From Corn to Calvary

For the Glory and Fame of Jesus

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The Oscars & Our Culture of Perfection

When I was in high school my History and Government teachers made my fellow students and I bring in “current events” during the week.  A current event was an event that happened recently enough on the World or American stage that appeared in a newspaper or magazine.  We then would either write a short synopsis of our event or verbally share the event with the class.  This past week, unless you have been living under a rock, or without the internet, you know of two current events that happened that have captured the attention of many Americans whether they wanted their attentions captured or not.  President Donald J. Trump addressed a joint session of congress on Tuesday February 28 and the Oscars were held two days prior.

It is the second of these two events that I list that I want to briefly address.  The second, as I list them, that actually happened first on the calendar.

On Sunday February 26th the 89th Academy Awards were hosted by late night TV personality Jimmy Kimmel and opened with what promised to be a tremendous night of Hollywood honoring and celebrating its own.  As Justin Timberlake sang and danced his way through the audience those in attendance were immediately roused to their feet with their attentions captured.  However, despite the melodic beginning to these awards it is the ending that will endure in the memories of those who attended, watched on TV, and casually glanced at a Newspaper the next day.

In a wild finish Warren Betty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly read the wrong name as they handed out the Academy award for best picture.   As you know, it was not La La Land who won best picture it was Moonlight.

What happened after the dust settled and Moonlight was invited on stage is of tremendous importance because it reveals something very deep and demanding about the Entertainment industry…something that is only revealed when it is not there.  Perfection is expected and there is no tolerance for imperfection, none.

From all indications Warren and Faye made an honest mistake. Their mistake, however, wasn’t even their mistake but the mistake of a Tweet happy accountant who got lost in the moment backstage and handed Warren and Faye the wrong envelop.  But mistakes are not welcomed, regardless of how honest or innocent they may be.

The simplest way to boil down the point of the Oscars is as follows: it is an awards show that honors the best of the best, or the most perfect of the perfect.  Consider that out of all the movies made this year a very large group of 7000+ Academy members voted to nominate a select number of movies, or actors/actresses, for a specific award; and then they narrowed that list even further until there was only one winner.  Consider also that, at least in the minds of the directors and producers of film, no movie hits the box office unless it is perfect.  The amount of time it takes to film and produce a movie is utilized so that every shot is angled perfectly, every word is spoken perfectly, and every scene fits perfectly in the plot line of the movie…which, of course, has to be written perfectly.

Hollywood is not the only entertainment industry that operates like this either.  Just two weeks ago music had its biggest night of the year with the Grammy’s and, in similar form and fashion, the perfect of the perfect were awarded for being the most perfect.  Much like Hollywood, no musical artist releases an album they think is anything less than perfect.  Tracks are fine tuned and vocals are even auto tuned so that what hits your iTunes is without flaw and perfect.

This culture of perfection that surrounds most, if not all, of pop culture is most clearly revealed when something or someone is less than perfect.  The quest for perfection is unending and unrelenting as millions of individuals gather in front of their TV’s, with their Twitter apps open, ready to critique, congratulate, and celebrate.  What once was reserved for the A-list attendees and those given press credentials is now open and available for any all with access to the program and the internet.  No longer does the viewer simply hear commentary during the program about someone’s perfect, or less than perfect, outfit  or read reviews the following day in the newspaper, we now can fully join Hollywood and follow their lead in idolizing perfection when we think we found it and demonizing imperfection when it shows itself.

It should come as no surprise then that those interested in the Oscars collectively lost their minds at the horror that something not perfect made its way on stage during the heavily scripted event that not only celebrates engineered perfection but aims to produce nothing short of live television perfection.

So what does all of this reveal and why is it even significant?  What Sunday night, and Monday morning, reveals is that there is absolutely zero tolerance for imperfection.  Granted, the mistake could have been avoided and should have been avoided, but the backlash has been unrelenting in its demanding questions of “how?”, “why?” and “what now?”.

To live in a culture that has zero tolerance for imperfection is absolutely suffocating because no one, save Jesus Christ, is perfect.  And this makes what happened Sunday all the more interesting and revealing.  Despite all efforts to avoid any imperfection during an award show that honors the most perfect of the perfect, imperfection was found.

