February 21, 2008

Victory Through Obedience

Last night kicked off our first big night of classes at Southbrook Church. Four different classes are available to give people the opportunity to grow deeper in their understanding and practice of their Christian beliefs. I am teaching a book study on the book of Joshua. We discovered some pretty interesting details about the background and historical setting of the book itself. It's important to understand who the book is about, what the book is about, why it was written, where the events took place, and when the events took place.

My favorite part of our time last night was looking at the purpose and theme of the book of Joshua - it is an official account of the historical fulfillment of the Lord's promise to give Israel the land of Canaan. The theme is simply victory through obedience.

Throughout the book of Joshua we see God leading the Israelites to victory. We also see several defeats. Every time these are linked to the obedience of the people. If we are faithful and obedient to our God, He will bring us to victory. If we fail to obey, we will face defeat.

Victory through obedience. God wants us to experience victory in our lives as followers of Christ. If we will listen and obey, we can be assured that God will fulfill His promises in our lives.

February 18, 2008

Let's Talk About...Sex?

Pastor Rob Singleton at Southbrook church is hosting a blogging contest. The challenge is here – and this is my story.

As a former youth pastor, I understand the importance of teaching and mentoring teenagers on the importance of God’s view of sex. This obviously is a hot topic among teenagers. After all, it is such a fascinating and intriguing subject! God created it for us to enjoy, but if misused, it can destroy.

Now, keep in mind, I was working as a youth pastor in Las Vegas, NV. That’s right – “Sin City,” What happens in Vegas…well, you know. How do you talk about sex with teenagers in the city where sex is as common as Coca-Cola? The same way you would with teenagers anywhere else in the world. Just be open and honest.

I did a series on sex based on the study “Good Sex” put our by Youth Specialties. I will never forget one of the exercises we did during one of the first lessons. What is one of the first things kids want to know when it comes to physical intimacy? “How far is too far?” That was one of the most common questions I ever got from the youth. The other was “What is the book of Revelation all about?” This lesson would help us deal with the question “How far is too far?”

Before the youth came in, I posted signs around the room with words or phrases – “Holding Hands,” “Hugging,” “Snuggling on the Couch,” “Kiss on the Cheek,” “French Kiss,” “Touching/Fondling,” “Oral Sex,” “Intercourse.” This seemed so risky at the time, but turned out to be a very eye opening and transparent time of honest discussion. First of all, I don’t think anyone in the room had ever had an adult ask them these kinds of questions – without fear of being condemned for what they thought.

What happened next was truly eye-opening for me. We pastors sometimes tend to forget that the people we are working with don’t look at the world the same way we do (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). We sometimes wrongly assume that if someone is in church or small group that they must have things figured out. This is so far from the truth. I asked the youth to pick the place on the scale that they thought was the ‘line in the sand’ when it comes to sex before marriage. Off they went. I think we had one person standing by “Holding Hands” and one person by “Oral Sex.” The rest fell somewhere in between. The first thing I had to do was to take a breath and relax. Of course my first instinct was to chastise anyone that had gone beyond “Snuggling on the Couch” and beg them to change their mind. But I didn’t. I asked each one to defend his or her position. I learned more about some of those teenagers that night than I did in any other interaction with them. But I didn’t leave it there. Later sessions in that series really brought home what the Bible teaches about sex outside of marriage. I listened to them, they listened to me. Some of them took it to heart; some of them had babies as teenagers. Did I fail? I don’t think so. My responsibility is not to make someone do the right thing. That would be impossible. My job is to persuade people, based on Biblical teaching, to do the right thing. The choice is ultimately theirs.

That lesson had an impact on me, and I know it did on most of those there that night.

The main thing to remember is this - when you are talking to young people about sex – whether it’s your own kids, a small group, a Sunday School class – be honest, be transparent, and be willing to listen without reacting negatively. That seems to be a very hard thing for most of us adults (who think we’ve got it all figured out) to do. Before they will listen to us, we have to listen to them.

February 14, 2008

Misallocated Resources

This morning I read this:

"...the average American Christian owns nine Bibles, is actively in the market for more, but rarely use the ones they have."

So what's the big deal? Isn't that the American way? To have more than we really need, and continue to chase after more?

The article went on to say:

"The troubling aspect of this research is that CRI gets more than 400 letters a month from pastors and Christian workers in developing countries whose churches own no Bibles or Christian books."

Wow! 400 letters a month, that's 4800 letters a year! We aren't told h ow many Bibles the average letter is in need of, but let's just go with 10 (I promise you the need is much greater than that). That comes to a total need of 48,000 Bibles a year!

Let's do some more math. As of today there are 303,434,963 people in the US - according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If the average American has 9 Bibles, that means the average American has 8 Bibles to spare. Multiply 8 Bibles per person by the total population (see above) and we find that there are approximately 2,427,479,704 - that's 2.5 million Bibles sitting on bookshelves unused, with no plans for being used.

Are you starting to see the problem? It's not that there aren't enough Bibles - it's just that they are sitting around gathering dust on our bookshelves.

If you would like to learn more or find out how to help, check out Bare Your Bookshelf - a website dedicated to getting Bibles and other resources into the hands of pastors and teachers around the world who desperately need what we aren't even using.

February 08, 2008

Why Do We Need All This?

I was reading through the book of Exodus. It's the story of the Israelites being led out of captivity in Egypt into the wilderness. At one point (Exodus 25) Moses is directed to collect contributions from the people in order to build the tabernacle. The people brought everything from gold and silver to goat hair and rams' skins.

As I read that I was reminded of what had happened several chapters back (Exodus 12:33). Just after all the plagues when Pharaoh finally agreed to let the people go, the Bible says that the Israelites asked the Egyptians for all kinds of stuff, and they gave it to them - stuff like gold and silver, animals and livestock. In fact it says that they let them have what they asked!

It sounded strange at the time, but now in Exodus 25 we can see the purpose. Where would the Israelites have come up with the materials needed to build the tabernacle if they had not taken all of these things from the Egyptians?

In our own lives God often blesses us beyond what we need or deserve. Not just with stuff, but with gifts, desires, talents and abilities. The question is am I willing to give it back to Him when He needs it to build something? (That something is His Kingdom). Am I willing to bring as my contribution whatever He has supplied to me, to be used for His glory?

These things don't really belong to me. The stuff the Israelites collected was never really their stuff, it was God's. He arranged for them to carry it out into the wilderness so that when the time came, they could put it all together and build God's house.

Are you holding on to something that you need to give back to God?

February 05, 2008

I'm Back!

Sorry about that. If you've been wondering where I disappeared to, so have I. I'm back though, and I think I'll share a little story about Kelsey, my youngest daughter. (She's 3).

The other day at the dinner table I was trying to get through to my almost teenager 12 year old daughter Kara. After several minutes of explaining something, I said "Do you see what I am saying?" She nodded. Then I heard from the other side of the table:

"Daddy, it's 'do you hear what I am seeing, not do you see what I am saying.'"

What do you say to that? We just laughed.