Jerry Thinks.

Marriage. Parenting. Ministry. And anything else.

I’m not a “homophobe”.

“You’re such a homophobe!”  “Why don’t you just go back to your bible study, you homophobe!”  You’re nothing but a narrow-minded homophobe.”  “Stop spewing your hate, you homophobe!”

If there’s one word I’m incredibly tired of hearing, it’s “homophobe.”  It used to make me angry.  Now it just makes me sad.

homophobia-739571I’ve heard this term used so many times, and it’s always coming from someone who is for gay marriage toward someone who is against gay marriage and/or homosexuality.  But what the person using the term doesn’t understand is that the term “homophobe” doesn’t fit at all.  What they are saying is that you have to agree with homosexuality and if you don’t the only other logical explanation is that you’re afraid of homosexuality. Its just a misused scare-tactic and a terrible one at that.

A phobia is, simply put, an irrational fear of something.  Like heights, or spiders, or enclosed spaces, or planes, or clowns.  I have no fear of homosexuals.  None whatsoever.  Gays that know me can vouch for that fact.

And yet it seems that if someone has a conviction that the marriage relationship should be reserved for one man and one woman, then they are viewed as holding an opinion that stands in the way of the homosexual movement in our country, they are therefore slapped with the label “homophobe.”  I don’t get it. I mean, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to call someone in favor of gay marriage or homosexuality a “heterophobe”?

For all you Christians out there who are trying to fight the tide of gay marriage in America….you can stop now.  That ship has sailed.  The snowball is way too far down that hill and its only a matter of time before every state in America recognizes the union between two same-sex individuals and legally calls it “marriage”.    (In case you’re wondering the current state count where gay marriage is legal is 17 and counting.)  Despite what you might think, I’m not “surrendering” or turning my back on conviction or changing my mind.  I just recognize a foregone argument when I see it, and I know what a cultural shift looks like.  This is the biggest one since the 50′s and 60′s in my opinion.

Okay, we get it.  The homosexual movement is well into the process of changing the cultural norm so that same-sex couples are commonplace and nobody looks or thinks twice anymore.  And we’ve got to hand it to the mainstream media.  They’ve been pounding away at this drum for years upon years upon years.  They’ve played the leading role in the desensitization of this issue.  Congrats.  No matter what I think, say, or do, my children and grandchildren will live most of their lives in a country where homosexuality is as wide open, wide spread, and widely accepted as heterosexuality.

But simply because my conviction differs from yours, please don’t call me a homophobe.  You actually couldn’t be more wrong.  I’m not fearful.  I’m faithful.  And hopeful.  I’m not bigoted or narrow-minded.  I’m not enemies with homosexuals.  I’m enemies with Satan and I hate him for how his deceptions are destroying our country and world.  All I have for all people; gay or straight is love.  And God helping me, I want you to see that just because someone calls Jesus their Lord and Savior doesn’t mean that they fear you or hate homosexuals.

Is there a loving God who made us all?  Yes.

Have those who love Jesus failed at showing His love as they should?  Yes.

Is our country in a new day of identity and definition?  Yes.

Have we marginalized the God of the Bible on the basis of his “irrelevance”?  Yes.

Do we ALL need a spiritual awakening?  Yes.

Does any of this mean that I’m a homophobe?  No.

 

 

Boo-hoo.

cry_babyWe’re turning into crybabies.

All this declaration of our rights is making us weak.  Follow the progression…

I deserve X.

When I don’t get X, I get to cry foul.

Why? I deserve X because somebody else has X and they’re no better than me.

Therefore, if I don’t get X, I’m going to complain until I get X.

My neighborhood has a Facebook page.  It’s a place people can post things like “My dog got out, can you let me know if you see it” and “We’re having a yard sale” and “Hey, there’s a shady guy in a hoodie. Lock your doors” and stuff like that.  But there are frequent rants too.  One recent post was someone complaining about how the local elementary school had a fire drill and their kid was made to go outside without a coat.  This particular wall post had lots and lots comments, many commiserating with the troubled parent.

Boo.  Hoo.  Hoo.  Your kid went outside without a coat.  Let’s lynch the teacher, principal, and administration for the uncaring, unthoughtful, and reckless monsters they are.  My kid was a tad uncomfortable for 10 minutes.  Boo.  Hoo.  Hoo.

Now, the irony that I seem to be complaining about people complaining is not lost on me.  I know you could point the finger at me and say my complaining is no better or more justified than anybody else’s.  I get that.

