All Things Charismatic – A Mennonite’s Perspective on Visions, Prophesy, and Miracles

Image If you read this article and you like it, you can check out some of my earlier thoughts on the Charismatic movement by reading this blog post: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/a-mennonite-who-speaks-in-tongues/

In our modern world, the Charismatic movement has gotten a somewhat bad rap unless you are Pentecostal yourself.  There are two main ways of thinking of the charismatic movement according to the Christians that I have met.  The first way is to view it as a super incredible movement which is the answer to all of life’s problems.  I see this view played out all the time by churches which claim that they have raised people from the dead (I sincerely have my doubts about that one), go on mission’s trips with no other purpose than to preform healings, and have youth meetings where the only purpose is to receive Words from the Lord for one another.  Although these churches do provide a certain excitement around what the Spirit is saying to the churches[1], I actually feel this is doing a huge disservice.  Placing the expectation on youth and young adults that EVERYONE has the gift of prophesy or speaking in tongues not only adds a lot of pressure but is simply NOT Biblical.  The Bible does teach us that prophesy and speaking in tongues are both gifts,[2] yet by the same token it teaches us that of all the gifts speaking in tongues is the least important.[3]  Looking through the Scripture passages about gifts, we notice that there are many gifts but the same Spirit.[4]  Each gift (if used correctly) can be useful for edification of the church, but no one person has all of the gifts.[5]  In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us that if everyone in the Body of Christ were an eye we would have no ears and if we had no ears how would we be able to hear?[6]

Yet, when churches make it sound like everyone should be able to receive Words from the Lord they are in effect saying that those who do not have the gift of Special wisdom or prophesy are somehow inferior Christians.  When I was at Tyndale, many of my charismatic friends believed that speaking in tongues was a sign of the Holy Spirit working in your life.  Speaking in tongues is indeed a Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2 we read that in the first Pentecost this is exactly what was taking place.  People were speaking in tongues and little flames were dancing above their heads.[7]  Yet, for as much as Speaking in Tongues is a Baptism of the Holy Spirit it is only one mode of baptism among many.  I would say that the true Baptism of the Holy Spirit is when your life becomes completely consumed by Christ’s Word and when you begin to live a life that daily exemplifies His character.  After all, when contemplating what true faith is, the Apostle James writes that, “true and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep one’s self unstained from idols.”[8]  Looking at this verse reminds us of what the Baptism of Christ truly looks like – it is about doing service and acts of kindness to others, consoling them in their hurt and need, and focusing solely on Christ.  In a world that pushes for fame and recognition we are to keep ourselves pure and only care about the reputation we have in Christ.[9]

The second way of viewing the Charismatic movement is to view it with disdain as if it has no place in the church and in fact distracts from the true message of the cross.  I have no doubt that certain televangelists and teachers do distort the truth.  Their entire message is only one to get them fame and power, they do not actually follow the teachings of Christ.  Yet, at the same time as I disagree with these televangelists, to think that God no longer uses charismatic gifts does not make much sense in my opinion either.  Why do I say that?  For one, I find it hard to believe that God only granted the gifts of prophesy, healing, and miracles for a certain time period – why would He all of a sudden abolish them?  Why are they all of a sudden not important?   Second, how can we be negligent of the fact that the charismatic gifts are still happening all around us every day?  I have seen great things accomplished when my friends have laid hands on other people.  A few times I have received timely Words from the Lord that really spoke into my situation without the other person even being fully aware of what was happening.  Yet at other times, I also have received visions and have spoken in tongues in ways that have edified the Body of Christ.

I did not grow up in the Charismatic movement by any means and when I was younger I also had a negative view of Pentecostalism because I didn’t understand what it truly was.  I saw no point to rolling around and barking like dogs – in fact, I still don’t.  I still have my reservations on many things – gold teeth and being slain in the Spirit included.  Yet, as I have spent time at Tyndale I have come to learn that miracles still do take place and God has often spoken to me in dreams.

I think part of our resistance to the Charismatic movement is the fact that our worldview (if we are from the West) does not welcome these types of responses.  Our first response as Western Christians tends to be to attribute everything on science.  When someone is miraculously healed of cancer we thank the good doctors and surgeons who looked after them.  When a person is told they only have 6 more weeks to live and 6 months later they are completely pain free and moving on with their lives we say that the doctors misdiagnosed them.  We are human and we all make medical errors.  I’m not saying that skilled doctors and nurses don’t deserve our praise, but the truth is we don’t give credit where credit is due!

