Jesus is important, but there is so much more out there!

“When the people return to their homeland…I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.” Ezekiel 11:18-19

One of the hardest issue that I have found that I deal with, and I deal with it often, is “to what standard can I hold a teenager?” And I know that answer.

Its just that there is so much competing for a teenagers attention. And often I wonder if it’s the teenager that the “so much” is competing for, or is it deeper than that, did it begin somewhere else, or in someone else. It has never been harder than it is right now to disciple a teenager. I believe that. I know, I know that is has always been hard to disciple “youth”, and I am sure it was hard when I was a teenager, but I totally believe that it is different today! It’s next to impossible to “get” on a teenagers calendar with all the activities that they are very much a part, and they know this, and honestly, many of them hate their own calendar, often times because they have no say in it, or are afraid to say so!

I discipled a teenager that struggled with anxiety. I know this struggle, and it sucks, but their anxiety kept them up for many hours during the night. Their battle came from where they find their love, acceptance, worth, and significance…sports. And I saw it all over this persons face when we would meet to talk. Their everyday summer schedule alone was INSANE, a sport in the morning for 3 hours, a summer class after lunch, and then a travel sport every night!

When did this become ok?

I asked my parents if they would have allowed this when I was a teen and their answer was spot on, “No, we wanted to be a family?” I definitely think that strikes a nerve with a lot of people, and going into defense mode would seem to be the correct posture for you. A mentor of mine once told me, “your life should never be on the defense.” I thought that was interesting! But when did this become normal, and it is. When did we think a 13 year old teenager could handle such a schedule? Anxiety? It makes complete sense.

I had another teenager text me late one night explaining to me how they felt forgotten in their own home because their parents were so consumed with the other siblings sport. The teen texting me felt as though their own desires didn’t matter because it conflicted with the other siblings schedule. This teen wanted the parents to come to church.

I get that there are a few issues here that I am dealing with, and this may be more of a rant then anything, and maybe it’s just that I am trying to work it out in my head! I have such a desire, SUCH A DESIRE to disciple teens because I want them to get it, I really do. I definitely don’t see an end to this lie that so many have believed about so many activities being the answer, its HUGE, it really is! And it may have even become an idol for you and your family. I probably should not have said that. But what I think has happened is that a lot of people have left home, and maybe it wasn’t even you or me, maybe it was generations ago, kind of like the Israelites in the Old Testament! It was generations ago that left truth and the generations later just kept doing what they knew. I think this could reality today.

I don’t know what it is for you. I know what is was for me, and what it still is for me. I battle everyday, fighting what I want over what the Lord wants for me. I am so “prone to wonder”, not just during the month, but even multiple times during a single day. I am no different from anybody. But, what I do know is that God made a covenant with me through Jesus Christ, just like the covenant for the generations during the Old Testament time, His covenant promises that Jesus is enough, that Jesus is the gospel, and it requires a faith on my part. That is the truth. This faith keeps me from wondering to far, from leaving the God I love!

The standard to hold teenagers to is the Word of God. It’s what we use to disciple, and it requires a faith to change the affections of the heart. But it is hard to hold teenagers to that standard when we ourselves have left home and began believing a lie.

Could it be that we are leading our kids to believe that although Jesus is important, there is just so much more out their to experience that just seems better and more fun. I am with you on this…I am fighting this fight with you! I want the “singleness of heart!”

Read Ezekiel 11:18-19 and come home!

Parents, our teenagers are screaming, but we may not be listening.

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I am sitting here this morning thinking, I do often, but more so this morning about the parents of my students that make up Fusion and the ministry that I get to do all over this community in which I live. My thoughts are overwhelming and have been for the past few months. I realize more and more each month that goes by how deeply important parents are in the lives of their kids, especially the spiritual lives of their children. I used to think early on in student ministry that when I met a teenager who came into my ministry, that if they came from a spiritually malnourished home, that it didn’t really matter, as long as that student wanted to change, it could happen, and would without too much struggle. I don’t believe that so much anymore. When I speak of a spiritual malnourished home, I think about fathers who are not the spiritual leaders of their families, I think about families who are not involved in the local church, attending regularly, serving often, and taking risk with what they call theirs. I think about more devotion given to sports and outdoors than the Word and Worship of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. What I hear that students are witnessing and hearing in their homes troubles me and leaves me up OFTEN at night wondering, “How Lord”?

