Challenging Christianity

Comfort Zone/ Challenge Sign ConceptOne of my favorite lines that I repeat often to leaders, parents, and even to students, is that my job, our job in youth ministry (and as parents!) is not to entertain students, but to equip them for life. Our vision statement for our youth ministry is to see students become fully-devoted, passionate, life-long followers of Jesus. In order for that to become a reality, they must be challenged in their thinking and in their practice. We have to stretch them to do hard things … uncomfortable things.

Growth only happens by doing things you’ve never done before.

Just the other day, my friend Thom Schults, founder of Group Publishing, said, “Too many people think if it’s uncomfortable it must be wrong. This is one of the biggest problems in the church today.” How true a statement!

Then, just this morning I was reading Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey in which he quotes Shane Claiborne who said, “I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?”

As I am writing this, my daughter is texting me about some of the challenging realities of our upcoming mission trip to Jamaica. Because we love students and want to help them see the world as God sees it and want them to have a bold, mature faith, we do not shy away from difficult situations. Of course, safety is very important, we aren’t talking about being stupid and rash. I want to be very clear about this. We do indeed take safety very seriously. That being said, the truth is, if safety was our only consideration, we would never go anywhere new or do anything we’ve never done before. We have to have something higher than safety, and that is a vision.

God’s vision is for the whole earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, and we are called to be a part of the advancement of His kingdom. We are called to be agents of light in a dark world. We are to take the light of Christ into dark places, and that inherently means we have to do hard things. So, we go with God’s vision, we go with God’s power (the Holy Spirit living inside of us who gives us wisdom and courage), and we go with God’s promises (not to be free exempt from trouble, but that He will be with us as we go through trouble). Therefore, we say yes to mission of Jesus, even when we don’t know exactly all that will happen, and we move forward with faith as our guide, not fear. Just some thoughts I have as I am spending time with Jesus this morning. I hope they are encouraging, challenging, and helpful.

The People You Meet on Planes

The longer I walk with Jesus the smaller the world gets. I just had another one of those INSANE connections while traveling that only God can orchestrate. Yesterday I bought the upgrade to the exit row for my flight from Detroit to Denver. The lady from Michigan seated next to me, named Marlene, and I engaged in a little small talk, then we settled into our individual reading, uncomfortable napping, etc. I was reading some Philip Yancey and was also working on a wedding I am doing in a few weeks. With about ten minutes left in our flight, the woman inquired as to what kind of training I was going to Colorado for. I told her it is for a camp that I am speaking at this summer. Putting this together with the book I had been reading she asked if I was a pastor, to which I replied I am. She told me her husband had been a pastor and now leads a missions organization. I asked what part of Michigan she was from, and she said, “Rochester Hills.” I told her I used to attend church in the neighboring town of Oxford 20 years ago. I asked if she had heard of Christ The King Churh, and her eyes got really big. “That is the church my husband was a pastor at. His name is Tim Cummings.” I totally remembered him. Not only did we attend that church, we were involved as volunteers in the youth ministry, were (and still are) friends with many people from the church, including several who we had attended Bible college with, and the youth pastor, our good friend Jon Waters asked us if we could help start the youth group at their church plant in Lapeer, Michigan which we did until we moved back to New York. There is no doubt we met 20 years ago during our time at Christ The King, and it was just incredible to find ourselves – a person from New York, and a person from Michigan – sitting next to each other on a plane all these years later. What an amazing thing the family of God is! 

3 Ways to Maximize Your Summer

Summer. What does summer mean to you? Maybe sleeping in and playing video games all day. Maybe it means working on your muscles and tan to try to impress members of the opposite sex. While there is certainly nothing wrong with getting a little extra rest, doing something fun and relaxing like playing video games, getting in shape, or even showing interest in the opposite sex, I wonder if you might consider making something more of your months off of school this summer.

I want to be one of those people in your life (hopefully not the only person in your life) to challenge you to do something significant with your life this summer. I see way too many students do very little of value or lasting significance during the summer months. It saddens me to see squandered opportunities, unfulfilled potential, or worse, students moving further away from God, and sometimes even doing regrettable things. This summer here are three things I would challenge you to do:

  1. Get rest, but don’t be lazy. Sleep is a crucial for health. Summer is a great time to get some extra sleep. You can get some much-needed rest, not just physically but also mentally, and emotionally. The biblical concept of shalom is something that God intends for us to embrace. It means peace, completeness, welfare (health) in all areas of life. Rest is an important part of experiencing the shalom of God. Rest means relief, quietness, recreation, and peace. It is a time to enjoy the fruit of your hard work. Even God rested after He finished creating the world (Genesis 2:2-3). Laziness is another thing altogether. Laziness means a lack of desire to expend effort. Laziness means you don’t do anything. While the Bible tells us we need to rest, it warns us against laziness (Proverbs 13:4; 20:4; 20:13; 21:25; 24:30-34). Rest doesn’t mean laziness; it means doing things that will bring you health and refreshment. The word recreation means to do things that re-create you — things that make you feel alive again. This summer, do some things that will refresh you.
  2. Work hard on things that matter. Don’t let the only thing you improve this summer be your body. Invest in things of value. Deepen an important friendship. Do a Bible reading plan. Find a way to serve your community. Share your faith with your friends. Help out with VBS. Go on a missions trip. Do something that matters this summer.
  3. Stay connected to the right people. If you want to not only survive but thrive this summer you need to stay connected to people who will help you remain spiritually healthy and challenge you to grow in Jesus. Hebrews 3:12-14 tells us that staying connected is the key to avoiding the traps of sin (and we know that there are plenty of traps out there during the summer). It also says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This summer, participate in all of the fun events we do. Get together with friends from small group. Go to summer camp with us. Don’t just veg out this summer. Grow spiritually, relationally, and do something that matters.