BElong

What is it about grandparents that you most enjoy? What is the best memory that you share with them? I cannot stop smiling when I think of my grandparents! Growing up, especially after my parents’ divorce, I moved a lot. My Grandpa Buller would always help us in the transition . . . and he would always allow me to ride shotgun in the U-Haul. Those were some of our most meaningful conversations. I have also always enjoyed looking around their home at all of the old pictures and artifacts. My grandfather has an old bible that he carried around during WWII. What a treasure . . . the book even includes an old picture of his wife and oldest daughter. More recently, I was amazed as I watched my grandfather, even at an old age, overcome losing his legs and gaining his strength and independence back. What a hero! Then there is my Grandmother Buller. What a beautiful woman! Even at the age of twenty-nine, there is little I consider more special than a “bunny kiss.” I can’t explain it . . . just a grandmother-grandson thing. She would always take me to fun places (i.e. the Portland Zoo). My Grandma Buller is also the one credited with giving me my nickname (Jud).

What is it about our heritages that we are most proud of? How about those stories that embarrass us? Everyone should take a hard look at their origins (the source of their existence). We learn a lot about ourselves by exploring our family legacy and traditions (handed down from our grandparents and beyond). I have always been grateful to my Great Grandpa Clerk, though I never had the opportunity to meet him, for teaching my father his first lessons from the bible. However, I have also been somewhat troubled with the account of my Great Grandpa Farley, who went to work one day . . . never to return . . . leaving a family of five behind to pick up the pieces.

Don’t we all reach the age in life where we begin to wonder where we came from – a journey of returning to our roots? There is so much to discover by studying our ancestors’ race, religion, and relationships. We can learn from our descendants’ hurts, habits, and hang-ups. There is a healthy benefit to laughing at our relatives’ quirks (idiosyncrasies revealed as we gather around the Thanksgiving table). At the same time, we can quickly feel doomed to repeat the past (our identity is so easily shaped by the bad decisions of our forefathers).

This topic came up in our student ministry while continuing our Fall Focus on Ephesians (Be: the church that God dreams of). Who would have guessed that we would learn so much from a letter written two thousand years ago. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wished that the church would recapture Christ’s heart for humanity (connecting their generation to the love of Christ). First, he called the Ephesian Christ-followers to begin (to go somewhere by deciding not to stay where they were). Second, that they would be below (participating in the big picture of God’s plans and purposes). Third, that they would believe (that grace is given to do good – not just to look good). Finally, that they would belong, not just to those from our past, but to a new community of people. In other words, our family history does not have to determine our future heritage.

The good news is that God is inviting people to belong to a new legacy. Paul wrote, “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13, NIV). How many of us can relate to the loneliness and isolationism of the gentiles? Due to their pagan background, they were quickly considered by the religious community as underprivileged and unworthy. Some even went as far as to call them derogatory names (i.e. uncircumcised). This was far worse than a medical term . . . they were being harshly reminded that they were not a part of the original covenant-people. They were outsiders.

Who was it who first said that sticks and stones may break our bones . . . but words will never hurt us? That guy was stupid. Wounds heal. Words stick. Do you know how many “fights” I was in from kindergarten to second grade? All those recess scuffles were due to my over-sized ears (they have not grown since I escaped the womb). I was labeled “Dumbo.” Could you imagine being treated like second-class citizens, by birth of all reasons, and in church of all places! Living devoid of help (no connection with community). Wasn’t it bad enough that the gentiles had lived long enough without any hope (no familiarity with the Old Testament prophecies)? How many of us have felt like we just did not fit . . . either due to appearance or performance). Some of us have lived far too long in the shadow of our siblings (all of the popularity and positions just are never enough)? How many of us waste away the hours by comparing ourselves with others (whether it be our age, weight, income, GPA, strength, or even beauty)?

Paul’s dream was that the church would be the place to break down the barriers between Jews and gentiles. When speaking of Jesus, he wrote, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (vv 14-22).

Maybe we should read the well-known verse, John 3:16, a bit more carefully . . . “For God so loved the world that he gave . . . .” Not the pretty. Not the successful. Not the religious. Not the rich. Not the American. Not the famous. Not the Republican. Not the popular. Not the one with the perfect parents. The world. Every body. Both Jew and Gentile. We focus so much on the fact that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ reconnected us to the Father that we forget that the same sacrifice reconnects us to each other. He wishes to bring unity where there was once disunity.
Can you imagine the effectiveness of a church that was honestly united under the cross and by the power of the Holy Spirit?

