Sex.

Sex is everywhere. Anyone with functioning eyes can see that.
We’re drowning in sexual messages, sexual addictions, sexually inappropriate media, sexual images, and even sexual cell phones. Let’s face it: We’re oversexed.

I’m convinced that sex is Satan’s #1 area of victory and ground gained in our world today. And what’s worse, so few in the Church want to get anywhere near the real issues.

Strangely enough, sex is also directly connected to one of the very first things God said to the first humans, Adam and Eve.

“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…'” (Genesis 1:28)
You want a modern translation?
“Do it.”
“Enjoy each other fully.”
“Go all the way.”
“Have sex and make babies.”

Did you blush reading those? Is it hard to imagine God celebrating sex? That’s because our world has taught us that sex is something everyone should be doing and is also inherently dirty. Satan has taken the beauty of God’s creation of sex meant for a man and his wife and distorted it, twisted it, mangled it, and utterly destroyed it until we have the reality where we can’t even think about it, read about it, or talk about it without feeling a sense of discomfort. Unless you’re joking about it. Then, have at it of course. When you’re telling sexually charged jokes you can say anything you’d like.

We’ve gotten sex so far out of God’s context that we can’t even seem to know the answer to questions teenagers ask like “Is oral sex, sex?” and “How far is too far?” We celebrate songs and movies that portray sex as taudry, casual, and free of guilt and consequence. We pat Hollywood on the back and plunk down our dollars for tickets to movies with overtly sexual tones, none in the context of marriage.

Let’s not get confused: God LOVES sex. He created it for recreation and procreation. He created it in the loving boundaries of a marriage relationship. Take any sexual activity outside those boundaries and you will suffer consequences He never intended, designed, or enjoys seeing.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might be wondering where all this sex stuff is coming from. Well, 2 places actually.

When I got home today, my wife was flipping through a magazine that really isn’t her style. It’s a magazine my oldest daughter checked out of her school library. If I told you the name of the magazine you’d immediately recognize it. I won’t do that because I’m incensed at a) the magazine editors for publishing it and much more than that b) the school library for carrying it.

The other reason is that I was just invited to speak via Skype to a church youth ministry in CA about the issue of sex. Needless to say I’m honored and excited about that. I trust that God will see fit to use me somehow to be an encouragement, a challenge, and a blessing to those listening.

So, what can I say? It’s what’s on my mind, so it’s what I’ve decided to blog about.

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Advice I give…

I recently got an email from my cousin. He’s in ministry and was looking for some advice, guidance, insight, etc. I shared with him several things I have found in the past 15-16 years of student ministry. I thought I’d share them with you. You know, just for fun. Here’s part of what I shared with him…

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I’ve been at this student ministry thing for quite a while, and I’ll just throw out 9 great nuggets I’ve learned along the way. This list is neither exhaustive nor in any particular order:

1. Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from prayer. Don’t do one thing without first consulting God’s Spirit and God’s Word. I’ve seen scores of youth pastors with scores of good ideas that turned out to NOT be God’s ideas.

2. Know what your purpose as a ministry is. This one is huge. Everyone and their mother will have an opinion on this. The purposes of our student ministry is 4-fold: Reach students, connect students with God and other students, grow them into Christ-like disciples, and teach them to serve God and others for life. (Reach, Connect, Grow, and Serve are our 4 buzz words) If an event/program/idea/etc. doesn’t serve one of those purposes, we don’t do it. Some people are going to want you to make a “safe place” for the Christian kids to come. Some people are going to want you to make a place that is inviting to the unsaved teens. (These two camps often spend a lot of time throwing rocks at each other.) What is the heart of the ministry to students? I believe that it must be both those things.

3. Clone yourself. My conviction is that before I leave earth, I need to make as many other me’s as possible. And that’s not about me, it’s about Jesus. I want to follow Paul’s words when he said, “Follow (imitate) me as I follow Christ.” This is the heart of discipleship. The Church’s non-negotiable Biblical mandate in Matt. 28:19 is to “make disciples”. No matter how flashy, hip, relevant, or slick your youth ministry is—if it’s not making disciples then you’re just cool and nothing more. And you’ll find that kids and parents get over “cool” pretty quick.

