Archives For Faithfulness


Great day I experienced with classes, super-sessions and keynote messages from some of the finest people in Christianity. I typed 10 pages of notes yesterday so I cannot include everything here but I want to give you some highlights that stood out to me.

Tuesday Morning, Mike Cope “Spiritual Intubation: How Community Keeps Us Alive” The Wizard of Oz: Revelation’s View of Community

  • “No church ever existed in a pure state. The church is made up of sinners. The fleas come with the dogs.” (Eugene Peterson)
  • Four characters who are known by their deficiencies. Much like Christians today.
  • Showing of who Oz really is. “The great Oz has spoken, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
  • Pergamum
    • It’s a great distance from Colorado Springs to Pergamum.
    • In Pergamum it was very, very different.
    • Everywhere people went they told two stories: the power of Rome and Greek gods and goddesses. Everywhere they went they are told that they are caught up in and how could they not believe it. It “has to be true.”  Every market, athletic event, silver item told them about temple worship.
    • Where is the Pergamum church of Christ?
      • A tiny…insignificant few.
      • Imagine holding on to the story of Jesus while walking among the temples and other places where the minority is huge.
      • Have you been the minority?
      • Power, honor, identity was wrapped up into gods and Rome not Christ.
    • Persecuted Christians get it
    • “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.” G. K. Chesteron
  • Deep Community is anchored in Jesus
  • Deep community has to be eschatological in nature.
  • Deep community is at its best when it is part of a mission…a larger story.

Tuesday Morning Keynote Kurt Johnston @kurtjohnston “Deep, Redefined”

  • Have you ever stopped and thought about all the things in youth ministry that you don’t do very well? We are great at trying to control the perceptions of other people. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great at creating perception of us.
  • Four truths I have learned that have 1) pointed out my shallowness and 2) led him into a deeper experience in faith.
    • Life is a squiggle
    • I need a travel partner
    • Busyness will keep you in the shallow end.
    • When you begin to have a long view of youth ministry

Tuesday Super Session Frank Viola @FrankViola “The Missing Ingredient”

Observations about ministry to young people:

  • Catch30 Crisis – Human beings go through developmental stages as they get old. When they are 30 they reassess every decision they made in their 20s and they either abandon what hey believed or abandon them. You don’t know where someone is spiritually until they are thirty. You could not serve in the house of God until you were 30. Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was 30. Young people need to be prepared for this.
  • There is a difference between youthful enthusiasm and spirituality. Most of the big Christian movements are built on youthful enthusiasm. The problem is that many operates on youthful enthusiasm and the well runs dry
  • You can’t pass on to those whom you minister to what you have not experienced yourself.
  • I have to prepare them for the forgotten beatitude. Blessed is he who is not offended by me.

Other Notes from class…

  • If you cut the bible in any place it will bleed Jesus Christ.
  • Moses and Christ
  • Creation and Christ
  • Isaac and Christ
  • Jacob and Christ
  • Conclusion  – #1 – Find Christ in the bible. #2 – Do business with the Lord

Tuesday Afternoon Class 1 Josh Graves @JoshGraves “The Bible Jesus Read: Genesis 1-2”

2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 5

  • We need a more mystical understanding of Scripture. But also how it calls us to new spaces.
  • “All Scripture” does not exist yet and he has in mind Torah.
  • Inspired…he does not infallible, inerrant. They never show up in the bible. Sometimes the most important work we do is not learning new things but relearning old things.
  • 2 Timothy is not about proving Scripture over science but it is about inviting people into God’s world in order to see the world differently and “to do something about it.”
  • These stories carry the freight in any given culture.

Genesis 1

  • God can’t help but to create. He is in control. The things God creates would not be believable if we have not seen them.
  • Everything else that has creativity or imagination that somehow it is all linked back to the God who started.
  • One of the ways Genesis invites us to go deeper and that we live in a good creation. Does not deny the dark side of life but he made everything and called it good.
  • Most people who tell the story of God begin with Genesis 3 and not Genesis 1.
  • We have to introduce paradox to our students. Life is full of joy and pain. Paradox is one of the greatest contribution to the Western world.

Tuesday Afternoon Class 2 Sally Gary @centerpeaceinc “Reaching out to Teens Who Identify as Gay and Lesbians”

Many who struggle with same sex attraction but still love the Lord.  Struggles do not divide us.

Starved for Intimacy. Facebook and its struggles for intimacy. Question is: How can we meet this need? This desire for community. There is a great need for this connection.

What teens learn from the world: Glee, Modern Family.