The Jewish Christ followers grew up in a time where the temple was designed specifically for division. The very house of God had places reserved for the high priests. There were levels set apart for the Hebrews . . . and then walls were erected to keep the gentiles in the “nose-bleed section.” The cross destroyed the “temple walls” of the times (while simultaneously fulfilling the covenant laws). Christ’s mission has a way of redefining who we are and where we are going. He is pretty determined to destroy the status quo of the day . . . now making disciples of all nations (just read his commission in the 28th chapter of Matthew). Imagine the goodness and greatness of a God who desires to dwell with all people!

Your family history does not have to determine your future heritage. You must ask yourself where you find your belonging? What relationships are shaping your future? Jesus could have been haunted by his past . . . his genealogy was released as public record for all to read (Matthew’s first chapter). Sure, he had great ancestors like Jacob (grandson of Abraham), Judah (one of the twelve sons), Boaz (married a widow out of compassion and concern), great kings of Judah (such as Asa and Jehoshaphat), not to mention his stepfather (who stayed faithful to his fiance despite sensational rumors). However, he had some serious skeletons in the closet of his family tree. How about Tamar (who committed incest with her father-in-law because she wanted a baby bad enough), Rahab (who made a living through acts of prostitution), or David (who had an affair with a married woman and then attempted to cover it all up by murdering her husband)?

We must respond to our own lineage responsibly and appropriately. There is a time and place to honor the heroes of our past (but not settling on relying upon their godliness for our own salvation – but instead building on that strong foundation for the future). Or there are some of us who must refuse to continue the destructive direction of our ancestors (but refusing to be haunted by their mistakes at the same time).

How can we, your church and mine, provide a place of belonging to others? What will we have to do differently? I have big dreams for our Merge Student Gathering (every Wednesday at 7 pm in the MCA Worship Center). We must move beyond mere entertainment (though excellence has it’s place) . . . into truly being the church that God dreams of. Imagine how many more students would be connected to Christ if we would offer a place to belong. They are looking for a spot to encounter the one true God – a place to meet him in all his power and presence – a place to give him the praise that he deserves. However, we must also offer middle and high school students an atmosphere of acceptance. They are looking for a place where they can be a part . . . a team . . . linked together by a common cause.

I also have high hopes for our Student Life Groups . . . small groups of students who are committed to growing on a daily basis . . . . devoted to becoming more like Christ in their actions and attitudes. However, they must also seek accountability in such groups. They must look out for each other no matter the cost. Personally, I am sick of the so-called “friend-code.” So many times we are hesitant in breaking our friends’ confidence in fear of losing their trust – all while they drift dangerously into rebellion. We must have the courage to confront them . . . and if they are unwilling to listen – we must be willing to go to a trusted adult (parents, youth leaders, etc.). We need to be family . . . a family that is connected by Christ. A family worth belonging to.

BElong

BElieve

What is one of the most memorable gifts that you have ever received? What is it about that gift that is so memorable? I remember going Christmas shopping with my mother. One year I wanted two Nintendo games (the original NES, mind you). The hot games of the year were none other than Super Mario 3 and Rad Racer 2. Mario could actually fly (complete with a raccoon tail). I wanted the games so bad . . . so bad in fact that I was unwilling to wait the two months until Christmas. I tried everything (our mother was pretty infamous for giving into nagging or pouting). I tried everything a fifth grader could possibly think of . . . everything from a temper-tantrum to the silent treatment. Nothing seemed to work. I was so disappointed. Imagine my surprise just four weeks later (several weeks before the holidays), when I opened up my birthday presents to find Super Mario 3 and Rad Racer 2. Did I deserve the gifts early? Did I deserve the presents at all? Absolutely not. My parents purchased the gifts because they loved me . . . despite my behavior.
What do we do to deserve a gift? How many times in life are we the recipients of someone giving us something voluntarily and without asking for any payment in return (absolutely no strings attached)? Think of all the times that favor is shown to us (a birthday party for instance – all we did was grow another year older – everyone can do that). Or how about when they honor an occasion in our life (i.e. a graduation or wedding – in that case all we deserve is a diploma or marriage certificate – nothing more and nothing less – but instead all these people drown us in appliances and finances). Then there are those times where people make a gesture of assistance (i.e. when we fall on hard times and our friends are there just in the nick of time to bail us out – with an unpaid bill, etc.). Even though all these circumstances are undeserved, we have come to expect such presents based upon tradition and situations (just think how you respond how when your friend does not buy you a birthday present or when you discover that you did not get what you really wanted).

