Care for the Widows

Guys CAN make flower arrangements!

Valentines week gave me a great opportunity to talk to my teenage boys about caring for the widows in our congregation.  For a special Guys only devotional, I purchased sets of flowers from a local flower shop and the teen boys created flower arrangements.  During the creation process, we discussed James 1:27, and the similarities between orphans and widows.

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When the creations were complete, we drove around town and delivered the flowers.

During our discussion, the boys brought up that we don’t think about the widows often.  They recognized that there is less of a chance of a widow having a closer community of friends and family who spend time with them, and even if they do, there are certainly times of loneliness.  Our widows aren’t people we appreciate often so finding the time to do so was extremely beneficial.

Outreach

What would you classify as outreach? As a church, we would mention our clothing giveaway, jail ministry, and the numerous home Bible studies that take place. Every once in a while we will add an event like a potato feed or summer picnic. Outreach could simply be defined as reaching out. Are these events ways that we are reaching out to non church members? When we look at outreach with these eyes, it seems so limiting.

In my confusion, I consulted Google (of course!). When I Googled “church outreach”, I found many events similar to the events listed above. There are so many ideas for events in performing outreach, but this effort still seemed… limiting!

The planned events can, and are, beneficial forms of outreach as long as reaching out is included, but if we look at scripture, we will see outreach through different eyes. In Luke 12, Jesus is instructing his apostles on true outreach.

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God. -Luke 12:8

In Luke 12, Jesus warns not to get stuck in the box. He challenges to live higher than the expectations the world has for us. He reminds us that we have great value in God’s eyes. Outreach can’t be limited to structured events. Outreach is imparting spiritual words and actions to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Outreach is included in the messages we post on social media. Outreach isn’t an every once in a while thing, it is giving the truth about Christ to people every moment of every day.

Congregational outreach is tremendously influential because so much can be accomplished when we choose to work together for the purpose of discipleship, but let us not limit outreach to structured events. Outreach also includes every moment we are interacting with others, in a large group or just one on one. You are of value to both God’s heavenly kingdom and His earthly church when it comes to outreach. May you seek to respond to God’s placement of outreach in your daily life in directing the world to Christ and His church.

12 Hours of Prayer / Sleepover

Goal: To encourage youth to not only talk about spirituality, but practice living it out together.

One of my good friends, who is also a parent of some of the teenagers at my church, hosted a Friday night sleepover for over 30 teenagers at their house.  The desire was to get teenagers together from different towns for spiritual encouragement with one another.  We wanted to have a mostly unstructured event but to guide them toward spiritual conversations in their every day interactions with each other.  The only structured event for the evening was 12 hours of prayer.

The event began by having a conversation with the teenagers about the power of prayer.  The students filled out prayer cards (3×5 notecards) and signed up to pray for 15 minute time slots on a sign up sheet to pray throughout the night.

One of the rooms in the house was then set up as a prayer room.  A simple desk with a basket containing the filled out prayer cards, a bible, a journal so teens could write out verses or prayers, and a song book.  It was emphasized to the students that prayer is not always the bow your head routine we think of.

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It was a full evening of laughter, games, deep conversations, food, and prayer.  The teenagers did a great job of reminding one another when their time for prayer had come.  Many of the teens shared that although they thought 15 minutes was a long time to pray, once they began, they were interrupted by a knock that their time was up and it was someone else’s prayer slot.  When the 12 hours was up, we discussed James 5:13-16.

 

 

Draw Near

In the teaching world, they say routine and structure are what kids need to function at their best. When we become adults, we don’t seek routine and structure anymore most of us still crave consistency. We are much more comfortable when we know what is coming.

This week, I was making preparations for teaching a young boys study. It’s called the “Timothy study” because the idea is that older men are training up younger men to be important men of God as Paul did in his letters to Timothy. To get in the correct mindset for leading the young men, I decided to dedicate some time in reading through the books of first and second Timothy. I don’t typically spend that much focused time reading the Word, but God definitely challenged me during that time of reading. A ton of passages stuck out to me pertaining to growing up young people in the Lord:

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare. – 1Timothy 1:18

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. – 1 Timothy 2:1

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14-15

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. – 1 Timothy 4:6

There were so many more as well! Reading through both books written to Timothy gave me encouragement, focus, and a direction. When we do something outside of our normal spiritual routine, typically we grow in a new way. We need to do something different sometimes to open our eyes and wake us up. Routine and structure can be good things, but change is also needed for growing nearer to God.

