Yeah, I Doubt It.....

The book of Matthew comes to an end in chapter 28, verses 16-20 with Jesus risen from the grave.  I would love to know what Jesus tells His disciples during the time after the resurrection, before He leaves for Heaven.  I assume it's the stuff in the Gospels, since so much of the books are things they couldn't have known.

Today, as I read through it, the one thing that hit me was in verse 17.  "When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, bu some doubted."  Really?  Even at this point, some doubted?  You see Him die.  You know He was buried.  Know He is talking to you.  But you doubt. 

It's logic.  Their brains are telling them that this is not possible.  The grave was a fake.  He didn't really die.  People today call it the "swoon theory".  Jesus didn't die, He just passed out, and then came out of the grave a few days later. 

Why include that detail?  It's embarrassing to the new movement.  Here is the start of the church, and at it's core are some guys who doubt themselves.  I personally would bury that little by-line so deep that no one would ever know.  I would have painted the picture of a huge party where everyone was so sure, that no one was surprised He was there.   But Matthew doesn't.  He comes clean.  Some doubted.  I don't get it.

Until I doubt Jesus myself.

He's been so good to me, proven Himself daily for 35 years in my own life, and then I do it.  I doubt Him.  He calls me to believe something that doesn't line up with how I experience life, and I doubt it.  I doubt Him. 

What is His response?

"I have all authority on heaven and earth, and I am telling you to go.  Make disciples out of people.  Teach them to obey everything I've said.  Baptize them, but do it in the name of my Father, Me, and the Holy Spirit.  I will be with you forever.  I promise.  Now go."

Our doubt doesn't slow Him down.  At all. 

So, yeah, you doubt Him.  Ok.  We all do.  That's not the end of the story.  Matthew 28 doesn't end with "but some doubted, so He gave up and went to Heaven, leaving us on our own."  It ends with a promise that no matter how much we doubt, He is with us.

That's a great ending.

And beginning.

Beyond - Senior High Youth Group in Review 11/28/2010

Last night we had a Night of Worship, where the whole night is set aside to taking part in different ways to worship God.  It always amazes me how God will take our small efforts and produce so much beauty and good from them.  Students regularly tell me these are their favorite nights of the year, or that God moved in them in brand new ways.  It's amazing to see and be a part of.  Here's the schedule from the evening:

Open with prayer

Psalms 16:1-2 (MSG)
1 A David song Keep me safe, O God, I've run for dear life to you.
2 I say to God, "Be my Lord!" Without you, nothing makes sense.
SONG - Counting on God
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
SONG - Take It All
Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)
14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
 Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV)
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing,
15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe
16 as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
SONG -  We Shine
1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NIV)
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.
16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
SONG -  King
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
SONG -  Beautiful Things

Skit – Julia and Jacob – Julia Tindall and Jacob Blackburn did a terrific skit about taking Jesus with us wherever we go.  It was very moving, and made all of us think.

Read Romans 9:19-21 (MSG)
19 Are you going to object, "So how can God blame us for anything since he's in charge of everything? If the big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?"
20 Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?"
21 Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?
Worship Stations – We had students design and set up different worship stations around the church.  The group was given 45 minutes to move from station to station to experience different ways to worship.  The catch is they have to do it totally in silence the entire time; no talking, whispering, or goofing off.  They did great, just like they always do.  Here are the stations they had:

Prayer Wall – We put butcher paper on the wall and had students write out their prayers to God.  It was very moving to see how honest and heartfelt the prayers were.

Communion – Our students designed a communion table with cards that students wrote their names on and pinned them to a tree, symbolizing their sins being paid for on the cross.  Then the students each took communion on their own.

Play Doh Art – Students were encouraged to create models out of play doh, symbolizing how God controls our life and creates beautiful things from it.

Sand Prayers – Everyone had a chance to write their mistakes and sins on a huge table covered with sand.  Then they wiped them away to symbolize how they had been forgiven.

Reflections – This room full of mirrors was one of the toughest.  Students were to sit in front of a mirror and look into it, and talk to God about how they are "fearfully and wonderfully made".  It was a very moving experience for many people.

Journaling – We had students write letters to God, thanking Him for what He has done in our lives.

We ended the evening singing the song Beautiful Things with just a guitar unplugged, and prayed.  Then students went to small groups.

Some questions you can use to talk to your student about the night:
1. What was one of your favorite parts of the night?  Why?
2. Which was the most difficult for you?  Why?
3. What do you think had the most impact on you?  Why?
4. What is one thing you're doing differently this week as a result of what God showed you Sunday night?


A Resource Worth Looking At

For all of you who have control of a website, you need to check this out. It's a widget you can add to your site that gives visitors a really cool explanation of the Gospel. I love it. You can see it running on edgeandbeyond.org if you want.

Here's the link to it. Check it out.

The Story | How it all began and how it will never end... | The Gospel Story/Metanarrative for your Website and Social Networks

The Early Bird Gets the Lightning Angel

The story comes to an end with Jesus' resurrection.  As I was reading it today, something hit me I hadn't really focused on much before.  Look at the beginning of Matthew 28.  Mary Magdalene and another Mary (Jesus mom or someone else?) get up at dawn to go see the tomb of Jesus.  Now, chapter 27 ended with them sitting at the tomb of Jesus, watching it get sealed up.  Here, early the next day, they are up, together, and heading for the tomb again.  Why this obsession with the tomb?

They took Jesus at His word.  He had told them He would rise after three days.  They have enough faith to go and watch.  So, they are up early, walking to the graveyard.  Who else is with them? 

No one.

Not Peter, the Rock on which Jesus will build His church.

Not John, the one Jesus loved the most.

Not Thomas, who wanted physical proof to believe.

None of Jesus' brothers or sisters.

No one.

Except them.