We need to be very careful that we don’t find ourselves upholding a standard that doesn’t allow for imperfection and worse yet demonizes imperfection when it happens.  This does not mean, however, we adopt a laissez faire attitude and approach that shows no care at all about how we handle ourselves, work at our jobs, and navigate life. The Academy is correct in seeking to figure out what went wrong and taking steps to avoid a blunder like this again.  We should want to do our best and we can be rightly proud when we have done our best.

As a parent, I must encourage my children to do their best and work hard in life to honor and glorify Jesus. Yet when they fail, and fail they will, I also must not demonize them for their failure.  Rather, like our Heavenly Father, as he responds to my daily imperfections, there should be grace and forgiveness when failure occurs along with training and exhortation to learn from our mistakes.

The culture of perfection will crush whoever doesn’t measure up and those demanding perfection will crush whoever is not perfect when they are exposed to be exactly what they are…imperfect.

We should rightly strive to do our best and encourage others in the same way. However, when perfection has not been obtained we must be careful to not crush those who were unable to reach perfection…even before they began.


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Questions For Believers Believing in Homosexual Marriage.

Recently a very well known Christian author and her husband announced their support for “committed life-long monogamous same-sex marriage ” on Facebook.  I have already been asked what I think about their position and how the Bible fits their claim that homosexual marriage is a conclusion supported (or at least not denied) by the Scriptures. Below is my reply, written in the form of a letter addressed to this couple.

(I am choosing not to share their name publicly because I am currently trying to reach out to them and share this letter with them directly.   I am choosing to share the letter because I believe the claims they make about the Bible and their influence within Christianity are significant enough to warrant sharing the letter publicly.)

Dear __________,

I am almost certain you have received thousands of comments by now regarding the explanation of your views on homosexual marriage. Given the wide spread influence of your wife’s ministry I’m sure she has equally received thousands of messages.  Some are probably filled with hate and case-in-point examples of how the “believing community” is all too often quick to shoot its own.  In fairness to them there are specific commands given in the Scriptures to guard doctrine and stand up for the truth of the Bible…but they don’t have to be jerks.

I am writing to you to share concerns I have with your recent Facebook post and to also answer a friend’s question about my thoughts on what you wrote.  I am a pastor who would agree with all of your statements regarding the authority of the Scriptures and even your approach (as described) in studying the Bible to arrive at an understanding of the truth that it contains.  However, I do not share your conclusions and I have a few questions.

What I hope you find in this letter a deep concern for God’s people, his Word, and people lost in sin.  I equally hope you find in me a gracious attitude and charitable spirit, one that glorifies Christ well.

After your introduction and initial description of your journey you say,

Every verse in the Bible that is used to condemn a “homosexual” act is written in the context of rape, prostitution, idolatry, pederasty, military dominance, an affair, or adultery. It was always a destructive act. It was always a sin committed against a person. And each type of sexual interaction listed was an abuse of God’s gift of sex and completely against His dream for marriage to be a lifelong commitment of two individuals increasingly and completely giving themselves to one another as Christ did for the church.

I am curious what exactly in Leviticus 18:22 leads you to conclude that the prohibition listed is in any of the contexts you list above.  It would appear to me that that verse 22 does not reference any particular situation but rather, and very simply, prohibits “any man lying with any other man as he would a woman.” Given your rationale above I’m equally curious what circumstances you would find Leviticus 18:23 allowable? For the same conclusions you make about 22 should also be made about 23.[1]

Furthermore, Paul’s argument in Romans 1:26-27 gives no indication regarding any specific context that you listed.  It again, as in Leviticus, simply and plainly states that “women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another…” From what I have studied, to arrive at a conclusion that Romans 1 deals with any of the homosexual acts you list requires the outside citing of other ancient literature, and while reference books and historical records are helpful I believe we both would agree that the Bible is the final and inerrant word.  If so, how then in Romans 1 (and just from Romans 1 or other Scriptures) do you find any of the homosexual acts you list as part of the context that Paul writes about?

The argument Paul makes in Romans uses an incredibly interesting word several times.  “Natural” or “nature.”  This is a word that directly references God’s created order.  Thus, when he is making his statement that women exchanged “natural relations”, as did the men, he is indicating that they acted contrary to the natural way God created them to be and purposed their bodies to function. What in your study and research “of the Greek” leads you to conclude that Paul’s use of the word “natural” means anything other than a reference to the created order that God established in Genesis 2?

In continuing to think about Genesis 2 you make a statement that,

In the same way, we then studied what the Bible says about marriage. Every verse. We studied what scripture describes as God’s original design.