There is a definite broken attachment from God in many families today, and for whatever reason, we wander away. We wander slowly at first, but progressively drifting faster and faster overtime, until we have gotten to the point where we have drifted so far from what is truth, that we don’t even think subconsciously that our decisions are eternally effecting our children. This is where I hurt and hurt often for teenagers. Why? Because so often they desperately want to change, they want to be involved in the local church, they want truth, they want to do something that has purpose and significance, but their greatest battle begins at home, with their mom and dad. I can’t tell you how many times over the past year that a teenager or group of teenagers have wished that their mom and dad would go to church. I even sat across the table from a teenager who looked over at his father who had just arrived to pick him up and said, “Dad, we need to start going to church.” His dad changed the subject.

A mentor of mine told me, “Gumption corrects drift”. It’s gumption that corrected drift in the prodigal son. In Luke 15, we find him at the end of himself, desperate, and instead of tossing life to wind and just living for the moment, he realizes there is more to his life.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.” Luke 15:17-20

He humbled himself and realized that he needed the mercy of a father, no matter the cost. He never expected to receive what his father gave him.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’“But the father wasn’t listeng. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

I love it, “his heart pounding, he ran out and embraced him…the father (God) wasn’t listening. He was calling everyone out for a party…’my son is here, given up for dead, now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.” (bold mine)

Look, I know that families are experiencing deep struggle and deep pain. There is divorce, addictions, the loss of loved ones. Some are even discovering they missed out on their teenage years, grew up too fast, but yet they have found some free time to make up for it. Just in the last month I have had three teenagers explain, through pain, how they wish their parents would quit drinking. Whatever the reason parents, I pray gumption for you! I pray, much like the prodigal, that you come back home, and bring your kids with you. Gumption reprioritizes what’s important, gumption comes back early on Saturday nights, gumption prays with your teenagers, gumption begins Christian counseling, gumption says “Enough!” I pray that you come to your senses, and when you do, that you find the Father WAITING for you, to run and embrace you, ready to throw you a party. How incredible the love and mercy of the Father, who will take us from the crap house to the dance floor in an instant if we humble ourselves and throw ourselves at His mercy. For the desire of your teenagers who want truth, I pray gumption over you for this 2017 year. May the prodigal come to their senses, realize that they are not themselves apart from God, and come home. Whether you know it or not, your kids are screaming for you to come, and the Father is waiting to see you.

Make The Hike

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Two weeks ago we kicked of the 2016/17 Fusion school year with a simple, yet, massive challenge, “Make The Hike”! Over the summer the word “movement” kept coming into my mind. All I could think about was wanting students to make some kind of move this school year toward God. It’s one of three values that we have in our Life Group Ministry, this word movement. So two weeks ago we sought to challenge movement in the life of every student this school year by beginning to “Take The Hike”!

How? I am glad you asked!

There are three specific things that I do before I go on a hiking trip that may last for a few days. First, I chart my destination, where do I want to be by the end of my journey? Typically, for section hikers, it can be 30 to 40 miles north of where they start, especially if on the Appalachee Trail. The destination tells a lot about what I need to pack.

We asked our students in Fusion, for this school year, where do you want to be in May of 2017? What is your destination? And I ask the same of you reading this blog, where do you want to be in May of 2017? Do you want to lead your family spiritually, start a bible study at the office, be serious about the local church, or develop a love for the Bible? Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are created in Christ to do good works which God prepared for us long ago. What are those good works for you? God has plans for you this year. He has created you to do awesome things for His fame! Don’t you want to experience this? So, first, where do you want to be in May of 2017?