What teens learn from the church: Nasty messages about homosexuals from the church

What they need is looking for a safe place.

How to be a safe place?

Deal with our own fears.

  • Change our thinking
  • Change our language
  • Listen
  • Be consistent
  • Model the Love and Acceptance of Christ

Tuesday Night Keynote Frank Viola @FrankViola “God so loved the world vs. Love not the world.”

The world in the New Testament is used in two ways…

  1. Speaks of the material universe. Jesus of Nazareth is this world’s true Lord.
  2. A system or network or order of things designed to draw us away from God.

Historically Christians have taken two postures: 1) Retreated from the world’s system (Isolationism) 2) Enmeshed by the world and married to it.

The most miserable person is a Christian who is living in a way where deep inside them they are told to give something up and they can’t. When we are in community with other Christians the Holy Spirit is clearest.

The Holy Spirit will reveal to you what is of the world.

2 Kind of legalists: 1) Salvation by works 2) I am going to take what the Holy Spirit has shown me personally and make it a law to you.

“The gospel spreads best not through force but through fascination” (Shane Claiborne)

Dinner in Colorado Springs: Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant

This was ranked #2 in Colorado Springs by TripAdvisor and it was awesome. I had Yebeg Alecha which was tender pieces of lamb marinated with butter then sautèed with ginger, garlic, and 12 spices. There were no forks but you had this roll that you put the meat and the sauce in. It was excellent. The owner’s name is Maya and they cooked everything to order so it took a while but the food was worth it. They have mostly organic food and a substantial vegetarian menu. I have never tried authentic Ethiopian cuisine but this was a must! Went a left the owner looked at me and said, “Go in peace.” I love her already.

 


1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

I saw a video[1] that said when Jesus quoted the beginning of Psalm 22 that he was using a rabbinic technique called “ramez” where the entire Psalm applies when Jesus mentions the first verse. I would like to believe that and it still may be true but the problem is that we do not have a shred of evidence to support this. It sounds more like something you would hear in a Rob Bell video (not slamming him but just sayin’) than you would in a commentary. Having said that, Psalm 22 is the most popular lament psalm in the entire psalter. Why? Jesus quoted this (already mentioned) in his prayer to God while dying on the cross (see Matthew 27:45-50). Yet this was first uttered by David hundreds of years before Christ died. It was a personal lament that placed him in perspective but also asked God the brutal question of “Why?”.

Why did he ask the brutal question? Certainly because of his enemies:

  • They mock him – v. 7
  • They are bulls surrounding him – v. 12
  • He experiences physical pain because of them – vv. 14-16
  • They divide his garments – v. 18

I am tempted to talk about Christ as Christ later exemplifies this in many aspects. Yet, David, in our context, is enduring much at the hands of many. He struggles with this not because the concept of impending pressure of enemies is uncommon but for David the struggle lies in the very nature of God himself. God, you are holy (v. 3), you answered our fathers when they cried (v. 5) and you protected and will protect your people but right now you have left me (v. 1), you are not answering me (v. 2) and because of this I find no rest.

Let’s stop for a minute and think about this. Have you ever felt like that before? I talk with teenagers all the time who experience in part what David experiences in whole. I hear comments like, “Robbie, it’s so hard to trust in God because it feels like he is not there and not listening.” If pressed they would probably admit that they feel like God has left them. Ever felt that way before? Ever experience that type of brokenness before?

What’s David’s solution?

Intense trust in God’s ETERNAL character (vv. 8-10), a request for his presence and deliverance (vv. 11, 19-21) and in all of this personal anguish he promises (fancy word is “vows”) to praise God (vv. 22-31).

You tracking with that?

David vows to praise God in the midst of impending destruction and intense physical, emotional and spiritual anguish. We think the world is going to end because a democrat got elected president but last time I check people don’t want our heads on a platter. Our issues are not even a blip on David’s radar. He would consider many of our issues as wastes of time. But even David said, “I will tell of your name…” (v. 22).

What would it look like for many of us who have cancer, terminal illnesses or many of us who have lost loved ones to proclaim in the midst of intense anguish, “I will tell of your name”?

“Yeah God, you have left us and I don’t fully understand it all but I trust in your divine purposes as one who created me (see vv. 9-10) and because of your infinite ways I will tell of your name.”

That is what you call BIG FAITH!

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does this psalm help in your ups and downs with God?
  2. Why praise God in the midst of intense suffering?
  3. In what ways does this entire psalm help inform you about Christ’s suffering and death?

1O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
    and your hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh
    because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
    and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
    and my nearest kin stand far off.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
    those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
    and meditate treachery all day long.