Even when we do get what we want, how long before we begin to take that gift for granted? Nothing illustrates this truth better than a children’s birthday party. How many children are so caught up in their new toy that they completely forget to show appreciation and gratitude (not to mention even bother to read the card)? Not only that, but when another child (he could actually be the one to buy the gift in the first place) asks to play with the new toy – what is the most common reaction? Mine! He did not even have the new truck a few minutes ago and already he is claiming sole ownership. Just think . . . children are given what they do not deserve . . . only to refuse to give it away. Sounds a whole lot like the church.
We can learn a valuable lesson from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (even though it was written nearly two thousand years ago). How do you be the church that God dreams of even when you are surrounded by a culture that is buried in greed and deceit (Ephesus might not be all that different than the world we live in today). Our student ministry has learned a lot from this book. A couple of weeks we were challenged to BEgin the journey (going somewhere by deciding we will not stay where we are). Last week we were reminded to stay BElow God’s authority. He is so good and so great . . . that he has designed a big picture for creation and has actually invited us to participate in the epic story. Paul did not stop there however. He then called upon the Ephesian church to BElieve that God loved them no matter who they were – and that they better start BElieving that God loved others no matter what as well. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick – not to decorate spiritual heroes.” In other words, God has rescued us not so that we could just be blessed – but that we would be a blessing to others as well.

Simply put, grace is when God gives us what we do not deserve. Why had some still chosen to reject the gift by sinning?  Paul wrote in the second chapter, “As for you, you were dead in our transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (vv. 1-3).  Paul first focused his attention upon the Ephesian Gentiles.  He spoke of those disconnected from God – those who lust after what they do not have – whether it be pleasure, power, popularity, or the like.  The city was full of those who were struggling with outside pressures and persuasions.  However, then Paul directed his warnings to the Jewish Christians inside the church.  He asked them to remember that they too used to be apart of the rebellion.  Have we not spent a great deal of our lives gratifying the cravings of our sinful natures (whether they were our hurts or habits)?  We have all attempted to take life into our own hands at one time or another (before his own life-changing encounter with Christ, Paul even killed for his own agenda).  

That was not the end of the story . . . if only we will be willing to receiving the gift by surrendering.  He said it like this, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  And god raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (vv. 4-7).  He has given us so much . . . so much undeserved.  Paul did not have enough parchment.  I do not have enough blog-space.  Allow me to focus on the three “presents” that the Apostle highlighted.  First, he gave us life – the life we have always wanted and always dreamt of.  We are alive with Christ – not only here in this life – but for eternity.  Second, he has given us liberty – freedom from the chains that have kept us back.  Granted, many “broken chains” are a process rather than a moment . . . but the freedom comes as we practice repentance towards God and accountability from our friends.  Third, he offers us leadership – imagine participation in his Kingdom.  We have the opportunity be about the mission . . . to touch the untouchables, to forgive those who hurt us, to give double to those who ask too much of us, to simply turn the world upside down.  
 
You would think grace would be enough for Ephesus.  You would think that we would never forget what we have been given. You would think his church (both past and present) would live a life of gratitude.  Tragically, some of us live, especially those still searching for the truth, this life attempting to gain our own salvation . . . to earn God’s favor for ourselves.  Others of us, who are Christ-followers, begin to take our salvation for granted – even talking ourselves into believing that we can do better.  How many of us, deep down inside, actually think we are better than others?  Like they could not be saved – but we can be?  That they are too far from God to ever return?  What if we really took Paul’s words seriously when he said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (vv.8-10).  Doing all the right things (spiritual disciplines) and avoiding all the wrong things (spiritual disobedience) still cannot gain the favor and relationship of God.  Paul knew this all too well when he wrote to another church, one in Philipi, confronting all those who were “waving the awards around as something special . . . [whereas Paul chose to] tear up and throw out [these good works] with the trash.  Nothing can compare to high privilege of knowing Christ.  He saw all he had going as insignificant as dog dung.  Choosing instead to dump it all in the trash (embracing Christ and being embraced).  He hated the petty, inferior brand of righteousness – keeping a list of rules instead of trusting God.”  Instead, Paul envisioned a church that was blessed to be a blessing (getting in order to give it away again).  Grace was given so that we would do good (not just look good).  However, doing good was not a way to salvation – rather a response to salvation.  

Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick – not to decorate spiritual heroes.  Who can you give something to (even undeserving)? What will you give?  We can learn a whole lot from the example of Corrie Ten Boom.  She grew up in Holland during World War II.  She decided to offer shelter to her Jewish neighbors who were being arrested by the Nazis  – arrests based only upon their race and religion.  Building a hiding place soon led to organizing a full-fledged underground ring in order to get her friends out of Holland and into safe havens.  Unfortunately, she was eventually betrayed and thrown into a concentration camp (much like the ones she helped so many avoid).  It took only ten days to lose her father to illness and a few months to lose her sister.  Miraculously, due to a simple clerical error, she was set free . . . just a week before her portion of the camp was executed.  

You can imagine how she wrestled with resentment . . . and yet she traveled the country after the war in order to comfort a continent in disarray.  It was during such speaking engagements that, shortly after sharing her story, she was approached by a man.  She recognized him right away . . . he was a guard who stripped her naked at her first camp – stole her clothes – and shamed her in front of hundreds.  He did not remember her . . . he said that he had since asked Christ for forgiveness . . . but that he needed to receive forgiveness from her as well.  The dilemma was great.  She extended a hand . . . out of duty rather than devotion.  He grabbed both hands and pulled her close . . . they both began to cry.  To the day of her death, she claimed to never had experienced God’s love so intensely than at that very moment.  All she could say was, “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart.”  Who do we need to forgive?
  
Do we really believe that anyone can be connected to Christ? What will we do about it?  How far will we go?  I am so looking forward to going on next year’s short-term missions trip to Swaziland.  Our team will be serving Go-Gos (orphanage grandmothers) by building water purification systems and assisting in feeding centers.  We will support Doug and Tasha Meyers and the local church as they love a country where 45 percent of the people are HIV positive (some reports are as high as 65 percent . . . many are children merely inheriting the disease at birth.  I am also excited about our church’s ServeSaturdays beginning on September 27th from 9:30am to 1 pm.  We will scatter all across our region with the sole purpose of passing out free water, sports drinks, and energy drinks – no strings attached.  Just because we care about people – whether they ever go to our church or not.  We must start small . . . maybe it is just praying for a few people who are currently disconnected from Christ . . . maybe it is time we believe that they can receive the same grace that was offered to us.  We have been given much in order to give it away again.  Be God’s people of grace . . . .  
BElieve

Listen

Have you ever refused to listen to someone else’s advice? Where you just had to learn the life leson the hard way? As humbling as this will be . . . embarrassing really . . . I must share a story with you in order to illustrate a very important point. High school students can do the strangest (and scariest) things sometimes. My friend and I used to participate in a dangerous (and idiotic) activity quite often. I consented to sitting in the bed of his Chevy truck while he proceeded to drive around crazily . . . throwing me to and fro . . . to see how long it would take for me to cry ‘uncle.’ The “fun” would always end with some pretty painful bumps and bruises but nothing to serious. A good old time indeed (even though numerous parties had encouraged us to cease such practices).

They were correct in their concern . . . later on, in the attempt to impress two girls, we took the game a bit too far. My friend took a good jump at a good speed which thus propelled me in the air (higher than I had ever been previously). The moment was so surreal . . . I remember looking down to see the truck going out from underneath me . . . and on the way down having the crazy idea to grab on to the tail-end of the truck . . . and for some reason I could not bring myself to let go right away . . . being dragged along (the driver not seeing what had taken place behind him). I was not dragged long . . . but long enough to burn a hole through two shirts, a pair of jeans, and one shoe.

I was pretty bloody. My friend was pretty shaken. I remember walking into my house (with one shirt discreetly covering my shoulder wound), promptly saying goodnight to my father and stepmother, and walking quickly upstairs . . . grimacing as I fought off the pain in order to go to sleep). I probably needed stitches – and yet I could bring myself to telling my father what had taken place . . . so I now live with a small scar that reminds me of my foolish decision.