4. Realize that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea. And neither is Jesus. You can’t possibly reach every person. Care well for those who come to your ministry, those you come in contact with, and do what you can to welcome all in. But when the day is done, don’t lose sleep over those who aren’t coming. That’s their choice. Remember that Jesus said that you’ll be rejected because He was rejected first. So, don’t expect everyone to be crazy about you and the ministry. Learn what you can from critics, but don’t let them sway you from your purpose and mission.

5. Do the important before the urgent. Jesus praised Mary and corrected Martha. Martha was focused on the urgent. Mary was doing the important. Beware though: they often look the same and well-meaning people will try and convince you that the urgent IS the important. It’s usually not.

6. Feed your own soul. Be a part of corporate worship when you can. For me, that opportunity is rare. As a pastor, I don’t get to sit in a worship service with my wife and just enjoy worshipping the Lord with her. So, I’ve got to stay close to the Lord and get edification in other ways from others. There is personal Bible study as well as online tools, webinars, podcasts, etc. that can afford those in ministry the opportunity to get encouragement. Even with a small budget, a worthy event each year is something like Group’s Youth Worker Convention. Youth Specialties does one, too. There youth pastors can get fresh insights, encouragement, and spiritual rest. It’s usually well worth the cost.

7. No ministry is perfect. Avoid trying to duplicate what other churches are doing. God hasn’t called you to other churches. There are transferable principles all over the place, but don’t think “I’ll do what they’re doing” and expect the same results. It doesn’t usually work that way.

8. Seek excellence, not perfection. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do as unto the Lord.” And yet realize that being in ministry is very much like working on an assembly line. You MUST have the discipline to step away from the line and rest. Believe me, when you step back to the line, it’ll all still be there. You MUST rest. And not once a year, but once a week. Pastors and ministry leaders aren’t exempt from the commandment regarding the Sabbath; they should be leaders in showing people how to rest.

9. Know that you’re called. There will be days in ministry when you’d rather eat glass then go another inch. Knowing you’re called to ministry is the safety net that will catch you from crashing and burning.

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I’d be angry too.

I’m fascinated by any dialogue regarding the existence of God. And I don’t say that as a “spiritual” person, as strange as that might sound. I say that as a human being with a functioning (debatable) brain. Honestly and truly, I’m so intrigued by the thoughts of others (and even myself) in relation to God, or gods, or goddesses, or a supreme cosmic whoever-you-are. Intellectually, sociologically, emotionally, and in many other ways–I’m just drawn to conversations like the proverbial moth to a flame.

Pretty consistently however, I have made an observation when I read the writings of atheists. They usually seem kind of angry. And I use the term angry in a loose fashion. Anger is a broad term and I understand that it might sound unfair. But indulge me because I’m about to put myself in the same boat. Far be it from me to look down my nose at anyone. I know myself too well to pull a stunt like that.

I was reading just yesterday a lengthy blog by a rock-solid atheist, along with the host of replies the blog post received; each one seeming to agree with the author’s position and thereby offering replies of support and cohesion with his stance. Fair enough. But as I re-read his post and even re-reading many statements several times, I couldn’t help but imagine in my mind a man who is so calloused and yet so seemingly clothed in the guise of a liberated mind. It was a post that was actually painful to read.

And I can say with a fair amount of confidence that if the author of that post happened to stumble upon this one as I write about him, he’d be very quick to tell me not to categorize him, pity him, or even speak about him. After all, he’s far too learned and therefore undefinable.

The sense that I got from his writings is that he has come in contact with a long line of people who perpetrate the argument that a God does indeed exist. And let’s not be pigeon-holed into speaking of one god. As we know, there are far too many gods in far too many religions for anyone to be able to say with a straight face that there is only one God. The Hindu religion alone has over 330 million gods. But what those he has interacted with or heard from afar would proport is that there is really only ONE God. So, with faith that flies in the face of science, intellect, and plain ‘ol common sense, this man has come out the other end with his conclusions:
-I am an intellegent adult human being.
-Science explains everything I need to know.
-Logic has no room for the notion of God.
-Those who would suggest otherwise are simply ignorant and weak.
-I’m sick and tired of “Christians” peddling their mumbo-jumbo in the name of their fairytale God.
-I have taken my anger toward them and will dispute loud and long the inadequacies of their “faith”.
-As for me, I choose a godless life.