But I want to point out the fact that it seems that by and large, we’re becoming a spoiled people. And an entitled people. And a complaining people. And therefore a weaker people.

I’ll put myself in the shoes of that parent who had their kid outside for 10 minutes without a coat (my kid goes to the same school).  My child comes home and I say, “How was your day?”  They say, “Good, except we had a fire drill and I had to go outside without a coat.  I got cold out there.”  I say, “Oh really? That’s a bummer. Well, glad you’re okay and it was just a drill.”

Was I uncaring? Was I calloused to the fact that they were cold for 10 minutes?  You make the call.

Taking away my kids' problems robs them of the lessons those problems come loaded with.

Taking away my kids’ problems robs them of the lessons those problems come loaded with.

What I’m trying to do is to teach my kids that the inconveniences of our lives are usually where the lessons live.  That with discomfort comes strength.  That when we see something that seems unfair, we should remember that we’re not always the best at defining fairness.  And that yep–life is sometimes if not often quite unfair indeed.  But that unfairness is by no means a license for whining.

Are there things worth fighting for?  Sure there are.  Are there injustices that ought to be righted?  Of course.  But from what I can tell we’re becoming a people who are bent on trying to make EVERYTHING okay for EVERYONE.  It can’t be, it won’t be, and it shouldn’t be.

And on a grander scale, us trying to complain ourselves into a better future is simply as nonsensical as it sounds.

 

“Complaining is the language of cowards.”  -Dan Webster

 

H[ear]T

babys in headphonesMusic plays an integral role in our formative years.  As a dad to four, I regularly get the eye-roll from my high school daughter when I crank the tunes of my youth and tout how THAT was when music was good and how today’s musicians are largely big corporation products rather than authentic artists.  But I digress.

The fact that music shapes us so dramatically leads most of us to be passionate about our tastes in music.  Having been in student ministry for nearly 20 years now, I’ve seen so very clearly the role music plays in the life of a high school student.  I recently asked a roomful of teens what type of media they’d be willing to live without.  Nearly every one of them declared they couldn’t live without music.  It’s incredibly powerful.  And it might be something we’d do well to give a bit more thought to.

Now let me assure you, I’m no legalist that claims to listen to only “Christian” music.  I love Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, and U2.  I love Five Iron Frenzy, Matt Redman, & Hillsong.  I love Steve Miller Band, Billy Joel, and Bon Jovi.  I love David Crowder, Gungor, and Vigilantes of Love.  So don’t think I’m pinpointing any particular type of music.

Every style has its own inherent message.  Listen to rap music, and you’ll think life is about stacking ‘dem g’s and smacking ‘dem        ‘s.  Listen to country music and you’ll think life is about getting that porch swing kiss, throwing back that shot of whiskey, sitting on that tailgate, and bemoaning that lost love.  Listen to mainstream pop and you’ll think life is about dance, and fame, and fun, and carefree, go-with-whatever-is-in-front-of-you kind of living.  Slice it anyway you want to: What goes in our ears goes in our heart.  And what goes in our heart comes out our mouth.  (Proverbs 4:23, Luke 6:45)

I don’t believe that music is all-powerful and that looking into your iTunes is looking into your soul.  But I do believe that I can make a direct connection between the music a teenager regularly listens to and the general attitude of that teenager’s heart.  I’ve seen it too many times to discount the undeniable power of music.

So, what is the answer?  Well, if you believe there is one I think it starts with a return to two powerful words and understanding the difference and similarities between them:  Entertainment and Edification.

The mind set only on entertainment will justify its intake of otherwise objectionable content.  It will say things like “I just like the rhythm. I just like the bass.  I just like the melody. I don’t listen to it for the lyrics.”  But if that’s true, how it is that the same person can sing along to every word?  Saturation, that’s how.  Because being entertained has won out over being mindful of intake.

The mind set on edification looks and listens through a different lens.  Not a lens that says everything not a hymn is from hell, but a lens that is more discerning and more discriminating.  That mind knows that there ought to be a portmaster checking the cargo of every ship that would seek entrance into its harbor.  That mind knows that “all good things come from God” (James 1:17) and that Jesus didn’t die to make us legalistic, party-pooper, rule-followers. He died to make us alive and free.  And we are fully alive and fully free when we live lives that revel in Him, His goodness, His creativity, His grace, and His presence.