Why do we have such a difficult time being teachable? In what ways does this play out in life? Counsel is drowned out by our fear of being rejected, our arrogance concerning our own abilities, laziness in life, or even a determination to get ahead of others. Some leaders wrestle with inexperience, incorrect perspectives, or just plain old insecurity. Andy Stanley has much to teach on this topic in his stellar book, The Next Generation Leader. He claims that accepting good advice increases our own personal abilities. In other words, leaders must be listeners.

God calls the wise to seek counsel. Solomon has been considered to be one of the wisest men to ever walk the planet (even though he did not finish as strong as he could have). He even understood his own limitations. Much of his writing was a challenge to the reader to listen to the advice of others. He wrote, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance . . .”(Proverbs 1:5). Later on he is quoted as saying, “Plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).

Solomon was successful in passing on the value of having counselors to his son . . . but Rehoboam never did capture the art of actually listening to them. Just take one hard look at 1 Kings 12:5-11, 16. Imagine the pressure he must have felt inheriting the crown from David and Solomon. The comparisons (i.e. “your grandfather never . . .”) must have grown very old very quickly. It was in the midst of these circumstances that Jeroboam chose to approach him with a simple request from the people – that the work load be decreased. He claimed that the people of Israel would pledge their support to his throne – if only he would lead differently than his father (as a servant rather than as a ruler – as the king was commanded to lead according to the Law). He could have changed the course of a nation by simply slowing down the building campaign (lowering the taxes and lightening the labor demands – good campaign promises if I might add).

The king had it half right . . . he at least had the sense to invite others into the decision-making process . . . consulting with this father’s most trusted advisers. These men, drawing from both age (wisdom) and observation (experience) agreed that the change was needed. Unfortunately, Rehoboam was not content only with their advice . . . so he also asked his old fraternity brothers. These men were looking for places of power and position and thus chose to stroke the king’s ego. Their solution was for the king to be feared – work them more often for less wages. It comes to no surprise that this new policy threw Israel into civil war – never to be united again. David’s dynasty was still intact . . . but never to rule over all twelve tribes again.

Accepting advice strengthens our abilities. Leaders must be listeners. If that is true, how can you become more teachable? How will you begin such a crucial venture? Leaders must find mentors who have the advantage of age and experience . . . to bring wisdom and perspective to the table. Along with that, leaders must give trusted counsel the opportunity to observe what they do and how they do it (receive constructive criticism well). I confess, there is little that more uncomfortable than this practice (but is so very helpful at the same exact time).

How can we ensure that our churches and organizations stay teachable? That we foster a culture of listening in our teams? First, we must pray together and pray regularly. This simple action will keep our hearts soft and our ears turned in the correct direction. God is the supreme counselor . . . he is always so good at keeping us grounded and focused. Our relationship with Christ reminds us that we lead by serving rather than ruling. Second, we must continue to be exposed to resources that will challenge us with new ideas and innovations. We must never be too old to learn new tricks. In fact, we might just be surprised at who we learn from . . . and it might just keep us from gaining a few scars along the way.

Listen

Only

I would recommend a book by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice (with Shaunt Feldhahn) titled, For Young Men Only: A Guy’s Guide to the Alien Gender, for any parent of an adolescent boy (especially useful for a father/son discussion about identity, relationships, and sex). I was fortunate enough to receive three copies in a special pre-release (I have already given a copy to each of my male interns in hopes that they might consider using such a resource in mentoring a middle or high school student). You can read more about the book at foryoungmenonly.com. Copies are available at A1 Books for just $7.00 a piece (http://search.a1books.com/cgi-bin/mktSearch?act=showDesc&code=gbase&rel=1&ITEM_CODE=160142020X).

Chapter four, titled “When Girls Stop Making Sense,” happens to be my favorite chapter. One of the biggest complaints by guys, no matter their ages or experiences, is that girls’ actions seem to be completely random. The authors adamantly disagree. They claim that there is something very real going on deep down in each girl which bubbles up to the surface in the form of their behavior. The responsibility of each guy is to actually take the time to understand her (one of the main reasons that being a good husband is not that easy). The authors invite each reader to contemplate moments in their lives when they were baffled by the actions of the opposite gender . . . and then reflect upon how they chose to respond to the situation. The truth is that God made males and females different for a purpose . . . maybe one reason behind this creative genius was so that we would actually take the time to understand each other (rather than make fun of the differences like so many “self-help” doctors do or worse yet pretend like the differences just don’t exist – sameness is not equality).