They are the only ones who see the miracle.  An angel comes with so much power that there is a violent earthquake, he is wearing lightning for clothing, and he is so powerful he terrifies the Roman guards to the point that they pass out.  Mary and Mary are there to see it.  No one else. 

This angel of gigantic power and majesty looks them in the eye, and talks to them.  He gives them a message, straight from God.  They become the first people in history to know that Jesus is alive.  No one else is with them.  They are the only ones.

As you read it, it feels like the angel is waiting for them to come, before he starts the show.  They are his audience, and he makes it well worth their time.  They get this amazing front row pair of seats to history being split in two, all because they took some crazy statement of Jesus at face value, and didn't want to risk missing out on it.

This is the type of faith you and I need.  Jesus tells us that He wants to save everyone.  We all have that person who we don't believe is really on the list, the one too far gone.  Jesus tells us He wants to resurrect their life, to give them a new start, to make them new.  But we doubt it.  Today, let's be like Mary, not Peter.  He was home asleep, she was at a graveyard, meeting with an angel.  Yeah, we will be just like them, filled with joy and fear if we obey.  But some one's life is hanging in the balance. 

Do you really believe in resurrection?  Put feet to your faith, and go.

Beyond - Senior High Youth Group in Review 11/21/2010

Lesson Series - "Live"
Lesson Title - "Unstoppable"
Big Idea - If Jesus is for us, who cares who is against us?
Bible Verses - Romans 8:26-39

Overview of the night
Gym game - We let the students hang out while the Colts lost on the big screen in the gym.  Some of the students played Bombardment (a dodgeball game), while others hung out, talked, and laughed.

Announcements -
1. We have a worship night next Sunday night from 6:30 - 8:30 pm.  Parents are invited to come as well as students.  The band will lead in some music, and we will have several interactive worship stations set up by students that everyone can take part in.
2. December 5th is our Christmas on the Circle trip.  Sign ups are due by next Sunday.
3. On December 12th we will be sending everyone out on service projects for Christmas.  Everyone will need a permission form, and if you'd like to drive, let us know.
4. We will not be meeting on December 19th or 26th.
5. We have Nerf Wars on Tuesday December 28th
6. We have a Video Game Challenge on Wednesday December 29th
7. We have cards students can fill out to turn in prayer requests each week.
8. We have One Minute Bibles available for $5.

Lesson - The lesson was taught by Vince Bradburn.  It's Vince, by the way, not Mr. Bradburn.  Just so we have that straight.  We showed a video called Iron Head.  You can see it here.  Vince did an amazing job of walking students through a section of Romans that was very, very packed. 
His points were:
1.God Helps Us All - God is not picky in who He loves or cares for.  None of us are outside of His passion and love.
2. God Wants to Complete Us  - God has amazing plans for us, and will see them through.  If we trust Him, He wants to make us the best we can be as we become more like Him.
3. Nothing Can Separate Us From God's Love - No matter what we may do, or how bad we may mess up, if we want His forgiveness, He gives it to us every time.
4. Knowing Him and His love for us changes how we face our problems - When we follow Him, we are not ruled by our fears and mistakes, but by His love and wisdom.  It makes all the difference in the world.

Everyone ended the night in small groups.

Follow Up - It was a great night, full of fun and truth.  Here are some questions to ask your students/friends about what they learned:

1. When you think about the four points Vince taught, which one is the easiest for you to believe?  Why?
2. Which of the four points is the toughest for you to believe?  Why?
3. How does knowing that God loves you forever change how you approach your problems?
4. What is one thing here at home we can do as a family to trust God more?


The Story In Each of Us

Jesus dies. It's the darkest day in the Bible. The saddest story ever told. It's the model of every story we cry over, the basis for all truth that moves us to our core. It is what breaks our heart, no matter how many times we read it. It is the story of history splitting in two. Jesus dies.

Matthew 27 follows Jesus through the crucifixion. But it only gets 18 verses (vs. 32-50) Have you ever wondered why? Shouldn't this, the very cornerstone of our faith, be laid out in verse after verse, consuming chapters of the Bible? Honestly, shouldn't the crucifixion have it's own book, giving us minute by minute details in real time? If this is what our belief system revolves around, why does it get so little attention in the story?

I think it would, if it was the end of the story. If it was the climax, where the story ran to, it would take pages to cover. But it isn't. It is only a tool, a step, a phase to get to God's plan. But don't miss what all is going on in this short story.

Get your Bible out and read Matthew 27 today. Picture it in your mind. Listen to the emotions, the pain, the loss, the fear. Imagine all of the players in the story, where they are, what they are feeling. And understand it was all a gift. It was a gift for all of us, one that did not have to be given, but was given in love. It is your story. It is what defines you. Read it today, and ask God what He wants you to see in it. Read it several times, and let it soak in.

It is the story in all of our hearts, whether we realize it or not.

the Edge in review - November 17, 2010

I am stealing this idea from a couple of friends of mine.  I'm going to try and post a basic review of what went down at youth group the night before, so that parents and any students who couldn't be there can see what went on.  If I miss any details, feel free to add them in.

Lesson Series - "What I Really Want to Know Is..."
Lesson Title - "How Can I Know that God is Real?"
Big Idea - We know God is real through faith.
Bible Verses - Hebrews 11:1

Overview of the night
Gym game - We played Four Team Smashball for our game.  It's baseball, only with tennis rackets and tennis balls, and a whole lot of chaos.  We had a great time, everyone laughed a lot, and I have no clue whatsoever who won.  But no one asked, so it's all good.

Table Teams - For our table game, we did a flash game on the screen where the students had to scream as loud as possible to drive a car down a race track.  We went guys verses girls, with the boys claiming the win both times.  Our boys are loud!  They also work together surprisingly well.  You can see a sample of the game here: Race This!

