Rabu, 29 Juni 2016

5 Ways to Deal With Bullying Parents

5 Ways to Deal With Bullying Parents

Bullying Parents
How to handle the parents who want to argue and abuse.
Last week, I talked to a public school teacher who mentioned to me that her dinner meeting with a friend had been cancelled the night before. I asked why. Well, according to her, her teacher friend had been having repeated problems with a little girl kicking other students, slapping them and threatening them. After repeated warnings and consequences, the behavior happened again, only worse. This teacher followed policy and sent the child to detention, to hopefully deescalate the situation and to protect the other children. But then the parents showed up at the school office at 3 p.m. with their team of attorneys. Her friend, and several of the other staff, were forced to stay as the whole situation blew up.
You may have seen several news programs lately on the problem of parents bullying teachers. As the saying goes, the parents used to hold the child responsible for their behavior and grades—today the teacher often takes the blame for a child’s behavior and grades. The article “Teachers face a storm of bullying—by the children’s parents” had me concerned and shaking my head.
Among other things, the article states: “40 percent of teachers quit in their first year, because of the excessive workload and the harsh realities of life in the classroom.” That’s four out of every 10 new teachers quitting after the first year! The article also states this frightening fact: “40 percent of teachers reported abuse from parents in the past year, compared with 27 percent in 2014.” The problem is clearly growing worse.
And how does this affect the church and those of us who work in ministry to children and families? Like in many cases, what is affecting the schools is affecting the church. Many children’s pastors have reported having parents shouting at them publicly, threatening them, teasing them, name calling etc. over lost books, a prize, behavior issues and so forth. I have seen it happen myself. For example, I rounded the corner on a Wednesday night to see a dad shouting at an AWANA leader for going five minutes over time. The AWANA leader handled the situation well, but it was embarrassing to be called names in a crowded church hallway. I intervened and tried to calm the situation, and pull the parent’s attention to me and to a less public area. This has happened in the past when we have enforced new policies, changed classroom locations or changed service times, for example.
So how can the church respond to the growing problem of parents bullying those who serve their children? Here are a few ideas that I have discovered from our staff and from other churches who have handled this well:

1. Realize that we are called to minister to broken people—broken families, and hurting parents.

Many are facing the fallout of tragedy, divorce, loss, mental illness, violence, stress and more. If we are going to err, let us err on the side of grace. This is one more reason why the church MUST disciple parents and families, educating them as to what family was first meant to be. Families need help, encouragement and support. Many are struggling.

2. Our culture explicitly and implicitly seems to teach us that the “GOOD” parents are the ones who “get in there and fight for their kids.”

Some parents are trying to fight for their kids, but they don’t know how, and/or they are fighting the wrong battles, fighting against the wrong people. Try your best to tear down those walls and partner WITH the parents. When a parent seems to be trying to start a battle, do not engage head on; do your best to try to diffuse the situation.

3. Several churches have begun reaching out to the public school teachers with baskets of school supplies, prayer days for teachers, gift cards, cards of encouragement and more.

This has made a huge impact in communities. Do not assume that the schools and the teachers do not want any help or input from you. Where others may have burned bridges, you can make inroads to minister, simply by serving and loving.

4. You can eliminate a lot of problems by clearly posting your rules policies in every classroom.

Communicate those policies every chance you get. This can help parents understand expectations, and it helps YOU not look like you are singling out one child.

5. Always remember and tell your volunteers: “You do not deserve to be verbally abused or threatened.”

If you see that happening you must intervene right away, and let your church leadership know what is happening. Confront the situation lovingly, in private, with a witness—preferably your lead pastor. But make it clear that you are making church a “safe place” where name calling and yelling are not going to be tolerated. Keep working for and modeling a better way.
What about you? Have you or your volunteers encountered incidences of parent bullying? How did you respond? What advice would you give to kids workers encountering this problem?

Free Youth Lesson Package: “Jesus and Stuff”

Free Youth Lesson Package: “Jesus and Stuff”

Youth - Stuff
Help students embrace a Christ-centered attitude toward their stuff.

Free Youth Lesson Package

From YM360, “Our culture puts a tremendous value on having stuff. And not just on having stuff, but being emotionally attached to our stuff. This message is played out in so many different aspects of our lives. We’re told a certain car will make us happy. A certain brand will make us cool. A certain gadget will make us fulfilled. And so many of us buy into these messages wholeheartedly. Especially our teenagers. Good thing Jesus had a lot to say about this.”
This lesson package includes:
  • Bible background
  • Lesson plan
  • Discussion questions

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Resource provided by YouthMinistry360.com

How Do Today’s Teens Compare to Previous Generations?

How Do Today’s Teens Compare to Previous Generations?