Hope

Teenagers are often held to such low standards. Working with teenagers teaches me a great deal!

I was having lunch with a friend, which I so often do. Walking into this time together, I expected to be the one listening and leading toward Jesus throughout the conversation. What I so often forget is that there are times God is needing to lead me, not have me do the leading for someone else.

During this lunch, I made a hope comment “I hope this works out for you” or something along those lines. The young teen looks me square in the eyes and says “There is only so much we can put our hope in.” The conversation continued, lunch ended, and we went on our way. I had a feeling of incompleteness wrestling within me. Her comment about hope stuck with me all day.

That evening, I was hearing from another teenager. She was expressing the struggle of so many friends putting her down at school, her lack of ability to believe her boyfriend, and a desire to trust her father who was making another promise, after so many promises unkept. That’s when the truth of scripture finally hit me!

“…and surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:20

Let those words sink in. As we understand it, these are the final words of Christ right before ascending back into heaven. He’s telling his apostles where they need to place their hope. Hope in Christ is foundational, unwavering, and will hold us up! It will never fail us.

So I responded to this teenager that was experiencing so many people letting her down with this: When we place our hope in people, we fall hard. It hurts. Because people will never fully come through for us like Christ will. People, items, places, will always let us down. The incompleteness I was experiencing earlier in the day was the realization God was giving me that I had been putting so much hope in people.

When we put our hope in Christ, we know it will be an unfailing stronghold. There is only so much we can put our hope in.

For the Sake of My Name

There are many circumstances, especially in the Old Testament, where we can observe God having to display his wrath for correction purposes on His people.  Looking at Hebrews 12, we can learn that this is necessary for disciplinary reasons.  In the same way that parents today must somehow discipline their children to teach them right and wrong, God must discipline us. Even though discipline in necessary, God has been given the labels angry, wrathful, and vengeful by many skeptics. This can be difficult to understand and make us question why we would want to serve and worship a God that acts so negatively.  When I happened upon Ezekiel 20 this week, I saw the God of understanding.

Three times in this chapter, God points out ways His people have left Him and says “I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them.” But all three times, He does not stop there.  He then continues “But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations.”

The God of love, forgiveness, understand, and second chances IS the God of the Old Testament, New Testament, and today.  God understands the importance of His name being seen as a God who acts for the people.  God desires for people to see His love and compassion. Just as Christ followers today desire for the name of God to be accepted, God has the same desire!

Although all these labels are true of God, let us not forget He is also the God of expectation.  He expects us to serve Him.  He expects us to put no other idol in His place.  Most importantly, He expects our attitudes to portray His name to the nations.  May we seek to act as God acts; as the disciplinarian, who leads out of love, understanding, and forgiveness.

Confusing the Gospel

Twitter seems to be the social media outlet where teenagers express their opinions more than any other platform.  I often observe teenagers who strongly profess being a Christ follower, portraying a completely different message on social media than the message Jesus gives to people.  They are confusing the message of the gospel.

There are two things I think we can attribute this confusion to.  The first is the adult examples being displayed for teenagers.  The second is our desire to combine the gospel message with the messages portrayed by our nation.  We want a Christianity that makes sense, and is accepted by media, but Christ calls us to a life removed.  Different.

This is the topic I covered in a Bible class I taught at a youth conference.  The only preparation work I did was I had one of the teenagers in my local youth group make me a big poster with the following quote written on it:

“People aren’t confused by the Gospel. They’re confused by us. Jesus is the only way to God, but we are not the only way to Jesus. This world doesn’t need my tie, my hoodie, my denomination or my interpretation of the Bible. They just need Jesus. We can be passionate about what we believe, but we can’t strap ourselves to the Gospel, because we are slowing it down. Jesus is going to save the world, but maybe the best thing we can do is just get out of the way. ”   – Casting Crowns

This quote was posted on the wall as students came in the room.  For the rest of the lesson, please refer to the attached google doc or you can access it in PDF Form.

Also included in this lesson: Luke 7:36-50, Ephesians 3:1-14

This class is suggested for High School or Adult ages

Feeling Happy and Awesome

It seems that every year, following Youth in Action – Kansas City, the teens, and chaperones have a new fire for Christ, ready to conquer the world!

Following one of these events, I returned home ready to catch up on some sleep.  A few hours upon returning, one of the teens, an eighth grade boy, sent me a text.  It read “When we went to YIA I felt happy and awesome and at home, but not anymore now that I am back home.  It feels like something is missing because I don’t feel good inside or happy that I am home.”

