Moved by Compassion

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

This Sunday the teenagers in our church group are going to learn about the dire circumstances for those caught in Human Trafficking. “Harassed, helpless, sheep without a shepherd”, these words perfectly describe the victims of human trafficking. It’s not a fun topic to discuss (no social problem is) but its an important one and one that requires a response. In the same way Jesus was moved with compassion for the helpless, we as Christians are also called to bring about restoration in His name. There is a wide array of social problems our world faces (the harvest is plenty), human trafficking is just one but for as many problems as there are, it never seems like there are enough people responding (the workers are few).

Perhaps the last people expected to be the workers are teenagers. If you Google the phrase ‘teenagers and…’ you’ll get the following suggestions; ‘teenagers and alcohol’, ‘teenagers and drugs’, ‘teenagers and depression’, ‘teenagers and social media’. It’s a reflection of our culture’s low expectations for adolescents. Society doesn’t expect the teenage years to consist much more of experimenting with drugs or alcohol, posting selfies on Instagram and having an attitude.

Our culture continues its reflection of low expectations for adolescents with constant stories about teenage crimes in the media. But teens can’t be allowed to  just blame the media or Google. It’s too easy to play the blame game. Teens might say say things like “my parents don’t believe in me” or “my teachers don’t care what I do”. And although I think it’s probably the exception, some teenagers do legitimately find themselves these situations .Nonetheless, we need to remind them what Google searches say, what the media says, the presences or lack of encouraging adults does not give teens permission to give in to low expectations.

We need to remind them of 1 Timothy 4:12 which says “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. And point out that 1 Timothy doesn’t say anything about making sure the adults around you have their act together or that only positive stories about young people are shown in the media (I for one would love to see more but let’s be honest negativity often fuels the news). This verse talks about personal responsibility. “Don’t let anyone..” “Be an example…” these are actions on the part of the young person. We have to remind teens that we may not have control over many of the circumstances in our lives but they we do have control over our response to them.

Proverbs 23:7 says “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Henry Ford said it this way, “Whether you think you can or not, you’re right.” We need to help teenagers forget what the world thinks about them because honestly its poisoning their motivation. Instead we must help them realize the same power which caused Jesus to conquer the grave lives in them and they can prove the world wrong at anytime.

When our teens hear the tragic stories of the victims of human trafficking, I fully expect they will be moved with compassion for the helpless and harassed . Right now we are raising money to donate to an organization fighting to end human trafficking but it hasn’t generated much because its kind of putting the cart before the horse. Without having heard our speaker’s presentation they don’t know how bad the situation is. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve raised some money and its wonderful see those committed to stepping up to the plate before the first pitch is even thrown but I look forward to them seeing the crowd and being moved with compassion because I know teenagers, attitude and all, can be some of the best works the Lord has ever sent out into the harvest field.

Talking at the Picnic Table

Every first Sunday of June our church has ‘Celebration Sunday’ it’s a time where we give special recognition to our children’s ministry, enjoy a concert-style service and a cookout. I tend to sit with the teens during these potluck meals, attempting to break the divide between ‘adult tables’ and ‘kid tables’. It’s a little easier for me as a single guy and no obligations to sit with family. What isn’t necessarily easy for me is entering their conversations that reflect the ecosystems they live in. I may choose to sit at the ‘kid table’ but it’s been awhile since I have lived as an adolescent and studying adolescence at the graduate level is not the same thing as interacting at the picnic table level. When I first came to this church and started interacting with our teens my go to style of conversation was sarcasm. Sarcasm is my typical defense mechanism when I am nervous. It’s probably also the most ineffective and risky form of conversation to take on too. Don’t get me wrong, wit and good timing with jokes is fun at any age but I am convinced that my sarcasm was too much and caused me to just come off as phony and like I was trying too hard.

