An Altared Weekend

It’s my first day back in the saddle after a wonderful, whirlwind weekend at our high school discipleship retreat at Watermarks Camps in Scottsville, VA.  51 of my closest friends and I ventured out away from our routines to spend some time with God and each other.  Our theme for this retreat was “Altared” and while there is no way to convey in words the phenomenal experience we had there, I would like to fire off a few bullets that might give a little taste of what we experienced with the Lord this weekend. 

1. I’m glad we decided not to have middle and high school students together for our discipleship retreat. There were a couple other groups there with ms/hs mixed crowds and I was reminded that our decision to split them up for discipleship retreats is a great one. They’re simply at extremely different points in lots of different ways and being able to address one group at a time is ideal. (Our middle school retreat was a month ago.)

2. For the past several years I’ve been oscillating between being a “manuscript” speaker and an “outline” speaker.  Each approach has its own pros and cons, but this weekend I was heavily convinced of what I felt God wanted said and I didn’t want to rely too heavily on my memory to deliver it faithfully.  So, I went more with the manuscript but hopefully didn’t sound like I was reading.  I was passionate about the content and that’s precisely why I wrote as much down beforehand as I could while not getting so rigid that I couldn’t turn on a dime if led to.

3. Friday night we talked about the crisis facing our nation. I told students they were merely born into it, but God wants to use them powerfully to turn the tide of a society that is turning away from Him.  To that end, here is one of the statements God laid on my heart to share:

“This is ALTARED because that’s precisely what we’re going to see happen. This isn’t a weekend thing, this is a call to leave behind the weak-kneed, milk toast, limp-wristed, mamsy-pamsy, beauty pageant, shallow excuse for religion and instead throw yourself onto the ALTAR that leads you and anyone who dares into a life of trend-bashing surrender.”

And…

“You can be religious about football, you can be religious about marching band, you can be religious about video games, you can be religious about watching your favorite TV show, you can be religious about your studies, you can be religious about attending church, you can be religious about taking care of your body, but please don’t be religious about Jesus.”

We discussed the life-giving love that God has for all people and how that love serves as the catalyst that propels us onto the altar of self-denial and full surrender to His design for our lives.

There was much more we plunged into on Friday night, but that was quite the start of our retreat.

Saturday morning we talked about obedience and how we shy away from that word because it connotes weakness, submission, and being under someone else’s control; things that are undesirable in our world, and especially in our society.  In John 12:24, Jesus said that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it just remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many more seeds.  He was simultaneously talking about himself and his upcoming death on the cross, and he was also talking to us and His call to us to follow His lead to lay down our lives for others.

We discussed the incredible discomfort that comes when we hear words like that and how even in the Church, this message gets watered down and instead we try and make the Gospel more palatable so that more people will embrace it.

What does the obedient life look like? We discussed a few things that mark an obedient life:

1. Abandoning every other hope, including yourself. (Identifying the places your faith is that aren’t God.)

2. Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus. (Seeing what distracts us and what results from it.)

3. Strengthening our spiritual friendships.  (Here I made the statement that they don’t need accountability, they need spiritual friendships.)

Saturday night we looked at Romans 12:1-2 & 9-10; the first two are the invitation, the second two are the result of accepting the invitation.

Sunday morning served as a time of sharing as well as an honest look at the cross.  The cross serves as our “portable altar”.  The words of Jesus are “take up your cross daily and follow Me.”  (Luke 9:23) We wrapped up with an underscoring of the word “daily” and all that means for us today.

A couple pics I took during the weekend…

Some of our students, just before worship started Friday night

Some team building we did on Saturday morning

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I can’t stop laughing.

Think about Jesus…right now.

What is he doing?

If you’re like most people you just thought of a still-life head shot of Jesus, framed on a wall and looking into the near distance at something over your left shoulder.  His hair is conditioned, his eyes are blue, and his skin is flawless.  Clearly he uses only the best sunscreen. And moisturizer.

If you’re like many people you’re thinking of Jesus walking through a field, or standing on a hill, or strolling by a sea, or on a sea, but not an ocean.  You definitely didn’t think of him standing on a cliff, or walking up steps, or laying on his tummy with his chin in his hands, propped up on his elbows, girl-talk-sleepover style.  Because nobody thinks of Him that way.

Or maybe you thought of Jesus under a tree with a toddler on his knee, a la Santa Claus.  Because to many of us, we like the idea that Jesus is like that favorite uncle who always has a half-dollar in his pocket with your name on it.