The study revealed four main reasons why women respond the way they do to men (from the mouths of over six thousand ladies interviewed). First, the guy did something (even if he did not realize that he had done anything – the story of my life!). Second, the girl might be dealing with another situation that the guy is unaware of (clueless might be an appropriate word here). Third, there might be something going on inside her heart and mind (uncertainty, insecurity, etc.). Finally, the girl might be dealing with some biological difficulties (it happens). For some of us, the previous conclusions might have been obvious (probably not), but for a teenage boy these truths are golden as they interact with the ladies in their lives.

The authors highlight the words of an apostle, “The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground” (1 Peter 3:7, The Message). What a refreshing message – the authors actually have the courage to challenge men to take responsibility in taking the extra time to understand and help women! Guys are asked to imagine a scenario where a girl that they are interested in is not being herself one day . . . how will the guy choose to start a conversation (a novel idea for all of us)? How will he respectively and gently invite her to actually share her feelings (great question)? What are some things that he should never say? Don’t we want to see healthy relationships occur between our students? How much better would it be if guys actually looked for the reason behind what girls did? Picking up nonverbal clues? Asking considerate questions instead of making terrible assumptions? Seems like sound advice for all of us!

My only complaint about the book had nothing to do with the content (the substance was from a biblical perspective) but more to do with the communication (the style of writing). To often, more so earlier on the book, the authors attempted to speak in a “youthy” tone. They used some phrases and illustrations in order to connect with the audience but actually distracted attention from their credibility as adults. Too often youth leaders make the mistake of believing that they have to “be one of them” to relate to all of them – when students know very well that we are not one of them (and never will be). They want us just to be us. Whatever that might be. They just want to know that we care and that we can be trusted. Yes, we have every responsibility to interpret the bible and the culture . . . . and then to bridge those to worlds together. However, do not mistake relevance with that which is recent. Knowing all the latest lingo will never change a life . . . but looking into the heart of a student and calling them to be Christ-like in their context will!

Official Description: The best-selling ONLY series returns with a one-of-a-kind guide for teen guys on how to figure out girls. Drawing on a fresh national survey of 600 teen girls, as well as hundreds of personal interviews, For Young Men Only reveals the real truth about what teenage girls think, what they want, and how average teen guys can build healthy friendships with high quality girls. Full of surprising revelations and practical advice, For Young Men Only delivers help straight from the girls themselves in a fun, easy-to-read, easy-to-talk about format. Warm, witty, and honest, authors Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice tell plenty of personal stories and draw on solid biblical principles to guide young guys through the often daunting world of the opposite sex. Their goal is to help teen guys build self-confidence and understanding, and show them how to pursue a relationship with a girl while giving her the respect and protection she deserves.

Official Bio: Jeff Feldhahn is an attorney and the owner of the tech company, World2One. With his wife, Shaunti, he wrote the best selling FOR MEN ONLY. Eric Rice is the owner/director/producer of 44 Films. Eric lives in Atlanta area with his wife, Lisa, and their four teenage children. Shaunti Feldhahn is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, public speaker, and best-selling author whose books include FOR WOMEN ONLY, FOR YOUNG WOMEN ONLY (with Lisa Rice) and FOR PARENTS ONLY. You can read her blog at http://www.shaunti.com/AboutShaunti/OntheRoadBlog/tabid/136/Default.aspx.

Only

BEgin

When did you attempt to start something new? What happened? Were you excited about the possibilities or overwhelmed with the problems? There is a whole lot new going on at the Farley house these days (as you can imagine with a five year girl, a three year old boy, and another girl that has yet to even hit one year of age). Much of our time as parents has been spent teaching the two oldest how to ride their bikes (my father was generous enough to buy both!). Jace received his Spider-Man bike in the mail just a couple days following his third birthday. There is nothing more challenging for a child than to transition from a tiny tricycle to a child-sized bicycle. Nevertheless, he is quickly learning how to peddle forward while simultaneously steering the handlebars. He seems to be slowly but surely gaining confidence in his own abilities (as long as his father or mother are holding on tightly).

