Are bikinis sinful?

Are bikinis sinful?

What Are Your Summer Bathing Suit Rules? Now that summer is here it is time for pool parties, lake barbecues, and beach activities. As a youth ministry professional there is always one question that seems always rise to the surface: what is appropriate summer beach attire? Every youth ministry throughout the country has different rules and regulations when it comes to what is ok to wear at events that include water. All of the rules seem to surround the ladies and their swimsuit options. Bikini? Tankini? One Piece? Or my favorite, a Potato Sack.

Because our country is large and our micro-cultures are so varied, the rules we set up become “just the way we do things.” For many of us haven’t really thought through all of the reasons and cultural issues surrounding our decisions. We don’t even get push-back anymore because, “it is just how we do things.”

This way of setting up guidelines is perfectly fine with me. But the problem is that, when the larger body of Christ comes together for some summer fun, there seems to always be some conflict. Whether it is summer camp, a joint camping trip, or a denominational gathering, issues arise when one set of rules bumps up against another set of rules.

Read More

Safety: The most important value of student ministry

Safety: The most important value of student ministry

The winter camp season has finally descended upon us.  With winter camp comes snow storms, icy roads, dangerous sled runs, and about 1000 other ways for our students to get wrecked!  In my few years of taking kids to winter camp I have had kids break arms, legs, collar bones, wrists, and get concussions.  I have totaled a Suburban and crashed a couple of other cars.  There are polices at our church because of me.

Let’s face it, winter camp is dangerous!  But the real question is whether or not it is too dangerous. 

A friend of mine recently told me about a conversation he had with a parent questioning his judgment driving kids to camp in the middle of an upcoming snow storm.  Somewhere in the conversation the parent said that safety was the most important thing in student ministry!

Read More

Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Having little kids has been a challenge this Christmas season. And the challenge has not been so much about trying to navigate the Santa vs. No Santa debate. The challenge came as I wrestled with how much cheese I was willing to serve up for my kids this Christmas in the form of Christmas stories, books, music and movies. Everything in me is repulsed by the cheese. In fact I used to think that it actually was offense to Jesus Christ himself. But as I watch the fruit of hipster parents who are too cool for cheese lived out in their children, the students in our ministry, I am starting to second guess my offense.

I Hate the Cheese! For me and maybe you we think certain things are hip, cool, cultured, and deep. And while these things may be true, this truth is completely lost on our kids. It seems every Christmas there is more and more effort to find ways to make the story of Christmas somehow new and relevant. But the more we do this, the less of the original, simple, and true story gets passed down from one generation to the next.

Read More

An unexpected character around the nativity

An unexpected character around the nativity

For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus.  Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to their own town to register.

Read More

How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

Our students are increasingly living in a post-Christian world and this means that they have a worldview and moral outlook that has almost zero touch points with Christianity.  If that is the case, then how do we share the gospel and disciple students in the new world?

The Gospel story is wrapped up in the language of adoption.

We are lonely, alienated, and isolated.  The gospel is the story of a loving Father who leaves the comforts of home (heaven) and runs after the lost daughter and son and invites them back home.

For the "Christian" world, there was rebellion and sin, but the process of coming back into the Christian household was a rather simple process of assimilation.  There was a clear Judeo-Christian ethic that was internalized by those rebellious sons and daughters.  They were rebells, but they knew what they were rebelling agains, they knew what ideal had been lost, and an invitation back into the family brought justification / forgiveness for these sins, and brought healing towards these relationships.

Read More

Parents should cram religion down their kids' throats :)

Parents should cram religion down their kids' throats :)

Imagine it is 3:00 pm on the first day of school.

Your daughter or son comes home and gives you a horrible report. They didn't get the classes they wanted, one of her friends was mean to her, your son isn't in classes with any of his friends, and it turns out they aren't going to get to start their fall sport like they thought. So much disappointment all in one day.

