Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sex Objects

Its no secret that in our youth group, sex has been a significant topic of conversation over the past several weeks. It all started when a bunch of young men with integrity came forward and said they want purity in a world bent on impurity. Of course this issue for me has been somewhat of a hot button issue as I constantly teach on God's view of sexuality as a junior high youth pastor. I feel as if I am fighting an uphill battle and this article is one example of that. But this time is different. I am not the only one upset and it has raised a few questions...

Sexualization, or making someone into a sex object, is not some new concept that Abercrombie and Fitch just came up with. There was actually a legitimate study done in 2007 to highlight the problem. What has everyone all worked up right now is the recent marketing of "push up" bras to children as young as 7 years old. I wish I could have gotten on camera or in this article to speak my mind about this, but I couldn't, so my blog will have to do.

The first problem people seem to be having with A&F marketing push up bras to 7 year old girls was that these girls are way to young to be seen as "sexy." We shouldn't promote them as being "sex objects," right? People legitimately have a point that 7 year olds should not be seen as sex objects. But here's what ticks me off: What age does a girl have to turn when it then becomes ok to view her as a sex object?!? Are you kidding me people? So when girls grow up, then it's ok for them to switch from being a person to an object, reducing their value to sex.

Secondly the article sites that this has problems with how men view young girls. The signals they send by dressing as a sex object, tell men it is ok to view them as such. Again, I think their right on with this! But I'll come back to the same objection I had before. So its ok for men to see sexually mature women as objects instead? If you've watched the news lately you'll notice a significant amount of crime is sex related and the problem is not the age of victim, it with the mindset of the offender.

Lastly I'm gonna stand on my soapbox here and say this: people are not sex objects. It doesn't matter the age of the ones in question, God designed us as a person not an object. Sex is a healthy part of the marriage design and not meant to build self esteem or attract others to us. I recently mentioned to a parent I felt uncomfortable with the pictures I saw pop up on facebook of her daughter on their spring break. Her swimsuit was anything but modest and would cause any guy to see her sexually. When I told that parent how I felt, I was met with a "well she can pull it off," or in other words she has the body to do it. Just because we can use sex appeal to sell bra's to 7 year olds or promote self esteem in teenagers, does not mean we should. The damage being done here is unbelievably huge both in how we say a girl is supposed to consider herself and how others are to regard her.  We're all effected and need to stand up for the truth of God's design - God created us as people, not objects. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

If they see Him, they'll believe Him

So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, "What are we going to do since this man does many signs?" If we let Him continue in this way, everyone will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation.  John 11:47-48

As I read these words this morning, I did a mental double take at what was being implied here. Step back for a second and look at this situation with some perspective. The Pharisees have seen Jesus do 7 signs to this point in John, the 7th one being the raising of Lazarus. He raised a man from the dead. This was not some cheap parlor trick and many people who saw it believed in Jesus because of it. Enter the "concern" of the chief priests and Pharisees: what are we going to do with this Jesus?

Their first concern is rather fascinating. If too many people keep seeing Jesus perform signs then they'll believe in Him. So they are worried that people will follow Jesus if they see Him. My thought was this: if what your doing is "right," why are you concerned about people following Jesus? I mean won't people see right though Jesus if He is truly fake? I have to imagine that at this point these men knew Jesus was the real deal even though they didn't understand how He could be the Messiah talked about in Scripture.

Now their real concern is unveiled. If Jesus continues on about this whole Messiah bit, then the Romans will have to do something about it. That means kissing their authority and possibly their nation goodbye. I mean the Romans at least let the chief priests and Pharisees operate with some authority within a Roman-controlled Jewish state. All of that would disappear. Bottom line is they didn't want to give up their authority to Jesus.

Thinking to myself I see how easy it is to fall in line with their thinking. If Jesus is exposed before my life, His power being displayed and His work speaking for itself, then that means it is no longer I who get to be in control. There is no question of His authenticity here, rather a defense of personal power and authority. Wow - isn't this what we see so frequently in life? I don't want Jesus to take authority over me because I like being in authority over me (and others), so I've got to keep Him out. Ironically they decided that one man must die to save the whole nation... And so He did - just not in the way they intended.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bieber and beyond...

Much to the chagrin of a few people who now may disown me, I went to see Justin Bieber's movie yesterday (in 3D no less). And I actually kinda liked it! Ok don't judge me yet, I do have a few thoughts from the movie that somewhat redeem myself and my manhood.

It all stated when I opened my mouth and started bashing Bieber. I wasn't that hard on him per se, I just liked to tease the countless girls who swooned over him. One of those girls said that I needed to see the movie before I said any more. To be fair, I do tell them they should watch football, baseball, golf, etc.,  before they dismiss one of my obsessions... So as the story goes I went to see Never Say Never. Well I appreciated the invite and I don't plan on actually bashing Bieber in this blog. The movie actually inspired me to blog about an issue way beyond Bieber.

