Conversations with High School Students

October 27, 2011

Yesterday I went to a local high school in the area to hangout with some students after school.  These students are your typical students in some aspects but not in all aspects.  These 60+ students are members of the Secular Student Alliance Club at Parkview High.  These students meet every other week to discuss topics ranging from the existence of God , to the possibility of morals without God to other issues like animal rights and other social issues.  If you are new to apologetics and are not familiar with the term “Secular” it just means activities and attitudes that do not have a religious or spiritual basis.  The students members hold a variety of different beliefs or positions.  Some are atheist,  some are agnostic,  many of them are might label themselves as skeptical or searching, and there was a Christian in the group also.

I meet them about a year ago through Michael, one of the students in my student ministry, at the church where I am student pastor.  Michael had been going to the Secular Student Alliance Club each week to talk and share his Christian beliefs with the students and to jump in to the debates and discussions they had each week.  I really admire Michael for doing this, I don’t think I would have done that at his age if our school had a SSA Club like they do.  (We had to fight to even have the right to a Christian Club when I went to South Gwinnett High School 20 years ago.)  The SSA club invited me to speak a few times last school year thanks to the invite from Michael.  After Michael has graduated and gone to college I have stay in contact with the students and we talk weekly through Facebook about different subjects.

Let me first break some common misconceptions about the students in the SSA club.  They are nice, polite, smart, and funny.   Just like the average teen.  Many of them are active in community doing things to take care of environment.  A few weeks ago they held a can drive to collect food items for a local food bank in the area.  There are certain feelings that are associated or arise when you mention the word “atheist” or “skeptic”, or even “Christian” for that matter.  I think these feelings come from a past where perception was different.  Any time I have gone to talk with them I have always felt at ease and comfortable with talking to them.

Part of the reason I wanted to write this blog was to help you break down those areas of misconception and also to get a feel of what is like to have conversations with students like these or anyone else for that matter.  Yesterday I went to the meeting not really knowing what I might talk about.  I usually have an outline and prepared talk, but yesterday I just felt like being very low-key and open to where the conversation may go.  I had been in some intense discussions recently online with some of them and I really felt it was important to just be a good listener this time.  I admit, I think I have become addicted to the feeling of being in the moment with apologetic discussions.  Not knowing what questions may come up and not having all the answers, I know the best thing I can do is offer up a quick prayer for help and rely on the Holy Spirit to help me give an answer that is Biblical and is easy to understand.

As the meeting started they allowed me to open with a small discussion about some things that I have noticed through the online conversations as misunderstandings about the Christian worldview.  I talked about Blind faith vs. a Biblical Faith.  Biblical faith is based on evidence just as scientists make thesis and hypothesis based on evidence in science.   From there the conversation morphed into the different types of knowledge that we can obtain.

After I finished talking I opened it up for anybody ask questions.  They asked some really good questions that I could tell that they really wanted to know the answer to.  Some were easy to answer, some questions I had to ask a question in return to get some clarification over, and some I had to pause and think a bit before responding.  We were discussing free will, and one student asked a good question, that caught me off guard, one I had never heard before.  A student asked me if God took part of Mary’s free will when He chose her to be the mother of Jesus and to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  After a brief pause, and another silent prayer for some help from God I thought and went back to the story.  We know from the text that Mary was already a follower of Jehovah God and like most Christians today, we want God’s will to be our own will.  I made a personal reference to my life to back up the thought.  The other Christian in the room, the student,  chimed in and said that Mary still had a choice of whether to keep the baby or to accept God’s desire for her life.   In the text it says that she had been chosen by God, but it didn’t say that she was already pregnant yet.   That was an insightful question.  We ended the meeting talking about Homosexuality a bit and then finished talking about worldviews and how that there can only be one right worldview.  They can’t all be right.