As their parent, how do you respond? "It looks like school is going to be too difficult this year for you and I don't want you to have to experience this kind of pain and discomfort, from here on out, if you don't want to go to school or play that sport, you don't have to."

Read More

Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

Top 10 ways to stay hip and relevant

The number one question I get asked by people young and old is, “Ben, how do you stay so hip and relevant?”  People look at me and watch me in action and they can not believe a man in his early 40’s is so cool and has such a bead on the youth culture.  Just to prove it, I downloaded Rebecca Black’s song from iTunes way back, when there were less than  1,000,000 hits on youtube.

Read More

A word of caution to my activist friends from a religious right wounded warrior

A word of caution to my activist friends from a religious right wounded warrior

Disclaimer:  I admit that this post has nothing to do with student ministry and is far away from the normal subject matter that is discussed on this blog.  However, I think that we as Christians must be in the mix regarding issues on race and sexism.  We need to help those in our circles to navigate these difficult topics.  My intention is to find common ground, own the garbage on my side of the street, and move conversation and policy forward in a way that resembles the Kingdom of God.  

I have been brokenhearted by the news of the past few months, especially surrounding issues of racism and rape. 

Read More

Can You Love Jesus and Love Halloween?

Can You Love Jesus and Love Halloween?

This article was originally posted on youthworker.com.

It is impossible to walk through a retail store these days and not be overwhelmed with Halloween. Since the beginning of September, aisles of orange and black decorations, bags of candy and costumes have been calling out to my children, building excitement and expectation for their dream holiday. For my kids, Halloween is a simple holiday that involves their two favorite things: candy and dressing up. For Christians, however, Halloween seems to be a bit more complicated.

No matter how you slice it, Halloween has a dark and seedy past. Its history can be traced to a Roman festival that involved worshiping the goddess of fruits and seeds, a pagan festival of the dead or a Celtic festival celebrating the end of summer. This latter part isn’t that bad, but the celebration of the spirit world coming close to the living world is. It’s difficult to encourage recognizing a holiday that has many touch points with the occult. How can Christians get behind a holiday that, at best…OK, there isn’t anything we can get behind in the history of Halloween.
However, as bad as it seems there might be another way we can look at Halloween—and I don’t mean to pretend we are against it publicly while we quietly celebrate it with our friends and family (like a good wine). I think there is a way we can celebrate and even promote Halloween in a way that honors God and might even bring the kingdom of God closer to your neighborhood.

Read More

Guest Post: Our Culture Needs a New Apologetic

Guest Post:  Our Culture Needs a New Apologetic

My friend, Ryan Reed, wrote a brilliant post this last week and wanted to share it with you.  Apologetics is an interesting study.  But what is the defense when nobody seems to have questions or even care? Check out this post and let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

Perhaps instead of defending our faith to a culture that already could careless about it, we need to begin a new conversation.

It is no secret  - or at least it should not be - that American culture has moved past a Christendom mindset into a post-Christian (or some would even argue pre-Christian, depending on the context.) If these words are new you to you, then Google "Christendom" and "Post-Christian" to learn more about it. Several theologians and philosophers have written valuable articles for the church on this topic since the 1970s - nearly 40 years ago!

Essentially, Christendom connotes the perspective that generally-speaking a given culture holds the values and standards of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus in high regard, including specific tenets, morals, and generally held truths.

Read More

With a changing culture, its not our programs that need to change, but our foundational assumptions

With a changing culture, its not our programs that need to change, but our foundational assumptions

One of my favorite hobbies is talking with other youth workers around the country about our unique and amazing calling.  Over the last few years, I have noticed these conversations begin to shift.  What used to be times sharing our best practices and our best ideas on programs, has become more of laments.  What used to work and kill it, are having little impact.

Our knee jerk reaction is to scrap our programs and figure out the newest, latest and greatest.  But maybe it isn't our programs that are in need of change, but our foundational assumptions about students, their world view, and where God is actually meeting them in their lives.

