Thoughts for Teenagers: Live by Dying

1288614_79467402

Mark 8:1-10, 27-38 NIV: During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and then he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and rebuked him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

There are certain people that we either love or hate. Kanye West. Taylor Swift. The Duck Dynasty folks. Tim Tebow. These people provoke a response just by being themselves. They are what you might call “polarizing personalities.” They are so influential, controversial, and “out there” that people have to decide what to do with them!

Jesus is a lot like this. He provoked a response. People were all in – or not.

At this stage in the game, Jesus is uber-popular. 4,000 people are following him around. That’s amazing! That’s half the population of the town I grew up in. Jesus is taking the world by storm.

Yet there are a wide variety of opinions about Jesus. Some love him. Some hate him. Some just don’t know what to do with him but they’re happy to gain from him!

People know he can do cool stuff. He heals people and casts out demons. But now Jesus is going to really shock them. He feeds them miraculously. It’s spectacular. There are baskets left over. But after eating, everyone just heads home. They follow Jesus because of what he can do. Then once he has taken care of them, they’re packing their bags and then they’re off.

They don’t really know who he is or what he is all about – they think he is some kind of prophet. Like Elijah, John the Baptist, or the other prophets Jesus seems to have a similarly wild and bold ministry that threatens the corrupt establishment and that calls people back to God. But fundamentally, they don’t understand who he is – “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). No – they are only interested in Jesus because they think he can really make their lives better here and now.

In fact, the views of the crowd come out in Peter himself. Peter embodies the crowd: “You are the Christ,” Peter says one minute, but then has the gall to rebuke Jesus the next minute for teaching them that he will be rejected and killed. Peter wants a fair-weather Jesus. He wants a lollipop and bubble-gum Jesus. He wants a messiah-king to bring peace and prosperity. He wants the American Dream – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But Jesus will take them to life, liberty, and happiness by a completely different route.

He will take them there by the way of the cross.

And a bloody, Roman crucifixion is the last thing Peter wants for this exciting, dynamic movement he is now a part of.

So each of us must answer honestly Jesus’ question: but who do you say that I am?

People embrace all sorts of different “Jesuses.” Which Jesus do you embrace? The Jesus who gives good gifts without demands? Or the Jesus who calls you to follow him to the cross, to lose your life in order to find it. Or…do you, like the Pharisees, reject Jesus entirely?

For each of us, Jesus calls us to come and die. According to church tradition, Peter was in fact crucified. He died following Jesus. Again, Jesus’ call is radical: come and lose your life! Come and be rejected by your friends and family! What?!? Even your friends??? Yes – come and be the uncool Christian kid. Come and be that guy.

Why?

Because if we do not come to him as Lord we do not come to him at all. 

But those who do lose their lives for him will find their souls.

Those who embrace him as Saviour and Lord will find that when he returns in glory, as Lord of All, they too will be glorified.

The cost is worth paying.

Thoughts for Teenagers: Honour Your Father and Mother

Mark 7: The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

[The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 7:1–13). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]

One of the nastiest things you will ever see is a Christian who is a total selfish jerk with a verse to back it all up. So what you come across from time to time are parents who neglect their children, sleep around, divorce, and then remarry – all the while saying this is all okay before God, because of course, “God wants me to be happy.” Likewise you can get what you have here with the Pharisees – young men and women who leave the house and disregard their parents entirely in order to pursue God, or so they think.

No – the will of God is clear in Scripture – honour your Father and Mother. And what Jesus hints at here is what some have argued is explicit in the Old Testament; namely, that “honour” does not just mean some sort of respect for authority – it is that – but it is much more. Honour means take care of your parents physically. It means make sure they are fed and clothed. The idea here is that they took care of you for the first 18 years of your life – so now you need to take care of them for their last 18 years. “Honour Father and Mother” is a civil law. It’s a social arrangement.

But the trouble is that we are selfish. And we use “spirituality” as a cover for selfishness. Don’t do that. This is perhaps the nastiest little sin among Christians. Most of us are guilty of it. Who has ever broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and given the reason that “it wasn’t God’s will.” Well that may or may not be true – but give some actual reasons. Explain yourself – the other person deserves an explanation. Don’t be the kind of person who goes from job to job, resigning because “it just doesn’t seem like God’s will.” No – commit to what you start out to do. Grow in integrity (oh what a dirty word for us). The fact is you will be better for it if you keep your word – fulfill your obligations and make good on your promises. And central in all of that is your duty to your family, your church, your boss, and your society. You will be more spiritual for it!