Almost anyone can be produced to be likable and popular. With the right people around to write your lines, coach you, dress you, and give you an image - just about anyone can do well. But Bieber didn't come across in the movie as produced. Yes he had a group of people helping him, but on his own this guy seems to be full of charisma with plenty of natural ability and talent. He comes across as authentic and at this point in his life, morally stable. I do have two observations as a result of this movie that relate to all of us:
#1 Justin Bieber is not worthy of receiving the attention and glory that is being given to him. I was blown away by how the movie sneakily glorified him, as if his being born with this talent and look were his choice or the result of his hard work. Hundreds of thousands of teenager girls are missing that point. Their longings to be captivated by the mystery and charisma, the beauty, the effortless talent - those are real longings. But Bieber is only a reflection of the One who gave him those qualities. Humanity is made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), all glory or boasting is only due to God (Jer. 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 1:26-31), and ultimately everything is from, to, and through God (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16).

#2 Beyond Bieber, we all glorify someone/something else at times. When I was watching the movie I thought to myself if I was as obsessed with or gave glory to something in my life as much as these girls do so with Bieber. As a pastor, I've caught myself glorifying Christian celebrities at times.  We don't have room to glorify another as a Jesus follower. That is sin and it is dangerous ground to walk on. All of us need to evaluate who is most celebrated and sought after in our lives. If it is not God, well we have some soul-searching to do.

My conclusion is this: I don't see anything wrong with liking Bieber. But as a Christian, you should pay attention to the fact that he doesn't get up on stage in all humility and admit all the credit for his talent goes to God. And pay attention to what you obsess over - if God is not your obsession, but His creation is instead, then these words may apply:

" They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised."  Romans 1:25

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mindless Media Consumption...

So I'll be the first to admit there have been plenty of times I've consumed various media without thinking about what it is I am taking in. Thanks to those I admire when it comes media consumption, I've been challenged to do more thinking when it comes to what I allow before my senses. Walt Mueller, who is one of my favorite cultural evaluators when it comes to youth culture and Brian Godowa, who is a writer, director, and movie evaluator, are two of those who I highly recommend looking into. Much of what I've come to understand I owe to them. Check out their material if your interested beyond my blog. If not, well I want to give credit to where my mind has been.

So a recent conversation with a student has prompted me to write on this topic. It actually started months ago when I picked up Godowa's book "Hollywood Worldviews" and started to wrestle with the convictions over my own media consumption. You won't hear from me that "media is bad" and that we should avoid it at all costs. But here's what I do think: mindlessly consuming media is extremely dangerous. I believe that as a Jesus-follower, we should constantly be comparing the messages we hear in media to the Truth we profess to follow.

Its just entertainment right? Stop criticizing it, it really doesn't affect me.... I still can follow Jesus and the example of (fill in the blank with any entertainer).  Actually the word "entertainment" means an activity in which people amuse themselves during their leisure time. The word "amuse" means to not think. Entertainment by definition is the practice of checking your brain at the door.

So what is wrong with a little fun? Who cares if I don't think when I watch or listen? It is dangerous because you are letting someone tell you what to believe. Every movie, book, song, etc., teaches us some kind of worldview. Most of us don't realize it, but there are subtle messages being taught constantly. Just watch a movie or show and ask yourself what the "moral of the story is." Most action movies tell us violence solves problems. Romances make us think sex & love satisfies the soul and is life's greatest good. Too many songs teach us how to relate to the opposite sex... in rather crude ways. When you think about what your taking in, you start to realize the impact this may be having on your soul.

So should I avoid all media and live in a cave? Is it wrong to, lets say, enjoy Justin Bieber's new movie? No, not at all. In fact I will be the first to tell you that we should consume media! But please, don't do so without a critical eye, without thinking about what you are taking in, and without having spent considerably more time exposing yourself to the truth of Jesus. Didn't Paul say that he considered everything garbage compared to knowing Jesus? And that his goal was to know Christ because it is Christ whom he intends to become like (Philippians 3:7-11).

We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ
                                                                                                                 2 Corinthians 10:5

The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone.
who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him?
But we have the mind of Christ
                                                                                                              1 Corinthians 2:15-16

Monday, January 31, 2011

Effective Influence

I recently came across a survey put out by the Barna Group that made me think about the term "role model." I've always been of the opinion that "everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher" (see Luke 6:40). In everyone's lifetime they will both be a teacher or role model and they will teach or model to others. I'd suggest that we're always doing both at some capacity, as even my 2 year old is teaching my 7 month old how to interact. Those that volunteer for me in Axis hear me quote this verse and share the opinion that we are making "spiritual" copies of ourselves. Not that we are great, but in the words of Paul "Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ." So... the question that has been floating around in my mind is what makes a role model effective?

