Tough Questions Final Week

We began this week with a game where the group was divided into three teams and each team received: a roll of wrapping paper and a roll of scotch tape. The object of the game was to use the wrapping paper as a ninja costume, the tube as a ninja sword, and the tape to keep the costume together. Also, five 2.5′ lengths of tape were allowed to be used to strengthen the sword. We had one team that just totally dominated.

Good Fun!

We looked at a few specific issues that the students had submitted for the Tough Questions series finale.

1. When I pray what name should I call God?
There are a number of names of God in Scripture.  Generally when someone prays it can be helpful to think of the attribute of God that they are seeking (Father, Judge, Healer, etc) and then use that particular name to address God.  Here is a list of names of God that are found in the Bible:
Abba – Father
Elohim – The Strong, faithful, and only true God
El Shaddai – Almighty, All-sufficient God
El Elyon – Most High God
El Olam – The Everlasting God
Jehovah Jireh – The Lord will Provide
Jehovah Nissi – The Lord is my Banner
Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace
Jehovah Sabbaoth – The Lord of Hosts
Jehovah Ro’i – The Lord is my Shepherd
Jehovah Shammah – The Lord is There
Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who Heals
The Light of the World
The Bread of Life
Lamb of God
Emmanuel: God with Us

It may be beneficial to take a look at this list of names of God and others that are used throughout Scripture (if you’d like a more in-depth look at this subject click here) and discuss with your child a few that have meant more to you at certain times in your life.  This sort of discussion gives your teenager a valuable glimpse into your spiritual life your walk with the Lord through the years.

2. Are my pets going to heaven?
The Bible doesn’t truly discuss this.  I have heard from many people that heaven wouldn’t be heaven without their pets there, and while I think the sentiment is nice, I believe that God is totally able to make heaven awesome with just his presence.  There does appear to be animals in heaven (lion laying down with the lamb), but this would not necessarily mean that your pet is kept around.

Regardless of your view on the souls of pets eternal home, I encourage you to think on the eternal home of the people you come in contact with daily.  They certainly have eternal souls, and they can live with you forever in heaven, but we need to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who are lost.  Pray for your neighbors as often as you think and care for your pets.  God will sort out the details and make our joy complete when we reach our heavenly home.

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Tough Questions

At Frontline we have been exploring a series of youth offered questions.  Last week we had a guest speaker walk through an overview of the end times, good stuff.  I would like to highlight a few below that were of particular interest to the youth.  These are the sorts of questions that as a parent your child is asking.  At the bottom of each section I give some ideas of how a parent might want to discuss each issue with their child.

1. Is it okay that I don’t read the Bible?
This question is a little more complicated than it may seem at first blush.  As a pastor at a Bible church, the obvious answer is no.  However, as I began to think more and more on this subject I sort of struck a middle ground.  Is it sin not to read the Bible, no.  However, a consistent time with God in his Word will keep you from falling into sin.  The real point that needs to be understood is why is it best to read the Bible.  The answer to that is found in 2 Tim 3:16 and Psalm 119:11.  The Bible is God’s word to his beloved creation.  If we say that we love the Lord it is ideal that we know and understand what he has already communicated to us.
How do you encourage your children to read the Bible?  Do you shame them into spending time with the Lord?  Do you encourage them with the benefits of personal time in the Word?  Do your children know about your personal devotions? This is a good discussion to have.
Here is a blog post that I thought was interesting from a youth pastor on this topic.

2. Can I listen to rock music even if the lyrics are clean, even though my parents say no?
A pretty quick answer to this is no.  The issue at hand is obedience to parents not whether or not a certain type of music is clean.  The command is simple in Exodus 20:12 to honor your father and mother.  Also in Ephesians 6:1-3 the command is repeated to children to obey their parents in all things.
As an aside, parents, you need to be consistent in your rules and be willing to discuss them with your children.  An open dialog is important to a healthy parent child relationship.  If you have a rule that your child despises you should discuss it with them in a calm setting to let them know your reasons for the rule.  One website that may be helpful in this area of parenting along with many other is www.thesource4parents.com.  Take a look when you have a few minutes.

3. If God is good why is there evil in the world?
Tough question that is philosophical in nature.  I find two compelling arguments about this subject, one is the Augustinian Theodicy and the other is Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.
The Augustinian Theodicy is an explaining away of evil as the result of man’s sin.  This seems logical enough though it leads to some issues with why man was ever given the opportunity to sin in the first place if evil is the consequence.  It also has been further developed by Thomas Aquinas to describe evil as a lack of good (compare: darkness is just an absence of light).
Alvin Plantinga has developed his freewill defense is summarized thus:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

As a parent you probably have wrestled with this exact issue before.  Your teens are struggling with it for the first time.  They need to be able to discuss issues like this with you, so that it saves them from googling the answer which will likely take them to a variety of atheist websites.  Give them a foundation for knowledge and a platform for discussion.  Don’t force them to agree with you, but allow them to struggle with you helping them along the way.

