Monday, January 28, 2008

Fearless, pt. 3

The church at Smyrna is one of two churches in Revelation that are without condemnation from Jesus. This is remarkable considering Smyrna was a center of emperor/idol worship, having won the right (over 11 other cities) to build the first temple in honor of Tiberius. It had famous temples, beautiful architecture and efficient roadways. Smyrna was like every other city filled with images and opportunities to suffocate the spread of Christianity. Yet, this church was fearless and faithful to endure persecution for the gospel cause. The reason they could be fearless and stirred to faithfulness was because they lived for one who defeated death. Jesus is “the First and Last, who died and came to life again.”

You can be fearless in suffering.
The Smyrna Christians faced many challenges. They were persecuted for their faith in Jesus. This persecution likely included physical & emotional abuse, economic hardship and for some martyrdom. Jesus encouraged [commanded] them to be fearless. Notice, Jesus could empathize with the church but his words led to empowering victory over trials rather than grumble in misery.
Following Jesus does not mean a person will escape difficulty, suffering or physical harm. Many people face real pains, and some because of a real faith in God. Jesus “knows your afflictions” and faced many of the same things that grieve you. Ultimately, he invites you to experience victory over any helplessness and overwhelmed feelings you have. He has overcome death, and therefore can handle anything you ever encounter. He offers words of hope and empowerment. We can be reminded that whatever we face in persecution in life or for faith that though it is real so is the power of Jesus. Your confidence rests in his resurrection power rather than your own ability to endure and grind out hope.

You can be fearless in poverty.
The Smyrna Christians experienced poor living conditions probably due to their persecution. However, poverty did not define their entire outcome since they were rich toward Jesus. Their value and worth as a child of God far outweighed any benefit of material possessions.
Today’s world is captured by the ‘next’ latest and greatest fad, that of course carries a hefty price tag. We must realize our value does not stem from material possessions (clothing, cars, gaming stations, houses, jobs, etc.) but from relationships – with other people and ultimately with Jesus. Parents often desire their children to be experience rich while relationally poor.
[1] This happens thru desired involvement with sports, martial arts, instrument lessons, academic pursuits, church exposure, etc., all at the expense of real, dynamic and intimate relationships with people (parents, peers, adults, opposite gender – avg age for marriage has lengthened in past 20 years) and of course with Jesus. The Smyrna believers would give their life for Jesus because they sincerely knew and loved him.

You can be fearless in slander.
The Smyrna Christians were slandered by Jews opposed to Jesus and anything from Christianity. Jesus says they ultimately were being servants of Satan rather than true people of God (cf. Rom 2:28-29). The Bible consistently reminds believers that those on pursuit to please God should expect insult and difficulty (2 Tim 3:12). Jesus says their testing will be for a short duration (ten days) in comparison to eternity (Ps 37:1-2).
Likewise, we need to be cautioned in the way we use our words. We can use our words to speak of joy, hope and life in Christ or we can be used by Satan to tear down and destroy others (Eph 4:29).

· What does it mean to be fearless? Do you know anyone who is fearless? Describe such a person. How do you think a person becomes fearless?
· Do Christians face less or more tribulation/suffering than non-Christians? Explain.
· How does Jesus empathize with those who experience pain in life? (Read & Discuss Hebrews 4:14-16)
· How are wealthy vs. middle class vs. lower class people treated differently in society? Do you think this is right? What solutions do you offer?
· How does poverty define millions of people in our world? What can the “rich” do to help minimize, if not eradicate, poverty?
· What does it mean to be “experience rich while relationally poor”? Do you think this describes most teens, some teens or few teens? How about yourself?
· How are Christians viewed by the watching world? Do you think Christians are unfairly slandered? Do you think Christians unfairly slander the world, if so how?
· Have you considered the power of your words to either build up or tear down?

[1] See Andy Stanley Parental Guidance Required DVD

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where's the love?, pt. 2

John writes to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the most influential cities in Asia. It was a large city (250K+) and was the center of wealth, trade, politics and religious activity. One of the religious attractions was the Temple of Diana (Artemis). It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World with more than 100,000 square feet. It had over 127 pillars that were made with marble, gold and jewels. In essence, this became an institutionalized center of worship of false deities (idol gods, emperors, images, etc).

From Jesus’ letter to Ephesus you can learn 2 principles for staying in love with Jesus:

Love for God (or anyone) does not happen on accident.
The Ephesian church was a strong church. The apostle Paul stayed there for three years and Timothy was one of its pastors. Even the apostle John resided there for some time. Apparently the church was not idle or lazy since Jesus knows their deeds, hard work and perseverance. At one time they were known for being a church of great love (Eph 1:15). Yet, their condemnation was that they had forsaken their first love. In other words, they had become so involved with the work of ministry that they lost their motivation and first love.
The question is, is their first love with God or with other people? To answer this question I think one only has to examine John’s other writings. John says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot
love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)
Activity and movement in ministry (church activity programs) can become routine, and in a sense dull and cold. Every day, week, month and year should lead to evaluation of personal mission and purpose according to Jesus’ commands. If a program activity or task does not lead to yourself & others loving Jesus more and serving others then drop it! Don’t waste your life in the endless circle of insanity. Invest in your relationship with God and with others, Jesus did.