 If you want to see our announcements, they are available here:

Each week we do a drawing for dumb prizes.  If a student memorizes a verse from the Bible, quotes it to their table leader, and can explain what it means, then their name goes in a drawing for prizes.  Last night, we had 16 students enter, five were drawn for prizes.

Lesson - The lesson was taught by Jason Richardson.  He did an excellent job walking the kids through the idea of faith.  His points were:
1. We use faith everyday. - The idea of faith is nothing new.  There are all sorts of things we believe in that we can't see or touch.  (Love, wind, farts, etc.)  Faith is nothing to be afraid of, it's normal.
2. Faith is not the same as pretending. - Sometimes people accuse Christians of just wanting there to be a God, when there isn't.  They think Jesus' followers are playing pretend.  But when we are pretending, we know it.  We are clear about it.  No one accidentally plays pretend.  We know that faith is different.
3. God proves Himself to us everyday. - There are a 1000 things a day that God does to show Himself to us, if we are willing to look.  The issue isn't whether or not He shows up, but whether or not we are looking for Him.  Jason encouraged the students to look for themselves and see if God was trying to get their attention.

Everyone ended the night in small groups.

Follow Up - It was a great night, full of fun and great truth.  Here are some questions to ask your students/friends about what they learned:

1. What do you think faith is?
2. What is something that you can't see or touch that you think is easy to believe in?  Why?
3. What is something that you can't see or touch that you think is hard to believe in?  Why?
4. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being easy, and 10 being crazy difficult, how hard is it for you to believe in God?  Why?

Let me know what else you'd like to know about the night.  We'll try to post these after Beyond on Sunday nights, and the Edge on Wednesday nights.  Thanks!

Playing with a Pair of Kings

Over and over in the Passion story at the end of Matthew, there are these comparisons between two people.  Today, in Matthew 27:11-26, it's the tale of two Kings; Jesus and Pilate.  Jesus is falsely accused in court, again.  It's the second time He has had a false trial against Him in one day.  And again, He doesn't defend Himself against the lies and accusations.  Why?  I think part of it is that He is on a mission, and the lies are necessary to get Him where He is going.  If He is going to die on the cross, it will take lies and hatred to get Him to it.  Nothing else can kill the Son of God.  Truth never could.  So, He embraces the lying and hatred as part of the process to get to where God wants Him to be.  This ability to embrace the hurt, the ugliness, the pain in life so that you can get to your goal is seen in virtually every great leader on the planet.  Jesus is the supreme example of it, on a scale never seen before this story, or after it. 

Then there is Pilate.  A territorial governor desperate to hold on to his little plot of power.  He is impressed with Jesus, and knows He is innocent.  By law, He must be let go.  But to maintain favor with the power brokers around him, he can't let Jesus go.  Pilate is stuck in a swamp of indecision.  His wife tries to point him in the right direction, as most wives do.  He ignores her, and later pays dearly for it, as most husbands do.  He tries so feebly to ride the fence, with a non-decision.  That blows up in his face.  Now he has to sentence an innocent man of incredible character and worth to death, and he has to release an enemy of the state who is out to bring down Pilate's kingdom.  Double fail.  Trying to walk your own path to get to your own good at all costs will always bring this level of destruction.  Pilate had been governing this way for a long time.  He was hated by everyone, because he tried to keep everyone happy.  It never works long term.

Obviously, we are not kings, ruling over kingdoms.  But, we are all people with choices and great influence on others.  Today, tomorrow, this week and month, we will each be faced with choices.  We can pursue our own gain, which will lead to us kissing up to people we don't like to win friends we don't want, or we can pursue God's plans.  When we follow God, He promises to give us strength to face anything, peace to withstand any storm, and wisdom to work through any problem.  But it will require embracing some level of pain.

So, whatever pain you are facing, it is a crossroads for you today.  You can turn towards God's plans, and embrace it all as part of the process to get to the goal.  The way to heaven always has a cross on the path.  Or you can try and ride the fence, and avoid the pain.  But that direction is just a savings account for pain.  You can deposit it today, and get rid of it.  But soon, it will come back on you with interest.  Never a good option.

Which way will you go today?

Worthless Bot Info

I saw this digging around on my blog tonight.  Apparently musings on the Bible by a Hoosier youth pastor are big in Russia.  I'm not sure what to think about the fact that Poland ranks 6th in my top 10.  Hmmm.....

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Abandoned by All. Trusted by a Few.

Ever made a decision that you knew was bad, but you did it anyway?  And then, when the decision is carried out, you're hit with total heart break over it?  Yeah?  Well, Judas did too.  He sold Jesus out for money, and then regretted it.

The problem is, He still didn't understand Jesus, even in his sadness and guilt.

Peter denied Jesus three times, but later Jesus offers him the chance to be forgiven, and he goes on to lead the church.

Judas would have been offered the same forgiveness, had he been willing to face the pain.  But he took the quick way out, and missed out on redemption.  His shortcut ended any chance of forgiveness and joy.

So, what will you and I do today?  We will make mistakes.  We always do.  But what we do after those mistakes is the crucial part.  Do we run from them, create shortcuts, deny God, and ultimately let our mistakes destroy us and kill us?  Or, like Peter, will we be broken by our mistakes, and give God the chance to redeem us and offer us forgiveness?

Mistakes are universal.  We all blow it.  We all wander off on our own, sell God out, and deny Him at times.  It's called sin.  It is going to happen to each of us today, at some point.  But how we respond is what tells the world Who we belong to.  Judas was sad for selling out Jesus, but He still didn't trust Him.  Peter did.

When you blow it today, will you turn towards Jesus, or away from Him?  It makes all the difference between life and death.

Can't Even Make it on FAIL BLOG

Peter hits rock bottom in Matthew 26:69-75.  It's the story of Peter denying Jesus three times in the middle of the night.  Obviously, in this story, there is a huge parallel between Peter denying Jesus in public, and us doing the same thing today.  But I have a different question for us out of the story.

