Jesus>the (future) President

Tomorrow, November 6th, Americans will head to the polls (if they haven’t mailed in already!) to vote for the next President of the United States. Presidential elections, thank God, only occur every 4 years. This year I’ve seen many of my friends and family alienated from one another because of emotional reactions to political opinions expressed in various formats. That, however, is not the subject of this blog.

The subject of this blog is what happens tomorrow night. After all the votes have been counted (which may actually take a couple of days), a President will have been decided. But something really odd happens after an election- some on the the “losing” side begin to wax depressed about how the country will fall into some dystopian state because “the other guy” won. People put so much stock in their political candidate, and invest so much emotional and intellectual energy into the cause of their preferred candidate that it negatively affects their disposition in a very strong way. I’m not saying it’s unnatural to have some sort of emotional reaction when you face disagreement, especially from half the country… but here’s what I am saying.

I’m writing this to ask Christians to check their hearts before heading to the polls. Many of you will feel this overwhelming sense of dread if your candidate loses. What if it means the end of America? Or at least America as we’ve known it? What if the newly elected President supports legislation you think is incredibly damaging? What if they’re pro-choice? What if they want to keep getting involved in foreign wars and conflicts? This will all lead to catastrophe!

Remember, when early Christians affirmed the statement, “Jesus is Lord” they did so in opposition to the Romans’ insistence that “Caesar is Lord.” Jesus fundamentally stood in opposition to the worship of the highest office in the land. Jesus is greater than any ruler. He’s the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and I’m sure if the office existed during the writing of the Bible, he’d be the President of Presidents. These aren’t spiritual statements. They’re political statements. They all proclaim this one central truth: Jesus>.

Jesus>political parties.

Jesus>ideology.

Jesus>the President.

Jesus>fiscal policy.

Jesus>foreign policy.

Jesus>your candidate.

Plain and simple. Jesus is greater. All I want is for Christians to keep this in perspective as they approach the polls tomorrow.

If, after the election has been decided you feel a sense of dread, I would suggest you’ve elevated a man and his philosophy to the place of God in your heart. If you’re placing your hope of well being in who gets elected President, you’ve offloaded God’s responsibility to the President. If you believe that everything you’ve known can’t withstand a Republican or Democrat in office, you’ve elevated them to an unhealthy level, and rejected the teachings of Scripture. Remember, Romans 13:1 says that the authorities that exist have been placed in authority by God. God is truly the decider of elections. Not you. And He’s in control. So let Him do His thing.

So tomorrow, if you find yourself on the “losing” side, remember this: you are on the winning side because God is in control. Thank God, suck it up, and be a cheerful loser. Congratulate the “opponent”. Rejoice, because God has a better plan than you do. America is just a place, the Church is a people. People are always more important than a governmental system or political philosophy. Ultimately, tomorrow’s election will be simply that: God’s will being elected. All because Jesus is greater.

Arguing Against Atheists?

An important chapter in the narrative of my personal faith journey has been the influence of classical Christian apologetics on my life. What I mean by “classic Christian apologetics” or what I’ll just call apologetics is the systematic intellectual defense of the Christian worldview. Which practically comes down to Arguing Against Atheists (and other worldviews… I’m a pastor, alliterations are a requirement). Encompassed in the field of apologetics are a wide variety of intellectual disciplines- systematic theology, biblical theology, philosophy, science (particularly biological and cosmological), and rhetoric. Now, my personality has always been very investigative, and I tend to want concrete answers to everything, as much as possible. 

In coming to faith, I had some intellectual concerns with Christianity. I had an incredibly wild experiential encounter with the Holy Spirit where I spoke of things I’ve never heard of before. Sort of like a huge experience of deja vus. Though, I knew that my brain could have merely been playing some trick on me- I could have been having some psychological phenomenon happening to me that some scientist in a lab coat could have explained away. So that set off the alarm to go do some research. And research I did.

I began to read books by Christian apologists to provide me with a reasoned explanation of the Christian faith. And I also read books by anti-theists trying to provide a reasoned explanation for why theism was intellectually bankrupt. So began my affair with apologetics. Needless to say, the Christian apologists had more sound arguments to my teenage ears.