Previous Generations
Unpacking some numbers and trends.
Would you guess today’s young people are drinking more or less alcohol than you when you were a teenager?
What about drugs? More or less?
Last week Vox.com released an article with a title saying, “Today’s teens have babies less than you did.” Then the words “have babies” scroll off the screen and are replaced by the word “fight.” Then “drink.” Then “use meth.”
The article goes on to compare the results of the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey over the last several decades. It even allows you to select the year you were born (if after 1972) and compare your teen years to today.
The question I have to ask is, “Are they right?”
No, I’m not questioning the integrity of the CDC study. In fact, when the most recent survey was released (they release it every two years), I went through some of those numbers with you in detail.
The CDC report is good. It’s the interpretation or “spin” of the report you have to always carefully consider.
Years ago when headlines claimed sexual activity was down in the last decade, I took you on a tour of what those numbers actually revealed. The reality is, teen sex has not dropped in the last decade. If you don’t feel like reading my whole breakdown, the short of it is this: More kids were having sex in the ’80s and ’90s, then it dropped about 8 percent by the turn of the millennium, and has stayed pretty level since. In fact, the CDC’s reports actually say, and I quote, “These levels of sexual experience have not changed significantly from 2002.” (I broke down all the numbers in detail here in our Youth Culture Window article back then.)
So what should have the headlines read?
Again, it depends what vice we want to talk about. Binge drinking is down. Smoking is way down. But even the Vox.com report admits, trying marijuana is way up, about 10 percent. And sex? It’s down since 1991…but really hasn’t moved much in the last 14 years…among TEENS.
That’s where this gets a little more interesting. So far we’ve just been talking about teens. If we look at college kids/young adults, we get a different picture. In fact, casual sex is more common with this college-age group than years past. Mandy Stadtmiller described it well in the title of her Mashable.com article, How long until sex? For millenials, try 10 texts or less. She cites an interesting SDSU study revealing a huge generational shift in attitudes about sex, with acceptance of premarital sex increasing from 42 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2012 (and acceptance of same-sex relationship more than tripled). In fact, Millenials are 13 percent more likely to hook up (casual sex) than Xrs were, but with fewer partners. In fact, “sex with aquaintances in the last year” jumped over 10 percent as well in the last decade. In a world where 59 percent of young adults (ages 20-26) have sent a sexual text message, I guess this isn’t surprising.
So read the numbers carefully. When you read the Vox.com article linked above claiming today’s teenagers are watching less television…read the fine print. Because today’s teenagers are staring at screens far more than ever before, but now that includes Netflix and Hulu on their small screens…which, yes…officially isn’t television. (Nice spin, eh?)
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those doom and gloom guys who thinks today’s teenagers are all going to hell on a bicycle. In fact, I liked this Vox.com article because it shined a light on some areas where our culture has really made some strides (smoking, binge drinking, teen pregnancy…). I just want to make sure we don’t paint an unrealistic picture. We still have a lot of ground to gain, especially teaching young people sex matters.
So keep up the good work being advocates of truth, and be aware how the media spins things. 

Minggu, 26 Juni 2016

6 Christians Miraculously Escape Terrorists in Afghanistan

6 Christians Miraculously Escape Terrorists in Afghanistan

by The Voice of the Martyrs on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 02:53 PM
i am n, christian
About the Image: In northern Iraq, radical Muslims (ISIS) spray-painted the Arabic letter "N" on homes and businesses of Christians. The property owners were publicly identified as Christ-followers and given a choice to convert to Islam, leave or die. The courageous believers refused to deny their faith. More than 100,000 fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The location was Afghanistan and the time was 5:00 a.m. Inside an apartment, a handful of bearded men, heads wrapped in white or beige turbans, sat in a circle as if gathered around a campfire.
What drew them together? God’s Word. Positioned on the floor in the middle of their circle, like the hub of a wheel, were hand-sketched illustrations of Bible stories. Nearby, a turquoise pitcher of water and matching basin had been prepared for foot washing.
This was a Bible study.
In a tone just above a whisper, Farid, the group leader, prayed, “We thank you, God, for your willingness to meet with us this morning. We thank you for your presence here among us.”

A Knock at the Door 

Farid had just introduced the book of Acts when someone pounded on the door. Before anyone could react, dark-clothed intruders burst in brandishing rifles and knives. Farid was slammed to the floor. His hands were tied behind his back and a knife was placed just inches from his neck. None of the six men resisted.
Amid the panic and confusion came clarity in prayer. “God,” Farid prayed, “if this is the time for me to die, I forgive these people who want to kill me.”
Farid believed it was an honor to die for God’s glory. If he died, he didn’t want the intruders’ blood on his hands. “I wanted God to forgive them, and I wanted them to come to Christ as a result of my death,” he later said.

God Provides a Miracle

He closed his eyes, waiting for the prick of intense pain and the end. When nothing happened, he sensed God wanting him to stand up and leave the room. So he stood. His hands were no longer tied. The straps simply fell to the floor. He walked toward the door, which was guarded by two armed men.
“Sit down, dog,” one commanded. “You’re not leaving alive.”
The other pointed his AK-47 rifle at Farid and squeezed the trigger.
Click. Nothing. The rifle had jammed.
Click. Again.
The rifle’s failure to fire diverted both guards’ attention, and Farid fled. As he raced down the stairs three or four steps at a time, he heard gunfire. He saw bullets chip the wall beyond him, but he escaped unharmed.

Another Reason to Rejoice

The story of his escape is even more amazing in light of the fact that none of his five companions were injured. Only the leader of the terrorist group was accidentally shot. Inside a bag, police found an Al-Qaeda flag, two swords and a video camera.
According to police, the terrorists had planned to videotape the beheading of all six men and show it on the Al Jazeera television network. Evidently, the attackers knew Farid was winning Afghan Muslims to Christ. The videotape would warn missionaries, evangelists and former Muslims that they would be killed if they didn’t stop their evangelism and discipleship.
What terrorists wanted to accomplish that morning did not happen. Heads did not roll. Blood was not spilled. The only casualty was one of their own, even though none of the six Christians resisted with force.
Instead, followers of Jesus experienced yet another reason to rejoice in the awesome power of their sovereign God. No wonder the apostle Paul rejoiced in his suffering and wrote of his desire to “know him [Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
Excerpted from I Am N by from The Voice of the Martyrs. Copyright 2016. David C. Cook. Used by permission.