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
    like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
    and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
    it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
    who boast against me when my foot slips!”

17 For I am ready to fall,
    and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
    I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
    and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
    accuse me because I follow after good.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
    O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
    O Lord, my salvation!

There is a lot to unpack here but this Psalm is a beautiful example of an Individual Lament that may be categorized as a prayer song of a sinner. Sin (or iniquity) is mentioned four times. If we are careful with our interpretation we will note that he has his complaint against his enemies but the enemies is not the problem but only a hint at the problem.  It’s like the smell of something bad but not the bad thing itself. For David, clearly the root of the problem is his sin. Smarter people than I am tell me that this is a common theme in the Ancient Near East. People do bad things so bad things happen to them (retribution). God surely warned them of the blessings and curses that would come from their obedience or disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28). So David’s symptoms are not the problem.

But that’s just it. The lament is real and the pain is real but it comes from somewhere else. Notice the physical symptoms:

  • no health in his bones – v. 3
  • sides are filled with burning – v. 7
  • he is feeble -v. 8
  • his heart throbs – v.10

You get the picture. There is an association with physical pain and mental anguish for David. Makes sense though when one considers times of anguish in their own lives. I remember a season in my life when I was going through a tough time and there were serious physical ramifications. I could not eat and I remember experiencing severe heartburn. My body ached over the anguish I was experiencing and it was gut-wrenching. The solution for David to all of this anguish seems to be in verse 18: his confession of sin and remorse for wrong-doing. There was no grey-area for David as the pain (both internal and external) he was experiencing was directly correlated to his own spiritual brokenness. You and I can sit down over a cup of coffee and smirk at his rather “unlearned” theology but David was a staunch warrior for God. He was in the trenches.

Discussion Questions

  1. Talk about a time where you experienced physical pain from spiritual anguish. What was it like? Describe the circumstances.
  2. Do you think it is right to say that many of our difficult times is due to our sinfulness? Explain.
  3. How is David’s resolve to confess his sin a helpful solution for our laments?

In my morning reading I came across a familiar passage and wanted to share it with you and some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine in that when this verse is read, quoted or used it is within the context of atheists. I have heard many Christians say, “How could someone not believe in God? The Scripture says ________.” They will quote Psalm 14:1. I think people do not believe in God for a variety of reasons (hypocritical Christians?) but I wonder if we could go a different direction with the interpretation of this Psalm. Let me ask the question, “Who is the fool in Psalm 14?” They are those, contextually, who God looks down and sees that the people are 1) not understanding, 2) not seeking after him, 3) they have turned aside, and 4) become corrupt (14:2-3). Now surely this broadens our interpretation of simply atheists. Surely you know some folks at church that fit the bill there right?

Look at how Eugene Peterson words the Psalm in The Message

1 Bilious and bloated, they gas, “God is gone.”
Their words are poison gas,
fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.

2 God sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.

3 He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow their fellow.

I wonder then, who is the fool? I find it interesting that Psalms 14:1-3 is quoted nearly verbatim in Romans 3:10-12. The context there is that we are all sinners in need of the justification of God by faith. So then is it a stretch to say that the fool in Psalm 14 who says “there is no God” might be us? The immediate context for David are the enemies of his kingdom but the larger implication is that sometimes we are fools. Consider the following:

  • We are fools when we do not believe God will deliver us in a difficult situation.
  • We are fools when we try to conduct ministry, spiritual formation and kingdom-work on our own without the guidance of our Father.
  • We are fools when we do not lead our families spiritually.
  • We are fools when we try to bind things in Scripture that God never intended to be bound.
  • We are fools when we make it our goal to “correct” every person’s theology whom we have contentions with as if we can come up with a perfect theology on our own.
  • We are fools when we neglect the poor and build massive buildings (does Babel ring a bell?) and have big-screen TV’s, elaborate pulpits complete with techno-savvy ways to make ministry “easier.”
  • We are fools when we do not evangelize and disciple others.
  • We are fools when we judge people, as if we are the perfect standard.
  • We are fools when we say God can’t do something, as if our existence were not evidence for God being able to do something.
  • We are fools when we keep sin to ourselves.
  • We are fools when we spend too much time at work and forget our families.
  • We are fools when we do not take care of ourselves physically.
  • We are fools when we isolate ourselves in our Christian bubble, forgetting that God actually came in the flesh.
  • We are fools to think God does not care about us (how many hairs do you have on your head again? God knows).
  • We are fools not to learn from the past, redeem the present and wait, with hope, for the future.
  • Finally, we are fools when we think it is up to us to become righteous.