One of the students I have been talking with for the last several weeks was asking a lot of questions about the Bible and I asked him if he had a Bible.  He did not have one so I asked if  I could give him one.  He agreed and took it from me.   I am looking forward to going back soon, if not to talk, but perhaps only to listen and sit in on their discussions and learn what kinds of things that they deal with and question.  One thing that I can say about this group oh high school students is that they really want to know what they believe and why.  They are looking for truth and answers for life and I applaud their thirst for knowledge and truth.  I would wish that many Christians would also have the same type of fire that these high school students do.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions welcome.


My Story

September 28, 2011
Amy and me

Amy and me

A few weeks ago our pastor challenged the church congregation to “Be Courageous and Share Your Story”.  A few days later it hit me that one way, not the only way, I could do that would be online through my blog or on Facebook.  So here it is, Here is my story and I welcome any questions, comments, or snide remarks.

I grew up in a great home, a happy home, and while  I felt very sheltered from a lot of crazy things in life, I knew that  I was blessed because of the environment I was raised in.  My parents were both involved in church and so consequently, so was I, but again I didn’t mind.  I loved church, I love the people in the church.  My friends in church were different from most of the other students at school.  I had a few good friends at school, but most of my close friends were in the church with me.  Because I had a long history of being in church I knew a lot about the Bible, facts about God, and felt like I had a grasp on why things were the way they were.  As an early teen I began to notice that my brother and some other friends were making a choice to trust Jesus as their savior and they were baptized later on.  After a few months, it hit me that I knew a bunch of facts about the Bible and God, but I had not yet taken those facts to heart.  I had not really placed my faith, my trust in Jesus in my own personal way.    One night, while at a youth ministry event I really felt convicted within me to stop putting off what I already knew I needed to do and go talk to someone about making my faith personal.   I still get reminders today, because of my job,  of how scary that can be for a teen, to walk out of a pew or crowd and go talk to someone.  I knew what I had to do, grab the closest person near me and make them go with me!  I grabbed a great friend named Susanne and stepped out to find someone to talk to.

That night, April 30, 1988 I sat down with a man who went over the gospel of Jesus with me quickly to make sure I understood what I believed and what my need was.  For the first time I placed my trust in Jesus, that His death on the cross was payment for my sins and even though I didn’t understand it all, I knew that I was far from perfect and that I needed Jesus not only for an eternal life, but for a great life now.  I said a short prayer and asked God to forgive me of my past sins, I placed my belief in Jesus, for who He said he was, and I turned my life over to God to be my Lord, or boss for a lack of a better term.  A few months later I was baptized by my grandfather, who also was a pastor, in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

Since I have placed my faith in God I have had some interesting times, some great times, some challenging times, but they have all helped me grow in my relationship to God.  During my college years, I struggled with the idea that, perhaps I was a Christian only because I was raised in a Christian home.  I didn’t want the faith of my parents, I wanted to own my own faith.  I began to look at all the other worldviews and examine then for myself.  I knew after all, that not all the different worldviews could be correct.  I begin reading books on other religions and studying them to get a better understanding of them.  I admit at first I kept a close grip on my faith and didn’t want to be pulled from my own faith.  Some might say I was studying with a presupposition.   I was lucky enough to be taught though by my pastor and other teachers that I should do the research and examine things for myself and not just except the way things are because someone tells me so.  Trust is earned.  What I read was backed up by what I read for myself and what I found to be true in life.  My faith was becoming my own.

Right before finishing college, I began to question my career and what God really wanted me to do after I graduated.  I had always felt that God wanted me to be a teacher, but the last few months before graduation, I believe that God used a few different people to speak to me about being a pastor/minister.  After a few months of pushing the idea aside I finally quit telling God “no”, and I told God that if He wanted me to do something different with my life I would do it and trust Him for the things I didn’t know.  It was amazing what happened immediately after I had that conversation with God in my prayer time.  I felt this peace just fall over me like a heavy blanket.  I knew right then and there that I was not going to be an orchestra teacher anymore.

