Isn’t this an overreaction? – 2 Kings 2:23-25

One of the greatest stories to bring up with high school students is the story of Elisha’s way of dealing with a bunch of youth.  They called him bald and he prayed and God sent bears to maul them.  Sounds like teens should be nice to their bald youth pastors.  But, why was this the reaction?  At face value, this looks rather harsh.  I mean, couldn’t they have just said, “hey, be nice to the man.”

First, here is the story, if you are not familiar.

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!”  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.  And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 2:23-25

The explanation lies in both who the youth were and who Elisha was.  First of all, I asked an Old Testament professor about this and one thing he brought up was that this wasn’t the average youth group.  This was a group of trouble makers, or muggers.  They were comparable to a street gang.  So, sorry youth pastors, I guess if you are balding you can’t use this as a threat.

When they tell him to “go on up” they are not just talking trash.  They are telling him to move on, to get out of town.  Elisha, being a prophet, would not have always received a warm welcome in all places.  Clearly this group was not thrilled with the message he brought and wanted him gone.

With that being said, this had everything to do with opposition to God.  In this case, God dealt with the opposition in a swift fashion.  It is never a good idea to be opposed to God.  This is not a new concept, but just an occurrence where it is done with uniqueness.

It is not an overreaction.  It is the act of an unholy people trying to live in proximity to a Holy God.  This is something that they never did well, which is why Jesus Christ coming was so significant.  Now there was a mediator between God and man.  Now there was an ability to be forgiven of sin and to be viewed as righteous before God.  We could never have done that!

I will say that if you are a teen and have a balding youth pastor, it is still wise to be nice to him.  But, when he tries to ask God for bears to maul you, make sure you remind him of what was really going on there.

And of course — be careful who you taunt. 🙂

What are God’s plans for me?

Today’s post is a repeat from February 2012.  I feel like it is an important topic for us to look at again because the verse continues to be misused.

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No verse other than John 3:16 likely gets as much quotation as Jeremiah 29:11. This is one of those verses people will post in their home or in other prominent places.  Of course, there are salient truths about God held in that one verse; truths that bring people comfort and hope in all types of trials.  Stand alone verses can become used incorrectly, though, when the context is not heeded.  This verse is another example of one that becomes even more meaningful when it is placed into the context.

The Basics of Jeremiah

Jeremiah was a prophet who the Lord chose to preach an unpopular message to God’s people.  The message was one of impending judgement and exile.  This did not make Jeremiah a popular man among the leaders.  The problem was that Israel had at one time followed God, but had turned away to something else.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

Can you imagine how awful this really is?  There they had the one true God and they had both seen Him work and heard about His faithfulness through-out the years.  Even so, they made idols and worshipped them. The entire book is the Lord’s appeal to the people to come back to Him before something bad happens to them.

“Return faithless people; I will cure your backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22

“If you will return, O Israel, return to me, declares the LORD.  If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As sure as the LORD lives, then the nations will be blessed by hm and in him they will glory.” Jeremiah 4: 1-2

God gives them an abundance of warnings and opportunities to come back; proving that He was merciful, gracious, and patient all along.  He shows that He truly wants to be in a relationship with His people. Because they did not listen, God has warned them that the Babylonians, as evil as they were, would be the ones to who will come and take over the people.  God was going to use the ruthless Babylonians to wake His people up. For 70 years the people were going to be under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.  You can imagine how discouraging this must have been for the people.

Jeremiah 28-29


In the midst of the exile, a false prophet, Hananiah, declares that within two years the Lord will restore the nation.  This turns out to be a lie that he had led the people to believe. God intervenes and Hananiah is killed because he was found to have “preached rebellion against the LORD.”  Jeremiah writes a letter to the exiles addressing the situation they are in and to be careful of false prophets.  Jeremiah reminds them of the future that they have in the Lord.  That is where we are when we come to chapter 29:11.  He is telling them that even though it will take 70 years, God does have a plan to restore them and provide them hope for a future.  Where do I get that from?

“This is what the LORD says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:10-11


Prosperity

Some of the mistakes in using this passage come with the word prosperity.  Prosperity is often tied to material wealth.  The prosperity people will tell you that God will give you wealth.  This is not consistent with the message of the Gospel at all.  Prosperity has more to do with the protection that someone has when they walk with the Lord and much less to do with money.   For example:

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.” Proverbs 16:20

Why do they prosper?  The prosperity comes when someone follows God’s ways and stays off the path that leads to destruction.  This prosperity is really the opposite of that calamity.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12

So, what does it mean?