Now – the truth is, many parents do hurt their kids. That’s because of sin. Kids also hurt parents. That’s also because of sin. The reality is that we must all answer to God himself. And God calls you to honour your parents based on their position, regardless of how honourable they are. You honour a policeman even if they are a putz. You honour them because they have a badge. So it is with your parents – honour them – you don’t even have to like them per se! You may find their personality totally different and weird – but honour them. And the first place to start is to give up the attitude that you are better than them. You aren’t. (Even if you are – no Christian ever has the right to think they are better than others.) That’s what the Pharisees did all day long, not realizing that from all our hearts come “sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (v.22). We all need grace. So try extending grace to your parents when they need it.

Ultimately, the command of Jesus here is to grow up into the kind of man or woman who contributes and produces and can actually take care of parents. Part of this, of course, is work that needs to be done in the heart – are you bitter against your parents? Do you judge your parents? Do you think you are better than they are? This is the great temptation of youth. It is arrogance. It is so easy to judge your parents, but if you want to learn to be a man or woman of God you must learn from your parents. You must “process” your relationship with them – in other words – forgive them. Even if you can’t make them treat you better, let go of the bitterness. The sooner you can get over your bitterness, frustration, resentment, the sooner you will mature into the man or woman God wants you to be. So suck it up, ask Jesus to forgive you and to help you, and then learn to show them love even if you feel like is none in return. Do hard things.

Mostly, grow in your walk with God. The teenage years are a time of finding out who you are. So find out who you are. Pursue different things. Figure out your beliefs, your view of God, your view of politics. Learn a trade or a skill of some kind. Become independent. Become your own man. Become your own woman. “Stand on your own two feet.” This is all good. This is all natural. But then take that independence and from that place of maturity and strength, be a blessing to those around you. Bless and give and enrich others. And start first with your parents. How can you show them you really care? How can you love them with thoughtfulness and sacrifice? Think about it and then act on it.

Resolved: A New Year to Focus Heart and Mind on Christ

As a lifeguard I can tell you that January is a busy time of year for pools, leisure centres, and gyms. It’s this time of year when people buy pool and gym memberships. Why? Well it’s the time of year that the “Reolutioners” (as we call them) resolve to burn off last years’ extra weight.

It usually lasts about three weeks.

This whole business of making resolutions for the New Year is not a bad idea; it’s good to take some time to reflect on what we could be doing better with our short lives. I think, however, we would do well to consider our resolutions every new month instead of every New Year.

At any rate, hands down the best theologian that North America has ever produced is a man named Jonathan Edwards. Edwards lived in the 1700s and was a leading figure in a series of revivals which we now call the “First Great Awakening.” He was brilliant – a literal genius. He was a pastor and later a missionary. He was a man of God who loved the glory of God. And he was socially awkward…

Edwards

Anyway, at the young age of 19 he wrote 70 resolutions that would become the code for the rest of his life and ministry. And at this time of year, when we make new resolutions and new goals, it is worth considering what the best philosophical theologian in North America thought about such things. So I have read through his resolutions and copied a few that I found particularly note-worthy:

  1. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
  2. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  3. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
  4. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  5. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
  6. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
  7. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
  8. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
  9. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
  10. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it.
  11. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.
  12. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it.
  13. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.
  14. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

God bless you this New Year! Love and serve the Lord in 2015! Seek out his grace and forgiveness when you fall short of your goals!

You can read all70 of Edwards’ Resolutions for free online at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.i.iii.html

The Fear of the Lord (Hard Things and Huge Rewards – Thoughts for Youth)

Genesis 22:1-14:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

In this passage Abraham teaches us what it means to fear the Lord. To fear the Lord is to trust him with everything. Abraham trusted God with his dearly loved son, Isaac. Abraham valued God above even his own son and so when God asked him to do the radical and the illogical, he was more concerned to value God than even his son. That is the fear of God – radically valuing and trusting God above all else. This fear, the fear of God, is the central concern of the Christian since it shapes our whole lives.

Our fears shape us. If we are afraid of spiders we will avoid living or travelling in certain areas. If we are afraid of what others think of us we make sure we are wearing the right things and saying the right things. If we are afraid of being failures we will strive tooth and nail to succeed in school and work. Fears shape us. If you really want to know someone, figure out their fears.

To fear the Lord is to trust and value him above all else and it is to be so much afraid of who he is and what he thinks of us that he becomes the driving, shaping force of our attitudes and actions.

And the surprising thing is that living in this type of fear releases you from other fears, and not only that, but this fear leads to huge rewards since it puts the rest of life into proper perspective.