From Rehab to Redemption: The True Story of Lecrae Moore

From Rehab to Redemption: The True Story of Lecrae Moore

by Lecrae Moore on Thursday, March 17, 2016 at 05:19 PM
Award-winning hip hop artist, Lecrae, talks about a turning point in his life with an excerpt from his memoir, "Unashamed."
lecrae, unashamed, church clothes, anomaly
My days in rehab cycled between group counseling and isolation.
Being with a group was almost an out-of-body experience. I went into observer mode, and remained mostly quiet. You didn’t have to share unless you wanted to, but even if they had made me, I wouldn’t have known what to say. The thought running through my mind was, I’m not like these people.
They were all seriously messed up.
In my first session, I remember sitting across from someone who drank a gallon of whiskey a day and a girl who was strung out on drugs because her father kept raping her. Listening to them tell their stories, I realized that I was the only one in the facility who was a college student. The only one who had been given a range of opportunities to break the cycle and succeed.
But I squandered all of them.

Alone in a Room with a Gideon Bible

When I wasn’t in group counseling, I was stuck in the solitude of my room. Being forced to sit in an empty room, cut off from the world, was awful. But it turned out to be exactly what I needed. For the first time in my life, I was able to process everything I’d experienced without distractions or peer pressure. I didn’t have to live up to anyone else’s standard in that room. I could just think.
There was only one item in my room to keep me busy. I noticed a small book sitting on top of the desk. Leather-bound and familiar, it was a Gideon Bible—like you’ll often find in hotel rooms.
I picked it up and turned to the Book of Romans. I started reading and couldn’t stop. Chapter after chapter, it was like the words had been written for me:
“Including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling” (Romans 1:6).
“For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude” (Romans 1:21).
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).
“But wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth but are obeying unrighteousness; affliction and distress for every human being who does evil” (Romans 2:8-9). 
I kept reading because it was really speaking to me. And then I came to the sixth chapter:
“So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:21-23). 

Lecrae: "It was like a blindfold fell off my eyes."

I’d been celebrating things I should have been ashamed of, and I had been ashamed of what I should have been celebrating. I had been set free, but I was still living like a slave to my old life and old habits and old ways. I’d been liberated from slavery, but slavery had not been liberated from me.
I saw Jesus as my Savior, but not my Lord.
I thought that because God had given me grace, I could just do whatever I wanted. But doing whatever I pleased was only going to bring death.
Surrendering to God was the key to receiving life.
I walked back to the door and knocked until an attendant came. They mentioned during check-in that one of the few things you were allowed to do in your room was draw. So I asked for paper and something to write with. Since a pencil or pen was a potential danger to patients, they offered me a crayon. I had been going hard for months, but rehab gave me hours to sit alone with God. With a Bible in one hand and a crayon in the other, I began reading the Word and writing down everything God was saying. And He was teaching me mind-blowing things that no one else had ever told me.
When I decided to follow Jesus that night in rehab, I assumed that becoming a Christian would make life easier. I thought the rest of my life would be smiling and smooth sailing. I assumed women, partying, acceptance and all the things that I’d been a slave to for so many years wouldn’t tempt me. I thought I would walk around with a continual inner peace and serenity like Gandhi or something.
This turns out to be a lie that too many people believe.

The Truth About Being a Christian

You’ll actually experience more temptation, not less, after you become a Christian.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean you’ll start living perfectly overnight. It certainly doesn’t mean that your problems will disappear. Rather than ridding you of problems or temptations, following Jesus just means that you have a place—no, a Person—to run to when the problems come. And the power to overcome them.
I wish someone had told me this after that night, because when I started stumbling and faltering after I became a Christian, I hid my struggles. Why? Because I didn’t think it was supposed to go down like that, and because too many Christians I know lived by the same lie, and they condemned, shamed and rejected other Christians who messed up.
Since I thought I was supposed to be instantly sinless and my Christian friends did, too, I lived a double life. I acted like a Christian around other Christians, but I let loose whenever I wasn’t.

The Truth About the Bible

I can’t tell you where we got the idea that following Jesus is some kind of quick fix for all of our struggles, but it wasn’t from the Bible. No, Scripture is like one, big, unbroken story about people who decided to follow God and ended up failing almost as much as they succeeded.
After God told Abraham that he was going to have millions of kids, the old man literally laughed in God’s face. Jacob was a lying cheat before he met God at Bethel. And he was a lying cheat afterward, too. These are two of Israel’s greatest patriarchs.
Moses was a murderer, a doubter and an excuse-maker. He was chosen to lead God’s people out of slavery. David was “a man after God’s own heart.” But he was also an adulterer. His son, Solomon, was the wisest man who ever lived. But he had hundreds of wives. And Jesus’ disciples were all flawed in their own way. With such a long list of people who both followed God and stumbled constantly, why would we assume our experiences would be any different?
But somehow we do.

Continue Reading: From Rehab to Redemption (Part 2)

Excerpt taken from Unashamed by Lecrae Moore. Copyright B&H Publishing Group. May 2016.

What Is Your Student Ministry Known For?

What Is Your Student Ministry Known For?