This relationship with apologetics has continued, even until now (for the most part). For my senior project, a state requirement for all public high school seniors, I taught a class on apologetics to my youth group peers. I even ran a college small group last year entitled Apologia, where a group of students gathered to reason through issues faced by Christians.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to wonder just how effective apologetics is. This isn’t to say that it is a useless field… no, it definitely helped me provide a logical framework for my new faith. But I wonder if while we logically oriented Christians are arguing away with atheists, we are subverting our own worldview. How often do we forsake loving and respecting our “opponents” for the sake of being right? 1 Corinthians 13:2 says essentially that all the smooth talking, brilliantly worded arguments (prophecies) in the world cannot get you anywhere if you don’t have love. I’m not saying that disagreement (argument) necessitates being unloving- hardly. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps in our efforts to bolster our faith we’ve forgotten that the best apologetic is a life well lived (1 Peter 3:15). I think an excellent work for every Christian who is interested in apologetics is a book called “Humble Apologetics” by John Stackhouse. My ever so wise pastor, Kevin, required me to read it before teaching my sunday school course on apologetics. If you’re going to do apologetics, do it with a sincere and humble heart, quick to forgive, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

I just wonder how much apologetics is still relevant. For a small percentage of western culture, apologetics may be relevant and valuable, but I really wonder if all apologetics is doing is sidetracking people from the truer reality. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known who are more content to sit locked up in their house behind a computer arguing with people on teh interwebz then actually engaging with needs in their world. Yes, Christianity has logical grounding, and yes that may be what some people need. But far more people need to know that even though you have “answers” you aren’t too blind to see that they want someone to sojourn with them through the doubts, fears, and struggles they are experiencing in this scary world.

At this point, I don’t really have answers and I sort of waffle on the utility of classical apologetics anymore. I know they were valuable for me during my faith journey and for that alone I’m willing to consider that we still need people to hammer out “reasons” to believe. But I’m still uncertain whether or not the apologetic culture is really advancing the Kingdom of God.

I also wonder whether apologetics is the product of a sort of culture war mentality. The type where Christians have to go to battle with every other belief system to assert our intellectual superiority. The kind where we blatantly ignore scientific data simply to maintain our box that we keep God in. The kind where Christians create some dichotomy between faith and science- like we can’t believe in both evolution and Christianity (I have some students who are so staunch about evolution not having ever existed that I think it really puts off some youth who are not Christian… this isn’t to say evolution is necessarily correct, rather that the matter of factly assertion that it’s not “true” is just as incorrect as the matter of factly assertion that it is “true”). Aren’t we really just taking up our sword of intellect to attempt to slaughter our intellectual enemies, often to the neglect of people and their very real concerns and doubts?

I just wonder if we’re too busy arguing while the world is burning.

What do you think? Is apologetics valuable as a whole? Is it helpful in certain circumstances? Can we carefully and considerately propose our Christian worldview while still maintaining a loving attitude? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Beale on Typology

G.K. Beale sure to bring some revitalization on the topic of typology. Typology has been mostly forgotten or stayed alive only in Reformed traditions and is a vitally important piece of good exegesis in my opinion. Excited to see a forward scholar weighing in on such a vital topic. Beale is currently my favorite scholar for his impeccable work in digging deeper into the Biblical text while remaining faithful to the overall theological narratives being communicated in scripture. Thanks to Kevin Fiske for the heads up on a must purchase for pastors and scholars.

One of the most controversial and potentially difficult issues within the realm of biblical interpretation is that of typology.  How are the people, places, events, and circumstances of the Old Testament text to be interpreted and understood insofar as their connection to subsequent people, places, events, and circumstances is concerned; especially as they relate to Christ and the church?

Greg Beale, in his forthcoming book, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2012), provides a helpful definition for considering that which may be properly understood as having typological significance.  He defines biblical typology as:

The study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in meaning. (p. 14)

After defining biblical typology, he offers…

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Dealing with Disagreement

Thanks to memecenter.com for this awesome meme.

To (aspiring) Christian leaders- if I can tell you one thing that will come during your leadership, it is disagreement. People will disagree with you. Some people may not like the way you do a certain thing, your views on a certain area, or your approach to an issue. This is inevitable. People aren’t going to like every single thing you do. Get used to it.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw a tantrum any time somebody thinks you’re wrong. Being wrong doesn’t mean you are a terrible leader. The fastest way to prove that you’re a bad leader is by responding poorly. One of the best ways to show that you’re a good leader is to respond to criticism with grace, understanding, and wisdom.

