A Conscious Desire for God

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I recently read some interesting commentary about the effectiveness in our various methods of reaching the youth in our churches and helping them to have a faith that doesn’t fade as they head into their college years. One person (named Mike) wrote,

“If we truly were open to honest answers when we ask young adults about their faith we might learn that many of those who have left the Church and institutional Christianity did not leave because of a lack of reverence for God, but because they sought more depth than they were offered by the Church.”

After reading Mike’s thoughts it got me thinking… Yes, I do think many of our churches seem to have a depth issue (with our youth programs and otherwise)… but I don’t think it’s the exact issue we may at first think it is. It’s not that we need to get rid of all the more “shallow” fun and games stuff entirely. It’s not simply that students aren’t challenged and instructed by their church leaders to “go deep” with God either. On the contrary,students are often told over and over that they need to:
read their bible,
serve,
pray,
attend events,
etc.

So, it’s often not a lack of options or instruction. No, this lack of depth has to do with something more. I’ll attempt to gather and communicate my thoughts about that in this blog post.

As for “going deep with God” – I hear phrases like this and immediately think of relationship … I think of how God desires nothing less than to go deep with us, to have us know Him and want Him. But we mere mortals don’t seem to start life inherently/consciously understanding our need, and the availability of joy and freedom that comes from, a deep relationship with our Creator. We dont tend to naturally find our identity in God. I think the greater question is, “How can we help our youth to get to the place where they conciously desire depth with God for themselves?” Simply instructing them to go to church, read their Bible, Pray, and to serve others doesn’t seem to help them to develop a conscious desire for deep relationship with God. Their desire for God doesn’t, and won’t exist, simply because they are told to have a desire for God. I cannot tell you to desire a baloney sandwich and just expect it to happen. Let me use an even goofier example to show what I mean.

If you know me, you know that I am an avid gamer. I love me some Mario brothers. I even like reading and writing about games from time to time. I’m an “enthusiast”. It’s a fun hobby that has been a big part of my life since I was in my elementary years. And, believe it or not, there are games today that offer depth, story, character, and context in ways that just boggle my mind! They can be SO good, so fun, so rewarding (to me anyway). I truly love to play deep and engaging video games, the same way a literature nut may love Hamlet. Yes, I am a total nerd, and I have come to accept this about myself. 🙂

Now, lets say I have a friend who loves to play Bejeweled and Tetris (casual games), but I want them to become a fan of deep/engaging video games like me.. If my method of accomplishing this is to send them straight into a new game of Skyrim – they’re not going to get it or like it, they’re not going to desire to play more of it, or understand it. (Some of you are reading this and thinking “what the heck is he talking about?”.. and that’s okay. It’s my nerdy hobby, I don’t expect everyone to get it, which is kind of my point I guess. Google “Skyrim” if you are interested to know)

My friend’s first experience of sitting down with an XOBX controller and a copy of Skyrim would probably cause them great frustration and some confusion. After just a few minutes they might throw their hands up in the air and say something like, “This isn’t connecting with me.” or “You mean to tell me you like this?!” or “I just don’t get it”. And a this point my enthusiasm and excitement over the game would seem even stranger to my friend! Chances are after just an hour or so with the game – they probably wouldn’t give Skyrim a glowing review and they’d never want to try it again. And if my gamer friends were to hear this person’s disinterest and indifference to Skyrim they may want to exclaim, “But it’s SKYRIM! How can you not appreciate and LOVE it like us?!?”. Simple: they would FIRST need to have grown a desire for games like that in the first place. There is a reason why we read Dr. Seuss to kindergarteners, not Shakespeare. Sometimes I think you need to witness and experience someone else’s desire and love for something over time before you can love it and desire it too. Strangely enough, I think the same can be said of how we learn to love Jesus. If you’re not around people who know and love Jesus, it’s gonna be really hard to ever know and love him yourself.