Yet, on the other hand, in my studies of Global Christianity I have become aware to the many medical and spiritual mysteries that are taking place in certain African and Asian countries where medical equipment is lacking.  Muslims from Africa who have never even heard the name of Jesus have often received visions of Him in their dreams and turned to Him as a result.  There was even one case that I heard about at Tyndale of a young woman who was illiterate and had never even heard of the Bible who received a vision before her (similar to the one Muhammad received) of an open Bible which she was able to read the pages on!  This woman converted to Christ and now evangelizes to others within her tribe!  How can we ignore the fact that these things are taking place and turn a blind eye to the fact that the charismatic movement is still sweeping our globe?

So, what do we do with these two conflicting views and which one is correct?  I would say they both are correct to some extent.  We should not fear the Spiritual gifts of prophesy and tongues, nor should we extoll them as being the important gifts thus insisting that those who have never received these opportunities are somehow less valuable to the Christian church than we are.  At all times, we need to test the Spirit because we know that Satan can use what is good and edifying as a way of destroying the church.[10]

How do we test the Spirit?  This is something that the churches I grew up in never taught me to do, but yet, without testing the Spirit we are opening ourselves up to potentially fatal consequences.  When you test the Spirit you need to first of all determine if what the person is saying makes any sense.  If what they are saying clearly goes contrary to the truths of the Scripture than it is not a true prophesy or vision.[11]  Secondly, their message needs to be timely and relevant to the person who it is being spoken to – if it is overly vague you should have some reservations about it.  Third, you should do your own research to determine if the word spoken to you really was meant for you and how it will play out in your life.  If you continue to be unsure about it ask trusted friends and mentors who have walked the Christian faith longer than you have, talk to your pastor or spiritual director, and continue to wrestle with Scripture on your own.

I would add a fourth idea for testing the Spirit even though I know some people would disagree with me.  In my own experience, I believe that receiving a word from the Lord needs to come out of some pre-existing relationship that you have with the other person.  It should be spoken out of love and concern.  This is not to say that strangers can never offer you a Word from God.  On at least two or three occasions I have received prophetic words which were very timely – one from a complete stranger at a church the other from students at Tyndale who had only seen me in the hallway a handful of times but never struck up a conversation with me.  I still cherish those encounters and believe God used those people to bring light to the experiences I was having at the time.  So, do not discount the fact that God can use anyone to speak to you, but at the same time, be very careful of someone who has no pre-existing relationship with you who is claiming they have some great truth from God to bring into your life.  Many times, these people are little more than false teachers and basing your life off of what they say can end rather poorly.[12]

Especially be cautious of churches or individuals which claim that they can receive a Word from the Lord for anyone as long as you ask them.  When I was in Indiana I visited such a church.  I was invited to sit in a little room with two elders who recorded our conversation on tape and made me sign a waiver form saying that I would not do anything stupid to make the Word of the Lord happen.  The example they gave me was that if the Lord said I was to become prosperous I would not rob a bank and then say that the reason I had done it was because this church told me I would become wealthy.  There is definitely some truth to this.  I think of the story of Abraham and Sarah who were promised a son and when it didn’t happen right away they took matters into their own hands and got themselves into a huge mess which still has consequences today.[13]  On the other hand, this church had no idea who I was and yet they were claiming that God could immediately give them some type of special knowledge about me.  If you experience such a church, RUN AWAY!  These churches have a tendency to have cult-like characteristics, their pastors being little more than a wolves who run around in sheep’s clothing.[14]

So, by all means, do not write off spiritual gifts as being for a different time and a different place.  Encourage one another to use their charismatic gifts and if the Spirit is leading you continue to develop your own gifts in these regards.  BUT be very careful, use common sense, and do not ignore what the other Scriptures teach us.  Charismatic gifts have much to offer to the church, but they have as much potential as being harmful as they do of being beneficial.  In all things, seek the highest aim which is the love of Christ, and only then will the other gifts help to make this happen.[15]


[4] 1 Corinthians 12:4 –  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2012:4&version=ESVUK

[10] 1 John 4:1 –  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%204:1&version=ESVUK

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The Offensive Gospel of Christ