Secondly, hikers prepare, they map out a plan and decide what they want to pack to help them achieve getting to their destination. We asked students to list 3 things that they know they have to take with them. some listed a bible, others said they needed to have a conversation with a coach about missing practices to be at Fusion, others said a conversation with their parents to begin bringing them to church on Sunday mornings. What about you, what would you need to pack in your bag to help you get to your journey. Maybe it’s and accountability partner, or joining a Southern Hills Life group, getting into soul care, or having a conversation with your family. Joshua 1:9 tells us to be strong and courageous about this plan, that the Lord will be us wherever we go. I would ask, what do you, yourself need to bring for your journey? Make a list now!

Lastly, experienced hikers always do a pre-hike, with their pack. They do this to determine what can hike without, mostly because the weight of the pack they are carrying. Little weight is priceless when hiking long distances. Again, we asked our students to list three things they felt they needed to unpack before making this hike. It could be everything from a season in sports, instagram, or even a friend that has been extremely unhealthy for them. What about you, what do you need to unpack in your life to make this hike? Do you need to unpack fear, anger, bitterness, a relationship, a habit. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says to put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking in us. What are those for you?

Look, I am on this hike with our students this year and I want you to join me. My destination is TRUST! I have to trust God with more of Him and less of me. May you join me and our students and make this hike.

To watch the message, “Make the Hike”, you can on the SoHills app in the android and apple app store.

Are you living in the right neighborhood?

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Paul was a stud and he had every reason to be a stud. He was a social elite, an intellectual genius. He was the cherry on top of the creme when it came to Jewish standards. Every parent wanted their kid to be like Paul, pre his encounter with Jesus! Wives would say to their husbands, “Why can’t you be more like Paul?” Husband’s got sick of hearing about Paul. But in Philippians 3 Paul does his own introduction speech, not because he is obsessed with himself, but because he has every reason to speak into the lives of the Jews. No one, and we mean no one, has the credentials that this dude is carrying, and in an instant, all that had meaning, clout, among a nation that worshipped the Mosaic Law and being religiously elite, Paul wrote off everything he had achieved as cow dung! “I consider everything a loss.”

This word loss is translated to mean scraps thrown to a dog, and from a medical term, excrement! Appealing right? As Barclay says in his commentary on Philippians, “I found the Law and all its ways of no more use than the refuse thrown on the garbage heap to help me to get into a right relationship with God. So I gave up trying to create a goodness of my own; I came to God in humble faith, as Jesus told me to do, and I found that fellowship I had sought so long.”

“A goodness of my own” Man, how many of us have been caught driving in that neighborhood. Forget driving, how many of us have bought a house in the neighborhood of credentials, empty worth built by human hands, of which we stand back and say, “look at what I have done?” Creating a goodness of my own!

These are offensive words that Paul writes here!

Willam Barclay goes on to say, “Paul had discovered that a right relationship with God is based not on Law but on faith in Jesus Christ. It is not achieved by any man but given by God; not won by works but accepted in trust.”

BUT,

what gets me fired up is when Paul says, I consider everything a loss, because of the surpassing worth of KNOWING Christ Jesus…I want to KNOW Christ and the POWER of his resurrection, being like him in his suffering.”

What is he saying?

The greek word here for know is gnosis and let me tell you what it means. We can take it back to Genesis 4 when “Adam knew Eve; and she conceived and bore Cain” Yep, the night they knew each other is the night they did the dirty, but it wasn’t dirty because they were married and holy. The verb of this word KNOW indicates the most intimate knowledge of another person! It was Pauls desire to know Christ in the most intimate way he could know Jesus, and for Paul, that meant suffering in what ever form God saw fit for Paul. NOW, who wants to buy a house in that neighborhood…I know what your thinking, “uhhh, not me, I don’t want to suffer!” Yea, it’s ok, I get that.