I desire for youth to have clarity of faith and to experience a deep relationship with God …. but how do we get people there? Again, students (and adults) often don’t instinctually desire depth with God. Their soul specifically desires it and longs for it because we are all created to know and love God AND to be known and loved by God in this way… but often the youth (and many adults in our churches) don’t know or understand this truth about themselves. So they seek to fulfill that deep desire in the wrong (less worthy) places. People want depth because their soul desires to connect with God, someone deeper and greater than themselves…. but quite often they don’t cognitively know that their true desire can only be met by knowing God, by going deep with him. Their desires often get hijacked by the enemy, by the distractions and temptations of our world. We hear countless messages in our lives telling us about what will quench our deep longing and desires in this life. How has that gone for us as a culture so far?

And so it seems: more than people desire depth of character and depth with God… they desire to be “seen” as a deep person. It becomes about image. A smart, well-educated, and well versed person. A person who has a “deepness” and a life experience they are able to reference as proof of their depth. People want to be respected and revered. They want their reputation to ooze with an edgy “different-than-you” kind of cool perspective and insight. When you ask students what they want to “be” these days, one of the top few answers is **“I want to be different”. Students want something real, something deep… and often that desire can turn into a selfish pursuit because their true and holy desire to go deep with God in their soul has been hijacked by the selfish desire “to be seen as” deep in the eyes of others.

This is partly why students often survey the offerings at our churches and youth ministries and laugh. They don’t see how a pizza party, a Christian concert, a game night, a trip to a theme park, or even various organized acts of community service ultimately add any depth and significance to their life. It may make them feel good, they may make friends, they may end up with wonderful shared experiences (and photos to prove it!), and they may even do a lot of good for God’s Kingdom in the process through the way they serve and meet the needs of others through various service projects.

All of this can be fun and edifying, but when it comes to overall lifestyle – these things don’t often help students to go deep with God all that much – if at all. Many of our models for discipleship and student ministry fall WAY short of what students need. Because we all, whether we know it or not, desire depth with God. Knowing God is the point, it’s the greatest thing, it’s everything (see Philippians 3:7-10). I desire nothing less than to hear the students I get to teach come to me or another leader and proclaim, “I want to know Christ. I’m not satisfied by just knowing about Him.” Shallow relationship with God isn’t something that works. We know this to be true because of our experiences with our shallow human relationships. They do not fulfill us – they don’t rock our core and cause us to feel, to move, to act, to love. So how could a shallow relationship with God EVER be a transformative thing? So then, HOW do we help students to get to a place where they desire a deep relationship with Christ? … to desire depth with God, to know God, and to believe it’s possible to know Him? To know that God wants nothing more than for us to know and love Him… how can this take place?

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of a scene from the movie “To Save a Life.” A teen, named Jake, who is seeking to better understand himself, God, and the loss of his friend – steps into church for the first time seeking answers and comfort. As he arrives at this youth group, desperately looking for depth of character from his peers (supposedly committed Christians) and clarity about life – but he is disappointed to find so many of the students in the room disengaged and aloof. Their apparent lack of genuine faith and concern with the “God” part of youth group really bothered Jake. And to make matters worse, his first glimpse of youth group that night was to witness the students engaging in a goofy “coke can chugging contest” where the students are challenged to down an entire can of soda – strained through the sock of one of their peers (totally gross). Soon after, his girlfriend (whom he brought with to this new church – bold move) leaves the youth group time early due to feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. This, of course, bothers Jake… The video picks up soon after that while the youth leader is speaking to all the students:

Sure, it’s a movie clip… but I don’t think it’s too far off. Chugging soda can be fun, and youth group can be a blast. And it’s certainly fun to do many of the activities and games that youth groups engage in. And, many friendships can be forged. But like Jake asks the youth group in this clip, “What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?”