It is not the programs that need to change:

Read More

Are bikinis sinful: a theological exercise.

swim What Are Your Summer Bathing Suit Rules? Now that summer is here it is time for pool parties, lake barbeques, and beach activities. As a youth ministry professional there is always one question that seems always rise to the surface: what is appropriate summer beach attire? Every youth ministry throughout the country has different rules and regulations when it comes to what is ok to wear at events that include water. All of the rules seem to surround the ladies and their swimsuit options. Bikini? Tankini? One Piece? Or my favorite, a Potato Sack.

Because our country is large and our micro-cultures are so varied, the rules we set up become “just the way we do things.” For many of us haven’t really thought through all of the reasons and cultural issues surrounding our decisions. We don’t even get push-back anymore because, “it is just how we do things.”

This way of setting up guidelines is perfectly fine with me. But the problem is that, when the larger body of Christ comes together for some summer fun, there seems to always be some conflict. Whether it is summer camp, a joint camping trip, or a denominational gathering, issues arise when one set of rules bumps up against another set of rules.

Will our pool be a bikini-free zone? For the churches who make strict rules regarding this, their students are ready. Even though the girls in this youth group wear bikinis to every summer function, they dutifully bust out their “youth group” swim suit for this event. But sure enough, some other youth group, who seems to have no morals, lets their girls wear bikinis. Now you have trouble! “Why do we have to wear these ugly swim suits when those girls get wear those hip bikinis?”

Purity or Freedom? If you have ever been around a planning meeting for a joint event, you know that hours of conversation can swirl around the swimsuit issue. And in my world, it seems to be always framed in terms of modesty. We value modesty; that group doesn’t value modesty and as a discipleship issue, that group needs to see their sin and embrace modesty. While I do agree that modesty is an important value, I think there might be another way to approach the bathing suit issue.

Instead of the “one-piece” group pointing their fingers of shame and disgust at the “bikini” group wanting them to mature in their faith and value modesty, maybe the discipleship that needs to happen should come from the “bikini” group.

Check out Romans 14: 1-23 This is the passage where Paul talks about accepting their fellow Christians who are “weak in the faith.” One person believes that it is ok to eat meat sacrifices to idols, and another will only eat vegetables. He affirms that each of us personally will be held accountable for our decisions. God judges us, so we don’t have to judge each other. In fact, the stance that Paul argues for is not of finger pointing, but of self-sacrifice. “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble.” (vs 20)

There is nothing wrong "in themselves." To the pure all things are pure. It is culture that defines what sin is. Playing cards, drinking beer, smoking a cigar, and wearing bikinis are only sinful if the context you are in has made them sinful.

Clothing Is Culturally Optional: It is kind of a trip to think about clothing and modesty as culturally defined, but as we look around the world and throughout history we know this to be true. What was acceptable beach wear in the 1920’s is vastly different than what our most conservative sisters and brothers accept at their pool parties. It is common for women in tribes of Africa or in the Jungles of Brazil to go topless. In their culture bearing it all isn’t shameful or sinful, it is simply their culture.

For the Yanamomo people in the Brazilian Rainforest the men are completely nude except for a small string they tie to their junk. If they come out in public without that string, then they have brought shame to themselves and are in sin. If one of these Yanamamo people becomes a Christian they are not supposed to immediately cover their privates and wear dockers. When they are in their context they dress in a way that won’t cause others to stumble. So the string stays.

If my Christian Yanamomo brother comes to Church with me and shares on a Sunday morning, the string will not cut it. It is not the string, but the culture that determines if something is sinful or not. But because my brother loves God and God’s people, he will gladly dress appropriately for our context because he doesn’t want to cause any of our people to stumble.

This same principle can be used for just about anything, and now must be used with bikinis. You see, the modesty group are actually the weaker brother in this passage of scripture. It is their cultural issues that cause them to see bikinis as sinful. The hard part is that the modesty group by nature of being the modesty group sees themselves as the true Christians, the keepers of the faith, and pure and holy ones. But in reality, they are the ones in danger of stumbling.