So know that your ears and heart are indelibly connected and as you enjoy the gift of music, you are shaped by the power of music.  Don’t be afraid to make split-second decisions on what you allow in, knowing that what comes in will find its way out in how we think, speak, and live.

As you unpack…

simply-youth-ministry-conferenceToday thousands of youth leaders from all over the country are heading home from the Simply Youth Ministry Conference (#symc).  As they do, they’ve got a lot on their minds.  I’ve been to my share of conferences and I’d like to share some advice–in short order–to those who find themselves (today or any other time) returning from a conference, and how to make the most of the time and money you or your church just spent…

1.  You’re the you God put where you are.  Be that one.

You probably caught yourself comparing your ministry to others and maybe even thinking/wishing that where you are looked more like where “they” are.  Don’t.  Stop that.  Cut it out.  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” but sometimes we switch that out for “Go and make comparisons.”  If you’re called to where you are then live like it.  If you’re not then don’t be afraid to say so and move on that conviction.

2.  You picked up a lot of ideas.  Good for you.

Choose the top 3 and map them out.  But not this week.  There’s nothing worse than the eye rolls your students or fellow staff give you when you get all “That’s IT!  We’re changing EVERYTHING!” right after a conference.  Temper those good ideas with a few questions like: a) how do I contextualize this idea? b) how do I contextualize this idea? c) is this even a good idea for our ministry and d) how do I contextualize this idea?

3.  Stay connected with those new friends.

You met people there who likely live far away from you.  You should stay connected with them.  I’m not saying share a latte over a Skype session every afternoon, but use them to share thoughts with, bounce ideas off of, and even vent to.  Them not being near you is something you can benefit from.

4.  Say “Thanks!” to those who sent you.

Did your church board approve your conference?  Write them a letter of thanks.  Did your senior pastor go out on a limb and spend non-existent budget money to get you there?  Make a point to share your genuine gratitude (and it wouldn’t hurt to actually DO something with what you experienced).  Did your spouse handle the house, kids, chores, and job while you were galavanting up and down the corridors of youth ministry wonderfulness?  Well…I’m sure you’ll think of something to properly thank them.

Did you go to SYMC2014 or any other conference that has taught you some post-event wisdom?  Share it!

 

(And if you want info on SYMC2015, click here.)

Lent is here.

lent-ash-crossToday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season.

As I sit and watch social media posts about what people are giving up for Lent, I think it’s important to ask ourselves some fundamental questions:

1.  What are the origins of Lent?  Is Lent biblical?

2.  Why do people (or I) give up things for a period of time?

3. What is significant enough in my life that if I were to give it up for a time it would definitely adjust my view?

4. Why would I tell anyone a) that I’m giving something up for Lent and b) what that something is?  

If we’re not careful, the enemy of our souls can use even the Lent season as a device of pride, self-righteousness, and distraction from Christ Himself, Who is the reason for it all.

How To Be Forgiven By God

forgivenI’ve got a lot to do today, but I just had a brief visit from one of our youth leaders who serves on our teaching team for student worship services, Robin Harper.  She handed me a fat stack of slips of paper that students had written on during a response time yesterday.  More than one of them essentially said that same thing; something that stopped me in my tracks.  The words written by several students:

“I’m ready to be forgiven, but I don’t know how.”

My heart sank and aches to think that there are teenagers, children, or adults who want desperately to leave the burden and shame of their past mistakes behind, but don’t know how.

The great news is this: It couldn’t be simpler.  But first a story…

Tony Campolo tells the story of being on an airplane and watching a fellow passenger move through the cabin asking other passengers a bold question: “Are you saved?”  He got to an older gentleman seated next to Campolo and listened to his response to the man’s very direct question…

Passenger 1: “Excuse me sir, but are you saved?”

Older gentleman: “Yeah… I guess I’m saved.”

Passenger 1: “Can you tell me exactly WHEN you were saved?”

Older gentleman: “Well….not exactly….it was about 2,000 years ago.  And I just found out about it recently!”

We aren’t saved because of any effort of our own here and now, we are saved, forgiven, and set free because of the accomplished mission of Jesus on the cross those 2,000 years ago!  Don’t think God forgiving you is anything but your receiving of a completed work of grace and love on His part.