There are a couple different ways of dealing with disagreement.

1.) You can be angry:
It’s easy to become angry when somebody disagrees with you. It’s easy to buy the lie that if somebody disagrees with you, they dislike you. They very well might, but generally we should separate disagreement from dislike. James 1:19-20 tells us that the proper response for a Christian includes being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” Anger only stops us from hearing what the other is saying: don’t let your pride stop you from hearing what God may be saying to you through the other. It also can offend someone very easily. It also makes you look like a jerk and can alienate you from many Godly relationships. And it can make people hate you. Just sayin.

2.) You can be discouraged:
It’s discouraging when somebody disagrees with you. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead of letting yourself be discouraged when somebody disagrees with you, see it as a time to grow. The other person may be genuinely crazy and be completely wrong. But it’s not very likely. Much more likely is that they have a legitimate concern. Be quick to hear it, and see it as God using people to push you in the right direction. You should pray, weigh their opinion against scripture, and consider the context and the consequences of their critique. You may come to the conclusion that they were wrong. But you should be encouraged that you grew closer to God by praying through it, studying the scripture, and approaching the situation with a gracious heart.

3.) You can use it as a growing experience:
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have a leadership team that is far more experienced and practiced at Youth Ministry than I am. In fact, I have leaders on my team that have been in youth ministry longer than I’ve been alive. That is a challenge at times- but I respect so much their willingness to submit to my authority (those crazies!!!!) and trust God’s guidance for bringing me into ministry where I am. That said- when my leaders, church members, or others feel the need to say something to me, I listen. I often come to a different conclusion than they do, but by goodness I’m going to listen. I may view ministering to students in our context differently than they do based on a number of factors- life experience, growing up with students like we’re ministering to, etc. but God brought these leaders and church members into my life to teach me as much as I’m supposed to be “leading” them. Every time there is a disagreement, even though I may not agree about the issue at hand, I can still grow by submitting to their God-directed concerns. I can still see it as a chance to grow in grace. I can still use it as an opportunity to lovingly disagree.

What are some ways you deal with disagreement? Are there constructive ways that you deal with it? Destructive? Any stories you’re willing to share of times where you grew through disagreement?

Environmental protection, Animal abuse, and the Christian

There is someone who attends my youth group casually who is very passionate about protecting animals and the environment. These are two areas where I think Christians by and large have failed to live up to the standards of the Bible (particularly the environment). I was asking for this student to provide a reason why animals (and by extension the environment, though not the subject of our discussion) should be treated fairly and equitably. It was hard to provide any reason beyond the fact that they deserve to be treated fairly/they feel pain. Though I agree that pain is a driving factor in why animals should be treated equitably, I believe there are more systematic reasons why. So to be fair to my student who I pestered for a number of comments, here is why I believe animals and in turn the environment, ought to be treated fairly and justly.

 

As a devout Christian, I believe the Bible is the record God left of his interactions with humans. I believe that, though it was physically written by the hands of men (and some women!), the thoughts and principles contained within it were inspired by God’s Spirit. Thus, I think that when the Bible sees fit to discuss a topic, it is important we listen. One challenge that is present when dealing with the Bible is interpretations of what it actually means! The Bible is written in 3 different languages, with the oldest sections being written likely over 3500 years ago and the newest being written about 2000 years ago! That’s a lot of time to pass between then and now, and it’s a lot of time to pass between the beginning phases of writing and the final phases! That being said, one of the oldest sections of the Bible we have is what is called the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

 

Though there is much disagreement in the scholarly community about the dates/authorship of the Pentateuch, I believe it was primarily written by Moses in the period of time when the Israelites were leaving Egypt through Moses’ death. The first book of the Pentateuch, and the Bible, is the book of Genesis. Genesis begins at the very beginning- with God creating. In that beginning God gave form to everything- he gave it a purpose and a job. The light-bearers (created on day 4) were supposed to contain and harness the light (created on day 1) the land to hold animals, etc. The final day, day 6, God created both animals and humans. The charge God gave to humans? Multiply and “have dominion” over both the land (environment) and animals.