God’s purpose and design for marriage is first revealed in Genesis 1-2 in the roles, functions and parts that he creates Adam and Eve with.  Male and female were designed by God to be complementary parts to a whole, and together they were to complete the task of ruling and subduing that God gives them in Genesis 1:28.  Quite simply, homosexual marriage does not fit God’s design because the parts are not complementary (and I’m thinking of far more than just sexual organs here).  The parts are by definition the same.  As a result homosexual couples are incapable of completing the creation mandate that was given to Adam and Eve, and thus incapable of fulfilling God’s design for marriage.

In any industry or creative act, purpose always determines design.  My car has 4 wheels because its purpose is to roll on the street, not float in water.  Similarly, God’s design for the first marriage, one-man and one-woman was not just a matter of procreation but is his very good design to accomplish his very important purpose.  How, or where, in Genesis 1-2 do you see any indication that heterosexual marriage is not the only marriage relationship that God is creating and blessing?  How, or where, in Genesis 1-2 do you see any blessing or permission (even implied) for homosexual marriage?

Earlier in your post you write the following, (I realize that I have copied your statements out of order but I do not believe I am understanding your comments, or writing about them out of context)

Each act mentioned in the Bible was sin, no doubt. In context, we believe the same today. Just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sin for obvious reasons, whether consensual or not, we still believe homosexual sex outside of marriage is a sin.

I am greatly confused by your argument here.  You write that “each act mentioned in the Bible was sin, no doubt” and yet you don’t see current homosexual marriages as sin.  Here you seem to acknowledge that the Bible has no category for homosexual marriage as currently understood and defined by our modern culture, however, you readily acknowledge that every act of homosexuality in the Bible is sinful.  It would appear as if you have let a recent cultural shift in acceptance and legal status inform what the Bible clearly teaches (a point you make yourself).  Again, I have to wonder why in Leviticus 18:22 you do not see a complete prohibition of homosexuality or a complete condemnation of it in Romans 1.   Furthermore, if you do not see any clear teaching in the Scripture regarding homosexual marriage (because if you did then you wouldn’t be able to say that “each act mentioned was sin…”) then we’re back to trying to define homosexual marriage as an acceptable practice based on Genesis 2 and other texts.  Regarding these other texts on marriage, which of them speak to homosexual marriage and not heterosexual marriage specifically?  Jesus’ own argument when confronting the Pharisees misunderstanding of divorce grounded the marriage union back to creation.

You also write,

We dug deep into considering which of the Bible’s teaching on marriage was a description of whatever the current state of marriage was at the time each book was written and which of the Bible’s teaching was a prescription for how marriage should be.

Bottom line, we don’t believe a committed life-long monogamous same-sex marriage violates anything seen in scripture about God’s hopes for the marriage relationship.

Where exactly did the Bible’s teaching on marriage shift?  If your detailed study of what the Bible says about marriage led you to conclude that “committed life-long monogamous same-sex marriage” is allowed by the Bible then where did the shift happen?  Earlier you seem to indicate that Bible actually doesn’t address homosexual marriage at all.  How then could this shift occur if it is never specifically addressed?

To be sure there are plenty of examples of men and women who sinned sexually and have failed big time in upholding God’s design for marriage.  But where did God ever communicate that he changed his purpose or design from one-man, one-woman till death?  Is this, again, not the argument Jesus makes in his interactions with the religious rulers of the day (Mark 10:5-9).  Is this not the prescriptive teaching that Paul writes about in Ephesians 5; that Peters addressed in his first Epistle; and that even is cited as a qualification for church leadership (“husband of one wife”)?

To say that homosexual marriage can fit “God’s hopes” for marriage and yet have no examples of where Scripture cites homosexual marriage at all, is an incredibly bold claim.  I think it is one that is lacking great proof.

Lastly, you write,

We reviewed biological research and findings. We researched the claims behind the Kinsey Scale which gives insight to our sexuality (Which if you haven’t researched you should, It makes sense of why one person’s journey does not match another person’s journey or to speak authoritatively as a one-size fits all solution).