So…how can  you be forgiven by God?  It’s simpler than you may think:

1.  Be honest about your need for forgiveness.  (If you’ve read this far, that one’s probably already in the bag.)

2.  Tell God that you want to receive the forgiveness of your sins (past, present, and future) that only Jesus made possible by taking the penalty of your sins onto Himself.  God instantly removes your sin from you.  (Psalm 103:12, Romans 10:13, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 1:9)

3.  Live daily knowing that you are completely set free from condemnation (Romans 8:1) and are invited to live a life surrendered to God’s grace and use (Romans 12:1).  In other words, “Freely you have received…freely give.” (Matt. 10:8)

You are a new creation.  Everything old has passed away.  All things are now new.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)  People will question it. Friends might doubt it. Family may turn from it. Satan will definitely attack it.  No matter what: Stand on it.  You ARE forgiven by the God who made you, loves you, and wants you to walk with Him right now and always.

God Is In Your School

godinschoolAs a parent of 4 kids who all attend public school (ranging from elementary through high school), an ongoing rumbling inside me is the tension between God thriving through my kids in the context of their school, and my kids surviving the spiritually dark hallways of their (and most) school systems.

Recently, I’ve been asked by a parent about how their son/daughter should start some kind of ministry on their campus.  Before I share my thoughts, let me first say that I love the fact that students are eager to engage their peers on the public school level for the glory of God.  Because if you spend 6 hours a day in a building, I think you ought to be on the lookout for where God can use you there.

Okay, here are my thoughts on Christian teens starting something on their public school campus:

1.  God is already there.  

If nothing else, simply acknowledge that God–despite our society’s best efforts to push Him out the door–is still very present in public schools.  How do I know?  Because teenagers who love Him are there and they carry Him in every day.  The only way for public school system to get rid of God on their campuses is to remove every single Christian teen from those schools.  That fact alone should give any student courage to move forward by simply asking, “Where does God want me to join in?”  

2.  Your school probably doesn’t need another “club”.

Go to your school’s website and look for the entire list of clubs that are offered to students.  Most times, its an incredible list that covers the gamut of role playing games, improv, chess, juggling, mock trial, hiking, and knitting.  Now, I’m not against the word “club”, but I have become somewhat opposed to making your “bible club” just another ladle on the smorgasbord of extra-curricular options.  Maybe instead of a huddle in the chemistry lab for 30 minutes after school on Thursdays, students obtain a list of tasks the principal, office staff, or janitor needs done and they do it.

3.  Decide who it’s for. 

Most “bible clubs” I’ve heard of or seen in operation are ingrown because they’re designed as a bomb shelter for Christian kids.  That would be fine, except in those same groups kids are wondering why more non-Christian teens don’t come.  Maybe it’s because of the prayer circle, maybe its because of the worship music sing-along, maybe its because chubby bunny just isn’t that interesting after all.  I’m not saying an evangelistic-approach group is better than a discipleship-approach group, I’m just saying decide which you’re aiming for and go with it.

4.  Start with a few.

You might think I’m aiming low here, but the premise is to start with one (maybe two) like-minded friends who have an interest and passion to see God work on their campus.  Meet Monday and Friday before or after school for 5-10 minutes.  Do that for a month.  Then, begin to let others in.  Start small and let it grow.  After another month is over, decide what your next step is.  Are you sensing there’s a call to announce an event?  Are you going to be more targeted and strategic in who is invited?  Make a decision…then move.  When I was a senior in high school, I along with 2 friends started meeting before school to pray.  By the end of the year we had a consistent 20-30 students gathering.

Just this morning I learned about one of our high school girls deciding with 4 friends that they’re all going to bring their Bible to lunch and have a discussion together.  They figured they’re chatting at lunch anyway, why not see what happens when they’re all chatting about the same book?  What might come from it?  

5.  You can’t fail.

Now, I’m not one of those people who want to do away with scores at ball games so no one loses, or stop having kids choose teams for kickball because that means someone gets picked last.  I think removing the prospect of failure is weakening our education systems.  That’s not the “fail” I’m talking about.  I think its incredibly important to know that if you are moving in faith on your campus, God will see it through.  Whether its short-lived or if you start a decades-long legacy your grandkids read about, you’ve joined with God on your campus, and you CAN’T fail when you’re walking with and trusting Him.

 

What do YOU think?  Do “bible clubs” even belong on public school campuses?  Have I missed some advice that you’d include?  What has been your experience in watching or being a part of ministry on a public school campus?

(If you’d like to read about students’ rights in the public school education system, click here.)

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