Our weekly gatherings and our fun events (the ones that typically lack depth) will, and to a certain degree should, always be around. They need time to unwind and have some fun! Should students enjoy and desire to play games together? Yes! I LOVE a good game night, bowling night, or movie night, it’s a blast! … but if those more “shallow” things are MOST of what students tend to “get” or seek from their church – then they’ll seek their own (less worthy) version of “depth” somewhere else. One that exists to bolster the deep self-image they’re often trying emote. Maybe they seek their “depth” from a JayZ, Beatles, or Death Cab album; or a movie by Darren Aronofsky, or by some philosopher they learned about in school. Some people just dwell on the sin and pain in their life, allow it to identify them, and they believe it causes them to become a deeper more experienced person. But one thing is for certain, this current exodus of teens from our youth ministries is an indicator that students are looking elsewhere for depth and connection. Too often, they don’t find it at church. And if they’re not finding it at home either – the hope of that student ever desiring to know God and go deep with Him is slim.

So I ask: “What kind of depth can the church offer that shines a light on this issue? What can effectively draw in students in a Christ centered way?” I think it comes down to having a depth of character in the adult leaders, parents, and peers that the students get to know in the church. I recently re-listened to a message by John Ortberg called “The Main Thing”. In this sermon he says:

“This world is not likely to receive a gospel of transformation from untransformed people.”

When students come up close with people whose DAILY life and character have been transformed by Christ, then they see something unlike anything else our world has to offer. That is a depth of character and a living truth that cannot be easily ignored or cast aside. When someone is following Christ in such a way that it has transformed them.. then, perhaps… students will be able to see this love and engagement and begin to desire depth with God too… instead of some less worthy form of trendy “depth” that doesn’t satisfy the soul. Not to say that Aranofsky movies aren’t deep and interesting, and not to say that students should only be moved by things directly related to God and the Bible… but, if they begin to see EVERYTHING through the lens of truth that they receive from believing the gospel message, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and by the cloud of witnesses that they join with as followers of Christ – I believe we’ll see students come into contact with the deepest desire of their heart – which is to go deep with God. But, it takes seeing it in others, experiencing it in scripture (often in a group setting), it takes rubbing up against transformed people, it takes parents who model Christ and are themselves in a transformation process. And all of this… it is not easy to do. But I believe this is what it takes to lead this generation of teens to the cross and to have them experience a relationship with their Creator.

Shallow is easy, shallow can be fun, shallow is less risky… but it does not make disciples on its own. I love students, I love to see them grow and to live out their convictions passionately. Seeing God at work in someone’s life takes my breath away – and that’s even more true for me when I witness it in a youth. I think many of our efforts as church leaders (including my efforts) to help connect students to God have not been what students truly need. Rich Mullins once said, “We’ve taken the blood of the cross and turned it into kool-aid…” and I think he’s right. I know I’ve been guilty of this at times for sure.

Luckily this doesn’t change that God STILL wants to know us, love us, and go deep with us. And we can’t simply lug students into the deep end of the relational pool with God either. It takes time, it takes personal mentors, it takes students having a front row seat to the transforming power of God in the life of another human (maybe even MORE than one). It takes hearing testimonies of what God has done in the lives of others. It often takes observing people who desire and love God first – which also means, it requires that we love these students with Christ’s love so they can experience it first hand. And at some point as Christ followers we ALL learn – ALL of us desire God! Whether we knew it consciously or not, the desire has always been there. It’s the deepest desire of our soul. My hope and prayer is that this soul desire becomes a very conscious desire and pursuit for the youth and families of our churches – and for our students: that their head and heart align with their soul in its desire for Christ and knowing Him more closely.

So, to “Mike” on that random comment thread – thanks for making me think today.

** I apologize for my lack of a reference on this statistic… I remember reading about a study that claimed this result.. If I find the reference, I’ll add a link here. I’m sorry 😦

The Bullying Ends Now

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http://www.thebullyingendsnow.com

I was made aware of this website today, and I’m so glad that things like this exist. As teens, I know that this issue is HUGE. Bullying is traumatic and cruel, and often bullies have been bullied by other kids in the past or by adults in their lives. So, if you find yourself being bullied, or you yourself struggle with how you treat others, remember this link. And remember to pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44 NIV “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”)

Raising awareness and talking about this important topic is necessary, and I’m glad to see that this blog exists! It was created by a Junior High age student from Arizona. Yes! Junior High! She just started her freshman year of high school this past month and I really hope her blog and her movement grows! I look forward to hearing how God uses her and her church to be a light in this world.