I personally am very grateful for many of the discoveries that the hard and soft sciences have given us.  They are constant reminders of God’s common grace and that he causes the sun to shine on both the just and the unjust.  I’m concerned though that you are allowing Kinsey Scale to persuade your position and not just simply inform it.  Science has often revealed insight into the intricacies of humanity and yet the Bible does speak authoritatively to humanity. Regardless of how someone might identify on the Kinsey Scale the Bible has the authority to expose their sin for what it is, and provide the solution for what ails them most, separation from God. To allow the Kinsey Scale to provide proof of why some people struggle with same sex attraction or homosexual desires and therefore allow that proof to provide permission (even in the context of a “committed life-long monogamous same-sex marriage”) elevates this scale to a greater place of authority then God’s Word.

As I wrote in the very beginning, I do not share your conclusions.  In fact, I am troubled by them.  As one who has also studied these things I have great concerns for where your conclusions regarding this issue will lead some people.  I am concerned for the gospel because grace is only sweet when our sin is bitter. I am also deeply concerned that in an effort to be loving and accepting you may be leading people towards eternal separation from God because sexual immorality is listed as one of many practiced sins that will keep people from the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 1:18-32; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Timothy 1:9-11; Jude 7; Revelation 21:8).  If you are wrong, then you are giving permission to a lifestyle of sin that the Bible condemns and will lead to ones eternal condemnation.

I am also deeply concerned that the church has, for too long, been screaming against homosexuality and only loosing its voice.  Thank you for the reminder that we must do a better job of loving and engaging.  But in that process let us not confuse “love” with kindness.  We must be kind to people when confronting.  However, choosing to not confront sin does not love because love hates evil and rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13); a balancing act and conviction best exemplified by Christ who dined with sinners and yet called them to repentance.

I realize in that last statement I have drawn a line between our conclusions.  I have effectively said that not only do I disagree with you but I think you’re wrong.  Hopefully you have found charity and grace in my writing but I also hope you find a kind, loving confrontation of your position and plea to again reconsider what the Bible teaches.

I would be glad to treat you and your wife to dinner.  I would love to discuss this further with you.

For the Glory and Fame of Jesus,


Timothy Clothier


[1] I completely realize that I am not addressing the OT law and its binding or non-binding status for believers today.  I merely reference Lev. 18 because you state that “every verse” condemning homosexuality has a very specific context that does not include homosexual marriage.

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Why the Song of Solomon and Not 50 Shades of Gray?

So this is a little late for Valentine ’s Day. Nevertheless, while the themes of love, marriage, and sex do intersect with Valentines Day they endure far beyond this single day found within the month of February.

On February 13th I shared an article on Facebook that was entitled “Seven Questions to Ask Before You Watch Deadpool”. [For those who do not know, Deadpool is the latest Superhero movie to be made and is rated R by the MPAA for “strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity.”] The “Seven Questions” came from Desiring God which is the ministry that John Piper began years ago and is a ministry that I have personally benefited and learned from for the past several years.

After I shared the “Seven Questions” (which essentially conclude that any nudity on screen should be avoided by believers) an acquaintance of mine from Indiana made a comment on the post that said “guess I better not read my Song of Solomon tonight.” The implication in his comment reveals an important question, and one that I had never stopped to consider. The question is, “why should one not watch graphic sexual content in films if the Bible contains graphic sexual content?” Now while all my instincts were indicating that there was a great difference between the Song of Solomon (SOS) and Hollywood films I did not have a well thought-out answer for him. And as I tried to teach my church during our most recent sermon series, “One Flesh” we need to 1) Live Faithfully and 2) Engage Thoughtfully. I didn’t have a thoughtful answer for him. Nevertheless I responded and thanked him for his comment and told him I would give this some thought and respond.

To be clear the implications of his comment stretch far beyond Deadpool or any other Superhero movie for that matter. The implications stretch into what TV shows we watch what magazines we subscribe to and even what books we read. A similar question/comment could be made in regards to the 50 Shades of Gray (50 Shades) books…”why can Christians read the SOS and not 50 Shades of Gray?” If Christians would deem 50 Shades as sexually immoral why not the SOS which may have similar depictions (note: I have read the SOS but not 50 Shades of Gray. I confess here to making an assumption about the book’s content.) How do we thoughtfully respond?