Right about this time, God opened a door for me to work in a church as an intern for the youth ministry.  Six months later the church came back and offered me the job permanently.   That was in 1997.  Fourteen years later I have had the joy of serving 3 churches as their student pastor  and have loved every minute of it.  I don’t feel like it is a job, but rather a calling.   Over the past 14 years I have grown in my passion for teaching the Bible and have also found a love for apologetics.  Apologetics is the study of “why you believe what you believe” or backing up your faith with reason and evidence.  Apologetics has allowed me to get a better grasp in what I believe and made my faith stronger.  Over the last few years I have opened up my reading and began to read books from both sides of the debate between atheists/agnostics and believers.  I try to read both sides to get an honest view-point from both sides of the aisle.  I have yet to find anything that worries me or that might cause my faith to stumble.  My passion today still lies with both the teens in this generation and teaching them apologetics that will prepare them for the vastly different world in which they live today.  It is a different world in which I lived in 20 years ago as a teen.

If you have any questions for me I would be glad to try to answer them for you.  I don’t know all the answers, not even close, but I would be glad to share what I have found to be solid ground to stand upon in my life.

God Bless,

John


Religion, the “Old Comfortable Shoe”

March 3, 2010

My oldest daughter got her first cell phone last week and the look on her face was priceless when my wife and I sat her down to give her the news and explain the ground rules and responsibilities.  Watching her enjoy her new phone gave me a few thoughts that I thought I would share.

New things are exciting… Phones, Cars, Relationships, etc…  I remember recently when we finally ditched the dish and went with Comcast cable.  My wife and I were enjoying learning about the new On-Demand features and finding new channels to watch.  Does everything fall into that same pattern, is everything in life doomed to have it’s 15 minutes of fame and then fade out into the annals of history like Members Only Jackets and parachute pants.  What about God and church life?  I think the answer is a great big “NO.” 

 I think the one main methods you can keep your Faith in God from becoming “the old comfortable shoe” is to not neglect it and to intentionally change some of the practical ways you live it day-to-day, such as prayer time, study time, how you share it with others, etc…   When you allow your relationship with Christ to become a routine, you can kiss the excitement goodbye.   I know I have allowed it to become that way from time to time and I have to try to snap myself out of the “spiritual coma” that I fall into and wake back up.  The same thing would be true if I neglect to talk with my wife and kids on a regular basis, the relationship would suffer.

Another spiritual sleeping pill you can add is the unpopular, new hush word in many churches that nobody wants to hear about anymore, SIN.  Sin and or Unforgiveness will do more damage to your relationship with God than anything.  When we have unconfessed sin in our life, it blocks the conduits of blessing from God and keeps us from going forward in our relationship with Christ.  If we are holding a grudge against a brother or sister in Christ we really need to deal with that first before anything else.  Matthew 5:23-24 give us that Biblical model to follow.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. – Matt 5:23-24

In closing would you consider your faith more of a religion than a relationship?  Does your faith seem more routine than alive and vibrant?  If you answered yes to those questions it might be time to stir some things up and change the way you do things.  Ask God if there is anything in your life that is keeping you from enjoying an exciting relationship with Him, I know he will reveal it to you if you ask.


A Boy, A Prostitute, and A Murderer

February 25, 2010

OK, quick let’s play a round of try of Tri-Bond.  It’s the game where you list 3 things and then name what they have in common.  So here goes, what do a boy, a prostitute, and a murderer all have in common?    The answer, they were all used by God to do godly things for the Lord.

This post is for me, more than anybody.. Sometimes I have the habit of being very judgmental.  Sometimes it’s on myself and sometimes it’s aimed at others.   If you take some time and thumb through your Bible you will see quite a wide list of people who God choose to use to accomplish His will.   Below is a short summary of a few of the different kind of people who choose to use and the scriptures where you can read about them.

