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If you’re reading this post because you want to know about the latest and greatest devotional material that will take you from a spiritual pee-wee to a titan, I’m afraid I’ve led you astray. However, if you’re here because hyperbole was the first thought that came to your mind when reading the title, then you’ve caught it.

The Next Big Thing

I find it fascinating how easily I’m sucked into the next big thing, when it comes to the Christian life. I remember the buzz that the ESV Study Bible created, with us all salivating over the maps and the articles and the contributors. And I remember how quickly after it was published that I shelved it, and began searching for the next big thing.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think the ESV Study Bible is a great tool. I would recommend it to anyone. And one thing that American Christianity has no lack of is resources. Free online commentaries, sermon transcriptions, reading plans, everything.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Read the Bible.

And yet for all the spiritual resources available to me, it seems there is such lack of power in them. How easy is it substitute the Word of God for words about the Word of God. I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortation that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV). If we’re to feast on Scripture, I’m afraid I too often fall prey of getting fast food, rather than sinking my teeth into a hearty meal. Devotionals by powerful pastors. Commentaries by scholarly professors. Rather than the very words of God.

Not to say that these aren’t wonderful resources. They are. They’re just terrible substitutes for the Word of God. In 2013, I hope to read a great deal of writing about the Word of God. But I want it be founded upon a feasting of the Word itself.

Three Reflections from a Rookie Youth Pastor

If months were memories, December would be that time I was woken up by the dog outside, only to find out that my alarm didn’t wake me because I had stayed up too late studying for a test I’m ill-prepared for. I’m late for school and I have a report due in first period. Running. Lots of running. Or at least that’s how December has felt.

But it’s also akin to that day I got the yearbook. School’s almost over, and I’m finishing up the year, but I’m also checking out all my friends and acquaintances and their (read: my) goofy pictures. A time to remember and reflect.

Three Reflections

  1. Knowing things is distinctly different from employing that knowledge. If it wasn’t so frustrating, it’d be humorous how often life’s problems didn’t originate with ignorance as much as the failure to act on what I already knew. This principle is easy to see in the Pharisees with their battles with Jesus. Their failure was not in knowing the word of God, as obedience to their knowledge. I imagine this is one of the reasons that when Paul prays for the Colossians asking not only that they’d be filled “with the knowledge of [God’s] will” but that this knowledge would cause them to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:9-10).

  2. Plans are only as good as your follow-up. I love having a good plan. Unfortunately, I don’t love follow-up nearly as much. There’s something immensely satisfying about crafting a strategy that loses its appeal in the nitty-gritty details. But the details are where good ideas turn into reality. No one wants to be that full-grown man living in his mom’s basement with a lot of “good ideas.” And ministries die an ugly death when powered only by good ideas devoid of action.

  3. Unguarded priorities are the outcasts of dodgeball. In fourth grade, we had the immense pleasure of playing dodgeball during recess. I don’t know why that tradition doesn’t continue through college- the game is competitive genius. In any case, in the process of picking teams, there are usually a few stragglers, the ones that seem less-than-gifted at the game. It is particularly easy for the important priorities of life to be left at the wayside because the taller, more burly issues facing you grab your attention first. As many of a productivity guru has said, the urgent ousts the important (Ok, who really uses the word “oust”? It looks like a word that got the guillotine…). This is something I’m learning mostly by failing to learn it. Hindsight, you know?

Hopefully this time next year, these will be lessons learned and applied. We shall see.

Between gods and God

Choosing God, and not gods

Over the past few weeks at our youth ministry, we’ve been preaching through a series called Smashing Idols. Our aim was to help our teens identify and dethrone those idols that so easily gain preeminence: romantic relationships, entertainment, self, money, etc.

This past week, we looked at Psalm 16:11, in which David says,

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11, ESV)

In this verse, David gives three critical differences between our idols, and the one true God.

  1. First, God makes known the path of life. Without overstating the point, I think it’s significant that there a singular path to having life in its fullness, namely by faith in Christ.
  2. Second, not only does God promise us joy, but fullness of joy. Complete joy. Satisfying joy. And where is it found, but in his presence.
  3. Finally, David says that God has forever pleasures for us. Compared to the imperfect, often illicit pleasures this world offers, God promises a legitimate fulfillment without end.

Only in God and through Christ is there endless life, joy, and pleasure. It makes more sense to me why David would be so concerned with “beholding God’s face” (Psalm 8:7); In God’s presence, my joy is made complete, and so beholding his face becomes the driving motivation of his holiness and obedience.