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Real faith – the dirt under your fingernails, hanging out in prisons, and eating Pad Thai and Fu-Fu kind is messy.  Not only is it messy, but it’s difficult and offensive to some.  And that’s the way it should be!  When I talk about offensive faith I right away want to differentiate between offensive and abusive faith.  There’s no place for discrimination and hatred in the Christian faith!  It’s not about emotional blackmail and slander – that’s not at all what Jesus intended when He said He had come to bring a sword rather than peace.[1]  BUT, Christ knew His message was offensive nonetheless.  His response?  If anyone is offended by Me, he will be offended before My Father.[2]  In other words if you’re going to be my friend let’s hang out regardless of if I’m cool and what other people think of us being together.

Have you ever spent time in your local public (or even private, for that matter) high school?  It’s an awkward and dangerous place to be.  It’s full of such gossip and hate.  People are constantly bad mouthing their so-called friends behind their backs.  That’s not cool.  At  all.  Especially not in a friendship.  How can you trust someone when they’re nice to your face, but telling lies when you’re not there?  GROW UP!  What’s even worse, though, is the whole popularity thing that creeps into the school.  It seems to be embedded in the very walls, the very fibres of the building.  It’s incredible what high schoolers will do.  What morals they will compromise just to fit in and be in the insider crowd.  It’s a scary thought!  Who should I not hang out with?  I’m not going to be friends with that weird, socially awkward girl because then I’ll lose my status.  The funny thing is that year after year I hear people my age (who only graduated from high school between 3-5 years ago) say that they don’t keep in touch with A SINGLE PERSON from high school and if they do it’s a Facebook kind of friendship, not a deep, mutually edifying one.  Those were the popular kids!  That saddens me.  Some of my best friends and strongest ministry partners who I trust with everything are from my high school days.  Why?  Because I chose to value friendships over popularity.  That doesn’t mean I wasn’t decently liked.  I was on student council for 2 years.  But my priorities lay in things that today I view as more important.

Now here comes another question – have you ever dated?  When you are madly in love with a guy or girl they become your entire world.  You think about them constantly and want the very best for them.  You are so obsessed with them that you no longer care what anyone else says – you just want to be with them!  You aren’t offended by them, you really want to show them off!

The kicker is that Jesus is our best friend and our Romancer and yet we can become so easily ensnared by being offended by His teachings.  Think about it for a moment, if you are offended by your boyfriend’s ideas why would you keep going out with him?

In my church history class a topic of great discussion this semester has been whether the church has become too soft.  Whether we focus too much on grace and mercy and not enough on justice.

Many North American churches have fallen into this trap of being politically correct 100% of the time.  Friends, I’m not saying we should be rude or hostile and I’m not advocating for abandoning people’s emotional preferences, but the Gospels are not politically correct!  Jesus said it wasn’t right to throw crumbs to the dogs.[3]  That was a pretty off-handed statement at the time! We are so enraptured with accepting everyone that morals have become a personal preference with no measuring stick.  The foundations have been demolished.  We have taken the Christ out of Christianity and replaced it with our own viewpoints of thinking (very arrogantly) that we know better than God.  It has ceased to be Christianity since Jesus is no longer at the center and simply becomes an “ianity”.  A human “ianity” at that.

Our culture is almost to the point where we can no longer call sin a sin.  If we try to talk about what is morally acceptable we are labelled as being judgmental, and Christians are not to judge.  So because we are not rooting out the weeds and instead are letting them grow up among the flowers, our garden is being choked by thorns and thistles so it hardly even resembles a garden anymore.  It’s a mess.

May I make a controversial statement?  If someone does not describe themselves as a passionate follower of Christ, they don’t need to live by God’s standards.  They are free to do as they please and we shouldn’t expect them not to get drunk constantly or smoke pot.  But the moment they have chosen to live the Christian life, they have signed in to a new working arrangement.  They are under a new contract.  Under new management.  So those of us who have been at the job longer are responsible for training them and showing them the ropes!  Paul tells us that if we see a brother or sister sinning those of us who are spiritually mature should confront them in love.[4]  The “in love” part is the most challenging.  We can still accept them, hold a high regard for them, and do everything in our power to help them resist the temptation.  We don’t ever lose our love and care for them.  In fact, it’s because we love them so much that we don’t passively look on while they destroy their spiritual lives![5]  It’s like the mother who doesn’t let the toddler take the cookies right from the oven.  She isn’t being mean, she’s looking out for him so he can truly enjoy the treat without getting hurt!