Is your youth group known for what it ought to be known for?
A few years ago, I attended a missions conference hosted by our church. I have been to many missions conferences over my years in church, but this one seemed to be unlike any other. I have even been to a lot of good mission conferences, but this one seemed to spark action and thought in my heart. It got me thinking about what I want to be known for, and what I would love for our student ministry to be known for. I want to share a few things that I came up.
1. Be known for the Gospel—I want the Gospel to be at the center of everything we do. Since Jesus is at the center of the Gospel, this would make Jesus at the center of our lives. When people look at our ministry, I want them to see the Gospel in what we do. It should be breathed out of our budget, our relationships, our services and our calendar of events. If we are not careful, our event calendar can scream INTERNAL, when we should be becoming EXTERNAL! Our inward life of growing in the Gospel should compel us to be outward with the Gospel to others.
2. Be known for discipleship—Proper evangelism (as mentioned in the first point) will be an outflow of effective discipleship. If someone is effectively discipled, they will share their faith with others, because that is an outflow of discipleship. Be intentional about this. Choose your leaders based on this. Also, you as the leader need to model this. Be discipled yourself. It is impossible to disciple others without being discipled yourself.
3. Be known for loving the needy—At our missions conference, the speaker told me that our church consists of mainly white middle class people. I began to think: Yes, that is accurate. So, does that mean our city (which we are called to reach) consists of only white middle class people? Of course not! Always remember that your church should reflect the community in which it lives. Be involved in meeting the needs of the needy. Look for ways to serve and use your resources. Get your church and student ministry involved in meeting the needs of the community.
4. Be known for love—Jesus says that love is the greatest thing. In fact, God is love. It is in His character, and at the core of who Jesus Christ is. Love should drive you as the leader. The reason you do what you do should be out of a love for God. Out of that love for God comes a love for others. Be known for your love. Do not be ugly to others, but try to resolve conflict in a loving way in your church, and overwhelm guests in a loving fashion. Love people you are supposed to hate. Love people who are unlovable. Love the ones who are (in the world’s standards) your enemies. Bottom line: Love people! Love ALL people.
5. Be known for community—A community is a group of people coming together. The church should be this. We should enjoy the company of one another. You need to be in a small group or a Bible fellowship class of some kind. We must pray for one another. We must encourage one another. The church should not be a place where we bicker and fight, but rather a place where we encourage and love. Anyone should be welcomed to come into our community regardless of anything. 

Free Series Graphic: “True Grit”

Free Series Graphic: “True Grit”

SG - Grit
Support a sermon series called “True Grit” about the importance of perseverance in our faith.

Free Series Graphic

Download this high-resolution graphic to support a sermon series called “True Grit” about the importance of perseverance in our faith.
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5 Ways to Reach Apathetic Teenagers

5 Ways to Reach Apathetic Teenagers

How to appeal to the students in your youth group who just don’t seem to care.
For the last 24 years, I’ve been training teenagers to live and share the Gospel. The biggest challenge I’ve faced with many teenagers (and even some youth leaders) is spiritual apathy.
There’s this kind of dead-eyed look I have often seen in the audience when speaking to crowds of teens. And, over the years, God has unveiled some powerful ways to turn that apathy into intensity. Here are five of them:

1.  Recruit an air force.

There’s nothing like a spiritual air force of intercessors to send prayer bombs to shatter strongholds of apathy in young hearts and minds. There are prayer warriors I call/text before I preach to get them praying for the teenagers I’m about to preach to.
Twitter and Facebook are also great ways to get people praying for the teenagers you’re about to share with to have their hearts set on fire with the truth of God’s Word and the urgency of God’s mission.

2.  Preach on great subjects.

I think it was Spurgeon who said that the key to great preaching is great topics. But, sadly, far too often, youth leaders don’t deal with the greatest of topics. Instead they dance around subjects of self-worth, friends and behavioral issues instead of unleashing the full force of great theology. It’s in the shadow of the great theological issues of identity and adoption, justification and sanctification, heaven and hell where these other issues are truly dealt with at a core level.
Want to help a teenager have a strong self-identity? Unpack who they are in Christ!
Want a teenager to start sharing their faith? Unleash the impending reality of hell for their friends who die without Jesus!
Want to inspire a teenager to walk in purity? Unfurl the truths of the impending return of Jesus!

3.  Use drama.

At Dare 2 Share we’ve been using drama to paint a visceral picture of these great truths since our inception. There’s nothing like a dramatic video, sketch or skit to pound home the great themes of God’s Word into the hearts and lives of teenagers.
A quarter of a century ago I penned a dramatic piece called “Letters From Hell.” It asks the question what if a friend who died wrote you a letter from hell asking why you didn’t tell them about Jesus. Someone took the audio from it and uploaded it on YouTube with some visuals. So far this video has received almost two million views!
People ask me why I wrote it and my answer is simple … to motivate teenagers to share their faith. Some call it “scare tactics,” but I call it a dramatic reminder to every Christian of what is at stake for those who die without Jesus.
A lot of people don’t know that we also produced a dramatic piece called “Letters From Heaven.” It asks the question, what would a friend write to you if they died, went to heaven and wanted to thank you for telling them about Jesus? It is a powerful message of hope for teenagers to keep sharing their faith with their classmates, teammates and friends.
Whether it’s heaven, hell, the crucifixion, the return of Christ, the reality of spiritual warfare or something else, consider using drama to capture the hearts of your teenagers. When done well, it can have a powerful impact on young people and old people alike.

4.  Tell stories.

There’s nothing like a good story to transform apathy into intensity. Jesus did this throughout his ministry in the form of parables. The audience that listened to his powerful stories were so motivated that they followed him around like sheep follow their shepherd, waiting for his stories to feed on.
Always be on the lookout for great stories that will inspire your teenagers to follow Jesus and tell others about him. These stories are a spirtual currency of sorts with which we “buy” attention and “purchase” motivation.
And, on a side note, the more you are actively sharing your faith, the more stories you will personally have. God can greatly use these stories to motivate your teenagers to action when it comes to evangelism.