If Jesus went on trial today, and you were hanging around watching it happen from a distance, like Peter was, would anyone accuse you of being with Him?  What I mean is, we latch onto Peter's failure to claim Jesus publicly, and that is what the story is about at it's biggest point.  But, don't miss the fact that three strangers not only were watching Jesus, but the people who hung out with Him.  They recognized Peter as one of Jesus' followers.  He was outed by the fact that He was so tied to Jesus for three years.  People knew him.  They didn't know his name, or what he did.  They simply knew he was one of Jesus' followers.

What about you and me?  If we were at the trial today, would anyone recognize us as one of His?  Or would we seamlessly blend into the crowd?  You see, even at Peter's worst, he couldn't hide who he really was.  But I fear that maybe we could.  Maybe we are so good at hiding our identity, that we just blend in, and would never be accused of being with Jesus.  Honestly, which is worse, to get pegged as Jesus' friend and try to deny it futilely, or never be recognized as His friend at all? 

I've got to step up some, it seems, if I ever want to have the chance to fail at denying Jesus.  Right now, I'm not sure how many people would even ask... wow....

Is the Sting Worse If You Form the Fingers?

I've got to be honest, I absolutely hate the story at the end of Matthew.  I fully recognize that Jesus' death and resurrection are what make life possible for me, and am grateful beyond words for it.  But what He endured is so painful for me to picture.  Matthew 26:57-68 breaks my heart on several levels.

We have Jesus arrested and taken to a bogus trial by the pastors of the day.  The whole thing is illegal and a sham, and a total set up.  How do people who work so hard to follow God ever get to this point?  How do they get to where they are this desperate?  They bring in lying witnesses to tell false stories, and even then can't come up with enough to convict Jesus.  Why didn't someone, anyone, stand up and say "This is wrong?"  It scares me to think about it.  These guys were so enamored with THEIR power, THEIR plans, THEIR dreams that they missed the One they claimed to follow.  Jesus was there, in the flesh, and they missed Him.  Beyond that, they spit in His face and slapped Him and made fun of Him.  They've lost it.  A Pharisee should NEVER have acted like this, no matter what it was that made them so mad.  They went over the edge.  What in my life is something I am so passionate about, so worried about, so desperate to hold on to, that it could take me over the brink like this?

Secondly, you've got Peter.  He has run from Jesus, like a coward.  He has screwed up again.  His thoughts are swirling in his head, and his world is coming apart.  He can only follow from a distance, too cowardly to take a stand with Jesus.  So he sits in the shadows with his enemies and watches God's plan unfold, too far away to be of any use, but close enough to suffer in his heart as it happens.  So often I play the coward and pull myself out of God's plans, effectively neutralizing myself and being completely useless.  My sin and fear can take me down so fast, and unless I take a stand with Jesus publicly, I won't get it back.  Unfortunately, the story gets worse for Peter before it gets better.  More on that part tomorrow.

Finally, there is Jesus.  My Hero.  My Savior.  The One who loves me all the time.  Being falsely accused.  Being made fun of by people who are far beneath Him.  Being misquoted, misunderstood, and mistreated.  He is slapped by hands He created, and spit on by mouths He formed decades earlier.  These tongues that are so quick with hate were created by Him to speak love.  His creation has turned on Him, and He must take it.  My heart breaks for Him in love and sympathy, until I realize that I am just as guilty of all these things.  And He sits in my office now with me, quietly loving me just as He loved them.  His strength in these times is unbelievable and beyond my comprehension.

What an amazing God we serve!  To weave such a complex story, and bring such joy and beauty from it.  He is amazing and powerful!  Spend some time today worshiping this God, because He is so incredibly worth it!


Jesus' story of arrest and desertion is one of the most heart wrenching scenes in the Bible.  Jesus has been praying all night, and has steeled Himself for what is coming.  He is betrayed by a student He has poured three years into.  (I wonder at what point He knew Judas would betray Him?)  That alone is enough to kill a person.  But then, Judas does it by embracing Him and kissing Him.  To turn your back on someone with a false act of love must have been so painful.  The crowd that comes for Him, people He has created and loves, come with swords and clubs.  Jesus has never been violent towards others, except with the whip in the Temple.  This shows how little they understood Him, and how they were reacting to rumors and stories, not the truth.  One of His own, Peter, fights back with a sword, totally denying all that Jesus had been teaching Him.  And to top it all off, when Jesus is arrested, all of His friend run.  In this five minute scene, He is abandoned at least four different ways.

The heartbreak He must have felt, plus the weight of what was coming.  I do not know how He did it.  I have went through things that were no where near this, and caved.  I've been broken by so much less.  One friend abandoning me.  A student totally turning their back on their faith and our relationship.  A parent or a church member talking about me behind my back.  A youth leader criticizing me without confronting me.  These things are tiny, and partially my fault.  Neither of those are true about Jesus.  He was innocent, and completely abandoned.

Yet, He is faithful.  No pointing to the sky and telling God that this is bogus and that He is done.  No quitting, whining, or giving up.  He moves forward, resigned to obey to the very end.

May I live a live of obedience that reflects some of this.  May I be able to say, "The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." -  Psalms 18:2

Sex Questions from the Edge

Ok, so here is the second set of questions I was given last week at our questions night.  There were lots of questions about sex.  Lots.  Some of them I can answer on here, some I need to answer in person.  Now, I know that you probably are not going to be willing to ask me some of them in person, so here is the next best thing.  You can email me a question if you want, and I will personally email you back (jason@sccconnect.net).  Yeah, I will know it is from you.  If you are worried about that, set up an email address without your name in it, and send it through that.  Or, you can write your question on paper, put it in an envelope, give it to your small group leader, tell them to give it to me without telling me who it's from.  I'll write an answer and give it back to them in an envelope.  They know who its from, but not the question.  I'll know the question, but not who it's from. 