We all sin.[6]  Every single one of us misses the mark regularly.  We aren’t sharp shooters.  And that’s ok.  God forgives, but that doesn’t mean we get to keep living in our sin with no consequences.  There are consequences to our free will even though God doesn’t harbour bitterness or hate towards us.  Also, always remember that as long as there is a struggle we haven’t given in.[7]  As long as we keep fighting we are doing well.  But when we give up, when we stop taking care of the garden, that’s when it becomes a mess.

So refuse to let political correctness rule your life.  Talk about hard hitting controversial topics!  Discuss what sin really is with your congregation or youth group without worrying so much that you are judging.  To judge someone really means that you look down on their behaviour so much that you detest them, exclude them, and say bad things about them.  IT DOES NOT MEAN showing genuine concern for behaviour contrary to God’s Word and helping them improve, correct, and replace it with something far better.  The Bible says that we will know people by their fruits.[8]  If you are a mango tree and are producing thorns and thistles in place of mangoes what does that say about you?  It shows we aren’t alive for Christ.  What types of fruit are you bearing today?

 

An Inconvenient Faith

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Since starting at L’Arche one of my favourite pastimes during my few hours off every day is to head to the gym.  Although I am not super athletic nor do I have that much motivation to really build muscle, when I am at the gym I become a different person.  The machines and free weights have become my second home and there is nothing like taking pride in lifting 5 pounds more than you did the previous day.  As I reflect on my gym time, though, I have become aware that I spend more time on my physical health than on my Spiritual wellbeing.  I exercise my core muscles but then forget to exercise spiritually.  What I have learned, though, is that by carving time out for Christ there is always something He seeks to show me.  Even if He doesn’t, it’s the fact that I have made the effort.

Jesus is my best friend, but so often I make time for human friends and responsibilities over Him.  It’s as if you have a close friend who is always there for you, will drop anything for you, and inconveniences their own plans for you.  They hold you when you cry, throw the biggest celebrations for your achievements, and get you the nicest birthday gifts, only to have you forget about them.  You’re basically a one-sided friend.  You never even call or text them on their birthday and when they become a parent you don’t even bother to congratulate them.  That friendship will become strained.  In fact, it likely won’t survive.  Yet that’s what we do to God all the time!  We call on Him when we need His help and ignore Him the rest of the time.  He’s not a genie in a bottle who grants three wishes!  He’s interested in so much more than that – a living, breathing, relationship.  And we short change Him by our attitude of praying only to receive blessings!

Being friends with someone is a commitment.  I expect my friends to be there for me, yes, but I also have to care about their lives and encourage them.  It takes time to create the tight, inseparable bonds of a friendship – it’s not as easy as it looks.  Being friends means you can share the deepest aspects of yourself with the person, it’s not just about who you can play pick up hockey or eat pizza with.  I have known my best friend for nine years and yet there are still days when I learn things about her.  There are still times when I realize she has thoughts and aspirations that I was never aware of.  And it’s the same with Christ.  I’ve been a Christian almost 20 years and yet every day I learn something new about Jesus. You never give up studying your friends.  You never give up trying to figure them out.

We become like the people we spend the most time with.[1]  I am constantly aware of my vocabulary and life philosophies are shaped by the people I live with.  For example, in my first year of university my roomate used to always say “awesome” and “deal” and I realized that I began to say this as well.  Now, at L’Arche, I use some of the quirky sayings that the core members bring up.  I also have become a lot like my friends because your friends reflect a huge part of who you are.  So, if we truly want to become like Christ and exemplify His loving character we daily need to come into Him.  We have to follow His lead.  Faith cannot be convenient.  Otherwise it’s taking the “Christ” out of “Christianity”.   It has ceased to be “Christianity” and has simply become our own moral version.  We’ve stripped Christ and left it at “Ianity”.