Another Approach: If you have joint events that include swimming and you want a common dress code, that is perfectly acceptable. But it is a mistake to make the reasons be that those poor girls with no morals or concern for modesty the focus of the issue. For most students today bikinis are not scandalous in any way. It is the common dress of the day. And for those who live in beach communities, it is a way of life.

The real issue is that bikinis cause the weaker sisters and brothers, and mostly brothers, to stumble. The discipleship that needs to happen is for youth workers to walk with their bikini wearing-sisters to help them understand the vast variety of the body of Christ. And part of the call of being a follower of Christ is that we love another and serve one another. Part of that serving means dying to our own freedoms for the sake of the weaker sister or brother.

The next time you get together to plan your event and you are worried about dress code around the pool, it would be helpful if the tone was a little less judgmental about those people, and to own our status as the weaker Christians. Then in grace and humility we can ask those with more freedom to graciously give up some of their freedom for our sake. This posture would dramatically change the conversation and might even lead to some good ‘ol fashioned discipleship.

Speedos will always be sinful!

From the Pen to the Palace: Workshop Notes

Thank you for joining me for this workshop on Evangelism and Discipleship in a post-Christian Context here at the Thrive Conference.  Here are the notes.  You can download either a PDF or word.doc for your notes.  If you have any feedback or would like to add to the discussion, please contact me anytime.   Thank you for being part of the refining process as I work through a manuscript wrestling with these topics.  Blessings! Pen to the Palace Notes

Pen to the Palace Notes (PDF)

Pen to the Palace Notes (Word.doc)

Here's my spring and summer calendar. Would you share yours?

It is that time of year where we wrap up this school year and begin to prepare for summer.  We have finally put together our spring and summer calendar and wanted to share it with you.  Not because it is the greatest summer calendar ever, but wanted to share it as an act of good will.  Those of us in this little AYM community are some incredibly faithful youth workers who are getting after some solid student ministry.  The only way we get better is by sharing our best practices and then incorporating other's best practices into our own ministries.  So here is mine, and I would be honored if you would share yours. qkr3fhnfe4vudrdyqd-uhaeqlllv3qmkb3ahslkpmzgtwy4ecyodren4pddjzuy7tqdpchrb3diftrfrdm_rz0pkmrp5glyp5u0kjkyhu5aorsls4y_p7rtedw63adyh4stuvyq6qzgcxbkpa63jklvy7nznjtna0ncxoxvfoctkThank you to the peeps at youthmin.org for this incredible template!

The best Christian song since "I can only imagine" by Mercy Me

This last month at youth group we have been looking at media, pop culture, you tubes, music videos and movies in order to develop a more biblically framed world view.  And in doing this, I was surprised by what we discovered. Of course there is plenty of garbage out there, and yes most of it dehumanizes and satisfies our base impulses.  For as much as I love Katy Perry, Dark Horse leaves a lot to be desired.  But as we were exploring media we came across the new John Legend song, "All of Me."  And to my surprise, this was the most biblically accurate and affirming song in both pop culture and even in the Christian music charts.

Take a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=450p7goxZqg]

How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands. Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus. Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses. How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm,  and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.

Song of Songs 7:1-9

Culture has changed, shouldn't our ministry paradigm?

Here is a talk I gave at our denominational's youth connection.  Recognizing our culture has changed is the easy part.  Developing a way to share the gospel and a path of discipleship is the call of this moment in time.  What are your thoughts?

[ylwm_vimeo]88282592[/ylwm_vimeo]

Lent: A needed season change for the church and for me.