It made me smile that he felt this way, that means the weekend was impactful for him.  At the same time it saddened me, because it shows that there is a brokenness at his home that he was noticing for the first time.

Many would tell him that spiritual high will fade, and that is normal.  I struggle with that advice because we should always be seeking to hold onto that spiritual feeling.  The reason it feels so great is because we have had a time where we have lived our faith to a high level.  We should desire for that to continue even when youth events are over.

Instead, when he called crying, asking for me to pray for him, I advised him to keep finding that feeling.  Put yourself in places, and with people who will continue to encourage the living out of faith.  The problem is we are not afraid to let Christ rule our thoughts and actions when we are surrounded by other Christ-followers, but when we are surrounded by the world, fear takes over and we are often quick to put our faith living on the back burner.

My prayer is that this boy motivates us to continue to live out our faith no matter what limits the world, or the church attempts to place on our faith, and that he finds a passion to have a family free of the brokenness he experiences within the home he is growing up in.

Counting

Counting drives me nuts! Talking about church attendance is one of my least favorite subjects. Church attendance today is declining in number in every denomination in America! Frightening, right? What do we do about it? We stop counting!

There is a radically unusual confrontation between King David and the Lord in 2 Samuel 24. David decides to count his army. It is not clear why he decided to take a count, but the outcome is clear: David’s pride is puffed up, and God is not happy about it. “David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a foolish thing.’” 24:10

When a church talks about its rise or decline in numbers, I can’t help but think of this story. If numbers are rising, it is easy to become prideful. Pride creates blindness toward growth. When numbers are declining, we throw our hands up in the air (or tear our close if we read scripture to often) and feel a sudden uncertainty of what to do about it… Maybe we even give up!

Jesus talks about numbers in Luke 15 when he tells the parable of the lost sheep. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” -Luke 15:3-7.

Why does Jesus leave the ninety-nine for one?! If the ninety-nine are not being watched, won’t they wander off? This parable shows the passion for ministering to people that should be stronger than our need for counting. The shepherd goes after the one because that sheep is lost, scared, hurting, and confused. Maybe the reason people are leaving churches is because people get caught up in just trying to keep numbers in the building instead of desiring to encourage individuals in living out the Gospel with their eyes fixed on their shepherd, Jesus.

Making Ministry: One connection at a time

When it comes to bringing the Gospel to others, I have always looked to Paul as the best example.  Paul wrote much of the New Testament, he wrote to encourage people toward spreading the Gospel through the church, and he wasn’t Christ, which almost gives him a credibility as being more human like (For example, he didn’t know the heart of every person as Christ did). Most importantly, his ministry attitude makes the most sense to me.

Paul desired to learn about each person he came in contact with as much as he could. –1 Corinthians 9:19-23

He saw everyone as being on equal level as Christ saw them. –Galatians 3:26-28

He was a tent-maker; his ministry was volunteer based and we know he was in the world, not separated by being only a evangelist. –Acts 18:1-4

He gave different advice to different churches, knowing that the church is the backbone to our faith, but church will look different for every town, culture, and people.

But my favorite attribute of Paul’s attitude is found in Acts 20: specifically when he says, I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. -Acts 20:26-27

Ministry is not about planning the greatest activities, hosting the best events, having the largest numbers, or going on the most mission trips. Although these things can hold an importance, they can all be beneficial or harmful toward the spreading of the gospel.  Ministry is not shrinking or missing an opportunity to spread the gospel.

There was a summer I was teaching a Bible class for three weeks at Nebraska Youth Camp.  After reading Acts 20, I challenged myself to connect with a teenager every day and create a Gospel connection with each of them.  This meant I had to have one on one connections with a different teenager every day.  This forced me to constantly seek opportunity, and pray for guidance toward these chances.  That challenged formed my ministry, changed my mindset, and is now my primary focus in youth ministry.  For many years, I was a volunteer youth leader at whatever church I was living near.  Now, I’m blessed to be able to work at ministry full time, but my heart is still in part time ministry.

Whether you are a youth leader, a parent, or just a church member, you can make ministry that spreads the gospel to youth by simply seeking to give the Gospel.  My goal with this site is to equip you with tools to make the big pieces easier so you can focus on making ministry: creating real, genuine Gospel connections through one on one interactions.

More on Making Ministry:

Making Ministry: Listening with Patience (Part 2)

Making Ministry: Healing the Hurt (Part 3) coming soon…