Tough list. I look at it and mourn. Because I want to be honest with you, I am a fool. At times, my actions and thoughts reveal the claim that there is no God even thought intuitively I know there is. Sad. Christ, forgive me.

Who is the fool?

 

 


I got an idea for a post when listening to a conversation that was, in essence, gossip.  I have been thinking a lot about the church lately which sounds a little bit strange considering thinking about the church kind of goes with my job description.  But, when I say thinking about the church I mean I have really been meditating, pondering, wrestling and struggling with the ideas of church.  I am reading a book that has slapped me across the face when it comes to thinking about what other people think about the church.  The book is The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons and his premise is that we just don’t listen to what people are saying about the church.

That has spun me in a thousand different directions as to why the church is not relevant in our current circumstance.

Gabe said, “Many churches are increasingly exhibiting less and less real influence in the communities where they’re located.  If they were gone tomorrow, one can’t help wondering if anyone would notice.”  (The Next Christians, p. 25).

Talk about a shot to the lower abdomen.  I want to begin a series of posts with the framework of, “what do you think the perception is of the church is from the unchurched?”  I was talking with a student in my office today and we discussed tomorrow’s See You At the Pole day.  While there are a lot of redemptive things about this day I poignantly asked her, “What do you think people’s perception is when they walk by and ya’ll are huddled up praying around a pole?”  She seemed to think that it would be negative, awkward and maybe even a little resistant.

So…I would like to offer a discourse on the seven deadly sins (Prov. 6:16-19) and use that as a framework for people’s perception of the church.  Sound cool?  After that I hope to give you a review of Lyons’ book.

See you tomorrow.


“Messy Spirituality is the scandalous assertion that following Christ is anything but tidy and neat, balanced and orderly.  Far from it.  Spirituality is complex, complicated, and perplexing-the disorderly, sloppy, chaotic look of authentic faith in the real world.  Spirituality is anything but a straight line; it is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.  In other words, messy spirituality is the delirious consequence of a life ruined by a Jesus who will love us right into his arms.”

Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality, p. 27.

Messy Spirituality Quote


A break from the series…I decided to write a poem.

The Mask

Sitting in the lobby I am moved by your existence.

How could you love me, a sinner, broken in your presence?

I am not the man I should be for I am filled with mediocrity.

I am weak, timid, inconsistent and filled with so much hypocrisy.

Scripture tells me that a man came to die, giving me his grace.

But all I can do right now is turn and hide, covering my ugly face.

The solution is so easy, but to me it comes with a hefty price.

A debt I cannot pay, for I am not willing to sacrifice.

But you, O God, are all that I could possibly need.

So right now, to your divine decrees, I hesitantly now heed.

For I lift up to you a monumental task,

that you take away my sin, and take off my foolish mask.

The Graduation Speech

May 16, 2011 — 1 Comment

[DISCLAIMER: It is 3,299 words so pack a lunch and read it then.]

The Graduation Speech

By Robbie Mackenzie (Preached at the Main Street church of Christ May 15, 2011)

            I have done many things since I have been alive.  I have been to South America and Africa.  I have attended numerous World Series games.  I hiked down the Grand Canyon and back up in one day.  I have watched four beautiful kids come into this world.  But there are many things in this world I have not experienced.  I have never jumped out of an airplane.  I have never, unfortunately, found gold on the other side of a rainbow.  I have never been to the North Pole and I have never, ever participated in synchronized swimming.  Something else I have never done is speak at a graduation.  I have probably sat through some thirty graduations and even leaving one in the middle only to arrive at another in the middle.  I have heard every quote imaginable like, “This is the first day of the rest of your life,” and “If it’s to be it’s up to me.”  I have heard many people misquote enough Scripture for me to pull my hair out and by the looks of my hair I have heard a lot of misquoted Scripture.  Nobody remembers a graduation speech because they are all the same.  This is why I am offering you a different graduation speech but in the end it will be forgettable and pretty soon it will be—well—just another graduation speech.

            If I were to graduate again (which may happen) I would want to hear this type of speech at my graduation.  I would want to have someone tell me what really might happen as opposed to God’s plans to “prosper us and not to harm us” (Jer. 29:11; taken out of context of course :)).  Those who have battled drugs, alcohol, divorce, financial heartache and difficult circumstances usually are not the ones invited to speak at graduations.  Why?  People want to hear the wealthy, famous, successful and “problem-free” at graduations yet those people are in the minority.  Most of us fit into the second category of simple, problem-full, but content with our lives.  That’s boring and nobody wants to hear about it.  So this is my attempt to put pen to paper and give flesh to words that I would say if it were the last words I would say to a graduate.  The speech is more about what you really may experience but it is a little uncertain.  So here we go.