4. What are the differences between Christians, Jehovah Witnesses, and Mormons?
There are many different views in these areas.  I referred to this website for a lot of information.  It’s good to have at least a basic handle on other religions that your child is bumping into, so be proactive in talking with your teen about friends who may be a part of another religion.  This is a great conversation starter, I get to discuss Islam with my son often as one of his friends at school is a Muslim.

Miracles: Week 1

Most of us are vaguely familiar with time that Jesus calmed the raging waters on the Sea of Galilee.  He was awakened by his disciples and rebuked the weather and it ceased.  Then he turned his attention to his disciples and rebuked them for not having sufficient faith.  This all led to the disciples asking the most important of questions: “Who is this man?”

That question is a question that demands answers.  Is Jesus just another guy?  Is he some sort of teacher/prophet/miracle worker?  Is he something more?  Eventually we all must come to a place where we make a determination about who Jesus is.  Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to take on our sins so that we need not suffer the eternal consequences of them.

Since that is who he is, we are left with a couple of things we should do.  First, we need to acknowledge and believe that he is the Son of God.  If you have already done that, then you need to begin to examine whether or not you truly understand the ramifications this has for your daily life.  The disciples lacked faith that Jesus was in control, but still had enough faith to wake him to ask for his help.  Likewise, I think we can all from time to time forget that Jesus Christ has things under control and we try really hard to solve the problems that we get ourselves into without consulting or asking for his help.  How crazy is that? I mean, we have access to God and his infinite resources, yet we still labor to get out of the holes that we dig by ourselves.

It’s time to give up on fixing yourself and surrender your problems to a loving, capable God.

The Loudest Voice isn’t Necessarily God

I have been speaking for the last four weeks about hearing the voice of God.  I have never been blessed by hearing the audible voice of God commanding me as if with a megaphone.  Instead, I have had to learn to discipline myself to discern God’s will for my life from what he has disclosed in Scripture and a felt leading from the Spirit.

Discerning the voice of God is nearly impossible for youth today.  This problem isn’t necessarily about a lack of trying, but more a lack of know how.   Youth today are plugged according the Kaiser Family Foundations study (here) youth are spending more than 7.5 hours with some sort of media, if you add in the time that youth are multitasking media the number jumps to over 10 hours a day of media exposure.  This matters because many teens are never without another voice in their head.  They sleep with their iPods on and they wake up to music.  They spend their days on Facebook and their nights watching television.  Hearing the voice of God over the clamoring of the media in their heads is rare.  And if they did actually hear the voice of God, would they even know that it was God speaking?

We looked at 1 Kings 19 this week and we saw that Elijah did not discern the presence and voice of God in the rushing wind, the shaking earth, or the blazing fire.  It was after these things past that Elijah heard the Lord speak in a whisper.  Psalm 46:10 encourages us to be still before the Lord.  It is often only when we discipline ourselves to find real still, quiet time that we make space for God to speak to us.

The second concern is with knowing the words of God over the words of man.  Students need to know what God sounds like, so when they hear a voice they can answer the questions “does this sound like God?”  God has spoken through 66 books in our Bible.  Pages upon pages, He has said things to us, do we know what He sounds like.  Many youth could hear a second of song and know the whole song, the artist who sang it, and on what CD it was released.  That’s because they have spent time getting to know the voice of the artist.  However, could I read a passage from the Bible and get the same result?  Could I select a passage from the Koran and students not be able to discern the difference?  I wonder.

Encourage your kids to spend time (without media) with the Lord.  Encourage them to pray, and to read the Bible.  It would be great if you had a family discipline of reading a passage of scripture each day (privately) and then discuss what you all read later in the day, or even once a week.  Let your child know that hearing and discerning God’s will for his/her life is important to you.  Help hold them accountable for their time, like you likely do with their schoolwork.  If you need help with resources for Bible reading let me know, I would love to wrangle some up for you!  Keep up the good work.

Unworthy Sacrifices

We had a great night at Frontline last night!  We kicked it off with a good old-fashioned q-tip war, and then moved into worship and the lesson.  Here’s a short video of the q-tip war in action!

Great time!