Okay, enough of the secret spy stuff, let's get rolling...

1. "I haven't had sex yet, but there are people in the high school I know who have.  Is there a way for them to start over?  Is so, what is a Bible verse to prove to them they can become pure again?" - Excellent question, and I love your care and love for your friends!  Yeah, they can totally start over.  That's what Jesus is all about, forgiveness and fresh starts.  1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  That means no matter what we have done, if we admit to God that we done the wrong things and want His forgiveness, not only does He forgive us, but He makes us pure again.  We will still have the memories and other things to deal with, but He does make us pure in His eyes.  Then there is the story in the Bible of the lady who was caught having sex with a guy she wasn't married to.  Jesus tells her that He doesn't condemn her, and that she should go and not do that any more in John 8:11.  The big point there is once we accept God's forgiveness, we have to change how we live our lives, and what we do.  Keep encouraging your friend that there is forgiveness, hope, and love if they will begin to trust God with all of these things.

2. "Why do they tell us to wait till marriage to have sex when you can still get STD's, marriage or no marriage?" - I'm not sure who the "they" is in this question, but I can tell you why I tell you to wait.  It has little to do with STD's.  They are serious, and bad, but there are much more common, and worse things to deal with when you have sex outside of marriage (broken hearts, destroyed relationships, guilt, and more).  If you only have sex with your husband/wife, and they only have sex with you, then you won't get an STD.  If one of you fools around, either before or during marriage, then you are both at risk.  The STD idea is to be a virgin, and marry another person who is a virgin.  That is the STD prevention that you are talking about.  But I don't think that is the biggest reason to hold onto your virginity.  It's a big one, but not the biggest one.

3. "Do you know if going past 3rd base at 13 is okay, because she is hot." - Dude, I'm sorry, but no, it's not okay.  Sex isn't about what the other person looks like.  I know you've been told 100 times a day for the last 10 years it is, but you've been lied to.  It's not.  It never has been, and it never will be.  When we turn sex into simply about how hot someone is, we end up really messed up emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  It breaks us.  It's like using dynamite to unclog your toilet.  It will work for a minute, but the mess afterwards is HUGE.  Okay, maybe that's a gross example, but you get the point.  God's plan for sex is really great, and it's supposed to be a powerful thing.  But when we mess around outside of His boundaries, we always pay for it.  I don't even have to address the age part of the question, because sex is about marriage, love (like you read about in 1 Corinthians 13:4,5), and commitment, which are not what the average 13 year old is signing up for.  I'm begging you to back up, and reign things in.  You are not going to like where this path takes you.

Okay, I got a couple of other questions, but they are about HOW to have sex, which is really for your parents to explain.  If they won't, then talk to me or your small group leader.  We will try to talk about it as painlessly as we can.  There were some other questions about sex that are specific to guys or girls, and I'm not sure I should answer them here either.  BUT, like I wrote about at the intro, I am very willing to answer them.  I just need to know who to get the answers back to.  Trust me, I will NOT embarrass you if you ask me a tough question.  I promise.  Give it a shot!

I'll post some more questions about hurting ourselves, friendships, and more tomorrow.  Feel free to send me more questions if you have them too.

Sleeping It Off

Outside of Jerusalem there was a public park called Gethsemane (Geth-si-muh-nee).  Jesus liked to hang out there and rest there.  So, the night before He is crucified, that's where He heads to, so that He can pray (Matthew 26:36-46).  His disciples go with Him, and He asks them to pray because He is feeling overwhelmed and wants their help. 

They fall asleep.

So, He goes and prays, asking for God to find some other way to get the job done.  He knows what is coming, and it is burying Him.  But, He relents that whatever His Father wants to do, He will do.  He goes back to check on his friends.

They are asleep.  He wakes them up, gets on them a little, asks them to pray, and goes off to pray again.

He prays the same prayer as before.  After a while, He heads back to check on His friends.

They are asleep.  Again.  This time He doesn't wake them up.

He goes back, and prays the same thing, for a third time.  Please God, find some other way, but if there is no other way, then I will do Your will.

When He returns this time, his friends are still asleep.  He wakes them up, just as Judas and the soldiers show up.

A couple of things hit me here.  Jesus spends quite a bit of time praying (the whole night passes), and He repeatedly asks God to find another way.  Each time, He concedes that He will do what His Father wants, but He keeps asking for another way.  He is struggling, He is overwhelmed, He is scared, and He keeps asking for help.  He wrestles with this plan, and finally gives in.  I am so encouraged that God allows us to wrestle with issues.  I'm not saying we should make it a habit, by any means.  But sometimes God is going to ask us to do things that are so difficult, so tough, it may take us awhile to come around.  I am grateful for a God of grace and patience with those who want to follow Him.

Secondly, the disciples fell asleep.  They were supposed to be praying, but they fell asleep.  And they pay for it.  Jesus encourages them to pray so that they wouldn't fall into temptation.  They didn't (pray) and they did (fall).  We are told over and over to pray.  Are we?  Or are we just too tired in life to pray?  If so, we shouldn't be surprised that our faith is weak and we constantly are struggling with the same temptations over and over and over.

It's interesting the difference in the characters.  Jesus prays, the disciples don't.  Jesus wins, the disciples fail and run.  What do you need to be praying about today?  What is stopping you from praying right now? 

Dating Questions from the Edge

Last Wednesday we did a "Questions Night" where everyone could ask whatever questions they wanted.  Since we had just finished a series on dating, we had a lot of dating and sex questions.  I thought I'd quickly answer some here.

1. "What should I say to someone who wants to go out with me and I can't because my mom and dad say I can't?" - Don't lie to them.  If you are not interested in them, the best way to handle it is to just tell them that you really like them as a friend (if that's true) and you are not interested in dating them.  If you do like them, explain to them that you like them, but that you are not allowed to date.  Ok, I know both of these answers are tough, and require a ton of guts to be honest about.  But, being honest is always the least painful way to handle these relationship issues.  It's worth it to shoot straight with someone.