I do a good deal of laughing.  I once heard that good hard belly laughter equates to like half a sit-up. I don’t care much about that.  I just love laughing.

Another way in which we don’t often think about Jesus is to think of Him doubled over in gut-splitting laughter.  That thought alone just made me laugh out loud.  I mean can you imagine tears rolling down Jesus’ cheeks and his wheezing out between hysterical gasps of laughter, “Stop it! Stop it! My gut hurts!”

We don’t think about Him that way because the Bible doesn’t really talk much about Jesus’ funny bone.  But there’s way more to Jesus’ life than what’s written down in the pages of the Bible.  John 21:25 tells us that if everything Jesus did was written down, the world probably wouldn’t hold all the books that would be needed.  And you’re gonna tell me that at least a big chunk of those volumes wouldn’t have been dedicated to Jesus’ supernatural humor?!?  C’mon!

What would Jesus have laughed at?  Let’s guess…

The magi.  I mean who brings a baby gold and spices?

The drowned pigs.  I don’t care who you are, demon-possessed bacon is hilarious.

Peter sinking in the waves.  I can hear Jesus now: “You shoulda seen your face, Pete! That was priceless!”

I’m not saying this to make light of Jesus or His life, or anything He did.  Quite the contrary.  I think we’d all do well to consider that Jesus way more than likely doesn’t fit into the tiny box we’ve got Him in.  And maybe if we let Him out of the confined space we’ve crammed Him into, we’d see that there’s so much more to our Savior to celebrate, revel in, and even laugh with.

I’ve said it before and feel free to chisel it on my tombstone: Those who follow Jesus are those with the greatest cause for hilarity in the entire world.  No one should be laughing more than those who’s souls have been set free, those who’s sins have been forgiven, and those who walk with the One who owns it all.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?  Have I gone too far?  Did my foot slip into sacrilege?

Just for fun, I looked everywhere for the worst picture of Jesus laughing I could find.  Here it is.

Anti-bullying campaigns are missing the point.

Some of you might already hate me for the title of this blog.  And I can’t say that I blame you.  Maybe you think I didn’t think it through quite enough.

But I did.

I learned in public speaking that you should never start with an apology. Here’s why I’m ignoring that rule:

1. I think its sometimes called for (case in point).

2. I want you to know where I’m coming from; that I’m not just stirring up trouble because I like rocking the boat. I don’t. In fact, if you know me, you might categorize me as a “people pleaser”.

3. By now, the beginning of this post is behind us, so I’m safe to apologize.

I’m sorry if what I share here offends you.  I’m simply speaking from my observations, thoughts, and convictions. You may have some views & beliefs that stand diametrically opposed to mine.  And I love the fact that you’ve read this far. And I respect people with differing views than mine. They’re some of the most fascinating people I know.

There’s been such an increase on anti-bullying campaigns recently. My own kids (I have 4) have all brought home pages, newsletters, special alerts, and even contracts complete with a line for signatures (theirs and mine) that they’ll help keep their hallways, classrooms, playgrounds, cafeterias, school buses, neighborhoods, communities, and world free from bullying.  Do I think that’s a bad idea?  (Who am I, Hitler?)  Of course I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Promoting messages that encourage kindness, cooperation, patience, acceptance, and all around niceness is good.  Very good, in fact.

But what we’re missing is a clear addressing of the actual problem.  Bullying is not the actual problem. Bullying is simply the easily targeted symptom.  Easily targeted because it doesn’t take much to make a pile of flyers with a signature line at the bottom, collect a percentage of them back, and feel like you’ve done something good.  In many ways, you have. We can hold assemblies complete with testimonials, motivators, and commitment cards and feel like we’ve really taken a bite out of the issue.  We really haven’t.  Oh, it might make a difference for a time.  But it’ll be back to how it was sooner than later.  (I heard a teenage girl say nearly these very words just a couple days ago.)

Why won’t this approach squelch the problem of bullying? Because we’re not placing the right value on the humans around us. And here’s the thing: we can’t.  We can’t value others until we each see how much we ourselves are valued. Next time you see a psychologist, ask them, “Why do people engage in bullying?” Their answer will more than likely include something to this affect: “The person bullying is themselves someone who is hurting; who doesn’t see themselves as valuable, and so they seek that sense through the denigration of others.”

Your sense of your own worth doesn’t come from you. It can’t. We can get all “Stuart Smalley” and talk to the mirror, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like me.”  And that’ll work for a while.  That is, until the opposing message comes in and crushes it.  And it will.  Not “if”, but “when”.  The current reality of our school systems bear that fact out loud and clear.