We don’t get to pick the things we like and disregard everything else.  If we do it’s like me going out with my Tyndale buds who believe drinking to be a sin and ordering not one Vodka but three.  It’s like encouraging a friend from church to go to the casino with me knowing that they disapprove.  But that’s what we do to Christ!  We are friends with Him on Sunday or at Bible Study, but the minute we give into temptation it’s “friends-off” because He inconveniences us!  Who wants to be friends with someone who is constantly shifting?  One minute we’re best friends, the next minute we’re not talking?  That’s so pre-teenish!  If we are to mature and GROW UP in every way into Christ who is the Head we need to become more like the adults we are![2]

Paul tells us that we are to shine like the stars in the universe even in a wicked and perverse generation.[3]  Whenever I look out on the darkest nights and see stars lighting up the sky I am profoundly happy.  Stars orient us.  We won’t get lost as long as we follow the North Star.  Paul wants us to follow the North Star (that is Christ) and to be constellations which point our non-Christian friends and peers to the True North.  This is only possible if we ourselves come into Christ.  Let’s do everything we can to cement that friendship!

Academia Meets Practical Life – The Wedding

Image The following article first appeared on: http://www.stateofformation.org/2013/11/academia-meets-practical-life-the-wedding/

The day that I discovered that all of my friends were Christian was the day that I began to feel strangely uncomfortable.  To be fair, I have spent my entire life in Christian settings – I grew up going to Christian elementary schools, then went to a Christian secondary school, and finally landed myself in a Christian university.  I went to seminary.  Virtually all the jobs I have ever held have been ministry related, and what do I do for fun?  I post primarily on Christian blog sites and read good old fashion Theological queries.  So, the fact that I never had any intimate friendships with people from another faith should not be all that shocking. However, when I came to this realization at about 20 years old rather than be thankful for it, I began to really question what I was doing and where I was indeed headed.

Education has always been a big deal in my family and in my own personal life.  There is a reason why I went to seminary and there is an even bigger motivation for me wanting to complete doctoral work.  It’s not so much because I think that I am a genius, actually, to be completely realistic there are way smarter people who muse about the same types of things as I do, but rather it’s because I believe that education is one of the best modes for expressing ourselves to this world.  Yet, at the same time, I believe there is another side to the story which is just as important.  Rather than be locked up in our ivory towers far away from the rest of the world, education calls us to engage with society in practical ways.  In my own experience, finding the balance between theology and philosophy and being able to love and serve others can indeed be a challenge, but what good is all of our education if we aren’t using it to impact those around us?

Another central understanding that I hold about education is that our worldview is constructed both consciously and unconsciously through our teachers.  Teachers always bring their own bias into the subject material and if we are not careful, we students may end up having the same biases.  When I look back to my years in the academy studying Theology and Christian Ministry, I am keenly aware of the fact that almost all of my professors have been white, middle aged men who grew up in suburbia, are heterosexual, and are married with children.  As I reflect upon this phenomenon, I become profoundly aware of how it has shaped my understanding of what a minister should act, look, and be like.  It wasn’t until much later in my educational career that I began to intentionally seek out others with different ethnic backgrounds and life experiences as a way of processing what the Holy Books (in particular, the Bible) were really trying to teach us.

As a whole, education has a lot of value to offer to the church and to society, but it also can create some tensions within the faith.  Unfortunately there are still many churches out there which take education to be a threat and when I am in situations where I (as a parishioner) have more formal education than the pastor this can be a bit unnerving.  Secular education also poses its own problems within the church especially because we start to deal with some of the uncomfortable intersections of faith and science and faith and ethics.  While resolution is not easy, it is possible and an important aspect in moving forward and wedding abstract concepts with our practical daily life.  I have been able to find the resolution in my own life simply by acknowledging that no religion is without its faults and admitting that even within my faith practice there are still many things I do not understand or even agree with.  That’s not a heretical statement at all.  It’s not at all saying that I am walking away from the Christian faith.  Instead what I am offering is a critical outlook on what I am living and recognizing that while Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, and Mohammed all said wonderful things, we live in a flawed world which is not able to practice those messages in the same way that they were first laid out.  In an ideal world we would be able to live a life of peace and justice that is represented in the majority of world religions, but because we are human and fallible we need to seek to co-exist by first recognizing our own downfalls.  Once we move away from our own preconceived ideas and into a world of learning from those of different backgrounds we are truly making education happen.  Once we begin to befriend people of other religions and cultures we are creating a true academy of hearts and souls, not simply one created with paper and parchment.

Youth Ministry – A Christian Endeavour?

