It is always a special moment when high school students publicly stand up for their faith. I have had students tell me about the harassment they receive from their peers and teachers when they reveal what they believe about Jesus or the Bible. In the public schools it seems like there are efforts to limit any expression of faith whatsoever for fear that someone might be offended. But the truth is that in this day and age of tolerance, no one should ever be offended. That is not what tolerance is all about.
A valedictorian at a high school in South Carolina made a statement when he ripped up his approved speech and said the Lord’s prayer instead. The reaction was amazing as people cheered as he read it. Naturally there are groups upset with this, but I don’t understand why. If he would have recited something from Buddah, Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, or some other new age figure, they would have been excited about his literary knowledge. But, sharing something Jesus said, well, that is too divisive I guess.
Listen to it and decide for yourself. As for me, I am proud of this young man for not being afraid to stand up for what he believes in because it represents more than just something he does; it is his identity.
What do you think? Is this out of line? Why?
In about a month I am taking a group of 16 teenagers on a trip to St. Louis for a conference. There is so much that goes into trips like this that it is hard to believe it is actually that close. As with any retreat, there are always real concerns that I have for these events. This conference brings in something like 7,000 high school students to one location which makes it quite dynamic. This is enough to scare most people from coming within 100 miles of the city due to the many perceptions of high school groups. I know that there have been instances of groups getting into trouble and even adults encouraging it. I don’t believe it has to be that way if adults are proactive and truly acting like adults.
There was a story in the news this week of 100 students ejected from a plane while on some school trip. They would not comply with flight crew instructions and were kicked off. The school administrator said, “it does not appear that the action by the flight crew was justified.” Really? So we are to believe that they just kick people off the plane because they don’t like them? I find it to be discouraging that someone working alongside teenagers would not be able to help them see the need to comply with instructions. I find it even more disturbing that they did not respond to directions. That mean old airline and its rules I guess.
I realize that there will always be people who push the limits a bit. I just let my group know in advance that there are always issues with some groups and that our group will not be that group. Taking students on a trip is always a risk. My policy is to let them know right away that they are expected to respect other people and honor Christ in their interactions with people. If they can’t do that, then they can go home at their parent’s expense. I don’t know about you, but if I had called my mom and told her I needed to come home while on a trip like this I would have been scared for my life. There are consequences for actions and the sooner people realize that the better off they will be. Adults need to wake up and stop making excuses for their poor leadership. Teenagers are more than able to behave appropriately; they are not the out of control mass of humanity so many people believe. They are people who desire to be challenged and will respect boundaries like anyone else. There is no reason to make a scene or blame an airline for having rules. The rules are not the problem here.
I guess my concern is that we are getting too affirming of disrespectful behavior. Our children deserve higher standards than that and will thank us for it later. It is time to lead not excuse.
The eyes of the nation are on the state of Oklahoma today because we all can relate to the brokenness on display there. These events break our hearts because we know how quickly things can change for any of us. Storms make us recognize how little control we actually have in life and this life is valuable because we are made in God’s image. So, these events bring out that camaraderie we have with other people whether we know them or not. We mourn because lives were lost and weep with those who weep.
We also take comfort in these tragedies because while we have no control over things, God has ultimate control. In the midst of pain He displays His glory and grace in ways He might not have otherwise. It is hard to understand, but we are called to have faith in our unfailing God. We don’t have to see how it all ends; we just need to trust our God who does. C.S. Lewis said it like this in the book “The Problem of Pain”, We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
If we are left to our own understanding and ways we will reject God every time In fact, when things are going really well is when we see people take larger steps away from God. Yet, it is in those times of weakness that we learn to lean a little more. It is in those times of pain that we see the hopeless state we are in and how we do need a Savior. It is there when we throw up our hands in surrender and praise knowing that we serve a mighty God that is never surprised by anything that happens. We serve a God who understands that in is the ultimate problem with this world and has given us a way out of it through Jesus Christ.
What is a proper response in this? We pray and look for ways to help. We also praise God because He sees all, knows all, and redeems circumstances like this for His glory. As Jesus ministers to people, they know that there is a God who loves them and has a plan in their lives.
Interestingly enough, in the wake of all that went on in Oklahoma last night, God was using a show on NBC to display His glory and grace. It really could not have been planned better because of the statement it made to people watching. Here is a clip from the television show “The Voice.” Yes, this was broadcast on network TV last night. Praise God!