So where does your value come from, if not from you?  It comes when we recognize that you and I are created.  We are crafted by the creativity of a thoughtful, loving, powerful, and passionate Creator. It is when we take the Creator out of the equation that the creation has no solid place to stand.

What does this Creator say about you?  Well, to name just a few things: You are His design, His desire, His affection, His attention, a recipient of His love, His mercy, His compassion, His direction,  His creativity, His beauty, and His grace.  There are probably 100 other things that describe how He sees you, but just those–if taken to heart–should begin to shift your view of your value more than any campaign can.  When THAT Creator is heard and what He has said about you is accepted and embraced, something happens inside. Something that not only lets you believe what He says about you, but lets you treat others differently because you realize its true about them as well.

As a victim of bullying, I absolutely stand in support of anti-bullying efforts. But as someone who sees myself AND YOU as the workmanship of my Creator, I will always share that message as well.

What about you? How do you think we can best address the issue of bullying?

Help Them Grow…Past Us.

One of the greatest encouragements I see as a youth pastor today is the growing sense of excitement (old schoolers would call it “fervor”) in young people for the things of God.  And just so I’m clear: I’m talking about the God of the Bible, the God of heaven, the God of Christianity.  Not Christianity the religion, but Christianity that places Jesus Christ at the center of history, at the center of their worldview, and at the center of their lives.  I can see a new generation of young people side-stepping their skeptical, even nay-saying counterparts and engaging in a new, refreshing dialogue regarding the goodness and business of God on earth. It seems that being blasse’ in regards to Jesus has become passe’ among so many of the teens I see and interact with.

ImageCase in point; my oldest son is in 7th grade and this morning he left early for school to attend his school’s Bible Club.  To the left is the pass he needed to be permitted to come to school early.  Take a look at where the Club is being held.  Last week it was room 714, but this week it’s the band room.  Why?  You guessed it: The group of students coming to a public school Bible Club was too large for room 714.

And all I want to do as an adult is to fan into an even larger flame (2 Timothy 1:6) that passion for holiness, for hilarious joy, for a life of worship, for discipline, for leading a grace-dripping life that seeks not to merely exist or survive, but to thrive in the captivating presence of God.  Don’t you want to have a hand in lifting them up, too?

What can we as those slightly older than these young people do in order to encourage their passion for God, His Kingdom, and His graciously loving work on earth?  

A motor scooter divided against itself…

I wish I could have taken a picture of it.  You wouldn’t have believed what I was seeing.  I was driving home yesterday, taking the backwoodsy route instead of the highway.  I made the turn onto that backwoodsy road and almost immediately came upon a young man riding a motor scooter.  I noticed right away that the rider was sitting kind of cock-eyed; almost side-saddle.  He seemed to be struggling to keep his balance.  “Weird”, I thought.  And because of his painfully slow rate of speed and the length of that backwoods road, I had plenty of time to figure out exactly why he was struggling.

Soon after noticing his posture and awkward lean, I noticed the cause of it.  I looked down at the two wheels of his scooter and something was obviously wrong with the scooter’s frame.  The two wheels were literally leaning in opposite directions.  It was the strangest guy-on-a-scooter thing I’d ever seen.  Clearly, this rider was trying his best to drive a motor scooter that simply wanted to drive away from itself.

I’ve recently heard people quote Abraham Lincoln when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Unfortunately they don’t seem to realize that Abraham Lincoln was actually quoting Jesus and not the other way around.  (Matthew 12:25)

Jesus was speaking to those who were accusing Him of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.  What kind of sense would that make?  Like it or not, Jesus just caught the religious uppity-ups talking nonsense.

I had a great chat last night with my kids around the dinner table.  We were discussing why it is (as young people who love Jesus) they don’t get involved in the way many other kids at school talk, just for example.  Specifically, why weren’t they getting involved in the gossip, the slander, and the profanity–all of which they hear around them on a non-stop basis?  Why not give up and jump in?

Their answers were clear and filled with conviction, but what I liked most was their simplicity.  In essence, they could see just how broken that path was and they wanted no part of it.  They were saying that they’d made their decision and while swimming through their everyday life in public school was/is anything but a picnic, their decision to steer clear of a one-foot-in-and-one-foot-out approach to following Jesus is holding strong.

Because even though they are young, they’ve already seen that a house divided (in this case, a half-committed follower of Jesus) is a miserable existence.  They are by no means perfect, just as their dad isn’t perfect.  But they are clear on their decision.  And for that I’m so thankful.