            First of all, you’re going to grow apart from your friends.  There are certain people in your graduating class you will never ever see or talk to again.  Even your BFFs, whom you swore, pinkie-promised, and vowed to stay in touch via text, phone, SKYPE, or even just a visit on weekends, will grow apart from you.  It’s going to be awkward when you come home and go back to a high-school football game and see your old buddies.  You will realize they have changed and so have you and it will be a cool feeling knowing you are the college kid.  Pretty soon you will just feel old and then you will stop going back to high-school functions.  The saddest part about going different ways is watching some of your friends who cannot accept the fact that they are no longer in high-school.  They still talk like high-schoolers, hang out with high-schoolers, and their maturity level stays that way for years.  If they could just grow up and move on life would be better but they can’t.  That may be you by the way.  What they don’t tell you after you graduate is that life happens and things get in the way and we just become too busy.  You might even lose a friend tragically in a car accident, overdose, or a physical ailment like cancer or something else.  It’s going to hurt and you will cry.

            You’re going to realize that the boyfriend or girlfriend you thought you would spend the rest of your life with will not work out.  Nor will the next three or four.  You will realize that there are some seriously messed-up people out there who are looking for nothing more to score with you and that is going to hurt.  Perhaps you’re on the other spectrum and you will just wait, and wait, and wait while everyone around you is getting a significant other without trying yet you pray, ask someone out and still nobody will date you.  Then you’re going to go home and it’s going to sting every time someone asks you, “Are you seeing anybody yet?” and then the awkward look you get when you say, “No!”  To make matters worse they will offer you a monologue about them having two kids by the time they were your age.  That doesn’t help either.  Life does not consist in a relationship but it sure beats being lonely sometimes.

            You’re going to have to say goodbye to your parents.  Whether you work at home or go off to college you will have to say goodbye to them somehow.  You’re going to have to convince your parents that them moving in with you in your dorm room is actually a horrible idea.  They are going to call you, once, twice maybe three times a day just to hear your voice.  Some of you will want to run from your parents so bad and so fast that you are going to blaze a trail along the way but some of you are not going to want to leave your parents because you will be afraid.  You will get homesick because you’re going to miss the family meals, nights at the park, and games of uno, vacation and long conversations on the way to school.  The phone calls from mom will get really annoying but deep down inside her voice will be like water in the driest African desert.

            You’re going to be broke.  Growing up your mom and dad were like a free-flowing ATM but now that day is long gone and you actually might have to work which, by the way, you don’t have time for.  You may get into credit card trouble thinking you can pay the balance sometime later if you just meet the minimum payment and it’s going to come back to bite you in a very personal way.  Worst of all, you might actually get that date with that someone only to be so broke you have to spend your romantic night at the dining hall or McDonald’s because you can’t afford anything else.  By the way, your mom is calling you and you probably should pick the phone up.

            You’re going to change physically.  It’s a strange thing that actually eating 8-10 Krystals used to be fun and proper nourishment but now all of that eating during freshman year has become a part of your backside that you, literally, carry with you wherever you go.  The concept of “freshman 15” no longer is a myth as you’re just trying to avoid freshman forty as you huff and puff up the stairs to your room.  On top of that, guys you might start to notice that you lose hair at this time and girls you might start getting wrinkles.  Your chaotic schedule and stressful demands does not make your physical issues any better.  You may also get the world’s worst case of Athlete’s Foot because apparently your roommate does not have the human dignity to wear shower shoes or at least cut his feet off.  The sad part of this is that you’re going to realize quickly that the physical issues, from this point on, only get worse.

            You’re going to struggle attending worship services because mom and dad are not there to wake you up.  Wait—is that mom calling me again?  You are going to wonder what’s the point of attending services.  You’re going to look at the people in the church and say it is filled with hypocrites and, you may be right.  You’re going to struggle immensely at fitting-in and you are going to wish you could come back and participate in youth group again but your jerk of a youth minister will not let you.  You’re going to wrestle with what the church is versus what it was in Scripture (welcome to the club).  You’re going to wonder why churches invest so much time, resources and money with programs like the youth, older members, missions, building funds and yet not much time, resources and money (if any) are invested in college students.  For you, church is going to be difficult.