5.  Activate them on the spot.

We must help our teenagers to be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22). Teach on feeding the poor, then, when possible, actually feed the poor. Teach on prayer, then pray. Teach on sharing your faith, then, like we do at our training conferences, have them text their friends and begin a Gospel conversation.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said that we make disciples by “teaching them to obey everything” that he commanded. We are not called just to download truth into their minds but action into their feet and hands. When we do this we are also infusing inspiration into their souls. Because it is this brand of obedience that can forge in them a deep motivation to serve Jesus and transform typical teen apathy into high intensity spiritual inspiration.
For more information on how you can transform your teenagers from apathetic to on-fire, check out gospeladvancing.com … and don’t just watch and listen to the videos you’ll find there—put them into practice!

Why Your Prayers Aren't 'Working'

Why Your Prayers Aren't 'Working'

How prayer can turn into an empty exercise.
I wish I could say that my prayer life is one defined by consistent authenticity and audacious faith.
But if I'm being honest …
Prayer is one of the places I struggle the most in my walk with God. I struggle with slowing down long enough to pray. I struggle with finding a quiet place and getting alone. I struggle with praying big prayers with big faith. I struggle with being consistent and fervent with my prayers. I even struggle sometimes with following through with a promise I make to pray for someone.
In my case, it’s not that I doubt God's power; it's just that I so easily fall into a pattern of checklist Christianity.
What I realized recently though is that the place I may struggle the most in prayer is actually my expectancy. I’ve discovered my really biggest problem with prayer is that I just go through the motions.
I love our corporate prayer times at church because it reminds me to pray with faith and expectancy. We meet weekly for a dedicated hour of corporate prayer, and it is truly a beautiful sight. It's also quite obvious that there is a atmosphere of expectancy. There’s really no other way to explain why hundreds of people would show up to pray together in the middle of the week. We don't just show up to pray. We show up to pray to watch God move.
You might be thinking that it wouldn't make a lot of sense to go through the trouble of praying if you didn't expect something to happen—but I can assure you that it is quite easy to do.
In my case, it’s not that I doubt God's power; it's just that I so easily fall into a pattern of checklist Christianity.
Prayer without expectancy is prayer without power.
I make prayer a religious task instead of a natural part of my relationship with Him. Instead of praying with heartfelt expectation, I often find myself just going through the motions. I allow it to become more discipline, than delight—more duty than devotion.
Prayer without expectancy is prayer without power. And what I learned by watching a room filled with expectant prayer is that if I am praying without expectancy then I'm really praying without faith. And prayer without faith is not really prayer at all – it’s just empty religion.
Prayer was never meant to be part of checklist or just a bunch of empty words tossed up in the air. In fact, Jesus specifically warns of this type of heartless, faithless prayer in Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
“God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything hHe knows.” - Tim Keller
Prayer is simply a conversation with God that is defined by faith. It's the humble act of taking our natural concerns to a supernatural God.

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I don’t really think that the prayer has to look a certain way or sound a certain way to be heard by God. I don’t think that we have to be kneeled by a bed or locked in a prayer closet. And I don’t believe that a long prayer impresses Him or a short prayer disappoints Him. I just think that He wants us to be honest with Him and to pray with whatever faith that we can muster.
We can always pray with expectancy, because God always hears and answers our prayers. It may not be a “Yes”, but it will always be what is best, whether we understand it or not. Tim Keller says, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything He knows.”
Never forget that we pray to a God who works wonders (Psalm 77:14). A God who raises the dead and heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). A God who gives sight to the blind and strength to the weak (Isaiah 40:29). A God who is able to do far above anything we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Prayer is far too powerful to allow routine or religion to steal its’ effectiveness.

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/why-your-prayers-arent-working#1qk6FgwkrCR1W6ZL.99

The Church Does Not Exist to Entertain Us – Or Bore Us

The Church Does Not Exist to Entertain Us – Or Bore Us
Jesus never bored people with the gospel. But entertainment was never the point. Truth was the point. And truth is never boring.
I don't go to church to be entertained.
I also don't go to church to be bored.
  • I go to worship.
  • I go to read and hear from God's word.
  • I go to be taught.
  • I go to be challenged.
  • I go to be discipled.
  • I go to fellowship with other believers.
  • I go to be inspired into action.
When we reduce the gathering of God's people to an entertainment venue, we don’t enhance it, we diminish it.
When we reduce the gathering of God's people to an entertainment venue, we don’t enhance it, we diminish it.
Diminish. That's such a benign word for the damage we do to the gospel when use it as a tool to put on a better show.
The only thing worse? Boring people with the gospel.
We’ve been entrusted with the message that God came to live on our planet, lived a sinless life, taught the greatest truths ever heard, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is coming back for us. You have to work hard to make that story boring. Yet we do.