The problem is- for the longest time Christians read “have dominion” as- “do with it whatever I so please” rather than the more accurate understanding of the word which is to “steward.” To steward means to care for and protect- like the Steward of Gondor was responsible for carrying on the business of the kingdom of Gondor as well as protect it while the King was away. This is precisely the sort of work that we humans were supposed to be doing in the Garden of Eden: taking care of it for God, because it is His temple.

So Christians misunderstood what the term “steward/have dominion over” meant- but there is also another problem. Christians throughout the world believe that Jesus will absolutely come back again to this earth. The book of Revelation speaks of Jesus returning riding a white horse and a sword coming from his mouth. There are also some passages in Revelation that speak of 1/3 of the earth being consumed in fire, as well as 1/3 of the stars falling from the heavens, etc. Many Christians have thought that when Christ comes again, he will just transport us into heaven- where we live on fluffy white clouds playing harps all day. Unfortunately, this is a misinterpretation (in my opinion) of the passage of scripture that speaks to the “rapture” mixed in with a healthy amount of Hollywood’s version of heaven rather than the Bible’s. So, you have people who not only think the earth was made just for us to use it to our absolute benefit without looking at the cost, but they also think the earth will just be replaced when Jesus comes again. So they engage in what is known as a “scorched earth” mentality, where they believe that since the whole earth will be destroyed, then you might as well live it up and use up all the oil you possibly can!!! Beat all the animals! etc.

So, why do I think that it’s important to be good stewards of the environment as well as animals? Because God made us to protect and guard the animals and environment. He made this earth to be His temple- it’s our job to take care of it and prepare it for Him. When the Fall happened, we were broken and ashamed… but so was nature. We deal with a broken world as well, until Christ comes to renew the world (rather than throwing it away and starting over!). We need to be treating it with respect and love rather than with contempt (no matter your view on Global warming!). We need to treat animals with love and dignity because they were created by God, and part of our calling in life is to treat them with equity and fairness. Animal abuse is more than just a shameful activity- it actually subverts human nature, because we were made to protect animals. When we batter the environment for a little American comfort, we aren’t just being irresponsible- we are being irreverent and we defile God’s very temple.

So back to my student: why do I believe we should treat animals and the earth well? Because it’s what we were made to do!

I will leave this with one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton!

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

Millennial Ministry

As a youth pastor, one of the things I have to always be conscious of (and fail at this far too often), is how the average Millennial views the world, and what things are significant and important to them. Ministry is a very challenging and even more rewarding experience in which you get to walk with young(er) people in the journey of life, and watch them grow and change into adults.

To any person who is interested in youth ministry, simply wants to understand youth (the Millennials, people born/raised around the new millennium)  a bit more, here is a fantastic infographic that is quite enlightening.There’s more after the jump!

Millennials
Created by: OnlineGraduatePrograms.com

The most significant parts, in my opinion, is the “what each generation says sets them apart.” If you notice, there are some common threads between generations- some ideals passed down from one generation to the next. For the Gen Xers, technology usage is a common thread, and thus should be common ground on which to meet millennials. Notice that while music was such an important part of the Boomer generation (Woodstock, anyone?) as well as with the Xers, it has even more significance for the Millennials.

This is why music is so essential to ministry- I’ve had people suggest that music is just a side issue and not a main area of focus for ministry, but music is HUGE. Students base their whole social structures around music. For instance, when I was in high school, almost all of my friends were people who like rock or heavier music. Granted, my heavy music tended to be Christian, but it illustrates how meaningful music was in my life. One of the first questions I used to ask people was what type of music they liked. Oh. You like post-hardcore? You are automatically awesome to me. Because your tastes in music immediately put you within a culture and a type of person.

The Social Networking aspect of things is super important as well. But there are some caveats. A rather interesting dynamic has been evolving in the world of social media lately. With Facebook achieving intergenerational adoption, many younger people have been either abandoning it, changing how they use it, or supplementing it with something else.

This article, entitled, “Facebook is for Old People” (link), captures the sentiment of many youth- that their online personal space is being invaded by their parents. I can share the sentiment. Social media has its own sort of unspoken code of conduct that almost everyone beyond the Xers, and even many of the Xers, completely destroy anytime they update their statuses. I’ve seen very, very, few Xers use social media well (I’m talking around 3 or 4 out of my social networks that exceed thousands of people), and many students are simply escaping to other platforms.

