Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How Should The Church Respond To The Exodus of Our Youth? (Pt. 7)

Al Mohler has a posted an article on his website about a new book, that is a NY Times Best seller, called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. He are some are some of the excerpts that he includes from the book.

According to Byrne, every object and mind in the universe operates on its own frequency, and minds can attract matter. "Thoughts are magnetic," she argues, "and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to its source. And the source is you." Yep. You are the center of the universe.

"You are God in a physical body," she writes. "You are spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet."

Now this is a classic example of the wisdom of the world. As bizarre as Rhonda's thoughts are, they are being accepted by the general populace as wonderful ideas. I think a lot of people sort of believe that they are the center of the universe, but they are not quite brash enough to say so. Since Byrne is able to say it in such esoteric language she gets away with it. What if the esoteric language was removed and we just went with the basic idea. Here is what it would look like:

Basically I am God. I control the universe. I can do whatever I want.

My guess is that if she would have put something like this as the subtitle she would have sold a few less books. Well what's the problem with Rhonda's ideas? Well, in a nutshell they are absurd. What exactly did Rhonda have to do with maintaining the precise spin or orbit of the earth while she was sleeping last night? What exactly does Rhonda have to do with ensuring her next breath? What exactly does Rhonda have to with engineering the entire universe to work in harmony? The answer is nothing. We could all ask ourselves the same question and the answer will still be nothing. The answer to why all of this happens is very simply given in the Bible:

Colossians 1:16-17 For by Him [Jesus Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.NASB95

This is true wisdom. Christians do not need to go to the world for wisdom. We simply need to go to God's word. Our youth are in desperate need of true wisdom in a world of absurdity. Sadly, many churches offer them tiny tidbits of truth packaged worldly wisdom and trappings.

Last post we said that the 4th biblical principle that every discipleship ministry, including any youth ministry, must operate under is that the Bible is supremely relevant for every human need. Here is the fifth:

5. The Bible teaches that we do not go to the world to find out how we need to relate to people. Instead the Bible tells us to bring the wisdom of God to the world.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.NASB95

In Paul's day the rhetoric and sophistry was huge. "Wisdom teachers" used to go from town to town impressing people with their eloquence. They were not all that concerned as to if they were right, but they were very concerned about persuading people that they were right. They wanted to win arguments and gain a following. Paul was the polar opposite of this. He was unwilling to use popular tactics of persuasion to accomplish even a good thing! He relied completely on the simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and the power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted to be absolutely sure that is was the power of God at work and not the manipulation of men.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,NASB95

It is hard to use the methodology and wisdom of the world to attract people and then turn on your own methods and destroy them and cast them down. However, this is exactly what we would have to do if we let the world tell us how to run our youth groups. The idea is to "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." This means that we don't think like the world to reach the world. Instead we proclaim Christ and His truth to the world and call the world to repent and think the thoughts of Christ after Him!

Can we say that our ministries are all about simply proclaiming the gospel and relying on the Holy Spirit, or are we trying to manipulate something through worldly sophistication that only God can accomplish?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How Should The Church Respond To The Exodus Of Our Youth (Part 6)

Time magazine featured an article last October entitled "In Touch with Jesus" about modern trends in youth ministry. Interestingly the article focused on a shift from entertainment oriented youth groups to substance oriented ones. Here are a few excerpts:

Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early '90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all.

...teens at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., are embracing the big doses of Bible study youth pastors now recommend. Teen ranks have tripled, to nearly 600, since the mid-1990s.

The Calvary kids say they too are happy with the more traditional approach. Priscilla Balcaceres, 16, believes she would still be holding grudges and feuding with friends and family were it not for Bible lessons and sermons on forgiveness. "Before attending Calvary, I believed in God and prayed at night, but I was still very bitter and unhappy about many things in my life," she says. "I've learned what it really means to be a Christian, and now I wake up smiling every morning." Meanwhile, Amanda Sinks, 16, spouts verses from Timothy, Corinthians and James the way other teens recite rap lyrics. "There's nothing boring to me about reading the Bible every day," says Sinks, who became a Christian 17 months ago and counts a heightened ability to withstand peer pressure as one of the benefits. If things keep up this way, hanging out with God might even become cool.

Do teens actually want more Bible teaching and less entertainment? Are they bored with the hysteria that youth ministry has offered for the past few decades. Do they want something more? Having been a youth pastor for the past 6 years, I have found that teens do in fact want substance. I have found that teens embrace being treated as young adults and rise to the challenge when asked to truly think about deep spiritual truth from God's Word. If a youth group is used to an entertainment based program it does take some time for them to become accustomed to serious Biblical teaching, but I have found that, when they are under this kind of teaching for a while, most do not want to go back. Recently I spoke to a student in our group whose parents attend another church in town that has a very entertainment oriented youth group. I encouraged the student to try to be a part of her parent’s church's youth ministry, but the student adamantly insisted on being a part of our group because we were challenging our students through serious biblical teaching.