Julia is beginning to make some real progress as well. She has enjoyed her pink princess bike for well over a year (maybe two now that I think of it). Her consistent riding has successfully bent the training wheels beyond repair – so much so that they have, unbeknownst to her, been useless for quite some time. I have chuckled to myself watching her ride around our neighborhood. . . noticing that the wheels rarely, if ever, touch the sidewalk. In fact, they have become a hindrance rather than a help (adding weight to her humorous balancing act). Last week I finally mentioned to her that it was time for the wheels to come off. She loudly proclaimed, “No, I am not ready yet.” She was . . . she just had to begin. The day came this past Sunday. Jana told her it was time . . . and that the training wheels could always be put back on if necessary. Like so many other aspects of life, the toughest part of starting something new is just that . . . starting. She struggled to get her balance . . . to get her feet off of the ground . . . to gain some momentum . . . but finally she got going (and has not looked back since. She began!

I remember my humble beginnings as a bicyclist. My father, bless his heart, was not the most patient teacher. He decided to buy me a BMX bike instead of one of the smaller bikes (why purchase a bicycle that I will quickly outgrow – he has always been on the cheaper side). The only problem was that I could barely touch the ground (even on my five year old tippy-toes). He also thought it a great idea to teach me on the street rather than a sidewalk (he claimed that this would give us more room). Good intentions – bad idea. Have you ever seen the roads in the Tri-Cities? If (when) I fell on the gravel it would surely puncture my internal organs. He also refused to give me training wheels – how hard could it be to learn without them? Very. Here I was, riding a bike to big, with no training wheels, and in the middle of dangerous concrete. My own father setting me up for failure. He held on for a while . . . just long enough to pick up speed and let go (and by let go . .. I mean give me a good push). I fell. I fell some more. By the end of the day I never learned to ride the bike . . . and I resembled one large walking scab. My mother was terrified and managed to convince my father to put on some training whees. Now I had a BMX bicycle with training wheels. Even better. I wish that was the end of the story . . . but it was not. My father then had the incredible idea to pick me up from school with the BMX bike (complete with training wheels). Hard to impress my friends when I am riding home from kindergarten (with my father) on a BMX bike (don’t forget the training wheels). My reputation took a long time to recover – I did not get my first girlfriend until at least fourth grade. Trying new things can bring a whole lot of anticipation . . . and a whole lot of anxiety.

Think of all the opportunities and challenges that students face with the new school year. They are forced to find new classes, develop new friendships, and try-out for new sports teams. I used to love wearing the new clothes (even laying them out the night before and thinking how sexy I would look – even with training wheels). The new school year brings new teachers, enjoying perfect scores (at least for one day), and moving onto a new campus (there are a few students from our church that are the first class in Glacier Peak High School history). Even our student ministry is going through somewhat of a transition. As of September, we have moved to a new night (Wednesdays)and location (the sanctuary). There are several students and adults who have moved into new leadership roles or who have launched new ministries. The Fall season brings new beginnings . . . .

Merge Ministries, the students of Maltby Christian Assembly, are taking the Fall Semester to study the book of Ephesus. We will be imagining what our student ministry and church would look like if only we would be the church that God dreams of. Ephesus (modern-day Turkey) was a crazy place – a port town – of incredible commercial and religious importance. Similar to Seattle, a lot of people and products came in and went out (a gathering of influences and ideas). Much of the community was dedicated to worshiping Artemis (the Greek god of the hunt and fertility). For some reason, the description of Ephesus reminds me a lot of today’s high schools . . . a gathering place of a lot of people – all searching for something (the next girl, the coveted position on the football team, acceptance and popularity) . . . they just do not know where to look (and they really do not know what they are looking for). Paul was writing from a Roman prison cell (his crime was claiming that Jesus was Lord rather than Cesar). Even in his dire situation, he refused to focus upon himself – but rather caring for a church that felt overwhelmed with their new situation (how to connect their community to the love of Christ). Paul understood that the most difficult part for the Ephesian church was just to begin. To get somewhere – we must decide we are not going to stay where we are.

All Paul had experienced taught him to trust God for all he had not yet seen (loosely borrowed from an Emerson quote). Paul reminded the Ephesian churches where they came from . . . what God had done for them in the past (so that they would have confidence to partner with him in the future). Our Father had created humanity for relationship with him. Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). He formed us with his own hands. Eden was intended as an environment where God could share his goodness and greatness with his creation (where they could walk and talk with each other). To stay true to the beginning illustration . . . God wanted to teach Adam how to ride a bike properly. Here is the surprise . . . God declared his creation good . . . and they did not have to do anything to earn the title. Sometimes we attempt to appear something we are not. Sometimes we attempt to perform a certain way. None of that will ever make God love us more . . . he reaches out to us just because we were created by him . . . to be with him. Paul even wrote later in the letter that we are his masterpiece (a work of art). He actually called us his children.