1- It means what most people think it means.  It is true God knows the plans He has for you.  It is also true that, in Christ, you do have a hope for a future.  It might not mean that your life in this world will be completely easy, just that in the end your are safe in Him.  When people quote this and assume that their cancer will go away in short order or something else will change, they are misquoting it.  Remember they had to wait 70 years for God to fulfill his plan.  God never breaks a promise, so we know that one day we will be with Him.

2- God has not forgotten you and he certainly hasn’t left you alone.  This shows that even when you are the one who walks away from God and incites judgement, God still is merciful to you.  He wants to be with you so much that He goes to great lengths to make that happen.

3- True prosperity comes when someone trust in Jesus Christ and follows God’s Word.  Money is not the answer and will never fulfill.   God does have blessing for you, absolutely, but money might not be one of them.  Satisfaction is found in Him alone no matter what trial you are in right now.

Alright, as I said last week, please let me know what your reactions are to this. I do understand that I did not unpack every detail of this, but this gives you a good starting point if you do want to dig deeper.   I also would love to know if there are other verses that would be a great candidate for this series.

  Be blessed today knowing there is a God who knows and loves you and has your future in His hands. 

My School Bus Youth Ministry – The Unexpected

IMG_2086Most days of our life follow a fairly predictable pattern.  I know that doesn’t mean that every day is the same.  I get that.  I work with teenagers and have children of my own.  Within the realm that we work in is somewhat of a predictable day.  One afternoon I arrived at the elementary school with my school bus to a normal scene.  As I sat there,  a car approached and stopped.  This car was  being chased by a police car.  Well, that is interesting.  The car came into the school parking lot and stopped.  The police got out and drew their weapons.  I had a front row seat to my very own episode of “Cops.”  I suddenly realized that in just a few minutes they were going to let the school kids out of the school.  There was a potentially dangerous situation in the making.  We quickly alerted the school and they kept the kids until the situation was resolved. There are often no well-defined processes for what you should do in situations like that.  You need to be ready to act in the unexpected.

Youth ministry is no different.  I have had those phone calls when someone in the community has committed suicide or someone’s family is having serious problems.  The question that I ask God is: “What is my response to this?”  Ministry doesn’t always happen in the predictable   Sometimes the most meaningful ministry you can have is in those unexpected moments.  It is when God speaks through you  words of hope to someone who needs it and is often ready to listen.

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This is part of The Sunday Series “My School Bus Youth Ministry.”  If you missed others, check out The Sunday Series tab above.  

My School Bus Youth Ministry- Checking Your Blind Spots

IMG_2086Driving a school bus is not as difficult as people think.  I have heard from a number of people who say that all the switches intimidate them.  Let me calm you all down by telling you that the switches are mostly heaters, fans, and lights.  You still drive the bus the same way you drive your car.

During my time at the bus company I was often in charge of training new drivers.  We would drive around and I would try to help them develop their skills as a school bus driver.  One of the most challenging things for some people was getting used to taking turns a little wider.  That also meant looking at mirrors and being able to determine, with the mirrors, where your bus was located.   There were drivers every year that hit mail boxes and stop signs because they just didn’t look before they turned.    One driver even hit the same mailbox multiple times in one school year.

I drove school bus for 4 years and only had one time that I hit something.  I was making a left turn on a very sharp corner and I knew that I needed all the space I could get.  I had made this turn every day, so I was getting comfortable with it.  That was my problem.  I turned the corner without checking my left side mirrors.  On this particular day there was a small car there.  As I turned, the back tire hit the tail light of this car.  The kids immediately went into hyper mode and asked me if I was going to jail.  I felt bad, but the damage was small and no one was hurt.  Lesson learned.

We all have blind spots.  This is especially true for people who lead in different ministries.  We need people to speak into our lives to help us see the big picture and act accordingly.  If we don’t know something is there, we might continue on the course we are on and be headed for some sort of disaster.

In youth ministry this might be unintentional things you have said that rub people the wrong way.  It might be inadvertent programming mistakes that seem like a nice idea to you, but have actually made a whole bunch of people upset.  It could be that you are living in ‘messiah’ mode and you seem to have made yourself believe that you need to be at the ready every moment of every day.    There are people, mirrors if you will, where we need to look in order to get the big picture before continuing.  If we don’t do this, we crash and end up burning out.

Have you seen this happen in your life?  I would love to hear some stories of how you learned some of these things from other people.

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This is part of The Sunday Series “My School Bus Youth Ministry.”  If you missed others, check out The Sunday Series tab above.  

My School Bus The Youth Ministry – Missing the Point

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Communication is an important part of anyone’s life.  For youth pastors communication is imperative to the discipleship process.  For school bus drivers communication makes for good relationships and safety.  None of us wants to be misunderstood or miss the point.  At one point  I had a student on my elementary school bus who was a bit of a bully.  She was an older student than the others because she had been held back a few years.  Things got to the point that the police needed to come onto my bus.  Now I know that sounds bad, but all they wanted to do was scare her a little bit.  It turned out to be a comical scene for me.