2. "What do you do when he calls his friend asking for another girls number?" - I assume you mean your boyfriend did this behind your back.  Simply ask him why.  There may be a good reason for it.  Homework info, getting the number for a friend, or some other reason.  Or maybe not.  Let him have a chance to explain, and watch to see if he's being honest.  If you doubt him, talk to him about it.  You have to be up front and honest about this stuff.

3.  "When you want to break up with someone, how?" - Great question!  Be honest with them, and try to be as kind as you can. Don't lie to soften the pain, and don't be mean to get even.  Just tell them the truth.  Often, if you write it out first, and re-read it, you can figure out the best way to tell them.  You need to tell them in person, and at a time where they don't have to deal with during class.  Tell them so they have a chance to deal with it outside of school.

4. "Why do kids always say different stuff when they are not allowed to date?" - Often, it's just because they are embarrassed because they can't.  Their friends have put some stupid pressure on them that they are "supposed" to be dating, and they can't, so they feel insecure.  So, they make up stories about why they aren't dating to try and cover it up.  First off, there is no age at which you are "supposed" to date.  That's crazy!  And secondly, there is nothing wrong with telling someone you are not allowed to.  You aren't allowed to drive yet either, and that's no big deal.  Anyone who teases you about is way immature, and their opinion isn't worth getting worked up over.

5. "Why do guys and girls only go out with people if they're hot?" - We've been taught that this is what matters, and that it makes us more important if we have a hot boyfriend or girlfriend.  Honestly, it doesn't mean anything.  Just look at all of the attractive people who date someone just because they have money.  That's not about love, or about how great the person is.  The hot person is with the other one just to get their money.  It's no big deal what other people think your boyfriend or girlfriend look like.  Friendship matters more than anything.

6. "I think God is not real because every time I ask a girl out they say "no" or "you're gross".  Please explain to me how that happens." - Man, I'm sorry.  This honestly has much less to do with whether or not God is real, and more about the girls you are asking out.  How are you picking who to ask?  Are they good friends first, or are you picking them because of their looks, reputation, or what?  If you are asking out girls who are good friends, then ask them why they said no.  Sometimes we get turned down because of simple things we can change, sometimes its just the other person doesn't feel about us the way we feel about them.  EVERY guy has been there, man.  I promise.  God's plan for you goes way past whether or not you can get a date in middle school.  He loves you, and has created you to be an amazing man who accomplishes great things if you follow Him.  Don't give up on Him, He will never give up on you.  I promise.

7.  "What do you do if a girl asks you to come over to her house?  Do you have sex with her or just hang out?  I don't know what to do." - Whew, man, this is a tough one.  Did the girl ask you to come over when her parents weren't there?  Is this a girl you've known long?  Is this a friend, or what?  There is nothing wrong with hanging out at a girl's house, with some basic guidelines.  Do your parents know where you are going, and who is going to be there?  Are her parents home and aware you are coming over?  What are the plans when you show up?  Why do you want to go?  Listen man, I know this sort of stuff is hard to figure out, but the Bible talks about this some.  Proverbs chapters 5 and 7 talk about hooking up with someone, and what an incredible price you end up paying for it.  My advice is if you are in doubt about what is going to go on while you're there, or about who will or won't be there, then DON'T GO!  If you find yourself tempted to lie about the situation, then DON'T GO!  It's super risky with huge consequences.  God's plan for you is way better than this.

Don't Point, People Will Stare!

We read one of the accounts of the last time Jesus sits down and eats with His disciples in Matthew 26:17-35.  It's such a tough scene.  He tells them someone would betray Him.  Judas speaks up and says "It's not me, is it Teacher?"  Jesus answers, basically, "If that's what you say".  Judas seems to be testing Jesus.  Does He know?  Am I busted?  Jesus won't really answer him, but gives him a chance to fess up.  He doesn't.

Then Jesus warns the rest that all of them will abandon Him that night.  He knows.  He doesn't say they might, but that they would.  They all deny it.  There is no way they could abandon Jesus.  But He knows.

It is so hard when Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves, and He calls out things in us we don't want to hear.  He points things out in our life, and we look the other way.  We can try to skirt around it, cover it up, or deny it.  But He steadily tells us the truth.  And it hurts.  I hate it when He tells me things about myself that I am working hard to be in denial of, and He won't let it go.  It burns deep inside my heart, until I come clean and deal with the sin that is there.

By the end of the night, the disciples will run, Jesus will be arrested and beaten, and Judas will be preparing for his own suicide.  Denial is such a completely destructive tool in our lives.  It kills.

What if they had all listened and agreed?  What if they had fessed up? 

What if we do?

I've Heard Some Bad Nicknames in My Time, But Geesh........

As Matthew 26 opens, we are heading for the end of Jesus' life.  The crucifixion is looming, and the scary oboe music from every drama is playing in the background.  You can just feel the coming storm.  At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus tells His disciples in plain language that in two days He will be arrested to be crucified.  In verses 14-16, Judas slinks off to sell Jesus for a few dollars, and sets in motion the wheels of deceit and destruction.

But wedged in the middle is an interesting story.  A woman comes and pours perfume on Jesus while He is in the home of Simon the Leper (what a horrible nickname). There is so much wrong in this picture.  It's Passover week.  Every Jew in the country was working hard to keep themselves spiritually pure so they could celebrate Passover.  Jesus goes into a leper's home (big no-no), eats dinner there (bigger no-no) and a woman is rather inappropriate in public with her affection (big, big no-no).  In John 12, he says the woman is Mary, Martha and Lazarus' sister.  You have this contrast with the religious leaders threatened by Jesus, who want to kill Him; and Judas, who wants the money.  They both know Jesus, and reject Him.  Mary knows Jesus, and worships Him.  All in the same situation, the same setting.