People do not fall out of love as much as they fall out of repentance.
Jesus gives the Ephesian church two solutions for renewing their first love. The first is to remember. The command to remember is a call to reflect on the past to reignite the original passions they had for God and people. Jesus said, “do the things you did at first.” Loving Jesus is meant to be simple as any other relationship. The second solution is to repent. Repentance deals seriously and honestly with sin in a person’s life. The reason love grows cold is not because feelings of love have grown cold as much as feelings of selfishness have increased temperature. When decision-making and solutions to problems start with a “what pleases me” attitude, then you know it is time for repentance.

• How does a person become in love with another?
• Which is easier – to love God who you cannot see or to love others whom you can see? (See 1 John 4:19-21)
• Do you think a person can “fall out of love”? Explain.
• What does it mean to repent? Can you give a specific example of how this is done in real life?
• Jesus told the Ephesians to renew their first love by “doing the things you did at first”. What do you think some of those things were?
• What “first things” did you do when you began your relationship with Jesus? Have you stopped any of them?
• What does Jesus mean that he will remove the church’s lampstand? Do you think this is possible for today’s church? How about for your own life?

[1] This line comes from book, Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The word for your church, pt. 1b

God cares for each church. In the letters to the churches in Revelation Jesus is walking among the churches and their messengers are in his hands (Rev 2:1). He has intimate knowledge of each church with their strengths and weaknesses. To some of the churches he gives a strong warning. His words pierce to the heart of each church’s issues. This is a profound reminder to pastors and churches that Jesus knows right where you are and continues to speak words of exhortation in hopes of renewing your love and passion for him. We should stop comparing churches to one another and realize God’s direct message to us individually.[1]

In relation to ministry with adoloscents, the message is the same. Jesus is not surprised by the issues you stress over. God knows the anxieties and pressures on every teen, parent and student leaders heart. Even more, he has the solution to every crisis... it's called repentance; the word for every church in Revelation and the word for every church today.

[1] Cross reference article by Ed Stetzer, “You Can’t Love Jesus and Hate His Wife”.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Revelation pt. 1a, O Glorious Day

One day when heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men my example is he

Living He loved me, dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
O glorious day

One day they led Him to Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, o’er death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord forevermore

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day my Beloved One’s bringing
Glorious Savior, this Jesus is mine

Music by Michael Bleecker. ©2006 Bleecker Publishing (ASCAP). All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Traditional lyrics by John Wilbur Chapman (Public Domain).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Revelation, pt. 1

This is the start of an 8-10 part series of insights I am learning and teaching to our students on the book of Revelation. This book is one of the most intriguing in the Bible. While intriguing it also can be difficult to fully understand as well as fairly debatable. All this being said, I have found the entire book can be summarized into 2 great themes:

Jesus is Champion.
This phrase describes Jesus as the main character in the book. On an important side note, Jesus is the main character throughout all of the Bible. In every book, chapter or verse the overall message teaches the reader something about Jesus (His identity, character or some other truth). The opening chapter of Revelation gives a truly breathtaking description of Jesus. This is no weak, pathetic, wimpy picture of Jesus; it pictures Jesus in astonishing presentation, filled with supreme power and glory. This is not your typical Sunday School Jesus. Other words that are used in the Revelation are Alpha & Omega, Almighty, Living One, First and Last, Faithful and True, as well as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, among many others.

Jesus is Coming.
This idea is weaved throughout the book (1:7; 2:5, 16; 3:3, 11; 22:7, 12, 20). It speaks of Jesus' second coming. His first coming was in humility and meekness (born in small town, meager conditions - manger scene with dirty smelly sheepherders). His second coming will be extravagant as every eye will see him and every knee will bow in worship recognizing his holiness and pure beauty.

What does all of this have to do with you and I? This is for the curious and the comfortable. The curious can read this book to see Jesus for who he really is, not for who and how he's presented in pop culture. The comfortable pew sitting Christians can read this book and become energized to be about the purposes of God. The comfortable should not waste resources of energy, time, talents or treasures on peripheral things. The Revelation is a call to live in light of these 2 great themes. Will you join us?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

One YP To Another

Words of THANKS and much love go out to the guy who was my youth pastor. He is my hero when it comes to knowing other youth pastors and in some sense modeling my own youth ministry after. My old youth pastor (I say old for 2 reasons: 1. He is old :) 2. It has been over 13 years since he has been my youth pastor) retired from his youth ministry after sixteen years; yes you read that right – in youth ministry for over 16 years!!! That is simply unheard of in contemporary ministry, much less youth ministry.

So, this post is some random “Why I am thankful Steve Howell was my youth pastor”
1) Steve kept it real.
What I mean is that he seldom tried to be someone he was not. Sometimes this was to his downfall but mostly it was to his benefit. You have to know Steve to understand what I mean by that. All in all, I appreciate the fact that he was authentic in his love for God and for students. He cared and everyone knew it.
2) Steve took the right things seriously… and well to say the other things not so serious would be an understatement.
Sometimes you wondered if he could ever hold a meaningful conversation. Then other times your conversation with him left you deep in reflection and wonder of how profound the statements or questions he offered. I think this comes from being a father of five, and more importantly having a dynamic, vital relationship with the Profoundest One.
3) Steve lived with integrity.
This one might replicate the first but it’s worth repeating and closing on. I know his family life has had its ups and downs as any family (especially in the ministry), and through all of it his faith remained strong, his character remained humble and he seemed to be intentional about being selfless. Perhaps his faith and character remained so Christ-like because he was selfless (Philippians 2:5-9). In fact his selflessness showed itself when his going away party lasted about four hours! People couldn’t stop sharing how much he meant to them. Influence and spiritual impact stem from a life of selfless service.

From one YP to another… thanks.