This weeks lesson was our first of four in the “Silent God?” series.  We are looking at reasons that teenagers may not hear from God in the way that they feel they should.  This whole series is taken from the book of Malachi and addresses different areas of sin in our lives that can hamper communication with God.

Quick background for Malachi.  The people of Judah have been allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and the walls of the city (following their captivity under Babylon).  In a time where religious piety should have been at an all time high due to God’s protection through the exile, the people quickly returned to a lazy faith that was even critical of God.  In Mal. 1:2, God confesses his love to the people and they have the audacity to ask him “how have you loved us?”  The rest of the book is God pointing out areas of sin within the people and a call to faithful obedience.

The first critique that God raises is directed at the sacrifices that are being offered to Him. God deserves and demands the very best that people can offer, but the people were bringing worthless (lame, blind, and sick) animals as their sacrifice of worship to God while withholding their best for themselves.  God points out that they would not dream of offering these animals to their governors, and even encourages the people to stop offering anything if all they are going to give to Him is garbage.

As people we all  can at times come to worship God full of garbage.  We have sin that we are yet to repent of and then we worship God.  This should not be.  We should go to God, repent of our sins, and then offer ourselves to be used by God in worship and in life.  Teenagers are often quick to worship God through song, while not examining their lives to see if what they are offering to God is a pure sacrifice.

We are also guilty of giving God our leftovers as our sacrifice.  We are willing to part with our leftover time or energy , but to ask us to give our best time and best energy is often asking more than we are willing.  We must combat this.  I challenged the teenagers to think of someone they truly admired (perhaps a celebrity, athlete, or politician) who was coming to their house for dinner.  What sort of work would they do to make that night go perfectly?  Would they research the best meal?  Would they tidy up the house?  Would they dedicate as much time as needed to so that the person would be pleased to be at the house (and perhaps want a return visit)?  I know that I would.  Yet, when we have the opportunity to spend time with Almighty God, we are casual.  We don’t give any effort to preparing and when we are done we question God saying “Why don’t you ever talk with me?”  We truly need to grasp that God is greater than any other person in the world and give Him the time and effort that He deserves.

As a parent, are you modeling to your children that God is greater than all others (your boss, your spouse, your childhood idol)?  Children learn their faith from their parents.  So examine your life, make changes to your treatment of God if necessary, and talk with your kids about how awesome God is.  Show them what a privilege it is to have Him desire a relationship with us.

The Dating Game

Do you remember that old television game show “The Dating Game”?  If you don’t here’s how it worked: one young lady was given the chance to have a dream date with one of three mystery bachelors (who are hidden from her view).  She chose which bachelor to date by asking each of them a series of questions.  Following her selection she gets to see her bachelor and then go out on a date. The show was funny and not overly serious.  Fast forward 40 years and we have new dating shows like The Bachelor, where a person is looking to select his wife from a small harem of eligible women.  Culturally, it is difficult to escape the pressures of the dating world and the selfish nature which we see dating modeled (by the media and our peers).

This is why the issue of dating is so crucial to youth.  At Frontline we played a mock Dating Game (which was well acted by our youth) to set-up the lesson about what culture says dating is for, and what the Bible says about relationships.  I recently heard it said, again, that teenage dating is divorce practice, and I must admit most of the ways that young people choose to date develops a habit that can lead to easier divorce.  Right now the divorce rate in America is hovering around 50%, and most statistics don’t show Christian marriages surviving any better.  While there are a ton of factors that play into this alarming trend, the model of dating has to be examined.  A majority of teens will fall in and out of love with multiple partners, and with each of these experiences the nature of bonding deeply to one person for a lifetime begins to erode.  This leads to an “easy come, easy go” mindset to relationships, which in a marriage is a fatal flaw.

So what is the alternative?  I don’t necessarily condemn teenage dating.   I dated as a teen (with some negative effects), and I even married my high school sweetheart.  But the cautions within the Bible are worth heeding.  Song of Solomon 2:7 encourages young people to avoid awakening love before it is time.  This means don’t rush into relationships before you are emotionally and spiritually mature enough to handle them.  1 Timothy 5:1-2 instructs young men (in the church) to treat the young women in the church as sisters with ALL purity.  I challenged the students to think seriously about their actions with the opposite sex (would you think that about your brother/sister?).  1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 tells the believer to live to please God, and one of those ways is to be in control of our bodies.  In the dating world, that means to control ourselves entirely (physically and verbally) from damaging anyone else.

Dating is a tough issue.  As parents you have a responsibility to talk with your youth about dating and to help shape their attitudes toward the opposite sex.  I am here to support you as you teach your child, so don’t hesitate to use me as a resource.