This Is Not About Church Size, Pace or Liturgy

This mini-rant of mine has nothing to do with church size, liturgy, the pace of service, or any of the other facets of our church services that pastors spend so much time and energy on.
I’ve been in boring churches of all sizes. And I've also experienced the shiny veneer of a faux gospel in churches large and small. The same goes for churches with high and low liturgies, as well as services with a slow and intimate pace, to ones that are nearly frenzied with energy.
Thankfully, I’ve also been in life-transforming services in churches of all sizes, traditions, liturgies and energy levels.
None of that matters.
But doctrine does matter. A lot. We can’t proclaim the truth of a gospel that we’ve wandered away from. Or stripped truths from. Or hidden beneath layers of prejudice, tradition or entertainment.
Yes, the gospel should be attractional. As long as we’re attracting people with the gospel, not with the baggage we’ve added to it. The old adage is true: what we win them with is what we win them to.

Truth Is Better than Entertainment

Entertainment is cheap. And easy. The laptop I'm writing with can access more entertainment than we could have ever imagined. Or than any church can ever compete with. As I wrote in a recent post, “If we compete head-to-head with Hollywood on entertainment quality, Hollywood wins, the church loses.”
Jesus never bored people with the gospel. And a lot of his parables were very entertaining.
But entertainment was never the point. Truth was the point. And great truths are never boring.
Whenever entertainment becomes the point, or boredom becomes the result of our church services, we’ve missed something big. Something vital. Something beautiful, eternal and life-changing.
We’ve missed the truth of the gospel.
We’ve traded our birthright for a mess of stew.
We’ve cast our pearls before swine.

Finding the Truth in the Middle of the Gospel

Why am I writing this? Who's my audience today?
Maybe it's just me.
Sometimes I need to remind myself:
  • Never undermine the truth of the gospel for a better Sunday morning show.
  • Never preach an easy version of a hard biblical truth.
  • Never denounce the sins of others while avoiding dealing with my own sins.
  • Never give up on the hard work of finding that middle place between entertaining people with the gospel and boring people with it.
  • Never lose the wonder of the gospel – or of my privilege to preach it.
  • Never use the gospel to promote my own ulterior motives. Like getting a better offering or building a bigger church.
Never undermine the truth of the gospel for a better Sunday morning show
I need to embrace the entire gospel.
I need to preach a grace so scary that it makes legalists wonder if I have any standards at all.
I need to preach God's justice and righteousness with such fervor that people worry I might be turning into a legalist myself.
I need to reflect the creativity and innovation of the creator as I teach his truth.
And I need to live that truth with as much honesty and integrity as I can – in God’s strength, not my own.
That's not an entertainment approach to the gospel. But it will never be boring.

The Secret Sin at Youth Gatherings

The Secret Sin at Youth Gatherings

We act like this isn’t a big deal, but maybe it is.
So I was at a ministry event eating Way Too Much Pizza, and the guy next to me turns and says:
“I only eat like a glutton at youth group activities.”
And ever since I heard him say that, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.
Because it’s completely true.
If I ever eat six slices of pizza, or eat five donuts, or go back for a seventh bowl of chili …
… it definitely means I’m at a church thing.
I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.
Look through the Bible. Gluttony is an actual Sin.
Are we tacitly encouraging it during youth group?

I remember a New Year’s Eve party I did once. It was the end of the year, and we had enough budget money leftover to make it a good party. Students were eating candy and stuffing chips in their faces and drinking soda and there was Way Too Much Pizza.
I remember a chili cook-off where I challenged a student to a chili eat-off.
I remember my own youth pastor engaging me in a Mountain Dew chugging contest when I was a teenager.
Sidenote: If you provide your students with Mountain Dew, you forfeit the right to complain about how they won’t calm down for your message.

In fact, I think that I am more likely to eat sensibly at Thanksgiving or a Memorial Day barbecue than I am at a church event with free food.
What’s up with that?
What happens when we eat like gluttons at youth group?
Well, besides encouraging sin and undermining the teaching we might want to do about it later, we may also be setting students up with unhealthy habits that could very well hurt their health down the road.
Diabetes, obesity, cavities. … You already know the host of health conditions that are directly related to poor dietary habits.
Listen, the most important thing is helping my students know Jesus, but I don’t think I need to jeopardize their health to do it.
In our youth ministry, we’ve already gone caffeine-free. The free soda is gone and so are the vending machines. That’s because it was the very definition of foolishness to try to get a group of sugar-high, caffeine-filled 13-year-olds to sit still for long enough to experience something meaningful.
We’ve dialed back on sugar for the same reasons (and because we were tired of finding Skittles everywhere).
Maybe the next thing we need to address is the pigging out that we enable—and the example that I’ve become to my students. Because it’s true. I only eat like a glutton at youth group.
But my students don’t know that. All they know is that I seem to eat an irresponsible amount of food every time they see me eat.
And if my students decide they want to be like me, that’s not a habit I want them to emulate.
How about you? Are you only a glutton at church stuff? Or have you succeeded at responsible eating when surrounded by mountains of free food?

Senin, 20 Juni 2016

I Slept With My Girlfriend—Now What?

I Slept With My Girlfriend—Now What?