Sadly, we were not content to be his children . . . we wanted to ride the bike on our own terms . . . the way we want, where we want, and how we want. Rebellion’s reward is death . . . sin kills us from the inside out. We end up hurting ourselves and those around us (we have all been hurt by others as well). Even so, God pursued us. He refused to give up on us. He sent his one and only Son into our world to rescue us. Paul said it like this, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (vv. 4-12). Jesus came, not only to teach people how to connect back to God but actually to show them how to (riding the bike again – if you will). He pursued prostitutes, traitors, thieves, and even terrorists (Paul killed Christians before his life was radically transformed).

Paul wanted the Ephesian church to begin by focusing on the salvation of Christ. We all know the story of the woman caught in adultery (told in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel). The angry mob dragged a guilty women into the streets for a public execution. Christ came on to the scene just in time to invite those without any sin to throw the first stone at her. The older ones were the first to come to their senses . . . of course they had fallen short at one point in their life (they were just not busted). It took a bit longer for the young ones (we can be stubborn at times). Finally, they too came to their senses to leave the woman unharmed. Jesus looked up to see the lady all alone. He asked, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Just think of the irony . . . Jesus was the only in all of history to live a perfect and blameless life (he could have thrown the stone if he wished). Yet, he refused to condemn her . . . all he commanded was for her to leave her life of sin. Admit that you can’t ride the bike without some help. If you want to get somewhere . . . you are going to have to begin something different!

Let’s be honest, riding the bike the correct way is difficult . . . we have to unlearn bad habits. This is probably one reason why God wishes to lead us with wisdom and courage by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter reads, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (vv. 13-14). How would our lives look if we really chose to obey his ideas and instructions? Do we really ask for his presence to be evident in our lives? Why are we okay with God being our Creator and Savior but we cannot bear to have him as our Leader? I will let you in on a little secret . . . I am an imperfect father. There are times where I am impatient and selfish. However, I love my children to death. When they want breakfast . . . I don’t give them a snake. That would be cruel. Unthinkable. I want the best for my children. If I, in all my imperfections, wish good gifts for my children, how much more does our Father in Heaven want to help us? He offers the Holy Spirit to those who are willing to ask him for help.

To get somewhere – we must decide we are not going to stay where we are. What changes can you make? What must you stop? What must you start? Have you ever begun the journey of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ? Admit that you have rebelled against your Creator (we have all taken the handlebars into our own hands. Believe that he has forgiven you through the sacrifice of his Son. Commit to following his leadership (as revealed in the bible). How about taking the first step of obedience . . . being baptized in water. We must all follow the example of participating in the outward action which portrays the inward work. A memorable moment . . . something of which cannot be explained as much as experienced. How can we (the church) begin trusting God more? What are the possibilities? The risks? How must we begin being the church that God dreams of? How can we really begin connecting this generation to the love of Christ. I am really excited about this coming Sunday morning gathering . . . an opportunity for our church to celebrate twenty-five years at Maltby Christian Assembly. Looking past to the past (God’s loving loyalty) gives us confidence to trust him for the future. Who can we invite along this journey? Who can invest in via our time, energy, and resources? How can we challenge our friends and family to go somewhere they have never gone before . . . to change destinies and destinations.

I give my father a difficult time for how he taught me to ride a bike . . . and yet I am eternally indebted to him for other life lessons. It was just fifteen years ago that I received a fresh start (a new beginning). It was then, in the midst of troubles with my mother and battles with my own destructive habits, that I had fallen into doubting people and disobeying God. My father’s house was the only refuge I could find in the midst of the storm. The only catch . . . he made me go to church. I actually outsmarted him for three weeks (hiding in the bush instead of going inside). That plan was spoiled when he registered me for summer camp. I did not want to go . . . but had no choice. It was at that camp where I heard the message (and actually understood it for the very first time). Monty Hipp talked about a beginning . . . about going to places – if only we would choose we did not want to stay in the same place. I heard about a Father who was my Creator, a Christ who was my Savior, and a Spirit who was my Counselor. That day was the day that I became a new creation – the old had gone – the new had come. I now know all this is from God (he has truly reconnected us to himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Begin again . . . .

BEgin