“Everything rises and falls on leadership” This quote from John Maxwell has a poignant ring to it today. I say that because there seems to be such a lack of leadership on display that it is astounding. Leadership has nothing to do with a position; it has everything to do with integrity of heart. Honesty cannot be separated from a true leader. Leadership is not about passing blame or deflecting criticism. Leaders know what they are doing and why. Leaders accept responsibility when they need to and never throw others under the bus to do it. I know as a ministry leader it is important to lead with grace and intention. What I mean is that when there are issues that come up, I take the heat and train my leaders in how we could do that better. It means that I, as the leader, need to know what is going on with those directly under me and stay involved in the process. We need leadership, not arrogance.
“People emulate what they see modeled.” The point being that the best way to develop leaders is to model what the developing leaders are to become. Jesus did this everywhere He went with His disciples. One of the more vivid examples comes in John 13 when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. It says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” (John 13:3) The next statement is incredible. It says, “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” (John 13:4) The way that is worded states that as a result of His position and authority, the natural place for Him to be was serving. Of course, this was a vivid example for His disciples, who were perplexed by this. Jesus tells them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14) He wants them to continue His ministry by doing for others what He has done for them. Danny Thomas says, “ Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It is what you do for others.” I agree. This is what Jesus modeled in His ministry.
My concern is that those in positions of leadership today are not modeling true leadership. This is happening all over the place in government and in business. The prevailing mindset places the emphasis on the position held and not on the people they are serving. I believe this is a fatal flaw in any leadership. As soon as the leader loses sight of the people, they push people away. Pride is no friend to someone who has a position of power and it will take people down. At the same time, they are passing this mindset on to others. None of the influence on potential leaders by current leaders will have any lasting impact without the context of relational, shepherding, leadership. This was true with Jesus’ disciples as they left everything they had to follow Jesus. Of course, in the process they gained a lot of insight from that personal relationship with Him. One example of this is Luke 11, where Jesus is praying and one of the disciples ask to be taught to pray. There was a relational context here that allowed Jesus to teach them and also correct them when they were being foolish.
Christian leaders are called to a different way of life and leading. It is leadership that shepherds people rather than forces them into some standardized scale. It is leadership that values the people over the process. It is not about becoming the greatest, but becoming the least, and serving the most. This kind of leadership grows others and causes the world to stand up and notice. All glory, then, goes to God, where it belongs.
What makes Kermit Gosnell, who has been convicted of killing three babies in the name of abortion, so different from the rest of us? He claims he was just doing his job. So, what is the big deal? Well, the interesting thing is that as inherently evil as mankind is, there still is in us a desire to preserve life. Life matters. Life is why we have seat belt laws, texting while driving laws and helmet laws. Life is why I tell my kids not to get too close to the edge of the waterfall or run in traffic. We enjoy many things in life, but when someone’s life hangs in the balance, we stop to pay attention to them. Life is still an important issue for all of us.
Of course the topic of abortion is highly politicized. People call it a woman’s right to choose and rant and rave about it all day long. I am not going to get into the politics of it. What I do wonder is where we draw the line. I am thankful that this man was convicted of some of the charges brought against him. It gives me hope that we haven’t completely lost our value for life. I am concerned about how many more people wind up hanging out with a guy like Dr. Gosnell thinking that this is the only solution they have. If only we would help people see that choosing life is not a political issue, it is a humanitarian issue.
The answer to all of this is found in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That means that no matter what has happened in your life you can find hope and forgiveness in a relationship with Jesus. He takes the punishment for your sin and gives you eternal life in its place. It is the only answer we have. People who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy need to know that they have a Savior in Jesus Christ, as do people who are in the midst of other life altering circumstances. In Him is life because God is the author of life and it is Him we choose. It was Jesus Christ who gave up His life so that we could have life forever. Yes, Lord, may you be made known.
In our lives, we have a clear choice. The Bible tells us we have a choice between the path of wisdom and godliness or the path of the fool or wickedness. Each step we take is a step in one of those directions. The question is, where do you want to be and what do you want to lead you? If you let the current of culture and the world lead you, you will get thrown around by what is popular without any real direction or thought. There is a better way. God has provided truth for us to follow.
Be Intentional About How You Think
What do you let direct your thoughts and opinions? Do you just take what everyone says as truth without any thought?
We live in a culture of “feel good” “be true to self” that pushes to take God out of every discussion. There is a new age mindset that makes us and what we feel like as God. The problem with that is there is no constant. People are constantly changing. New fads and ideas are constantly coming in. We don’t let a bunch of changing people to direct how we think, we let an unchanging God have His way in our lives.We need to be intentional about how we think because how we think leads to how we act.