Implications

So endless life, joy, and pleasure are only found in God. How should that shape the way I live?

  1. My pursuit of joy is a pursuit of more of God in my life. This means coming to know him more intimately through the Scriptures, prayer, and other believers. Reading the Bible is more than a Christian duty; it is a fight for my ultimate joy.

  2. My battles with sin are battles against all those self-destructive impulses within me that would try to rob me of ultimate joy and pleasure. If sin separates us from God, then it also separates us from the opportunity to experience joy fully.

  3. If life, joy, and pleasure are solely found in Christ, then if I have Christ, I can lose all else in this world. I’ll admit, this one is more of a theoretical application in my life, but one that will be foundational for life in a broken, fallen world.

I’m sure I’m not saying anything new and that the great minds of John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, and others have said the above in a more comprehensive manner. But it is helpful to think it out and reflect on this in my own words.

On Being Overwhelmed, and Also Martial Arts

Babies Have It So Easy.

I’m sure there was a time when the fall was not a busy season. I think it was when I was a baby. Those were the days. Footy pajamas. Free food whenever I screamed enough for it. My own personal butlers to wash, feed, and entertain me. And for the most part, I just hung out, relaxing. Alas, those days are gone.

Instead, in one moment it is July and you’re working on your plans for the fall kick-off. The next, you’re frantically trying to replace your pony ride vendor who can’t make it to your New Year’s Eve outreach, or something like that.

Fall is a busy time. It’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed by projects, tasks, plans, activities, and the list goes on. Being overwhelmed usually means that I’m trying to carry around every detail of everything, kind of like Atlas carrying the globe…Only I’m a flabby youth pastor, and the globe is quickly crushing me.

Kung Fu Combat for the Worrisome Soul

When this happens, I have two options. The first isn’t pretty. It usually involves a lot of face-rubbing, agonizing, gnashing of teeth, and the like. But in my holier moments, there are two things that keep me from being flattened under the well-seasoned cast-iron pan that is anxiety.

The first is God’s gift to anxious people like me. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he tells his spiritual son to develop his spiritual gifts and not be timid,

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7).

Fear, whether it be of failure or people or circumstances, should never be the lens through which we view our lives. Instead, Paul calls Timothy to be faith-filled and exercise his gifts, knowing that God has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-control. Paul sounds a lot like Jesus, who also said,

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:25,33, ESV).

The encouraging, life-calming, assurance that God has promised is that we can trust Him enough with our future and its outcome without being anxious.

But this is only part of the equation. So often I get anxious, then think and pray over these verses, gain perspective and become less anxious. Until again I get anxious.

The second part of the equation is to identify what specific action I can take to begin to chisel the globe-like burden into a speck that I can brush away. There is something about acting on what God says in his word that activates the power of those words- faith with works (the kind Martin Luther would have been proud of). When I can say, “having faith that God will take care of me, I will take on this mountain of tasks or projects or problems,” God meets me with his peace and strength.

It’s the one-two punch for that deserving jerk that is anxiety. Sock him in the eye with God’s word. Then break his jaw with a right-hook of action. Or something like that. Choose your combat metaphor.

Reflections After A Youth Retreat

Our youth ministry recently went on a weekend retreat. It was a great moment for our teens to unplug from their technology (if only partially), to get to focus on God, and connect with their friends and leaders in an intentional manner. Here a just a few of my reflections about the weekend.

  1. Having a great team makes all the difference in the world. There a few things that I am good at. For the many things that I am not, I’ve been blessed with an amazing team. One of the most encouraging and energizing things is to watch other people do well what you cannot do well. The glory of Christ’s body really shines when we each play our parts well.
  2. Planning is important. I imagine for most people this comes as no surprise. So much of the tension of events like this comes from the unknown. The more that you can plan or overplan the better. And we did a considerable amount of planning. And the planning that I didn’t do myself, my team did (see #1).
  3. Being a ministry spouse is hard. While I was running around with middle school boys and making s’mores, my wife was hanging out with our own little ones, dealing with toddlers and diapers. I’ve only recently begun to understand that my ministry as a youth pastor actively involves her because she shoulders so much to allow me to serve. I’m so thankful for her because she loves our boys so well and is an avid supporter of our ministry to the teens.
  4. God loves teenagers. I’m not saying anything new and I doubt I ever will. But I was struck by God’s kindness during worship to pour out his love on our teens especially during our worship services, to address each individual uniquely. God cares more deeply about the teens in our youth ministry than I ever could. That’s one of the many reasons he’s so worthy of our worship.