The Facebook fan page can be found below if you want to “like” it. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Bullying-Ends-Now/176236865726658

So this student decided to put her passions to work and to create this site to aid people who struggle with bullying. What movement might God be asking you to begin? What motivates you and what would you like to see change in your school? Your family? Your community? Your world? Maybe you are sickened by the suffering that is taking place in Africa right now. Maybe you are moved to try to do something about he homelessness and poverty in your own town. Maybe it’s something else entirely… but maybe God has plans for that in your life. Maybe God is looking for someone JUST LIKE YOU do step up and decide to take action. You should ask Him about it. 🙂

Are you “Making the Switch”?

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It’s Sr. High Workcamp time! Only 48 hours till lift-off and we’re gearing up for our annual mission trip. A flurry of green shirts, ladders, bibles, coolers, and vehicles (and a U-Haul) will be heading out to Mt. Pleasant, MI bright and early this Saturday morning July 23rd. We’ll be back on July 30th with joy to share and stories to tell. That’s a promise. 🙂

During chapels for our week in Mt. Pleasant we’ll be talking about the changes in our lives, the switches (from one thing to another). From one leader to another, from one way of thinking to a different way of thinking, going from certain habits to starting new and better rhythms and habits… and the list goes on. Our students (as well as the rest of us) live in a world that is constantly changing… so we’re asking the questions, “How do I deal with change? How am I changing? How does God want me to change? What shift is God MOST desiring to see in me?”

Musically, we’re blessed to have the band We Are Leo leading us in worship all week. They have performed two concerts here at CUMC over the past 10 months, and our students have grown to know them and have had great experiences with them. We’re very happy that they’ll be with us! You can check them out here: http://on.fb.me/rsa2kU

In addition to the chapels and lessons, we have a wonderful opportunity to serve the community and a number of residents of Mt. Pleasant, MI. Roofing, decking, painting, building bunk beds… and more. Our students LOVE to serve and to come to workcamp, and we are all so grateful for the support, love, and for the prayers offered by all of you. Our church family, our friends and neighbors – you’ve helped to make this trip a reality! Thank you so very much!

As a way of inviting you all to engage with us throughout the week – we’ll be posting a daily video blog right here on this blog! Movement412.net is my blog about Students and their ability with God’s help to set the example for the world about what a follower of Jesus Christ looks like. 412 comes from the scripture verse found in 1st Timothy 4:12 that says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” So, long after Workcamp is over this will be a source for info, inspiration, and discussion about the work God is doing in and through the lives of teens and youth.

That’s all for now! There are a few more things to do before Saturday 🙂 Please check back here throughout the week to see daily updates, interviews, and reports on what’s happening in Michigan with our workcampers. And please pray for God to be glorified in all we do, for good weather, and for the health and safety of our campers.

Grace and Peace to you.
-e

Junior High Ministry: How 7th Graders Rocked My World

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Junior High Ministry: How 7th Graders Rocked My World | Youth Ministry 360.

I love Jr. High Students – and as a former 7th grade boy, I really enjoyed this read (click above). In fact, this whole blog above is awesome. They report on awesome stuff that teens are up to, and they also offer some incredible resources for teens and parents and people like me! 🙂

God wants to use these young men (and women) in junior high! I can’t wait to see more of them in the fall once the school year picks back up. But for many of you junior high students, we’ll be seeing you for Junior High Workcamp the first week of August! Info is available on our Church website http://www.christumc.cc

How Teens Interact: Digital Media & Relationships

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New Media : connected : Connected : How Teens Interact with Media | Radio-Info.com.