            You’re going to do some things you’re going to regret.  Some of them may be minor but some of them are going to be major.  You’re going to wish you could take it all back but you won’t be able to.  You’re going to remember what your parents said about the dangers and now you’re going to have to tell them what you just did.  It’s going to break their heart.  The saddest part of it all is that you’re too stubborn to learn your lesson and so you’re going to do it all over again.  You’re going to sit there late at night looking up at the ceiling wondering what you are going to do with your life.  You may want to end it all.

            You’re going to struggle with God.  Who is this divine being that was taught so heavily to you?  God has not been helpful to you and by the looks at what’s happening in the world God really doesn’t seem to care anymore.  You’re going to have people cast doubt on your faith with different beliefs, ideologies and philosophical inquiries which some seem possible to believe.  You’re going to try to help your faith by doing what your parents, youth minister or preacher suggested.  It’s going to be tough and in my experience, when the going gets tough sometimes…well…the tough gets tougher.  There are going to be moments when all you can think about God is anger, frustration and confusion.  Like David, you are going to say, “How long, O Lord?  How long?” (Psalm 13).

But…

However…

Nevertheless…

            You’re going to make new friends.  The kind of friends who do not have strings attached to them.  The kind of friends whom you will laugh with, cry with and the kind of friends who will be, like the Proverb writer said, “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).  The friends you make will be in your weddings,Teen girls on college campus at the hospital when you have a baby and next to you when you lose someone you love.  The kind of friend who will utterly depend on you and years down the road these friends will need you most when their own world is turned upside down.  You’re going to go to baseball games with these friends, have cookouts, go on mission trips with them and you might even have the opportunity lead a few of those friends to Christ.

            You’re going to meet someone…it may take years…and you know what…it may not happen.  You’re going to look at that sweet lady who keeps asking you if you’re married yet because she had two children by your age and you’re going to smile and say, “that’s not what God wants me to do right now.”  God will make it happen if it needs to happen and you’re going to be just fine with that.  You just might have four kids before you are thirty though and people, by the way, will make fun of you and call you crazy and psycho but you will realize that you will be 47 by the time your last one graduates high-school which will be the age your buddy will be when his first one starts middle school.  But it’s also ok if you wait that long.  You follow what God wants you to do not someone else.  It’s ok to be crazy so don’t change that for a second.  In the words of the musician Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long.”  You’re going to be able to look at the person you will spend the rest of your life with and vow to be with them in sickness, and in health until death due you part.  You’re going to get that same passion every time you go to someone else’s wedding and you’re going to wake up each day feeling unworthy to wake up beside the most beautiful person in the world…not your youngest child who crawled in the bed…but your spouse.  You’re going to really feel blessed to be next to that beautiful person especially when you make it to the mirror in the mornings.

              You’re going to regret trying to run away from your mom and dad so quickly.  You’re going to want to pick up the phone and call them as much as possible.  You’re going to remember their lectures, words of “wisdom”, and caution and know that they were actually right.   If God blesses you with a child you’re going to name the child after your parents because of the influence that had on your life.  However, if home was a nightmare filled with abuse then you’re going to prove mom and dad wrong.  You’re going to make a difference and with God’s help you will show them what you can do even when they told you it couldn’t be done.

            You will eventually make money but still, somehow, be broke for a while.  It will be tough at first (remember the credit cards and loans?) but God will provide and mom and dad will help you out.  I promise.  If you don’t go to college then no worries because no matter what anyone says it’s ok for you not to go to college because, get this, college is not for everyone.  You will show them that you can still provide and work hard and do what God wants you to do.  The church will step in and provide for you in times when you could not provide for yourself.  You will have to fight the evils of consumerism and you will eventually give much of your income to the church.  People will think of you as crazy, stupid and a little off kilter but you will consider that suffering for the kingdom’s sake and little bit like emptying yourself which is what Jesus did for you.  You will have ups and downs financially and there will be days you will have to eat beans and rice and rice and beans but you will make it because all you need is a roof over your head and food on the table.

            You will learn to live with your body.  It’s ok that your body is not in pristine shape or that it’s shape looks like a hamburger rather than an hour glass.  It’s ok.  God just wants you to be healthy.  You will eventually enjoy eating things like salads, grapefruits, tree bark and you will especially enjoy drinking lots and lots of water.  Balding only gets worse and so do the wrinkles and your physical deterioration will be a daily reminder thanks to your kids and sometimes teenagers who decide to take a stab.  Laugh at this and consider it a way God humbles you.  Look at your body as a gift from God and each day is another opportunity that someone else did not get.