The implications also stretch into major theological categories as well. If God has revealed clearly in the Bible that we should abstain from sexual immorality [1 Corinthians 10:8; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Acts 15:20; Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:3; Ephesians 5:5; Exodus 20:14; Exodus 20:17; Galatians 5:16-24; Genesis 39:7-9; Hebrews 13:4; Jeremiah 23:14; Job 31:1 ; Mark 7:20-23; Matthew 15:19-20; Matthew 5:27-28; Proverbs 2:16-22;Proverbs 21:17; Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 5:1-6; Proverbs 5:18-19; Proverbs 5:20-23; Proverbs 6:24-33; Proverbs 7:1-27; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15 ; Romans 1:24-27; Romans 13:11-14] how then can we read the SOS and not sin sexually and is the SOS even supposed to be in the Bible? Questions regarding the Bible’s authority, consistency and value for life and godliness immediately get put on the table.

What follows then is my answer to this really important question. In short I see at least 5 major distinctions between the Song of Solomon and other forms of communication (film, written word, media, etc.)

“Within the very pages of the Song of Solomon there is an implicit and explicit call to follow the Lord’s commands regarding sex, not run contrary to them.”

1. Authorship
• God is the author behind all Scripture and is revealing truths in the Song of Solomon about how he created the husband/wife relationship to be, especially the celebration of the physical intimacy.
• While human authors are certainly capable of producing works that glorify God, much of what is seen in Hollywood is not a celebration of covenant marriage but rather sexually immoral passion and lust. Not having seen Deadpool I have no idea if the “graphic nudity” is between characters that play a husband and wife on screen or whether those characters are husband and wife off screen. Nevertheless, the Song of Solomon was written to celebrate covenant marriage and physical intimacy. I do think we can safely conclude that the scenes in Deadpool do not celebrate covenant marriage simply because no sex that has been filmed for the entertainment of others fits the design and purpose that God created physical intimacy to have within the context of covenant marriage.

[Note: this point is based on a view of Scripture that believes every word was indeed inspired by God and is inerrant. Therein, there is no disconnect between the SOS and the Bible’s commands to flee sexual immorality. Whatever apparent disconnect we see is an us issue, not a God or inspiration issue.]

2. Intent
• God intends to instruct through SOS and give husbands and wives the freedom and permission to enjoy one another’s physical bodies the way he created them.
• Again, it is nearly impossible to conclude that Hollywood writers and directors are intending to celebrate what God has created when the very filming of those scenes runs counter to what God designed. Whether the actors are married in real life or not, filming their physical intimacy as a married couple for the entertainment of others does not honor God. Furthermore, those scenes cannot be faked, like murder or other features of cinematography. Those are real people on screen, really kissing, really in bed together and really doing real things with their real body parts as the director tells them to. (For more helpful thoughts regarding this last point click here).

3. Design
• God has designed and purposed sex within the context of marriage to glorify him, for physical pleasure between husband and wife and for procreation.
• Much of what Hollywood portrays regarding sex only strikes after physical pleasure and falls short of the greatest purpose given to sex, namely to glorify God.

“While we read of the couples physical intimacy with one another there is no indication that this physical intimacy was on display for those she Bride speaks to.”

4. Desire
• SOS does not seek to objectify sex in a way that creates illicit desire and it certainly gives no indication that this created desire can be met through it. As stated earlier, the SOS is written as a celebration of covenant love and gives husbands and wives the permission and freedom to desire one another and find their desires met in one another. The refrain of the book indicates this to us…”Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” There is a continual directive given by the bride to her friends to wait until marriage and not awaken love (allow desires for sex to be fueled) until the proper time. So while the Bride and her Lover celebrate their covenant marital love with one another she continually pleads with others to not short circuit Gods design for physical intimacy. In other words, she believes that what she has is so great that it is worth waiting for. And she knows this first hand because she is now experiencing it.

While we read of the couples physical intimacy with one another there is no indication that this physical intimacy was on display for those she Bride speaks to. If anything, the language of the book suggests an appropriate secretiveness. For the other characters in the Song of Solomon sex is actually veiled and not put on display. Within the very pages of the Song of Solomon there is an implicit and explicit call to follow the Lord’s commands regarding sex, not run contrary to them.

• Hollywood sex scenes not only can create an unholy desire but they also meet that desire in an unholy ways. Ways that may involve an individual by himself/herself or with a spouse while watching the film or acting out the scenes watched in real life with someone else. All three of these avenues for meeting desire are unholy.

Furthermore, this point regarding desire is what contrasts the SOS with other written forms of art such as 50 Shades of Gray (or any written versions of soft/hard pornography). Not only was the sex in that book between individuals who were not married those books brought with them the capability to create unholy desires and meet those desires in an unholy way.