The police came on the bus and gave their little spiel about respect and bus safety.  If they were attempting to scare these kids they were not succeeding.  At the end of their little conversation the one police officer did something that made me realize he did not have kids. He said, “Are there any questions?”

Anyone who has children in their home would know that you don’t ask that question.  I know in youth ministry that I don’t ask an open question like that.  I might ask if anyone has a question on a certain topic, but never wide open like that.  In this case, I was ready for the completely random question.  And I got it.

Alex, a cute little kindergarten student, sat still this whole time.  He was waiting for his moment to say something.  Like a jack in the box, the moment the officer asked for questions, he raised his hand.  The officer seemed really excited about the opportunity to shape this young boy’s life.  “Yes, young man”, he said.  “Um, I made a pinata in school today.”   With that, the session was over and I was free to take the kids home on the now rowdy school bus.  I guess I should thank them for their help.

I love that because there was no pretense to the conversation.  All of the production had been completely wasted on this young boy.  All he wanted was someone to listen to him talk about his pinata.

Youth ministry can be like this.  I know I have overplanned things at times only to be underwhelmed with the actual results.  Sometimes the planned message or idea for the night is just not where the group is at.  Sometimes they just want to talk about their week.   Then there are the other times that the temptation is to have the big production when all they just want to really do is be.  I think that one of the most important skills we can develop in youth ministry is the ability to recognize where people are at and meet them there.   I am not saying that we sacrifice the message, but rather we approach it from the relational approach.  That way the comments about pinatas, or about far more serious matters,  are handled in an environment where people care for them and will point them to Jesus Christ.  When we do that we make it more likely that they won’t miss the point.

This is part of The Sunday Series “My School Bus Youth Ministry.”  If you missed others, check out The Sunday Series tab above.  

My School Bus The Youth Ministry – Hearing Through The Noise

IMG_2086School bus drivers need to have the ability to control a bus and passengers without running into anything.  It would be like a teacher facing away from their students while teaching their material.  It is challenging to know what is going on at all times.   I know as a parent, with my own children, I find I am able to pick out what is going on by the way they are behaving.   Parents hear things and see things because they have spies everywhere and eyes in the back of their heads.   On the bus all you get is a big mirror, but that involves taking your eyes off the road.   Then there is the constant noise level inherent with hanging out with children.   I never cared too much about the noise, which I think prepared me for my life as a youth pastor.  Noise means life and opportunity.

Youth ministry is controlled chaos.  Sometimes it looks like a little more chaos than control, but it always seems to balance out.  There are events that don’t go as planned.  There are students who decide to test the boundaries, or completely shatter them. There are times when through noise of it all it might be hard to discern whether anything is actually getting through.

Through all the noise, we make connections.  There was the time on my bus  when Mike, a young man who had a troubled past, got into a fight .  When it was almost his turn to get off he came up and I said, “what’s the deal, man?”  He proceeded to tell me about the frustrations he was having with his family and how people were just pushing him a bit.  Then there was the time when an elementary school girl came to the front and told me that her mom and dad don’t live together anymore and she was very sad.  There was another time when two brothers were literally choking each other and I had to go back and assist them.  In their case, again, as we unpacked the pile, we found that there was always a reason.  The noise was just the cover for something far greater.

Youth ministry follows a similar path.  We have loud games, loud music, and loud people.  We talk in a loud voice and we always find more to say.  We also see students who are looking for attention making a lot of extra noise.  If we are paying attention, we can figure out what is going on by simply asking them about it.  What an opportunity to make connections with students in some of their most difficult circumstances in order to point them to the cross of Christ.

Relationships are critical.  We don’t know everything that is going on, and we don’t need to know everything that is going on.  Having the opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word with students is an honor.  What amazes me even more is when some time down the road they bring up something that I taught!  Yes, they are hearing through the noise.  I think we all can hear something in the noise.

This is part of The Sunday Series “My School Bus Youth Ministry.”  If you missed others, check out The Sunday Series tab above.  

Gaining Wealth Without Money – Poverty is not about money

Today I want to take a break from the current Sunday Series in order to share a popular post from the past year.  I started this blog last October, but really didn’t start blogging regularly until December 1st.  With that date  approaching, I thought I would share a couple of posts at random times that were the most popular.     We will return to the current Sunday Series next week.

Today I share a post from February.  With all the discussion about money and gift-giving, this seems like a good one for today.   Poverty is not about money.

Gaining Wealth Without Money — (opens in new window)

I hope you have a wonderful day!