If you have a heart for student ministry, I highly suggest you sit back, observe how social media is used, and then wade in carefully. There’s little worse than watching somebody try too hard to be relevant, but there’s also little worse than watching somebody completely disregard your way of life.

I hope this is good info for anybody curious about youth, youth culture, or youth ministry. If you enjoyed this, or found it helpful, please like, share, and comment on this post.

The Path less travelled

A blossoming social network, Path, has made some significant headway in the social networking scene

As anyone who knows me well has already figured out, I really like social networking. I think it’s one of the things that will come to define my generation and I’m always interested in ways to utilize social media and to do it well.

It can be an extremely powerful platform to influence and shape, as significantly more people adopt and adapt to an online social presence. Particularly in the area of youth ministry social networking is essential. There is some discussion amongst youth pastors about appropriate usage of social networking, but except for a few detractors still holding out, youth workers have largely agreed that ministry must also extend to the social network scene.

And for good reason. Social networking has this unique vantage point of a person’s life- you’re able to simultaneously see how a student interacts outside of church (if they choose to add you as a friend, as some of my students choose not to for strategic reasons) and you also get to know them better. Social media, though not a perfect representation of the whole student, allows you to glimpse perhaps a different side to your students, and allows you to get to know them better.

Beyond the ministry benefits that come with social networking it has also been incredibly effective at connecting families and friends who experience distance problems (sometimes benefits… let’s be honest here). People have become increasingly mobile in the past half a century- families are often spread all across the country now and thus are unable to connect. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter have been able to connect these families, even at a fairly basic level, which in my opinion is one of the main reasons they have been so wildly successful. My immediate family, for instance, is spread across 3 states, sometimes reaching 4 or 5 states, so social networking helps connect us at least a little.

Enter Path- a relatively new social networking system that markets itself as an online journal. Social networking sites and corporations have had a huge problem tackling the monster that is Facebook. The problem for startups is that they have to figure out a niche that they can fill that Facebook can’t, and more importantly, won’t be able to fill. The problem that a lot of corporations face is that even if they innovate and do things well, Facebook can simply “borrow” their ideas and simply port them over into their already massive user base. This has been the way of Google Plus- they had some really great ideas, great design, and decent execution, but all it took was for Facebook to simply take their ideas and plug them into their already huge user base. What happened is that people had no motivation to change to Gplus because their network was already on Facebook.

But Path is not doing the same ole thing. They definitely use foundational social networking principles- the status update, the picture uploads, the location, the music, etc. but there’s something different about it. I just picked it up a couple days ago and I’ve already found myself using it way more than I’ve ever used Google plus. Path is unique though, in the sense that it only allows you to have up to 150 “friends” in your network, although it has been raised from 50. It is also a smartphone only platform, which although is still a niche right now, more and more people are moving to smartphones, and as user base increases, mobile phones have the unique capability to do for real what social networks have done in the virtual- connect people. With check-in systems where you can see who’s near you in real life, it allows you to connect to people within your immediate physical location.

A lot of people put Path in the same category as Instagram- primarily as a photo sharing application. Though Path definitely has some of the same capabilities like native filtering and blurring (much better than Instagram’s for the record), I don’t think that’s necessarily the best shelf to place Path on. Path 2.0, as the current platform is being called, has a unique opportunity to change things with a couple of smart marketing techniques. They’ve described themselves, almost in passing, as a mobile journal. This is where they will really succeed if they press this. Because right now, although I only have like 2 friends on Path, I find myself using it a lot. Because I use it like a JOURNAL. It functions as a catalog of what I do, so one day I know I’ll be able to look back on where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and I can track my progress through life. HOW COOL. Facebook has tried to capture some of this idea with Timeline, but they haven’t marketed it correctly as such.

But Path feels more like a personal, private journal, where I can post more intimate details. I can post family photos and videos. I can put up status updates that aren’t like my Facebook or twitter updates. I like it. It’s much cleaner than Facbeook, as Facebook is going the way of Myspace in that people are all game crazy, and ads are everywhere, and everything is getting messier. I will probably adopt it more strongly than any other new social networking site. It fits. It fills something that other networks haven’t for me.

If you haven’t checked out Path yet, try it out. It’s a free App for iOS and Android. It’s clean, it’s beautiful, it’s innovative, and it’s useful.