And I confess that while all that makes sense on a very cerebral/logical and even secularistic scientific level, I must, albeit naively ask: “Do you have any need for hope?” I would guess that his answer would be a resounding “No.” It seems that hope is for those who can’t handle the current reality the way it is. Hope is for those who aren’t strong enough for today’s affairs and therefore must pin their dreams elsewhere. Put simply: Hope is for wusses.

And how might an atheist argue for human rights? I’m not saying that all atheists are on the same plain as cannibals, of course. But follow the “logic”. If there is no God, then no matter which way you slice it, we are a product of ourselves or more likely, some far off collision that accidentally happened and over billions of years we have become so evolved that we can create vehicles whereby we can send each other into space and back, we have created devices that allow us to have instant conversations with each other while on two opposite sides of the planet. We have evolved to where we have created a machine that can take a frozen burrito (which we invented), put it in a box for 2 minutes, and have a piping hot meal. So, if we are the result of such an accident then there is no power/being/force overseeing us. We’re it. And if there is no being overseeing us, there is no arbitrator or judge to which we will be help accountable. So, why in the name of us would I do anything civilized? Why would I treat another person with respect? Simply because that person is a fellow human being? Sorry, but that argument doesn’t stand to reason. Logically, without a creator, the creation should do exactly whatever the creation wants to do. After all, without a designer, there is no design. Without design, we’re simply random beings co-existing the same planet until our hearts stop pumping and our brains stop firing. At which point we simply decompose. So, to an atheist I am nothing more than a pre-decomposed being without any grasp of purpose, direction, or guide. I dare you to explain something to me that convinces me otherwise.

Yep, I’d be angry too. And honestly, I’m not trying to be belligerent or inflamatory. I have long ago become aware of the futility of argument between such opposing viewpoints. And yet what I read yesterday (and some might argue this blog is exactly the same thing) was dripping with such angst, such passion, and such disdain for anyone of “faith”. And I don’t know the intended point of the blog I read yesterday. I’m not entirely sure it had one. I freely acknowledge that the same could be said of this one. I’m just so intrigued by humans who seem so intent on eradicating their world of the nonsensical idea of a divine, loving God.

But to what end? It’s a preposterous idea to think that someday the entire earth will be covered with people who share a common view of a non-existent God. In fact, I believe the opposite will be true. I believe that the God who is the Creator will show Himself in no uncertain terms to His creation, and the earth will be covered with people who share the common view that there is indeed a God. A loving, caring, just, eternal, holy God.

And I don’t say that as a “spiritual” person. I say it as a human being with a functioning brain.

Used.

Let me start off by saying that if you’ve ever watched “The New Yankee Workshop” on PBS, you can appreciate what goes through my mind every time I watch it:

Norm Abram is ridiculous. With a million-dollar (at least) shop complete with every imaginable tool he’d ever need to build anything he’d ever want to build…I mean it’s no wonder he can do what he does. I don’t mean to totally discount his talent. I’m just saying, give me a woodshop like that and I could do much the same work. Many times, it IS about having the right tool. And he has this way of saying, “See, it’s just that easy.” Well sure Norm, it WOULD be that easy if my shop looked like yours.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Next Saturday morning turn on PBS and watch for yourself. Norm Abrams is ridiculous. Okay, Norm rant over.

The other day my oldest son was sitting at the breakfast table and said, “Dad, counting sheep doesn’t make you fall asleep. It makes you a shepherd.” So true, son. So true.

There’s a great verse for pastors/leaders found in Proverbs 27:23 that I refer to often:
“Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds…”

In that comical statement by my son the other day, God reminded me of what it means to be a pastor–a shepherd–a person who cares well for other people. In a word, its investment. Not investment for dividends’ sake (anyone in ministry can tell you that we’re not here for the paycheck), but investment for the sake of seeing people find, understand, and embrace the key realities of life; realities that so many miss out for a myriad of reasons. Realities like:
-We’ve all been created by God, our Creator.
-Our Creator not only loves us, but has come to us, and has a spectacular plan for each of us.
-That plan is best (and sometimes only) seen through the decision and acts of selfless living.
-Selfless living mirrors the life of Jesus, the One whom our Heavenly Father is pleased with.
-It is only through Christ that we find redemption; both future tense and present tense. (This statement is often labeled as narrow-minded, though it is anything but.)
-The ultimate selfless act committed on our behalf and for our benefit was that of Jesus’ death on the cross. It was in our place that He died and for our sake that He rose from the grave, so that we might have a re-established relationship with our Creator.