Often youth pastors try to be sure that each of their talks are on "relevant" pop culture issues. If they refer to the scripture it is just by grabbing a verse or two out of context and using it as a spring board into a "relevant" discussion. This, they might say, is the only way the teens will listen. It is true that teens have unique issues they are facing and unique needs to be met, but I believe that these issues and needs are best addressed through the straightforward teaching of God's Word: the Bible. So that brings us to the fourth biblical principle that applies to every discipleship ministry including youth ministry,

4. The Bible is supremely relevant and addresses every genuine need.

2 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.NASB95

In short, this text tells us that God has supernatural provided in advance for all the issues and needs we will face a human beings. How has he done this? He has provided everything through the true knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord! Christ is the answer to everything! It doesn't matter what the issue or problem is: the answer or solution is knowing Christ and all that we have in Him more! When we know Him more we trust Him more and we believe His promises and we obey His word and he solves our issues and problems by His word!

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;NASB95

We know Christ through the Word of Christ: the Bible. Every word of the Bible is sourced in God and breathed out through His Spirit. Because He is God He is able to reveal to us all that we need to know, all that we need to change, all that we need to grow, and all that we need to live as God intends us to live!

Joshua 1:8 “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.NASB95

God promised Joshua success if he would live by His word. God promises the same thing for us today (see 2 Pet. 1:2-4 above & Psalm 1:2-5). This isn't a big "easy" button, but instead it is a prescription to true eternal success in the eyes of God.

Psalm 19:7-19 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.NASB95

This text tells us that God's word is the means of our salvation, wisdom for living, happiness & clarity. It is never outdated it is never false and it value is incalculable. it warns us away from sin and brings us reward. We can please our creator if we think about it, speak it and live it!

If the Bible can do all of this, perhaps we should make it central to all we do? Absolutely we should!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

How Should The Church Respond To The Exodus Of Our Youth? Pt. 5

I read an article today in the L. A. times about a man who repossesses ocean going ships! In places like Haiti, due to corruption, it is not uncommon for vessels to be seized for a price and sold cheaply in an auction to the highest bidder. F. Max Hardberger bravely rushes into the frey to repo these ships for their rightful owners. Now repossessing a car can be tricky and dangerous, but repossessing a 700 ft ship is nearly impossible. However, Hardberger is a resourceful man and has repossessed quite a few large ships!

I feel like in youth ministry we are repossessing something that has been taken away: "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" that Jude spoke of. This faith has been passed down to us in a book: the Bible. What is really sad is that we actually have to argue as to why the Bible and Bible teaching should be central to what we do. Like Hardberger's work, ours is a dangerous one. As we try to reclaim the centrality of the Christian faith found in the Word of God we find ourselves attacked on every side. Friendly fire is the most deadly kind. However, we must "contend for the faith." That means we must fight against attacks on God's word no matter how innocent they appear. Sadly the Word of God has fallen on hard times. I think what we as youth pastors today need to remember is that without the centrality of the word we can have no hope for any true success. That brings us to the third biblical principle of the eight that we mentioned in Pt. 2, which is applicable to any ministry including any youth ministry.

3. The great commission tells us to make disciples. The only way to make disciples is to faithfully teach God’s word.

How does someone become a follower of Christ? The Bible makes it very clear that this only happens when the word of God transforms someone through the Spirit of God and makes them into a brand new person: a Christian. Let’s look at a few texts:

Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.NASB95

If one is to turn away from a life of sin and idolatry and embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior they must hear the word of God. If it is the word that produces faith, shouldn't our ministry focus on the faithful teaching of the word?

1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,NASB95

Notice that the word does the work. The result is imitation of faithful churches. In other words discipleship happened as a result of the faithful teaching of God's word.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.NASB95

How are we going to see people saved? Through the preaching of the gospel. What is the gospel? Simply stated, it is the good news of Jesus Christ. But how do we understand this gospel? Christ is revealed on every page of scripture. How will we share Christ without constantly presenting the same monotonous "plan of salvation?" We can do this if we faithfully preach Christ from every page of scripture.

James 1:18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.NASB95

The word produces new birth. New birth is not produced by nifty programs and hype that is devoid of clear biblical preaching.

Acts 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.NASB95

So what were the essentials of the ministry for the early church? 1. "the apostles teaching" (now we have this in the NT) 2. "fellowship": sharing in common with each other in their relationship with God in Christ and in the grace of God as well as tangible things. 3. "the breaking of bread": probably the Lord's Supper and perhaps agape feasts as well. 4. "prayer": they spent time praying together. These should be the essentials of any church.

What is essential in your church? What is essential in your youth group? Is it time to repo the faith?