5. It is Not _______
• There is not a single form or sexuality in culture today that fits with what the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi. In chapter 4, verse 8, he gives them (and by extension us) a very helpful way to discern how we engage with media and our culture. He writes, “finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

From the reviews I had read about Deadpool it is hard to conclude that this movie fits this biblical criterion. As a matter of opinion I do not see any form of sexuality in the media today that fits this criterion. Rather, there is a consistent undermining of God’s design and purpose and it is destroying us.

So to this acquaintance, and you, I offer these 5 major distinctions between Hollywood and the Song of Solomon. As believers, rather than trying to find the place where we can be as close to sexual sin as possible we should be aiming to stay as far away as possible, and flee…just as God instructed us to do in 1 Cor. 6:18.

For the Glory and Fame of Jesus,

Pastor Timothy Clothier


Note:  This blog was written originally as a letter to parents in the Student Ministries program I lead.

Next Friday is an incredibly important day in the life of your student(s).  Whether you realize it or not next Friday is the Day of Silence which is sponsored by the GLSEN (Gay-Lesbian-Straight-Education-Network).  On April 19th millions of students across the world will be silently protesting the bullying, hatred, and mistreating of GLBT (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender) students.  Over the past several years this event has occurred at our local middle and high schools with a varying degree of involvement.

As has been the norm for 909 Student Ministries, the Wednesday before this event I spend considerable time talking with our students about how they are to biblically react to their classmates and friends who may participate in this event.  I am passionate about encouraging our students to not run from but rather lovingly engage people they see with duck tape on their mouth or with Day of Silence T-Shirts on.  I have encouraged them year after year to wear their 909 T-shirts and talk to those participating.  This year and this Wednesday night will be no different.

Several Christian organizations, that I will not name, have sent emails this week encouraging you to not send your student(s) to school on Friday.  To protest the protest, if you will.  I firmly believe that Friday will be an incredible day for your student(s) to engage their friends and classmates with the Gospel.  So rather than run and hide, I say “Go and Speak!”

Our speech, on all days, should be God-honoring, Spirit filled and Christ-exalting.  We should, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29).  On this day specifically, it should also be apologetic.

The Day of Silence has one stated goal on their website (here), to bring, “attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.”  This is a goal Christians should support!

Now, in saying that I am not affirming homosexuality or bi-sexuality or seeking to biblically redefine marriage or sexuality for the sake of cultural acceptance.  What I am saying is that believers should lead the way in gracious speech and kind actions.   Believers should stick up for and defend those who are bullied or harassed, for whatever that reason may be.  Believers should live out the gospel and treat others the way we’ve been treated by Christ.

“Our speech, on all days, should be God-honoring, Spirit filled and Christ-exalting.”

While we were alienated from God and hostile towards him (Col. 1:21) Christ came to reconcile us to God.  God, in his mercy and by his Grace, has made us alive.  And while we were following the prince of the power of the air, Satan, God was gracious and merciful to us (Eph. 2:1-5).    That is the gospel-centered standard of interaction we have with everyone!

Rather than disengage on the 19th or, even worse, not go to school I will be encouraging all of our students to apologize to any and every person they see participating in the Day of Silence, and to pray.

Their apology is for themselves or any other person, claiming to be a Christian that has bullied or mistreated anyone.  Our prayers are that Jesus would be exalted and that the love, grace and mercy that we have been recipients of would be experienced by others.  We pray for God to change hearts, as He alone can do.  We pray everyone hurting from bullying or hatred or devastatingly broken relationships would find healing in Jesus.

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This short, sweet and pointed blog post is going to be just that…short, sweet and pointed.

Student ministries that fail to think past High School in their goals and philosophy do a great disservice to their students. Youth Pastor, if all you think about is the six/seven years you have a student in your charge, you’re myopic and harming your students! If you believe and operate like your “program” is all there is you need to repent! Your student ministry is a part of a church, not an island unto itself.

As a pastor of student ministries I have to think forward. I have to have my long term goals inform my short term goals. I have to desire that my young men and women become godly Men and Women and align my ministry to those goals.

So what are your long term goals? Do you have long term goals or is your focused near-sided and only short term?

God most certainly has long term goals for us and he is operating in the here and now because of what He is creating us to be. Paul tell us in 2 Cor. 3:18 that, “beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” Paul again tells us in Philippians 3 that we are to “press on to make it [perfection] my [our] own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” The good work that God has begun in us will be completed by God (Phil. 1:6).