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:1-2 (NLT)
As a follower of Jesus Christ, the most important test is how someone views Jesus Christ. Many people today believe that Jesus sinned or that He was not fully God and man. Many people will limit Jesus to “good teacher” or a “prophet” which does not line up with who He is. We accept only that which comes from people who acknowledge Jesus Christ. We cannot get lazy about this.
Know Who You Are
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. – 1 John 4:4
There are many outside forces that want to tell you who you are. But, even if the challenges seem overwhelming and hard, you are from God and have access to one who is greater than all of the challenges. Knowing who you are will give you confidence on how you live. God is with you and moving you along. He dwells in you and speaks truth over your life.
Choose to Prioritize God’s Word
People in the world, as a system in organized rebellion against God, will listen to their own message. We are from God and therefore need to listen to God first. The best way is through His Word.
The devil is always trying to destroy God’s truth. The message that God’s Word changes or is old is not from God, but from the devil. We need to look in the Bible for direction, answers, and right and wrong. In that way we also test what we hear. The Bible is the only trustworthy standard and we uphold it as that.
Over the years there has been fewer people reading and knowing God’s Word. When that happens, we get into dangerous places. God’s Word never fails, never changes and has stood the test of time. God is faithful—meaning he never breaks his promises.
But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception. – 1 John 4:6 (NLT)
There is nothing like Play-Doh, is there? Kids will take that stuff and shape, create and build things for hours. It is known for its flexible nature. I could give 2 people a different piece of Play Doh, tell them to create an object and get two unique interpretations of that object. Whereas if I were to give each person a cookie cutter and tell them to make hearts with it we would have virtually the same shape for each of them.
We live in a culture that tells us that we need to look or act a certain way based on our age. Wear these clothes, talk like this, behave this way and you will be just another cookie cutter teenager, college student, or adult, who will maybe turn out alright, but waste a lot of time getting there.
You have so much more potential than that. You are unique, not a cookie cutter. What if we lived out our lives in the context of the identity we have in Christ? In other words, what if we were happy being the unique people we are and less concerned about being a “normal” person. Normal people don’t impact the kingdom of God like unique people do. Normal people don’t make a lasting impression on the lives of people like unique people do.
“If you have ever spent time with “Where’s Waldo” books you understand this. The reason “where’s waldo” works is because they create a picture where a lot of things are the same and blend together. You would never take a picture of a single rose and ask, “Where’s the red rose?” When there is contrast, things are easy to spot.
Scripture gives us some very practical ways we can stand out from the culture around us. Here are a few from Proverbs 25.
Be Kind and Trustworthy
Now, I know this sounds overly simplistic, but consider what sort of drama you see among your people. Is it more common to take revenge on someone, or to be kind to them? Is it more common to tell secrets or to be trustworthy? It is so easy just to laugh and point with the crowd, but to show kindness to someone, now that takes some guts, especially when you are the only one.
Kindness is only one part of this, trustworthiness takes it to a whole new level.
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
“Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.” Proverbs 25:13
Have you ever been out on a hot day working in the sun? At some point you get thirsty and go to find that cool drink of water. Or you might compare this to running through the sprinkler on a hot day, or jumping into the pool or the ocean. These things refresh the body.
In other words, when you look at someone and know that you can trust them, that is refreshing. Why? It is refreshing because it is not normal.
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked.” Proverbs 25:26
If being trustworthy is like a drink of cold water, being untrustworthy and doing what is wrong, is like drinking a warm glass of mud.
The picture here, then, is a person who claims to follow Jesus Christ and then does things that are clearly not what a follower of Jesus Christ should be doing. These things muddy the water. Why does this matter for you?
Because we want to represent Jesus well. When people live two lives, it muddies the water and confuses people.
Demonstrate Self- Control
”Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28
How ridiculous would it be for you to build a city without some sort of defense? The wall to the city was critical to the safety of the city.
If you are not able to say no to sin and yes to God at some level, you are vulnerable to attack. Where does self-control come from? It comes from God. It is a fruit of the Spirit. You are not going to be able to do this on your own, but you can ask God to give you the ability to say no to sin and yes to him. You can ask Him to fortify your life with His Word and His Spirit.
The world has enough people who are just getting by, we need people willing to make a difference, willing to stand up and choose to follow God relentlessly.
If you are just an average person, no one will likely notice, but if you truly follow Jesus, you will be noticed and God will be glorified.