Each of these people had 2 things in common.  1.) They had to learn to let go of their past in order to move forward into what God had asked them to accomplish.  2.) They had to obey God and do what he asked them to do with what resources they had.  Yes, some of them questioned God and wanted to run away from it at first, but they all eventually let go of their past and obeyed God’s desire for their life. 

This is really a 2-sided coin, or rather 2 ways you can look at it.  Sometimes you might not feel like you are not the right person for the job or that you are incapable of doing what you know God has put on your heart, stop listening to the lies of Satan and take a lesson from the many pages of the Bible where God used ordinary, plain, average people to accomplish his will.  I love the scripture “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13.  Give me hope for myself.

On the flip side of the coin, you have to be careful that you don’t make judgments based on the outward appearance or past of people.  God can change people in an instant and with God’s help He can motivate ANYBODY into new areas leadership or accomplishments.  The old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind.

Take the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in John 6:1-15.  Keep in mind the 5,000 was only the men counted.  There were other women and children there as well.  Jesus saw were the crowd was tired and hungry and he wanted to meet their needs.  He asks the disciples; “Where will we get food for these people to eat?”   I love the response of Phillip, “8 months wages would not buy enough for all these to have a bite!”  Then comes Andrew, Andrew was always a man bringing people to Jesus.  He brought his brother Peter to Jesus, and now he was bringing this little boy to Jesus who had 2 loaves of bread and 5 fish.  Andrew didn’t know what would happen and how it would happen but he knew that Jesus had the answers.  Be an Andrew in your life.  Always look for people who God can use no matter what they look like or what they have in the way of resources, education , social class, race, etc…

Also be like this little boy who didn’t have much, but he was willing to give it to Jesus to help or be part of the solution.  That’s what God wants from us, only what we have, and not any more.  Are you willing to give up all you have to let God do something great with it?  Will you be like Moses (a murderer)  or Rahab (a prostitute) and let go of your past and do what God has called you to do and let him use you to accomplish something great?


Paintball Fun!

February 22, 2010

I had a grat time playing paintball with the youth Saturday.  There were 8 of us all togther and we all had a blast.  I learned that my dainty daughter was not so dainty and I learned who all the talkers were and who showed some guts.  We had 3 girls and 5 guys and I was excited for the girls who went.

I got scared for a few minutes when about 10 other guys showed up to play also.  They had all the fancy clothes and the really fast automatic weapons and I thought we were going to get clobbered by them, BUT, as it turned out they looked good on the outside and when it came time to play they didn’t match their gear.  I was proud of orur group that held their own in several of the games.  Here are some pictures for you to enjoy.

Our groupGetting Ready to play


Project Isaac Update

February 22, 2010

I thought I would just leave a quick post about project Isaac and something that God had shown to me last week and this earlier today.  It’s almost the end of February and for the longest time I had no idea why God put the idea on my heart.  Sometimes I asked myself was it just a pointless idea that I thought I would challenge myself to complete?  Until last week I might have answered yes, but then God opened my eyes to something and allowed me to see a little into the past and into the future with the respect of Facebook.  Without going into personal details here is some of what the Lord showed me.

I had allowed my desire and passion for relationship with the youth and others to get to me to a place where I thought I had to be constantly connected to them via, Facebook, texting, and other ways and had put way to much emphases on the relationship with the students as well as giving them the truth of God’s word.  A good relationship with the students you minister to is ok, but you can’t allow it to get out of balance. 

In his book, The Disconnected Generation,  Josh McDowell has a formula in his research that says;

Rules + Relationship = Positive Results.

This relational formula works for parents, teachers and ministers.  This can be also seen in the area of teaching students God’s word.  I think a similar formula would be something like the following;

 Teaching the Word of God + Relationship = Positive Results.

You need both to create that hunger and thirst for a growing relationship with God, but if you have them out of balance you don’t get the same results.  If you have too much relationship it can lead to a too comfortable relationship where you lose some of your teachable position.  If you keep the proper distance, you can maintain that in a good way.  If you have too much Teaching of the Word of God and hardly any relationship then the students can often lack the feeling of affirmation and other feelings that you as the student pastor care for them as a student.  The old saying goes “They don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.” 