“I must have my long term goals inform my short term goals.”

Thinking long term accomplishes many positive things.

1) It keeps me from despairing when my ministry trip or event flops.

2) It keeps me worshipping myself when my ministry trip or event goes well.

3) It gives me a proper perspective to lead my students in. They need to be repeatedly told that Jesus is interested in them for their entire lives. He gave up his life for theirs.

4) It helps me create a culture of grace for students to learn and mature within. If my goal is simply a student’s event attendance than when I approach him/her after they’ve been absent for any length of time I only convey concern about their attendance. This is law-based youth ministry. The message you communicate is, “I’m interested in you when you follow what I want.” A grace-based approach sets the focus on the student’s heart, not actions. It affirms that whether they come to your “best program ever” or not you love them just the same. It focuses them on properly on God’s progressive sanctification in their lives. This message communicates, “Come or not, I’m interested in you and the man or women of God you are becoming.”

Are your goals long term? Or are they myopic? Students must be shown that what God is accomplishing in them is from the moment of salvation till they see Jesus face to face. God’s goals are long term and weighty. Are you cheapening God’s grace in their lives by leading a really cool law-based youth ministry?

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Infancy of Grace–A View From the Cheap Seats

It was 1991 and as a six year old I sat in Cheddars with my parents eating dinner when the news was delivered.  Waves of excitement, wonder, and uncertainty washed over me as I learned that my Mother was pregnant.  It was incredible; I was going to have a baby sister, what a joy.  As the months of the pregnancy rolled on and my Mom’s belly expanded, the excitement grew.  During the second trimester a routine ultrasound was done to check up the young life living inside of my Mom, only after that, however, did life become anything but routine.

It was the summer after first grade for me and Elizabeth was on the way.  After several more tests and ultrasounds the doctors had begun to speculate that Elizabeth would not be “normal”.  After birth their thoughts and my family’s worst fears had indeed been confirmed.  Elizabeth Eileen was born weighing 3 lbs. 15oz, and would later that week drop in weight to 3 lbs. 8oz.  She was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Displacia.  Her kidneys didn’t work right; they were not functioning properly as kidneys should for a full term child.

Almost immediately discussion about dialysis and transplant began to circulate around the medical staff working on Elizabeth.  And after a few days in the neo-natal unit at Grand Rapids Hospital she was shipped to the University of Michigan medical center where they took over her care.  Slowly she grew in strength and in weight but her kidneys still only worked at 10% of what they should have.

Heart surgery and pneumonia were the next hurdles that she had to fight over, and fight she did.  This tiny life, a life that fit perfectly in the palm of my Dads hand hung on with all she had to beat whatever was thrown at her.  She recovered from the surgery and pneumonia OK and we were able to bring her home, which was such a joy.  But life now was different.

Her food intake and excretions had to be monitored, an infant scale adorned her bedroom so that we could check her weight and report to the doctor.  Monthly blood tests and appointments became the norm for our house, but she was growing, and getting stronger.

Mom and Dad also fought hard during that first year.  The uncertainty of a sick little girl seemed almost too much to take at times, but God was faithful and kept them under the shadow of his wing.  What a testimony to me, sitting in the cheap seats, watching my Mom and Dad stay so strong in the Lord when giving up may have seemed to easy to do.  Their character and resolve through the trials and battles that they fought have taught me so very much about trusting in God and leaning not on my own understanding.

Elizabeth is almost 21 now, and perfectly healthy.  Talks of any further medical procedures have ceased.  She is physiologically right on track.  She can communicate fine; and has no issues with bladder control, which were symptoms the doctors said would not be “cured” until after puberty.  Her kidneys now function at over 80%.  Through chiropractic care and purified water she is quickly becoming a healthy, beautiful young woman of God.

God knit baby Harper in the womb and fashioned her inmost being, she has been fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-16).    What roads God may be leading you down that may seem very dark and windy.  As difficult as it may seem rest in this, He is in control, He is faithful, and He is with you every step of the way.  It is my pray that this letter may bring you comfort, encouragement, and strength.

May I close with this…

Jim Cymballa once wrote these words which echoed ever so true for my family during this journey:

God is to wise to be mistaken,

God is to good to unkind,

So when you don’t understand,

When you can’t see his plan,

When you can’t trace his hand,

Trust his heart.

Living in his Grace and For His Glory,