            You will eventually grow to love and adore the church.  Yes there are hypocrites in church but your experience in life will show you that there are hypocrites everywhere inside and outside the church.  The church never claimed to be perfect anyways besides there are so many people in the church who have changed their lives drastically because of the work of the church through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The church will need you to teach a class, lead a song, direct a program, visit the sick or teach a bible class.  You will have a renewed commitment to the church and it will drive you and you will soon find out that it is not you that is driving you but it is the Spirit of God inside of you.  You’re going to find out that the church is filled with plenty of people as messed-up as you!  That will put a smile on your face and the face of thousands of angels watching.

            You’re going to think about the regrets from time-to-time and they will enter your thoughts at weird moments.  The regrets will be like a bruise that won’t go away or rainstorm that will not depart.  You may have to call people to apologize for what you did and you may have to tell them you have changed.  You may have to earn someone’s trust back because of what you did but it’s going to be worth it.  You’re going to show God and others that you are a radical disciple who has radically changed.  “I’m not that way anymore” will come out of your mouth as effortless as air discharged from your lungs and you will say it with a smile.  Like Paul, your past will not break you rather it will shape you.  Your story will become a testimony for so many people to hear.

            Then there is God.  He always was and always is and always will be.  You’re going to find him because you’re going to long for him.  Like a fire in the midst of a blizzard you will long for his warmth and light.  He will show up in your life not as a boxed-in, compartmentalized God but as the living, active God.  He is going to lead you to places in life you never thought were possible but pretty soon you will realize that God is in the making-the-impossible-possible business.  You are going to realize that truly Jesus came so, like John told you, “we may have life, and life to the fullest” (John 10:10).  You will long for something John and Isaiah described as the New Heavens and New Earth.  You will feel God’s presence in your life with the utmost assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).  You will feel God in your bones and in your core and it will be most satisfying.  There will still be valleys where the questions of theodicy (making God just) come back but you will know, deep down in your core, that eventually God will reign over all and all will be made right.

            This is my graduation speech and it is filled with paradoxes, difficulties, some contradictions and uncertainties.  But such is life right?  Life is never a linear process but often we find it as a cyclical pattern that repeats itself but rests on the grace of God.  So may you find the friends you need.  May you discover the spouse who is yours or may you rest in the state you are in.  May you love every minute your family is alive.  May you live fiscally sound so you can give until it hurts.  May you rejoice in the body God gave you but may you treat it well.  May you love the church and realize it truly is, like the preacher said, a hospital for the sick.  May you use your regrets to empower and inform your future.  And may you run to God, wrap your arms around him and never, ever let go.

            So, Dr. Seuss was right…a little…“be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.  So…get on your way!”


The plane was late leaving Las Vegas so people were overly-tired, easily-agitated but most-of-all ready to go home.  A little boy who was no more than 12-14 months old was playing peek-a-boo with me a couple of airport aisles in front of me.  After a while he was tired of playing and then shortly he started to scream as if all screams on earth suddenly fused into this little boy’s lungs.  It was loud.  I could feel the tension in the mother but mostly I could feel the tension around the room as people looked at this boy with eyes that said, “I hope he is not on our plane!”  Without missing a beat this girl that was beside us (and her family) proceeded to mouth what most everyone  was thinking: “I hope that boy is not on our plane!”  The boy kept screaming and the girl beside me said, “They need to give him some benadryl or something because I can’t handle that on this flight.”  Her brother who was sitting behind me said, “Give him a tranquilizer or something!”

They were serious…

I thought: “How selfish could these people be?  I guess they were perfect children growing up and never cried, complained or bothered anyone’s ‘peaceful’ flight.”  I got up and walked away because I was so agitated.  Reflecting upon this I thought how selfish we all are.  In our parenting we think we are the best parents in the world and nobody is better than us and when anyone offers us advice we dismiss it because..again…we know it all.  How selfish!  We help programs in church that only affect us and we do that because we see no redemptive value in helping someone if we are not getting anything out of it.  How selfish!  We like certain bible class teachers, certain preachers who make us feel good, we like certain songs, certain people who pray, certain Scriptures (conveniently avoiding certain ones as well) all because these things are about us.  How selfish!  We think as if God wrote Scripture to give us a self-help book to give us a verse-of-the-day to make us feel better about the day (you won’t see 2 Cor. 5:10 as a verse of the day) as if God wrote the Scriptures to make us feel better.  How selfish!  We don’t like certain ministers because they “clash” with our personalities and we start dissension behind his back so we can eventually find a minister that “fits our personality.”  How selfish!  We get upset when that “minister” says something about our personal spirituality that we disagree with and so we ignore him because, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about!”  How selfish!  We go on vacation after vacation complaining how the drive was so long, the food was ok, the room was less-than-par and the kids ruined our peaceful leisure not really cognizant of the fact that in many of the world’s countries people live on less than $2 a day (“But we give money to missions for people overseas so we are ok”).  How selfish!