“I would simply draw attention to what he already knows—only put it in biblical words.”
A friend of the podcast, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes in: “Hello Pastor John, I’m a listener in the Middle East. I slept with my girlfriend two days ago, and now we are both left hurt and feeling dirty, cheap, ashamed—we cannot even look at ourselves. We are both born-again believers in Christ, but we got lured into temptation. Is there any hope that we might become pure again and be healed from our sin? I know the blood of Jesus covers every sin. But how can we get back our relationship’s purity again? Or is that permanently gone? What do we do now?”
I think this young man from the Middle East is beginning in the right place. He is, it seems, appropriately shattered, meaning something has been irrevocably lost. He and his girlfriend will never be able to go behind this sexual encounter and undo it. They have lost something very precious.
I begin this way, even though it may sound hard, because I feel a tender and jealous concern for those who are listening who have not lost their virginity. It is a very precious thing for men and women. The world views it as weakness, silly in fact. God views it as a very great strength and beauty beyond compare. And I am just as eager to help listeners maintain their sexual purity and virginity before they lose it as I am to help those who have lost it recover the purity that Christ makes possible. So that is why I am beginning the way I am beginning.
So I think this young man is beginning in the right place. He is broken. He knows that a beautiful thing has been lost. And he knows that the blood of Jesus covers every sin. So this is a good place to begin. Those who take their sins lightly and treat the blood of Jesus as a kind of quick fix have never seen the true costliness of what Jesus did to purchase their purity. So let me simply make a few observations that might prove redemptive and hope-giving to our friend from the Middle East and his girlfriend.
1) I would simply draw attention to what he already knows—only put it in biblical words. First Corinthians 6:18, “Flee fornication.” God’s will for unmarried people is that they abstain from sexual relations. And God makes this possible by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in his promises, and he gives sweet and special rewards to single people who honor him in this way.
Marriage has its special rewards for faithfulness, and singleness—chaste, holy singleness—has its special rewards for faithfulness. Married people can glorify God in some ways that single people can’t, and single people can glorify God in some ways that married people can’t. This is not a matter of inferiority or superiority. Singleness and chastity are a very high calling in God’s mind. That is the first thing.
2) I would say our friend—and he already knows this, but again, I want to put it in the words of Scripture so he can hear it from Christ and not just from me—should hear, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:28–29). Now let’s leave aside for a moment what it means to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. That is for another time.
But let all of us with tears of thankfulness, with trembling joy, let us simply revel in these words: All sins will be forgiven the children of man. That is breathtaking. Can you imagine anything sweeter for a person like the thief on the cross, just nothing but sin, nothing but sin for who knows how many decades? In other words, there is no specific, single sin or kind of sin that is so ugly, so gross, so offensive to God that it cannot be forgiven by the blood of Jesus. As John puts it, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from”—here it comes—“all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So that is the second thing.
3) It will be a huge challenge for this couple now in this situation to forgive each other; not just to receive God’s forgiveness, but to receive each other’s forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” But that is no easy thing. And I just want to help them realize how difficult this is going to be so that they won’t give up too quickly. What makes it difficult to forgive each other in this particular situation is not only that we are all proud and selfish people and we don’t like to humble ourselves before others, but it is also because in this situation there is a subtle temptation to shift blame onto the other person that belongs at least partly with yourself.
So while this young man may feel shame and conviction that he did not take more responsibility for chastity as the masculine leader and initiator, he may subtly be saying to himself that she was kind of seductive and she could have helped him stop and she didn’t and, thus, he begins to shift blame onto her—and she may be doing the very same thing. She may feel shame and conviction that she was too compliant or maybe even seductive and she didn’t resist when she should have, but she might begin to shift more blame onto him and find fault that he didn’t protect her in that moment of temptation.
In other words, mutual forgiveness is no simple matter because for forgiveness to be full and complete and real, there needs to be confession and repentance that is authentic and lasting. Both need to own completely their own fault in this and both, indeed, are at fault in this. Yes, they are. And both need to be willing to confess their part in this even at the risk of the other person taking advantage of them and putting more blame on them than they should have.
So you can see that what is needed here is not only the grace of forgiveness, but the grace to risk being taken advantage of, the grace to risk bearing more accusation than you think appropriate, the grace to treat another person better than you are being treated, you think, the grace to stay low before the cross when the temptation is to rise and feel superior, even superior that your repentance is better. So mutual forgiveness is very complex and grace is needed at every turn.
4) In view of all of the imperfections of human life and all the ambiguities surrounding mutual forgiveness, there will need to be a huge experience of the reality behind the old fashioned word “forbearance.” Forbearance is what you do when forgiveness has not remedied all the tensions between you. You think the other person should have done more. You think they should have changed more. You think they should have repented more. They haven’t done what your gut says they should do. So you can either walk away from that relationship—that has destroyed a million marriages—or you can forebear; that is, put up with, endure. The Bible talks this way. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, endures”—I mean, he says it twice—“bears all things … endures all things.”
And the key passage on this matter of forbearance is Colossians 3:12–13. It goes like this: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience”—and here it is—“forbearing one another.” Or you could translate it: enduring or bearing with one another. “If one has a complaint, forgiving each another” and so on. So forgive and forbear. Forgive and forbear.
5) And the fifth thing I would say to our friend there struggling in the Middle East with this mess that they have made: The restoration of trust takes time. It is possible to forgive someone and yet not trust them fully. Trust is earned. Forgiveness is not. We trust someone because they have proved to be trustworthy, not because they say they are trustworthy. Which means that when we have broken trust, which they have, both of them, it will take time to establish confidence in our character. So be patient with one another and be honest about this. It is very painful to look a person in the eye and say: I don’t know if I can fully trust you yet. That is enough to destroy a relationship. But to be dishonest to try to preserve the relationship, that will wreak havoc in the long run.
6) And the last thing I would say is just a great gospel word of hope. Yes, purity is possible again. Yes, forgiveness is possible. Yes, forbearance is possible. Yes, trust is possible. So here is the key, beautiful, beautiful text. 1 Corinthians 6:9–11,
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”—And here it comes.—“And such were some of you.”—Were. That can be spoken over you. I am talking to you, this couple now who may be listening to this together. That can be spoken over you. Such were. You were sexually immoral.—“Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

