God's love isn't what changes lives.

God's love isn't what changes lives.

How he loves!

For as long as I can remember, everyone in ministry has been trying to communicate to this broken world that there is a God and that this God loves them very much.  So much, that He gave His only son to pay for our sins so that we can be in restored relationship.  And in this restored relationship, we can now be fully embraced by God and live in the spotlight of his love and affection.  We sing our anthem, "How He Loves," and our congregations and students swoon and weep as they celebrate over and over how much God loves them.

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A youth group that welcomes the rebels and the religious

How Did He Do It?  I recently read through the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15.  And this time what stuck out to me was not the son's rebellion, not the other son's hard heart, not even the father's lavish grace.  This time when I read through this story I was struck by what was not said, what was not described, but what must have been true in the relationship between the father and his boys.

Of course it is a lavish grace that the father extends, but what is amazing is that the manner in which the father lived in front of his sons made it possible for both of them to return to intimate relationship.  Somehow the father communicated his love and grace because the prodigal son knew in the depth of his being that his father would take him back.  I know that the scriptures place him in a humble position, willing to take a position as a slave, but still the son knew that he could go back, even after completely shaming his family and specifically, his father. So at the depth of despair, in his hour of need, he remembered that his childhood home was an option to get him out of this mess.

This is the part of the story that I wish there was more clarity on.  How in the world did the father communicate his overwhelming love and grace to his sons so that they knew in their heart of hearts that they would always have a place at the table?

A Ministry That Reflects the Father's Heart:

As we kick off another year of student ministry, I am confronted with the awful reality that there is little rhyme or reason to the spiritual life of a teenager.  One season they are on fire, leaders in their youth group and on their campus, the next they bottom out and walk away from it all.  Some students push away as hard as they can as a kind of test to see how much our love and grace will stretch.  Others find fulfillment in being the teacher's pet of youth group, but inside their heart is just as cold and unredeemed.

No matter what path our students take in their walk with God, I am inspired to lead a ministry that reflects the lavish love and grace our Father has given to us.  Somehow I want to live in a way that the rebellious kid knows that the church, the people of God, and God Himself is always anxiously waiting on the edge of our property scanning the horizon, longing for their return.  And when they do come back, to heap celebration on them, not shame.

I also want to be loving enough to make sure I am not caught up in the religiosity of my best kids.  In the process of them being my number one leader, their heart could be growing cold and distant and, without realizing it, I could be teaching them that their identity and worth is dependent upon performance, not on the fact that God simply loves them.  I must continue to run after these students, lavish God's love and grace and continue to invite them to the party!

May our youth group be a place where all are welcomed, no matter their past, their present, or their future.  When they are here they will experience love and grace, and when they remain outside out of protest or rebellion, I will mimic the actions of the Father and invite them back in,  anxiously scanning the horizon for their return.  

Bruno Mars: Bringing romance back to youth group!

“You are beautiful, my darling, beautiful beyond words.
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil.
Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Giliead.
Your teeth are as white as sheep, recently shorn and freshly washed.
Your smile is flawless, each tooth matched with its twin.
Your lips are like scarlet ribbon; your mouth is inviting.
Your cheeks are like rosy pomegranates behind your veil.
Your neck is as beautiful as the tower of David,
Jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes
Your breasts are like two fawns, twin fawns of a gazelle grazing among the lilies.
Before the dawn breezes blow and the night shadows flee,
I will hurry to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.”
Song of Solomon 4:1-7
 

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

I think it is pretty amazing that Bruno Mars could have been Solomon.  His song is really the Song of Solomon put to better words and music.  (Although comparing noses to the tower of Lebanon should make a comeback)  at its core, isn’t that what the Song of Solomon is really about, crazy, deep, romantic, infatuation;  being all caught up in her delights :)

I think it is strange that in Christian circles we try to shut down this all powerful emotion.  But, what if romance was actually a God given gift;  something that was intended to be a part of our DNA, part of our actual design?  Wouldn’t that be amazing if God really did created us to be infatuated!

If that is the case, then maybe it is a disservice to work so hard at shutting that down with our students.  When we do, we deny them one of their core emotions and unintentionally communicate that church and Jesus don’t understand what is really going on inside of them.  Because infatuation and romance consumes our students, maybe we should help them understand it and give them tools to appropriately frame it.

The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

While God has made romantic love, the the thief perverts romantic love and transforms and corrupts it.  The thief has nothing to offer in of himself.  His only strategy is to take what is already in existence and pervert it. And this is exactly what he does with romantic love, telling students to give their entire hearts and bodies over to the object of their affection.  Isn’t that such a subtle lie.  In some sense we were designed to do that, but not just to anyone, only to our spouse.

When our students buy into the perverted version of romantic love, they foolishly give their hearts and bodies to their peers who are not developmentally mature enough to care for, protect, or commit to that kind of love.  The result is all over our student ministries, students who have been devastated by awful breakups and blinding crushes.

Jesus came to give us life abundantly!

The truth that Jesus also wants to be lord over our romantic affections unfortunately sounds like bad news to our students.  Their entire world is consumed with situational ethics and instant gratification.  However, the truth is the truth.  And what needs to be communicated is that this romantic love is a good and right feeling, but the way of abundant life is to protect our hearts until it can be fully expressed in the bonds of marriage.

The trick of living the abundant life when it comes to romance is helping our students wrestle with how much of their heart they are willing to give away.  It is normal and right for them to want to be in dating relationships.  And it is normal and right for us to give them tools to help them guard their hearts and to hold them accountable as they navigate these powerful emotions.

The easy thing to do is make romantic love a dirty thing and shut down dating within our ministries.  But the truth is that every single one of our students is consumed with this emotion.  So, instead of shutting down romance, and making it shameful, why not celebrate it as the God given gift it is.  What needs to be shaped and worked out is how to guard your heart in appropriate ways.  And that looks one way for middle schoolers, another for high schoolers, another for those who are engaged, and another for those who are married.

And for me, I am going to celebrate romance in the fullest way possible with my sweetheart (who still has it after 15+ years of marriage!)  Thank you Bruno Mars!