What causes this canyon of a divide in their reactions?  A lot, to be honest.  The religious leader's goals, as well as Judas, are advancement and self-preservation.  They want power, prestige, and money, and they want it on their terms.  Mary has abandoned those things, and just wants God.  One leads to murder, the other to a gift.  One leads to grabbing for all they can take, the other to giving a very expensive gift from very little.  One leads to bitterness and suicide, the other to worship and joy.

Today, you and I face the same choices.  Power or passion?  Self-advancement or self-sacrifice?  Lust or love?  One always leads to death, the other to life.  Which route do you want?

Wanna Go See Jesus in Prison?

Jesus wraps up his teaching in Matthew 25 with the story in verses 31-46.  He talks about the fact that people will be divided at the end of time based on who are His, and who aren't, like dividing sheep and goats.  The fascinating thing He points to that shows the difference is how we treat those who are the least in our culture.  He doesn't define it by who reads their Bible the most, even though that is crucial.  He doesn't base it on prayer, even though that is the lifeblood of a life of faith.  He doesn't discuss how often we go to church, even though spending time with other followers is the only way we can make it through life.  So clearly, He is not trying to define how you become a Christian, or give a list of all of the things it means to be a Christian.

So, what IS He talking about here?  I think He is just showing what it means to really be listening to Him, and obeying Him.  God's heart is always for the broken.  We see it a hundred times in the Bible.  His heart breaks for people who have broken hearts.  So, if we are really following God, it will show up in our lives, specifically how we care for those He cares for. 

Taking care of the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, or those in prison isn't the key to getting into heaven.  That's not Jesus' point here at all.  What He is saying is if we are truly His kids, if we are truly following Him, those things are going to happen, and we aren't going to really even be all that aware of it.  Notice the sheep in the story ask Him, "When did we do these things for you?"  It's an outflow of an authentic faith.

This is where so many of us may end up surprised.  Jesus teaches that if we are truly following Him, the Holy Spirit will work in our lives, and we will obey Him.  He will change things in us, and obedience will be the result.  If we are not obeying, we are not following.  If we aren't following Him, we are really His.  He tells us later that in the end a lot of people will say "Didn't we heal the sick, and cast out demons, and do great miracles in your name?" and He will tell them He doesn't know them.  It seems that it may not be the "great" things you do in Jesus name, but the simple acts of humble obedience (caring for the poor and needy) which point most clearly to a life surrendered to Him.

God is Like Donald Trump. Jesus said it, not me. Kind of....

Matthew 25:1-30 has Jesus telling two stories.  The first is about ten girls waiting on a bridegroom to come.  They wait and wait, late into the night.  They didn't know when he would get there, just that he would come eventually.  Five planned ahead and took extra oil with them for their lamps.  Five didn't.  Finally, when he is showing up, all of their lights were out, and they wouldn't be allowed into the house.  The five with extra oil were able to light their lamps, because they had prepared ahead.  The five without oil missed out.

The second story is about three servants who are entrusted with money.  The first two take a risk and invest it, doubling the money, which is an amazing return on your money.  The third takes no chances, and buries it in the ground, so he is guaranteed not to lose any of it.  His motive is fear.  He is afraid of the master, and lets fear run his poor planning.  He loses everything in the end because of it.

So what is Jesus doing in these stories?  Why does a bridegroom get ten virgins?  Why does He compare God to a tough minded, business executive in the second story?  They are not your normal show-and-tell variety stories for sure.

One thing that is clear is the warning to be ready.  Jesus will come back.  And it will take a long time.  So often, it seems in the Bible His warnings are to be ready, I'm coming soon.  But here, both stories imply that the God figure is gone for a long time, and the people become complacent because of it.  Jesus has been gone a long time.  Where are we complacent?

Secondly, Jesus is telling us that we may not know God as well as we think.  The comparisons in here leave me shaking my head.  God is like a dude marrying 10 girls?  God is like Donald Trump on the Apprentice ("you're fired!")?  I'm not sure about how direct we are supposed to compare God to these characters, but it sure rattles me to think maybe I'm too comfortable with my view on God, and I'm making Him too small.  I need to be careful of becoming complacent in my view of God, as well as my obedience to Him.

The third thing, in both stories, He comes back.  And some people are rewarded.  They did what they were supposed to, and they were rewarded handsomely.  There were parties, and celebrations, and hugs and happiness.  I want to be in that lineup when God comes back for me.  I want to be in that lineup today, and be with Him today.  When He comes back, I want it to be clear that I am waiting on Him, and excited to see Him.  It will be worth it.

What are you waiting on?

Afros, Guillotines, and Peeing in my Pants at Church

We're in that part of Matthew that a lot of people love to really get into, the part about the end of the world, and the end of time, etc.  Hundreds and hundreds of books, movies, websites, etc. have been written about it, from a thousand different views.  When I was growing up, there was a series of movies that came out about all of this.  One of them was called "A Thief in the Night".  You can see the first five minutes, and then even watch the whole thing if you want at Veoh.com if you have a couple of hours to kill.  It scared me to death.  I almost wet the pew when we watched it in church one Sunday night.  I definitely had nightmares about Jesus coming back for weeks after that.  I'd wake up screaming "No! Don't chop off my head!  Helllpppp!"   That was the whole point of the movie, to literally scare Hell right out of all of us so we would trust Jesus and hide behind Him from the anti-Christ and his guillotines of death.  It was the 70's precursors to the Left Behind series of books and movies and coffee mugs.

Is THAT what Jesus is doing here?  Is Matthew 24:36-51 one big crazy ghost story Jesus delivered with a flashlight under his chin in a dark room?  I mean, clearly it's a warning.  But is it a warning that we are not terrified enough, and we don't get just how ugly God is going to make things?  Or is it a warning about ourselves and our values?