Another selfish aspect of our lives is the sad reality that most of us walk our spiritual lives as if we are righteous because of us alone.  Listen to Moses when he encouraged the Israelites to remember everything they received had nothing to do with them.

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deut. 8:11-20).

And as if they did not get the picture Moses says in the next chapter…

“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut. 9:4-5).

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and my heart has been heavy about this so I just want to say it:  The person that will send you to hell is YOU.  You read this right.  YOU!  I could have been nice and said that the person that will keep you from going to heaven is you but the reality is that the person who will send you to hell is you. That is not popular for me to say this and I realize that some of the things I mention are some of the things I have struggled with but I know that selfishness is the pre-flight manual for the trip to hell.  Don’t like what I am saying?  I don’t either but it’s the truth…no…it’s the GOSPEL!  If we are to imitate Christ (see 1 Cor. 11:1) then our act of obedience is to make the selfless act of following God and taking up our cross (a symbol of shame).  If God calls us to suffer…it is the gospel. If God calls us to a church with only 60 people…it is the gospel.  If God calls us to serve in a capacity we despise…it is the gospel.  I am tired of the church, its leaders (myself included) and its adherents opting for a more selfish gospel when the words of Christ and his followers were radical, selfless and life-changing principles with one goal in mind: “Thy kingdom come…thy will be done!”  IT’S NOT MY KINGDOM COME AND MY WILL BE DONE IT IS THY KINGDOM COME THY WILL BE DONE.  ALWAYS!!!

So…

Quit being selfish and think of other people (Phil. 2:1-4).  Be gracious to God for everything He has given you (Rom. 8:32).  Confess those things you need to confess (1 John 1:5-9).  Resist the urge to fight discipline (Heb. 12:7-11).  Realize that your, my and our entire existence is to praise God.


Three girls reading togetherThe danger with any topic like this it to paint with too broad of a brush. But as we explore the spiritual changes in teens we must focus on the most common denominator. With this in mind I will focus on one area from the research of Christian Smith. His research has been the most in depth and groundbreaking to date. It has also been some of the most depressing. At the core of his research he found that most of our teens have a moralistic therapeutic deistic faith. Here is how he describes it:

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one- self.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Take a moment to let all of this soak in. You may need to re-read those five findings. What this basically says is that most teens have merged Christianity into the current American culture worldview. Christianity exist to help facilitate a lifestyle that will make me happy, have peace, and provide comfort when needed. God is not ever present in my life but I can summon him in times of crisis to help straighten out messes and get through hard times so I can be happy.  When I first read all this, my first thought was that this was not true of my students. But the more I have meditated the more I find it to be true.

What is worst is that the church and myself may be supporting this view of God. How much of our teaching is based on morality = a good and successful life? How many times have we done the self esteem lessons that focus on us without bringing the focus back to God (you are wonderfully made, God has a plan for you, etc)? How many programs and events are inward focused ? Many of our teens are simply believing what we have taught them and showed them over the last two decades. So where do we go from here? Kenda Dean’s book Almost Christian discovers that the most devoted Christian young people in the United States share four traits:

(1) They have a personal and powerful God-story that they can articulate. God is personal and involved in all areas of their life. God is not out there somewhere but he dwells in me. Decisions are made based on scripture because God is working through me and I am a part of his story.

(2) They belong to a community of faith. As we live in community we discover that life isn’t about me but about others. This community is not only limited to teens but a intergenerational community that can share faith. The older women teach the younger as the older men teach the younger.

(3) They have a sense of call to live for a larger purpose. They are not the center of the universe. They are wonderfully and complexly made to accomplish God’s purpose. They were made to do good works to bring glory to God.

(4) They have hope for the future promised by their faith. This world is not the end all be all. They know that they are living for heaven and not for the things of this world. Comfort is not the ultimate goal in life.

Andy Stanley says that our ministry is perfectly positioned to achieve the results we are currently getting. What results are you currently getting? What changes do we need to make to break the trend of a moralistic therapeutic deistic faith?

Rusty Pettus is the Student Minister at Graymere church of Christ in Columbia, TN.  He organizes the Student Minister retreat held annually in the month of March that encourages dozens of youth ministers.  He also holds a weekly podcast called The Student Minister Podcast.  You can connect with him at his blog at http://pettus.wordpress.com/.