BUT,

to know Christ is a guarantee that the same POWER that resurrected Him from the dead lives in you and me! It’s a guarantee that Christ is ALWAYS with us, not matter what. It’s a guarantee that there is always HOPE. It’s a guarantee that in suffering there is PEACE which surpasses all understanding. It’s a guarantee that death is not the end and Heaven awaits. It’s a guarantee that we will always be UNITED with Christ. It’s a guarantee that we will BARE FRUIT in all circumstances.

Who wouldn’t want to know Christ?

I immediately think of Joesph and Job. These guys were on to something long before Paul said “I consider everything a loss.” Joseph ended his trail with the words, “what you meant for evil, God intended for good” and Job’s words have deeply rooted emotions, “the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, but blessed be the name of the Lord” The had been brought to place where nothing mattered but the Lord, NOTHING!

Are you there?

If not, neither was Paul yet.

Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already obtained this, or that I am already all complete but I press on to try to grasp that for which I have been grasped by Jesus Christ.”

Paul had pulled up into the neighborhood of wanting to KNOW Jesus and he was ready buy a house. It was the most unattractive neighborhood in the city, but the amenities where eternal!

May you be willing to buy in that neighborhood.

How do I respond to what’s happening in America?


Often times, I have this strong fleshly desire to post on Facebook or Twitter regarding personal feelings that I have toward social and political issues, especially in the current emotional climate that we are in leading up to the 2016 presidential election! Everything from political speeches, to what is and isn’t politically correct anymore, I’m wanting so badly to jump in with my opinions and remarks, hoping to make some kind of sting into those that I don’t like or disagree with. I feel like everyday I am making statements like, “this is unbelievable” or “who is going to stop this”? Much like you, my mind wonders if any candidate can be trusted! I wonder, where is my voice, my platform to tell all how I feel? Is it Facebook, is it Twitter, or Wednesday nights to bunch of teenagers who are more concerned with Instagram likes and selfies than they are of Donald Trumps misquote of 2nd Corinthians! I don’t know that it’s any of these!

Our culture has become inundated, by way of social media, with heavily opinionated broadcasters abusing the character of people and in someway, trying to promote their own agendas! Us Christians are so desperate to have a voice, that often times we post and share feelings and emotions, disregarding and forgetting the effect that the Gospel ought to have in our life. We respond to people and issues the opposite way that the Gospel has responded to us. As if we have this right.

Please hear that I’m not saying we can’t have feelings, emotions, and beliefs about social issues and others. Clearly, all throughout the Gospel, Jesus carried such things and even communicated this to others. But, I think a more proper question to ask is, how are we filtering what we text and verbalize? What lens are we honestly looking through as we communicate to others.

I have been thinking about this long and hard over the last couple of years, and the prevailing thought that stays at the forefront of my mind is the belief that Christians are struggling to find a platform where their voice can be heard and received, and regardless of how we feel about being respected or not, what we do say will begin to carry some weight in our culture, even among those who have no regard for the Gospel. I believe in some small way we saw this play out when certain media outlets begin broadcasting the way Planned Parenthood was dealing with abortion. Through all of the undercover footage that was released, I believe that many began to see how disturbing sin truly is, even those who do not believe, and for a brief moment in time, in the social sector of America, Christianity had a voice that held traction! Not that I think this is our goal, because I do believe that truth reigns and is prevailing across the world, but I do believe there’s a way to respond from our emotions and feelings that keeps the Gospel centered in our life.

So how should we respond? The greatest answer that I can ever give you is to look at Jesus. I challenge you to read the book of Luke! I can tell you that there are moments where He responded with love and truth, moments that He responded with grace, moments where He responded with a righteous anger, and moments where He said nothing, he stayed silent, withdrew, and prayed. For some of us, our greatest struggle! In every way Jesus stayed absolute to himself! So I ask you to read this Gospel this month with me and see that Jesus is your filter, your lens! May you see this His way is always perfect! There are times to speak, but I wonder if there are more times to be silent, to withdraw, and pray?