Jesus tells three stories here in succession.  The first is about the folks who were around in Noah's day.  It took Noah over 100 years to build the ark.  He preached the whole time he was pounding posts into place.  No one listened.  No one cared.  Story #2 is about a home owner who gets broken into and robbed.  If he had known when the thief was coming, he wouldn't have allowed himself to be robbed.  The third is about a servant who is in charge of others.  If he's smart, he will work hard, and do the right things, even when his boss is gone.  You never know when the boss is going to come back.

Jesus clearly wants those who love Him to be alert, because He is coming back for us (good news) and it will surprise us when it comes (good news).  With the Noah story, the people didn't buy the warning, and got caught up in day to day stuff, making it priority.  In the robbery, the guy wasn't prepared to protect what was his.  He was lazy, and paid for it.  In the last story, the servant leader was corrupt, and abused his power and position, believing He was too smart to get caught.  These three stories have to do with priority over fear.

If we take God at His word, unlike the people of Noah's day; and we value what God values, and protect it; and we maintain our focus on living a life of purity and honor, we don't have to worry about when Jesus comes back.  We're ready.  It's not a lesson to be fearful, because you never know when Jesus might pop around the corner of Heaven and scream "I GOT YA!!".  It's a lesson to be focused on what matters, and live accordingly.  Then we don't have to worry.

Or make kids pee in their pants at church movie nights.

Let It Go

In Matthew 24, there are a couple of things going on.  Jesus answers what the end of time will be like to His disciples.  He tells of wars, earthquakes, and then a desolation that is so bad, it causes people to flee the cities for their lives.  People will talk about how they have found this secret savior here and there, but Jesus says you can ignore it, because when He comes back, EVERYONE will see and know.  And He IS coming back for those He loves.  That's beautiful news, and truly, that is what this chapter is all about.

But today, as I read it, I noticed that the whole thing is prompted by Jesus saying that the Temple would be destroyed.  He was right, it was torn down in 70 AD.  But what about it?  Why does it matter?  The Temple was where God lived, in many people's minds.  It's where He met with them.  Why was it no longer important?  Because Jesus came and met with us in an even better way.  The Temple was obsolete.  Unnecessary.  Outdated.  But they held onto it for another 40 years, hoping to see God again.  They never did.  They missed Him completely.

So, with this promise of Jesus coming back, what is it that we hold onto and hope to see God in, when He has already moved on?  You see, often God works in a certain way in our life (speaks to us through a book, a relationship, a trip, a place, etc.) and we want to keep going back to it to recreate what happened there.  It's comfortable.  It's known.  It's safe, and we have a sense of control.  But God always moves forward, to better plans.  We are called to be a people who live today, looking towards tomorrow.  We aren't to live in what God did yesterday.  Remember it?  Sure.  Be grateful?  Of course.  Learn from it?  We'd better.  But if we are trying to regain the happiness of days past, we are missing the beauty of God's work here and now.  It's time to leave the old buildings behind, Jesus is here in person today.  And time is quickly running out.

Seven Things That Drive God Crazy

Jesus lets us see inside the mind of God with a list of seven things about religious people that drive Him nuts.  Reading through the end of Matthew 23, here's what He tells us:

1. (vs. 15) Convincing people to faithfully follow man made rules.  They were passionate and sincere in their attempts to win converts.  It was a beautiful job they did.  They just won them to their OWN beliefs, not to following God.  Are we winning people to our church, or to Jesus?

2. (vs. 16-22) Missing the point.  They made up a bunch of guidelines for people to follow in how they proved their sincerity, but then missed the whole idea entirely.  They set up rules for how to promise to make sure people knew you were serious (ex. "I swear on my dead mother's grave" trumps "I swear that it's true").  But they had forgotten the whole thing was about speaking truth because God tells us to.  Do the paths to Christian success that we create actually walk people away from trusting God Himself?

3. (vs. 23,24) They worried about money over justice.  They tithed to God what was important to them, their stuff.  They did it brilliantly.  But they didn't help those in the world around them.  Jesus says that justice, mercy, and faithfulness are more important matters of the law than their money, possessions, and how much they were giving to the church.  With today's economy, are we more worried about stewarding the stuff in our hands than we are about helping the hurting around us?

4. (vs. 25,26) They focused on themselves, their image, their respectability, and how they were seen by others.  They ignored the issues of greed and self-indulgence, and worked very hard, and very effectively, to make other people respect them and be impressed with how good they were.  Do we admit that we have issues with greed?  What about how we spend our thought life?  How much of it is focused on us, and how much of it is focused on God and others?

5. (vs. 27,28) They hid their sins.  Inside, they were full of wickedness and hypocrisy, never letting anyone know how broken and hurting they were inside.  They spent their energy on what other people thought of them.  They didn't allow anyone in to see what they were really struggling with.  Do we create a world around us where other people can be honest about their hurts and fears?  Do our words and actions tell our friends and families that they are better off keeping their secrets secret?

6. (vs. 29-31) They denied the past.  They knew that their families and leaders had killed off God's people.  They could see in hindsight that disobedience had cost their leaders everything.  But they distanced themselves from it, without ever stopping to learn from it.  They refused to acknowledge that they were on the same path, committing the same mistakes.  They would shortly after this kill Jesus Himself.  What is in our heritage, our past, that is destroying us and we are afraid to admit to or confront?  What sins and destructive habits are going on in us that we point out in others, but are afraid to own in our own lives?  What will it take for us to admit them, and change the path we are on?

7. (vs. 33-39) They refused God's help when it came to them.  God sent person after person, convicted their hearts, showed them the truth, and they refused to have any of it.  God offered them protection, they chose to stand on their own in the cold.  It cost them everything.  What are we refusing to hear God on today?  What is that one thing He is calling out of us that we are battling Him on?  What will it cost us?
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