Image The following blog post will critique the article: Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith (CharismaMagazine) written by: Abby Carr.  The article can be found here: http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/church-ministry/18920-youth-groups-driving-christian-teens-to-abandon-faith.  I’m also drawing on the book “A Weed in the Church” by Scott T. Brown (found here: https://ncfic.org/uploads/products/A%20Weed%20in%20the%20Church.pdf) and the documentary “Divided”.  Please note that while I may not agree with everything said in these places, that I do hold much respect for the conversation which they have enabled and for what they have taught me about youth ministry that I was unaware of before.  The article, book, and movie are exceptionally well-done and worth using for personal or research purposes.  Highly recommended.

If you’d like to read more about my thoughts regarding young adults in the church you can check out my sermon looking at the book “Hemorrhaging Faith” put out by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/restriction-and-retention-why-canadian-young-adults-are-leaving-the-church/.

For years, youth ministry has been one of the most important aspects of the Christian church.  Although more popular among Evangelicals, even the mainline groups have picked up on the movement over the last several decades and have made an effort to reach out to the high schoolers in their neighbourhood.

Throughout my junior high and high school days I was a faithful youth group attender.  I went to all of the sessions and once in my later years of high school even began occasionally helping to lead classes and events.  It was then no surprise that by the time I was a student at Tyndale I was interning at various churches working closely with the youth pastors.

What do I remember from those high school days in terms of my relationship with the church?  While, there were definitely times of struggle in my own spiritual life in those days.  Nothing crazy.  I never walked away from the church and experimented with the things of this world.  I knew already by that age I wanted to be in the ministry and was thinking about how everything I did would affect my life’s path.  I remember many happy memories in youth group, but to be honest, what I remember the most is probably how much fun I was having.  It wasn’t until I went to Tyndale that I experienced really hard core Christian youth groups.  Youth groups where the teens were truly on fire for Christ, sharing their testimonies, praying for one another fervently, and really living the Christian life.  What I experienced, by and large, before Tyndale was probably just the average youth group.  A bit of sharing, some snacks, and then lots of fun in the gym.  And on the surface level there is nothing wrong with that.  At the very least when kids are in the church they are in a safe place away from the pressures of the world and if they hear about Jesus and learn some good morals while they are at it, well, so much the better.

By the time I was in my graduating year at Tyndale and definitely by my first year in seminary I really began to have my serious doubts about where churched young adults were headed.  This has been an area of extreme concern especially as I envision my future in ministry.  If the youth are leaving the church then will there still be a church to pastor 10, 20, or 30 years from now?

One haunting line from the documentary “Divided” is this, “We had lost them long before they had left the church.”  Sure, it’s great if we can have fun with the kids while they are in our midst.  If we can impress them by being a “cool youth pastor” and a hipster, but in the end of the day that is not enough to sustain a willingness in anyone to maintain their Spiritual life.  They will out-grow us as their youth pastor and by the same token they will “outgrow” God and the church.

I truly believe that this is an area that we can’t ignore but that we need to give much consistent thought to.  By the time I had finished grade 12 my church had already decided that not enough youth were attending Sunday school and so maybe we just shouldn’t have it.  This should not have had to have been the case.  At age 20 I was interning for a very liberal Christian denomination where I was explicitly told that I was “overwhelming kids with religious aspects only and should focus more on fun.”  The point of the youth group was not so much for religious instruction but to be entertaining.  Personally, I’m not there to be a “religious clown”.  I do (or at least I like to think that I do) have a fun side to me and I love adventure.  I’m down for motorcycle rides, bungee jumping, and scuba diving, but in the end of the day if that’s what you’re expecting of me as your youth pastor, I’m sorry.  I just can’t do it.  I’m into leading kids to that real relationship with Christ which is ultimately the most exciting journey anyone can live.

Now, I also don’t completely take the angle of this article and documentary which I believe to be fairly conservative compared to where I stand theologically.  I did find it an interesting argument to say that age segregation came from pagan roots and, to be honest, I think it has its pros and cons if we use it in the church.  But do I think we should get rid of youth groups entirely?  No, I do not.  I know that statistically it is proven that only a handful of young adults remain in the church, but at least it is a handful.  If a youth group can lead even one kid to Christ then it is enough.