What is Lent? I find it interesting that as youth workers we are always looking for a new series to do with our students.  We inherently know that we must mix up the ritual and routine of youth group or kids will get board and get into a rut.  This need to mix things up might actually come from God himself.  I think that we were actually created for seasons, for change, for rhythm.  And this need for annual celebrations is affirmed all throughout scripture with the commands to celebrate all the different festivals.

While this need for seasonal change is needed and expected, many Christians seem to discard the traditional season change in the Church.  According to the church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday marking the transition from “ordinary time” to the season of Lent.

According to Wikipedia, Lent is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer - through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.

Lent is the worst season in the Church.

There are several different seasons we celebrate in the church.  Some of them are official church seasons and some are traditional youth ministry seasons.  As far as traditional seasons go, my favorite is Advent.  This is a season I can really get behind.  The entire focus is on anticipating the coming of Christmas.  Even the world celebrates Advent by decorating stores as early as October.  This season of preparation is filled with warm hearted traditions.  It is an opportunity to mix up the rhythms of life and ministry and gives us a fresh start.  This season doesn’t cost us anything.

Besides traditional church calendar seasons we have traditional programatic seasons we celebrate as well.  We have our Fall kick-off season and our gearing up for mission trip season.  These are natural times in our calendar when we mix things up and for a short period of time add extra effort and excitement to prepare for the new year or a big trip.  This season doesn’t really cost us anything either.

Unlike other seasons in ministry and in the church, Lent is not about promoting anything.  Lent is not about adding thrill and excitement.  Lent is about prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial.  These are the four least exciting things we can use in ministry.  They all might be things we do in isolation or as part of other things we do, like praying and giving to the poor.  But a season of it is not glamorous.

 

Lent costs us something.

Many people shy away from Lent and discard it because it is “Catholic.”  But if we are honest and drill a little deeper, I think the real reason we discard Lent is because it is season of self-sacrifice.  We live in a world where we are not asked to give up anything.  In fact the exact opposite is true.  After a while, I actually start to believe that I deserve everything.  And when things don’t go my way or I have to wait for something longer then I expect I spiral out.

Maybe out of my entire life, a six week season of self-sacrifice might be exactly what I need.  Maybe Christians for thousands of years actually were on to something when they broke up the calendar and added a season of Lent to prepare our hearts for the Resurrection of our Lord.  Maybe God has something new to teach me through a discipline that is foreign to every part of my flesh.  So maybe, Lent is something I will consider a fresh this year.

Today is Ash Wednesday.

In a context where everything always needs to be amazing and full of energy, Lent might be exactly what we need.  Thankfully today is the day that begins this unique season.  In many traditions Lent begins with an Ash Wednesday service, where at the conclusion of the service you would be marked with ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance.

Celebration is not the only language of the church.  We paint a false view of our faith and of the world when we continually hype everything up.  The author of Ecclesiastes was onto something when he said that there is a time for celebration and a time to mourn.

James 4:7-10 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will life you up.”

Draw Near to God.

It is a proven exercise, that self-denial, prayer, almsgiving, and penitence actually help us draw near to God.  Lent is a season where we take our sin and the cost of our sin seriously, where we give up cheap grace and actually get our flesh under control.  And as we die to our flesh, grieve, mourn, and wail, and spend a season in humility, we will find that God will in fact lift us up.

During this season what are you going to give up, to sacrifice to prove that your flesh is not your master?  What rhythms are you going to add or subtract to intentionally unite your heart to Christ’s through humility and almsgiving?  How can you come to terms with our own mortality so that you can anxiously await the celebration of the Resurrection and our own resurrection some day?

This Lenten season, May you come near to God, and may he come near to you.  Blessings.

 

Christmas: an invitation to belong

christmas table More than any other holiday, Christmas is surrounded with family warm fuzzies. On the surface it is a month of preparing your house and making it as warm and hospitable as possible. And we brave the strip malls to buy presents as a way of showing love towards our friends and family. Christmas highlights one of the most critical needs humans have, to be known and to be loved.