I could most certainly go on, but I want to keep the key realities central.
And it is for these truths that I live.

Rear-ended.

I was leaving work yesterday to run home and grab some dinner before having to come back for student ministry night. I was sitting at a red light in my ’92 Crown Victoria, when all of a sudden a felt a really hard BUMP and was jarred in my seat. Driving the old clunker that I do, I immediately thought, “Good Lord, the engine just fell out!” Then I looked up at my rearview mirror and saw a vehicle that seemed to look closer than it should. That’s when I realized, “I just got hit.” Not only did the car behind me run into me, but he seemed to be PUSHING on my car! I bore down on the brake and put on the emergency brake pedal. When I decided that I wasn’t going any further forward, I got out and walked back to the other car, a cute compact car with the engine revving, seemingly against my back bumper. It was like a dog pushing against a horse. I approached the driver’s window and saw an elderly man in the driver’s seat with his wife in the passenger’s seat. He was calling something out to me, but his window was up, so I couldn’t quite make it out. What was he saying? “Buy soot!” “Fry boot!” What was he saying? I opened the door and heard a clear “My foot!” (Turns out he didn’t want me to buy soot.)

He was telling me in his “old-man-I’m-panicked” sort of way that his left foot had slipped and was stuck underneath the brake pedal, while his right foot was still on the brake pedal trying to brake. I reached down, grabbed hold of his foot (after surmising that he was not injured, but only panicky), and moved it from behind the brake pedal. Oh did I mention? I first made sure his car was in “park”.

I thought I’d be cordial. “Hi, how you doin’? Are you okay?” They were both fine, but I grew increasingly confident that this gentleman had no business driving a car. And I hope that if necessary, somebody tells me the same thing when I get to that point in life. And then provides me with a chauffered luxury vehicle.

His wife seemed to have her head on a bit straighter and was able to give direction to her dearly beloved. Why she wasn’t driving, I’ll never know. So, I got his insurance information, checked my bumper and his fender and found that there was no apparent damage to either, and went on my way. Actually, an un-uniformed official of some type showed up soon after the bump, made sure we were okay, ensured we were exchanging information, and asked if we wanted a uniformed officer. I told him I thought we were fine, and that we’d be done and gone shortly. He then left. On the way home, I began to imagine that my neck was a little sore. And I began to wonder, “Maybe I should have called the police.” and “A helicopter ride would have been cool.” and “I’ve never lit a flare.”

So, that was my slice of drama on the road yesterday. And not that I wasn’t appreciative before, but I definitely was glad for being the larger car.

When its time for my next vehicle, I’ll likely forego the car lot and head to the army surplus store.

A supremely uncomfortable thought…

Have you ever seen someone you know before they know that you’ve seen them? Maybe it was in the mall, in the grocery store, at the bookstore, or at the coffee shop. For just a few seconds, you got a glimpse of how they live before they know that someone they know is seeing how they live. Not that they were doing anything wrong; its just that they were unaware that familiar eyes were on them.
This morning, I finished a book that I thought was really good. One of the things that was shared was the reminder that each one of us is living a life that is moment-by-moment being watched by God. And there’s not one thing we can do about it.
The odd thing for me is that quite often I live as though I am unaware of His eyes on me. I am unremembering (youth pastors can make up words…it’s in the Bible..or should be). I’m in line at Panera, and putting gas in the “clunker” I drive around, and I’m making a deposit at the bank. I’m often more mindful of the surveillance cameras around me than the flawless, eternal, loving eyes of God.
But go back to the memory you have of that time when you spotted that person you know before they spotted you, and you got that little window into their “unaware” life. When your eyes did finally meet, their demeanor changed, their expression brightened, and their “unaware” turned to “aware”.
My desire is to live a life of awareness leading to accountability. The truth that we all will stand before God and give an account of our actions, whether good or bad, isn’t a very popular thought because its not a very comfortable thought. That is, until we become aware. Like that friend of yours at the store who you bumped into, I want to live a life that reflects the embraced reality that God sees each thought, word, and action…and loves it.