For me, youth group was totally worth it and without youth group I don’t know where I would have found my spiritual fuel.  Service trips and conferences may be short lived, but I still find myself drawing on those experiences 7 and 8 years later.  Who knew that a trip to Toronto would end in me being an associate member of the church we stayed overnight at 5 years later?  Who could envision me still remembering this one line from a conference I attended in 2006 “You can’t be a vanilla Christian.  You got to be chocolate, rocky-road or something”?  Thanks, Mike Preschon!  And the trip to Mennonite World Conference in 2009 still shapes the way I approach my seminary studies and my keen desire to get to know people from different cultures.  No one could have envisioned the type of impact those things would have on me – after all, I was just a 14 or 15 year old kid!

So, I would encourage churches not to knock youth ministry down at all.  It definitely has its place and is a useful tool for encouraging kids to really get to know Christ.  When I was in Indiana I attended a really wonderful Charismatic church for their youth group.  The funny thing was I was 21 and I was hanging out with kids as young as 12 and yet there was something about this group that really drew me in.  This church didn’t believe in age segregation.  They had the pre-teens mixed with the young adults.  The idea was that the young adults would mentor the pre-teens and we would all grow up Spiritually together.  It was a wonderful concept.  The youth pastor always delivered timely messages to us that spoke to me as a 21 year old just as it did to the 12 year old.  The youth pastor also combined having fun with really solid Scripture.  He once told me at a pool party “Not to sound sacrilegious but I can worship God in this pool or while I’m at church.  The idea of our faith is not to separate the two – we got to live them both out!” He could not have said it any better.

When I think of the future of youth ministry in the church I do get worried.  I don’t know if youth groups will still be around in my kid’s time or grandkid’s time.  I don’t know how many of my high school buds are seriously plugged into a church and will remain that way.  But there is something far scarier than this.  I’m more afraid of churches completely losing the vision and completely giving up on the youth and young adults in their midst.  I’m more afraid of churches believing so hard in the fact that their youth ministry will fail that they don’t even make the effort to be that positive mentor to one kid.  It’s for this reason that I urge you pastors and you churches to keep pressing up.  Even in the face of what might look bleak remember that Christ has a purpose and a plan.  Remember that He has entrusted these high schoolers into your care and that He isn’t asking you to take all the responsibility on yourself.  He isn’t asking you to change the statistics completely and start a revolution where all young adults end up back in their parent’s churches.  But He is asking you to be faithful to the flock and to that one young man or woman who really needs your help and support.

When the Heavens are Silent – Finding God in Pain and Confusion – A Devotional

Image I know of few other passages in the Scriptures which show as much anguish of soul and as much desperation as Psalm 69.  David has reached the point of utter desolation.  He writes in verse 2, “I have sunk into deep mire, and there is no foothold.  I have come into deep waters, and a flood overwhelms me.”  Have you ever been in that place before?  You feel so empty, as if there is no way out.  Just like David, you feel lonely and afraid.  Your closest friends have abandoned you or even broken trust.  It’s a tough place to be!

In verse 20, David goes on to say, “Reproach has broken my heart and I am so sick.  And I looked for sympathy, but there was none.”  What strikes me about this verse is that it seems to hold a level of self-pity.  When we go through tough stuff it becomes all too easy for us to play the victim.  It’s easy to feel bad for ourselves and to want others around us to also pity us.  The truth, however, is that self-pity won’t get you anywhere, and having friends pity you is also not what you need.  Empathy? Yes.  Sympathy? Not so much.

What I love about David is his ability to be completely real about his emotions and yet to not act on them.  Even though he could be honest enough to say he felt let down by God and rejected by peers, he didn’t let it be a way of dictating his life.  He didn’t let it be an opportunity for Satan to have a foothold.  Instead, he trusted in God and surrendered himself to God’s plan.  In verse 13 we read, “But as for me, my prayer is in You, o Lord, at an acceptable time, o God, in the greatness of your loving kindness, answer me with Your saving truth.”  And in verse 33 we are given this incredible reminder, “for the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.”  David, like us, was impatient.  In verse 17 he says, “answer me quickly!”  Yet, we need to rely on God’s timing for His timing is always best.  In difficult times it can sometimes feel like God isn’t answering despite how hard we pray or how loud we yell.  Just keep being like the persistent widow who was answered not because of her request, but rather because she kept coming back.  Be reminded of God’s truths and stay encouraged.  Don’t let difficulties in your life be a reason to make everything you ever learned about God and all your convictions go out the window.  Instead, seek to grow up in maturity in every way into Christ who is the Head and daily trust that Christ will come to your aid and will not delay.  Amen.