6 Steps to Writing a Bible Study

6 Steps to Writing a Bible Study

How to create a basic study lesson plan for your students.
I’ve sat in on a few youth group Bible studies and felt lost. The whole thing felt like one long casual conversation that wandered pointlessly from one topic to the next. In those gatherings, I’d watch the teens as they’d slowly moved from being focused, to being confused, to completely checking out. And I have to admit, they outlasted me, because I already checked out and started focusing on their engagement.
One of the basic skills of youth ministry that some youth workers seem to lack is creating a basic lesson plan for a Bible study. The skill is essential if you’re creating your own Bible studies for teens, but it is even more critical when you are evaluating resources to use with teens (if you don’t know the basics then how can you evaluate a resource). So I’ve put together this simple how-to on creating a Bible study that I’d encourage any youth worker to practice for a season (one-to-three months) just so they can get the feel for a well-crafted lesson time.
Step 1 – Study the Bible
I know that this is a jerky thing to start with, but it’s true. Let’s say for our purposes that you’re going to teach on a single passage, Mark 16:1-8.
The point of studying a passage is to figure out the lessons for your group. When I do this, I write them out in bullet points (here are my comments from studying the passage).
  • Doubt is a part of resurrection faith.
  • The central question in the passage is: “What happened to Jesus’ body?”
  • The women are presented with an explanation: “Jesus is raised from the dead.”
  • There are multiple ways that one could answer the central question.
  • The point is we need to answer the question for ourselves.
Step 2 – Learning Objective
Start the writing of the Bible study with clearly defined objectives. This gives you a goal to work toward with every aspect of the Bible study. Without learning objectives, your time can be prone to wander. Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t go off script if an unexpected learning moment presents itself. This just means that you have a focus and purpose from the beginning that will hold your whole study together.
Here are my two for the Mark passage:
  • To understand that doubt is a part of faith
  • To commit to a personal answer to the question: “What happened to Jesus’ body?”
An Aside on Learning Styles
Now we are moving into what you’re going to actually do with your group: the study time. At this point, you need to start thinking about the different learning styles for group members. So I suggest you draw some symbols on the side of your paper or download and insert this graphic into your document.
As you put together the various teaching elements to your Bible study, remember that each person has different learning styles. In order to engage various learning styles, make sure to add those elements into your study.
Step 3 – Explore the Issue
The purpose of exploring is to get teens thinking about the topic or learning objective. This can be done in many ways and is a great way to add a creative teaching activity.
Step 4 – Encounter God’s Story
The second major movement of the lesson presents or explores God’s story on the lesson topic by exploring the Bible reference or texts for the session.
Step 5 – Engage in Applying for God’s Mission
The third and last major movement of the lesson leads the group to apply God’s story to real life. Here is where Christian practices emerge that lead the group into God’s mission to redeem and restore the world.
Step 6 – Closing
This step is where you bring people to a point, to a decision, commitment of action or summarize the learning objectives. Then close in prayer.

5 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes in Youth Ministry

5 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes in Youth Ministry

They’re not just ugly squares—they can be a useful tool.
QR codes are a marketing goldmine for many companies and something that the church may want to look into. With companies like Kaywa or Google URL Shortener, you can easily and quickly make QR codes.
QR codes, or Quick Response codes, are a form of bar codes used with smartphone apps and webcams to immediately redirect the user to a website that is “programmed” into the QR code. For many with smartphones, the ability is there, but hardly anyone is taking advantage of it.
Imagine having congregation members see a flyer for teenagers to sign up for camp. Three weeks later, the due date has passed because the parents forgot to do so and the students never passed along the information after youth group. A single QR code could fix all of that.
Here are five ways to use QR codes in youth ministry and take advantage of this:
1) Promotional Signups: As we shared above, use QR codes with all of your advertisements. Redirect the user to a website that takes their name, address, verifying email and maybe even payment if you can accept credit cards. Put them on the corner of posters and flyers, in the bulletin of the weekly church service, and even on the signup sheets that you pass around for those that do not have smartphones.
2) Scavenger Hunt: Take a night off from youth group meetings to have fun and go out. Divide the group up into even teams and make sure that at least one member of each group has a smartphone and has the QR code downloaded on their phone. As prep work for this even, print off QR codes onto stickers and place them around the church or community if it is a small town. As with all scavenger hunts, give them an initial clue to find the first QR code, and after several checkpoints, have a prize at the end. Using a website to provide the clues, this event will be a hit and a great way to make an event go from good to great.
3) Shirt QR Codes: A trend for businesses is to hand out free shirts and put a QR code on the back of the neck where it is out of the way but scannable for those interested. Youth ministries are always handing out shirts for events to students and volunteers. Put a less-than-prominent QR code on there to link to some website to promote your ministry’s next programmed event. Make the page static, but always update the page like an electronic newsletter.
4) Parent Resources: Parents are always looking to get more resources for their children, and youth pastors need to take advantage of this opportunity. When you hand out flyers or resources to parents, use QR codes to link to different resources that they could buy or participate in. Maybe it is an article from Orange Parents or a resource from Simply Youth Ministry. Whatever the resource, QR codes can quickly and effectively empower them to do parenting better.
5) Like Us on Facebook: Many churches are investing in social media. QR codes may be the perfect way to get people to like your page while they are sitting in the worship center for church. Link to your page, and from the pulpit, have your teenagers or parents like the page so that you can engage from this network as well.
How else could you or your ministry use QR Codes effectively?
This article originally appeared here.