Who is your determining voice?

About 4 years ago, a sophomore in high school asked me what was so bad about him wanting to drink alcohol, especially if he can be responsible. This question often comes up in youth ministry, everything from alcohol, to sex and drugs, more so marijuana. I knew that he was expecting me to talk about the negative reasons why not to, but I asked him one simple question, “Who is your final authority?’ Surprisingly, he didn’t have to think long about the question and immediately answered “God!’ I asked him what God say’s and pointed him to Romans 13, where Paul tells us to obey the law of the land and if God is his final authority, then his answer lies in what he believes about God.SM 456

This is a question I have been asking a lot lately of our students and it’s one that I ask of you. Who is your final authority? Another way to put it is, who is the determining or deciding voice in your life that drives you to make the decisions and choices that you make?

All our life we have been making decisions that directly effect the path we are taking and the outcome of situations that we find ourselves. John writes in chapter 16:13 of his gospel, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” Of the many truths that exist within the text, the one that applies to the direction of this blog is that the Holy Spirit is our guide. He only speaks what hears from the Father. The Holy Spirit is the determining voice in our life. The Lord speaks to us through His word, the church, prayer, and circumstances by way of the Holy Spirit.

As long as we allow the media, social networking, books, friends and family to be the determining voice in our life, we will always drift away from the truths of God, we will walk on wide paths that lead to destruction and effect many others close to us and far. Look no further than Genesis 2 when God gave the command to Adam, “ you are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Yet, the voice that Adam chose to listen to in Genesis 3 was the voice of deception, of what was easy and desirable, and the path is death. Who did his decision effect, all of us!

So as you read this, this morning, today, or tonight, ask yourself, who is the determining voice in my life, who am I influenced by, and where is it leading me, “for narrow is the path that leads to life and few find it.” Matthew 7:14.

Social Is The New Parent

A few months ago, a mentor of mine said something that I believed was extremely profound, “This is the first generation that will not learn from their parents.”  Leaving his house for a 2 hour drive home, I grappled with that statement.  I kept thinking about the students at Southern Hills and student culture as a whole. My mind kept going to parents and the calling that is on their life to disciple their children. I was flooded with emotions. “This is the first generation that will not learn from their parents.”  The weight of this statement is deeply significant and deserves attention.

Teenagers, our children, are gathering data while online and through social media to determine truth. The data they are getting is rarely filtered and typically insufficient.

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Nielsen, a consumer watch group, recently shared this research concerning teens and social media, “Connected youths aged 2-15 years are spending an average of 11.5 hours with the Internet each week, increasing three-fold since 2007. And the older they become, the more time they spend online. Teens 13 to 15 years spend 18.7 hours in an average week online – equivalent to more than three days at school. By the time kids reach their teens they are dedicating more time online than their parents.”

Compare Nielsen’s research to an article online by Pew Research in March of 2013 that says, “Mothers spend about twice as much time with their children as fathers do (13.5 hours per week for mothers in 2011, compared with 7.3 hours for fathers).”  I believe that both pieces of data quoted here are generous in their findings. In my opinion, I believe teens spend MORE time online and social media than stated.  In either case, it’s safe to say that on average, teens spend more face-to-screen time learning through online sources than face-to-face time learning from their parents. 

Regardless of what the data shows, this fact is true, parents are still the most influential people in the lives of their children.  I don’t need a study to prove this to me or to convince you, because I hear it everyday.  I see it in every student, the longing and desire to be led by their parent, to be noticed, and even disciplined.  As a parent, you have have the incredible privilege to disciple and to lead your kid into truth.

In Deuteronomy 6:7, God says about his truth to “impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (NIV) I pray that you take this verse and memorize it, ask the Spirit to lead you in walking out this verse in the lives of your teens and children. In your own home, reverse the statement my mentor made, “My child will be discipled and led by me and the Holy Spirit, which lives in me.”