Looking at the data from the survey and considering my own experience in life and in youth ministry, the most effective role models are those that have the most intense relationship with whom they are modeling to. To paraphrase the survey results, we emulate those we know best. Of course the survey is directed toward a teenage audience, but I have no problem going out on a limb and saying we all are most influenced by the ones we surround ourselves with. Within that group, the ones who have the most "intense" relationship with us are our biggest role models. Intense relationships have a rich combination of time, quality, and depth.

I don't think I am breaking new ground saying that effective role models have intense relationships with those they are modeling to. But I think we forget to act on that, leaving out the work that has to go into an intense relationship. The big takeaway in my mind is this:

1. If you are wanting to be a role model, your effectiveness is directly related to the intensity level of your relationship. For example, as a parent I want to model a life worth living to my daughters. Merely telling them what to do is not modeling anything. Taking the time to play with them, enjoy their company, be interested in their lives and "know" them creates a strong bond that makes my example effective. For me as a youth pastor and for my volunteers reading this, same applies to your influence within Axis. Bring up the intensity and with it will follow the effectiveness.

2. If you are the one following an example, evaluate who you are intense with. I'm assuming we want to be better people and grow in our faith. Who then do I intensely relate with? Do I share my life with someone I consider a stronger and more mature follower of Jesus than I? Life is lived in the example of others and following the best example in my opinion is no accident. I need to intentionally surround myself with others I want to shape my life.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Retreat Perspective: 2008 Timber Ridge

Yesterday I started a flashback sequence on my blog, looking back at each Timber Ridge as we approach our 5th trip up there under my leadership. It is great perspective both to what God has accomplished on these past retreats and to what has worked/not worked as I plan for our 5th time around. So here goes a recap of our trip to Timber Ridge in 2008:

What a difference a year makes! Yeah it was Timber Ridge again... but there were some notable changes. First, I had a full year under my belt at Grace. Believe me when I say that planning this over 3 months versus 3 weeks was much more fun and productive. Second, they finished the "barn" which gave us access to the climbing wall, a REAL meeting place, and a plethora of options when it came to games! Thirdly, we brought Aaron Cronen. Oh and lastly this was the year Rawney and I made our announcement that we were pregnant with our first baby!

The theme this year was Embrace. I stole the concept from one of my favorite authors and theologians named Miroslav Volf. It fit perfectly as we discussed the process of "embracing" others using the metaphor of a hug and the open arms of the father in the story of the Prodigal son. We talked about Jesus' "embrace" of us and how we in turn reciprocate that in His example toward others. One of the most powerful moments for me in this was when I had two guys come to me in complete sincerity at the end of the retreat asking how they can live this out back home.

It's difficult to explain in a blog the many stories and God-moments that they produce. We definitely turned a corner in 2008 with the devotions as I started using mp3 players as the standard. The warming house tradition on Saturday night became increasingly powerful. I started going out of my way to pray/speak into the lives of each student before they left the warming house on Saturday night. Everything flowed well and the retreat seemed to only get better and build off of the momentum of the year before it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Retreat Perspective

Coming up this weekend is the 5th retreat I've taken to Timber Ridge with the students from Grace Fellowship. I think it is fitting to spend a couple of short blog posts in reflection on over the past 4 time's we've journeyed up to Timber Ridge. For those of you reading who don't have inside information, this retreat is the culmination of class called Student Impact that begins in the Fall and ends with this retreat. It is a "reward" for those who faithfully accomplish the rigors of this class.

In 2007 the class was called "Loco" and the theme was "What's My Story?" I had literally just stepped into Grace Fellowship as the Junior High Pastor less than 4 weeks before leading this retreat. Talk about spinning heads, I could not have been more full of excitement or fear at the same time. Because Loco had been going on before I became the pastor, the volunteer leader of the class and I team-taught this retreat. I believe retreats are golden opportunities to shift the paradigms of students, so I was more than excited to plan this one out in great detail. Looking back on my notes I had planned out flow charts, leadership meetings and instructions, and every other logistic I could think of. Typical of my retreat planning style, it was over-planned =).

Believe it or not, the Barn was not finished at Trout Lake. We ate, played, watched our movie, did our worship, spent time in devotion all in the same room. I wrote the devotions for this retreat *gulp* without MP3 player accompaniment. Of the 9 leaders who went with, 4 of them (including Rawney and I) are still in this ministry. This retreat was were I started the warming house tradition on Saturday night. God was glorified no less in this retreat as He as been in each that have followed!

This retreat has come a long way in the past 4 years. I'm not surprised that God has worked and continued to show up in amazing ways, but I am always pleasantly surprised to see just how that unfolds. Since 2007 God has continued to do amazing things in the hearts of students and leaders on this retreat. Of all the things we've changed, the warming house tradition and the movie making has not changed =).