Yes the birth of Jesus tells us so much about God and his love and plan for humanity, yes the manner in which he was born shatters all of our preconceptions regarding status and power, and yes we have God exegeted in the incarnation of his Son. But all of these great truths are not found in isolation. They are proved a reality by way of invitation, invitation into the family of God.

While we were sinners, broken, outcasts, it is at this time that Jesus left his rightful place in Heaven and became Emmanuel to reconcile us back to God and change our identity and purpose forever. Once we were not a people, but through Jesus Christ, we are the people of God.

As I reflect upon this reality, I am convinced more and more that this invitation into the family of God, to given the purpose of the family business is the thin place our world has to experience the good news of Jesus Christ. People feel more alienated then ever, our students are more isolated then the even know. Even with all their access to social media, they are alone.

An Invitation to Belong:

All humans need connection, need people, need a purpose. As we create these incarnational communities and allows space for students to experience the love of Christ and the joy of partnering with God's work in the world, we must not short change them by never giving them opportunities to transition from guests in the home of God to be actually adopted by our heavenly Father.

With all the emphasis on belonging, we must not forsake the initiation right that is made possible because on Christmas the Word became flesh and the Life appeared. To all those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God! May this Christmas may we live more fully into our adoptive family, and share the love and grace that has been so lavishly poured out on us with others.

Merry Christmas!

We finally have a generation of people who really have no idea why we celebrate Christmas

christmas-special-for-car-lovers-how-to-write-a-thank-you-letter-to-santa-claus-41453_3 I know it is nothing new that Christmas has become secularized. From the Happy Holiday wars to the removal of the nativity scenes, the reason we celebrate Christmas has finally left the building. I had an epiphany the other night as I was driving around with my kids doing some Christmas shopping listening to my favorite Christmas album, John Denver and the Muppets' Christmas. (It is actually a rough album, but has a high sentimental value for me.)

As we listened to the story of Alphie I was reminded again the wide variety of meaning people have put on Christmas. Well, way back in 1979 we get some strange theology from John Denver and his enormous love for the outdoors combined with a cultural understanding of Christmas.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bPL3sPSY9A]

What stood out to me was the fact that John Denver is not a Christian by any means. If anything he was a pantheist. But because he grew up in a culture that was generally "Christian" he knew enough that if you are talking about Christmas, you are talking about the the Son of God, peace on earth, and the brotherhood of man.

That was in 1979. Now, over 30 years have gone by and our cultural understanding has increasingly become secular. No news there. But think of the students that you work with, think of their peers. Unlike John Denver, they are growing up in a culture that have absolutely zero space for Jesus at Christmas. So much so, that He isn't even missed.

Of course our "Christian" kids know why we celebrate Christmas and can regurgitate some of the facts back about the original Christmas story and the meaning of it. But even our smartest, most spiritual, Christian kids are missing huge chucks of the story. Their friends, the students that we want to reach with the gospel have zero understanding of Jesus and what happened on Christmas. To get to the why is a gigantic leap.

As adults who work with students it is easy to think that they have a strong cultural understanding of Christmas that is becoming secular. But I would argue that the students outside our churches have absolutely no idea why we celebrate Christmas. In our context, maybe 1% of students have been to a Christian church in the last 6 months. That is an large part of our population that is having a smaller and smaller understanding of the most amazing event in all of history.

Gone are the days when secular artists include songs about Jesus in their Christmas albums. And the ones that do, like my main man Justin B, simply uses religious imagery to express his over the top infatuation with his latest fling.

This is not "the sky is falling" observation. It is simply an admission that the Jesus train has left the building. If we are going to communicate the gospel to a context that has no cultural understanding of Christmas, incarnation, humility, sin, redeption, or salvation, then we must be incredibly wise in both the world and the spirit if we are going to introduce this next generation to the King of Kings who became flesh on Christmas morning, to usher in a new kingdom, a new way to live both now and forever more!

Merry Christmas!