Eventually after I became more comfortable, I transitioned into genuinely trying to get to know these teens and their lives. School was my first go to topic because it encompassed so much of their lives but after a while I started getting responses like “nobody wants to talk about school when we aren’t at school.” I could understand that because like most adults I’m not much for talking about work after I get home from it. It was very difficult for me to not talk about school and I still have to resist the urge. It’s not a taboo topic, I just am purposeful about letting them initiate the topic when they’re ready. There is more to me and there is more to them than what we do, even if that’s the easiest thing to talk about. I’m trying to stay away from the easy topics because I want to be challenged to grow in my teenage conversational skills. There is a lot to think about when it comes to engaging in conversations with teens. I want to make sure that what I am saying is providing a good role model, age appropriate and that I am not engaging in making fun of others or immature behavior. As important as it is to remember all these guidelines, I expect to make mistakes but it’s ok because I am finding even though I’m not perfect at it and I over-analyze every word I say, when I dive into real life conversations with teenagers I seem to gain a genuine respect from them just for trying. So even when I am unsure of what to say I come out better in the end if I dive in and say something then putting up a wall of sarcasm.

Today’s topic of conversation was one I’m convinced I would’ve resorted to my sarcasm defense mechanism had I found myself in it when I met this group of students three years ago. Sometimes teenagers who are still sorting out their faith don’t only talk about ‘church appropriate’ things at church events. Maybe that’s a good thing because when we don’t talk about cultural issues, we don’t have a response for them either. It’s too easy to create a bubble or an us/them mentality but the problem is this is the exact opposite of the great commission. So when a student brought up one of the hottest current topics, it was an occasion when culture pushed its way through the protective church bubble and demanded a biblical and well thought out response. In a moment of silence in our church appropriate conversation a student said, “What do you think about Jenner?” Honestly, it caught me off guard at first because I knew a simple responses was simply not possible. After some awkward silence, the student said “My friends and I were joking about how big her jugs are”. I think it was an attempt at comic relief but if all they really wanted was to engage in inappropriate jokes about it I was going to move the conversation along to something else. We moved on to another topic but the whole time I was gathering a response in my mind. This was a current event and these teenagers were old enough to discuss it from a biblical worldview. In another lull in the conversation I found my opportunity to dive in, ‘Do you honestly want to know what I think about the Jenner situation?’ I asked assessing this student’s level of interest in having a serious conversation. What followed was a conversation of tough questions, lots of ‘but why?’ questions and a transition from social event to social impact. Teenagers are more than capable of engaging in some of the most important conversations Christians need to be having and adults can help by being a moderator who …

  • Isn’t perfect but Is willing to let down their defenses and dive in
  • Willing to engage with them at the picnic table level
  • Sees them for who they are not what they do
  • Keep the conversation on a track that leads to it being beneficial
  • Is always prepared to give an answer that’s Biblical, well thought out and full of grace (1 Peter 3:15)

But Why?

I am currently walking our youth group through an investigation of scripture. The question we are asking is ‘Why was Jesus who was Jewish, accused of breaking Jewish law (blasphemy) and accused by Jewish leaders (sanhedrin) put to death by crucifixion, a Roman form of execution instead of stoning, the Jewish form of execution?

There are several possible answers but that’s not really the point. What I am attempting to do is develop or bring back a curiosity about scripture which seems to have been lost.

There is a natural curiosity and longing to ‘find out for themselves’ among children. ‘But why’ is the familiar phrase that comes to mind, endlessly repeated until the kid has some grasp of understanding or is totally lost.

Somewhere along the way, in the midst of growing up, our teenagers have stopped asking ‘but why?’ when it comes to the Bible. Too often teens who were raised in church become passive learners. They go through the routine of listening to the teacher without investigating the truth for themselves.

It’s like watching the news without checking the sources. You learned the information but only because someone else has put in the work. You’ve also only learned the version they told you, if something has been left out you’ll never know.

Encouraging teens to get back to their childhood roots and ask ‘but why’ questions will unleash an investigation for the truth and nurture the development of a personal faith. Sometimes they’ll gain an understanding and other times they’ll be totally lost in the vastness and complexity of our creator. Either way, they’ll be active students of the word.

Some good ‘but why’ questions for launching an investigation;

1. Jesus gave Simon a new name…but why?
2. Jesus didn’t seem to be a fan of the Pharisees…but why?
3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem…but why?

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)