling in the great commission.

So at the end of the day (or at least at the end of camp) how can youth workers make a difference?

  1. Accountability. In the same Philippians passage, Paul tells us “Take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17). When we take the small group of youth we led discussion with at camp and extend it into monthly meetings, students will have the opportunity to view us in day to day settings and you can be sure they’ll be taking note. At the same time, we will have the opportunity to view them and take note of the progress they’re making in their camp commitments. It’s easy to make a commitment at camp, it’s another thing to thrive when school starts again. Teenagers who have gone to church all their life and know all about Jesus need to be called out on how they are acting as a result because faith without works is dead and a dead faith can’t heal anyone.
  2. Value. When we make it a point to hang out with teenagers outside of the camp setting, they’ll know that we value their presence, ideas and spiritual walk. When the world around them and even sometimes the church is telling them ‘not good enough’ we can be there to see the progress they’re making and say ‘getting better’. I truly believe the more we value our teenagers the more they will value themselves which will in turn create more confident, less jealous teenagers.

Can you imagine? With a little valuing and a little accountability the great commission could be greater than ever as it is steered at the helm by confident, obedient and powerful young people doing miracles in the name of Jesus. That’s thriving.