The above link leads to a very interesting article about how teens interact with media and digital communication. Much of this may not be all that surprising, but some of the findings definitely are. Although I do love my smart phone, my GPS, and my gadgets… I can still remember when my friends and I used to find sticks outside and break them into pieces that resembled guns so we could play cops and robbers. In the years following as a young teen I remember my dad had an amazing device from the future installed in his Lincoln called a “car phone”, I played a computer game called “Sim City” on my dad’s work computer… and on long family trips I played video games on something called a “Game Boy”. This device (mostly used for playing Tetris) was about the size of a brick and needed 4 AA batteries for power. And those batteries only lasted like 2 hours (or at least that’s how I remember it). Oh, and of course, there was the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). Back then my life was built on nothing less than Mario and Battle Chess. And if I wanted to play games with a friend they actually had to be in the same room with me. Imagine that! Now with XBOX Live and the PSN – you can play games with your friends from down the street or from the other side of the world. Our teens live in a world of WiFi, HD, iPod, and Broadband riches! While on the other hand, my friends and I were more like these guys below:

Being a youth pastor now, it’s been so interesting to watch our teens at work with the technology of their age. To see how they use it and how it uses them. For instance, it’s amazing how seemingly difficult it is for students to relinquish the use of their cell phone for just the hour and a half or so that we get to spend with them per week. And then there are other times when I go to ask a student to put their phone away… only to find they had their “Bible App” up and running and they were reading scripture and not texting friends!

The need students have to connect with each other has not changed over the years. Nor has their need to connect with God and the work He is doing in them and through them. We all seek connection to others and to be known by our peers. But the expression and strategy of how to connect with other has definitely changed. Sometimes for the better, but I fear more often it has been for the worse.

One example of this: since most teens have text messaging, there seems to be a constant fear and anxiety that if they’re away from their phone they’ll miss an important txt message and won’t be up to speed on all the important stuff that could be happening in their social world. So many of them stay tethered to their cell phone. They often don’t realize that their phone has become like a little prison they carry around with them.

These days there are more virtual connections than authentic connections being made with people. Why? For starters: it’s easier. It’s much easier to click the “Accept Friend” button than it is to commit to spending time with a new friend and getting to know them face to face. And there is often a false sense of closeness that arises when someone reads a Facebook profile page that is similar to theirs. We think we can “know” someone by knowing their interests and their favorite quotes, tv shows, books, movies, music, and “likes”. In the same way, teens and adults alike believe they can know God by knowing a bullet pointed list of information about church or about some things the Bible says. Sure, you can learn “about” someone, but to KNOW someone takes personal time and investment… and time seems to be a resource that so many teens are running out of. Well, they aren’t really “running out of time” … more accurately, so much of their time seems to be already claimed and demanded from them before their feet even hit the floor in the morning. Their commitments to sports, music, dance, school, etc. are all good commitments, and lots of good work is done. A solid work ethic and a strong character are often birthed from these time commitments, some friends are even made… but often teens end up neglecting and minimizing the most important work they can do in their life – developing authentic relationships. The hard work of learning how to be in relationship with others is a skill and a necessity that all people need – but sometimes our new digital resources give us the false sense that we have this one down. We don’t. And in the process for many Christians, the time it takes and the commitment that God desires for us to connect with Him is often forfeited in order to keep our commitments to less worthy things.

I’m excited to see how teens are using technology. How they’re enjoying entertainment, staying in touch, and becoming more and more creative in how they can express themselves… I just pray it is never at the cost of cultivating authentic relationships. First and foremost – with God. Then with their family and friends.

Mentors

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So I was thinking today about the people in my life who I am grateful for… people who have helped to shape me and who have walked with me through life. I knew some of these people personally – like my small group leaders at church, neighbors, coaches, family members… But then there were other people whom I didn’t know very well (or at all) like Michael Jordan, John Ortberg, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Some in very significant ways, and others I smaller ways – we have been influenced by certain people. And as a dad I find myself wondering what my son and my daughter’s list will look like. If they had to make a list today, I bet it would read something like this: mommy, daddy, grandparents, Miss Tiffany and Miss Megan, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse, They Might be Giants, and Mario.

Today, recall those people in your life who helped you to be who you are…