In my recent past I have made some mistakes in this area and I think that God has allowed me to see again through Project Isaac the folly of my past mistakes.  I have recognized before that i must keep a good balance between my relationship with the students I teach and continue to preach the Word to them week in and week out.  I have a big burden upon me about the way I had interacted with some students this past fall and how I treated them.  I will have to answer to God for my actions with them and I hope that maybe some day I might get the opportunity to make it right with them and sit down and talk with them again about what I have learned.  I only hope that my actions don’t have lasting consequences for those I may have hurt.  That would be the worst fear knowing that I pushed someone away from the Lord.

So in closing, after the month is over you can expect me to not to be back on Facebook as often as I was before and the same goes for texting, emailing, Instant Messaging, Faxing or any other new way they come up with in the future.


Jerkin, Homemade T-Shirts, and Wheelies in Wheelchairs

February 18, 2010

Had lunch with Tommy today, he was out of school this week.   After lunch we went back to the church and had a little fun.  We watched youtube.com videos of the power rangers doing some jerkin moves and then we tried some of those sweet moves ourselves.  I just fell on the floor and hurt my knee. 

After that we went to Wal-mart got some white T-shirts and made some homemade T-shirts with my Sharpe collection.  I think we are going to go into business and sell them for $5 each and make a shared profit of $3 for each shirt.  It will be a total waste of time and we will probably never be famous or sell more than 10 shirts, so we will only make like $15 each.

We also tried out skills at poppin’ a wheelie in the church wheelchair that sits in the back of the sanctuary.  Got some great video’s and not to mention a good whack on the back of the head.  The carpet in the church is surprizing ly thin over a layer of hard concrete.  Ouch!!

What’s the point to this senseless blog?  I’m not sure there is one, but I do know that I had a great time with Tommy today.  I will not forget the fun we had today for a very long time.  Relationships are very important in ministry.  You can have the greatest nuggets of truth, but if you don’t have a good relationship those nuggets of truth will fall on deaf ears.    Enjoy the pictures!!


So You Think You Know Them?

January 24, 2010

Reading through the book of Exodus now.  It is a really interesting book and the stories about Moses can teach you a lot about leadership if you are looking for them as you read.  I figured I would post some thoughts as I read through the book.

The very first thing I noted from the story of Moses in Exodus was that Moses was not the most likely leader that humans would have chosen.  This is often the case with many people in the Bible stories.  There are a good variety of people in the Bible young, old, rich, poor, and etc, but for the most part I see where God used the average, ordinary person to carry out what he desired.  Below is just a list of a few people who come to mind in particular order.

  • The disciples (love acts 4:13 to describe them)
  • Esther
  • Moses (more on him in just a minute)
  • David (A Sheppard )
  • Nehemiah
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

So what about Moses, well, he did grow up in the palace of the king of Egypt, but remember after he grew up he committed murder.  He saw the Egyptian mistreating his own people and he killed him.  He got scared for his life and ran off to the dessert where he could live in peace.  Until God showed up and messed up his plan.  God told him that he was going to be the one to lead the Hebrews back to the land he promised Abraham.  Moses was a murderer and God still used him.  It’s funny how so many times we write people off when we think they are not any good to society any more.  That’s just it, we are not good to the world, but to God we are always useful.  I know in the past I have often looked at certain youth and perhaps thought that God would not use them because of what I see on the outside or because I see the unfinished project.  I have learned over the last 13 years in ministry not to do that, because God can  surprise you with some awesome things.  So the next time you think you know who will make the next preacher, missionary, or Sunday school teacher you better be careful and just let God take care of that.  After all, it is God that calls people into ministry and not the local pastor or youth pastor.  It’s just our job to train and guide them along the way.