Partnering with you for the growth of Hope Youth!

Last week I had the pleasure to meet with three members of our Youth Discipleship Team at two different coffee shops in our area.  We were able to talk about our personal struggles and how God's grace is meeting us in our weakness.  We also were able to share our concerns for the youth in our discipleship groups, rejoicing that there were multiple conversations going on with them and that our unique gifts were able to help them and build them up.  As I reflected on these conversations I am so thankful to be ministering to these youth AS A TEAM.  No single person, minister or layperson, is able to meet every need or connect deeply with each person. 

Some recent milestones I'd like to share that excite me about our ministry to youth:

  • our youth are studying the Psalms together to examine what an emotionally and theologically rich faith looks like that includes experiences like joy, tears, depression and comfort.
  • three families have opened their homes to our youth for our First Friday fellowship nights.
  • we have between 15-20 of our youth involved in our guys and girls discipleship groups led by 6-8 caring adults each month.
  • 6 adults stepped up when we issued a call for chaperones
  • 1 family offered scholarship help for kids to go to camp
  • older men gathering with our young men for bowling, hoping for fellowship and future mentoring relationships to be built

What we still need......

  • people to pray for our youth by name
  • people to engage youth in conversation on Sundays
  • parents and other adults to host and/or cook food for our First Friday Night fellowships, plus a coordinator to track and schedule those who volunteer to feed us!
  • Male and Female chaperones for our summer Senior High camp, July 27-31st in North East, MD (only 1.5 hours away!)

To catch more of our vision for our Youth Discipleship ministry and your part in it, I've produced the following videos (with the help of Ben "Bentern" Bailey).

Thanks for your prayers, encouragement and partnership in raising up our Hope Youth in the grace of Jesus!

Pastor Shawn

 

Truth in Advertising: Is Christianity a sad or happy religion?

Some of you recognize the image and quote above.  If not, it's from the animated Christmas movie The Polar Express.  In the movie, a magical train picks up children and takes them to the North Pole to party with Santa. Kids of all colors and all backgrounds are picked up by the train. On the way out of town, the train makes a last stop for a little boy who lives in a rundown house. Along the way the kids share about their experiences with Santa, Christmas and gifts.  The boy sitting down in the picture above is a little depressed and a bit agnostic about Christmas. Christmas hasn't worked out for him, which we assume means that his parents can't afford to give him any presents.

There have been times in my Christian life and in the lives of those I minister to that could be summed up in a very similar way:  Christianity just doesn't work out for me.  It's not that we disbelieve, it's that it hasn't turned out "as advertised".

Quite a few approaches to church and evangelism in the last twenty years have focused on an "Everything is Awesome with JESUS!!!!!" theme.  A better life now.  Be your most awesome self.  Ask Jesus into your heart and you will have a best friend forever.

Quite a number of young people have found a "fellowship of the disappointed" at the bottom of this mountain of hype.  These make up a large percentage of people who identity as "Nones"- people who had a former involvement with or commitment to Christianity, but find that "it just doesn't work for me." 

Gospel Christianity is a mixed bag. We rejoice. We weep. Our greatest rejoicing comes after we see the bitterness of sin and the overwhelming grace of Jesus. The grace we receive is trail food - as we live between our Justification and Glorification, the sweet and salty experience called Sanctification.

One of the ways that we can help people grow and continue in their faith is by approaching our teaching and evangelism like a dietician in a hospital prepares a patient's meals.  Sometimes diet has brought them to the Hospital!  Maybe they have been choking on the false promises of "feel good" Christianity and need to hear the simple good news of forgiveness and newness of life we receive by faith. Others came in healthy but are in hospital because of a life-altering accident and they need healing, rehabilitation and nutrition to mend. Maybe their patterns of rebellion or addiction or someone's treachery towards them have broken their hopes and sense of identity.  They need to rebuild life from the ground up - made in the image of God, redeemed by the death of Christ and renewed to walk in hope and grace-filled community.

The Apostle Paul had some friends in Greece.  They were wrestling with both discouragement and imbalance.  He encouraged them to have a ministry to various kinds of strugglers.  He didn't offer them a sloganeering approach, but a loving, patient "nitty gritty" approach to "life together."  

14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23   Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
— Paul (1 Thess. 5.14-24)

One of the ways we can journey with people in this "truth in advertising" way is introducing them to the language of faith that makes up a good portion of the Psalms.  Often within the same Psalm there is the "sweet and salty":  rejoicing and complaint/lament. Shouts of joy and dancing and tears. Sound like a rollercoaster?  Nope.  Real life.  All of that can happen in one day!!

I'll end with a musical treatment of Psalm 126 that talks about weeping while sowing, and reaping with shouts of joy.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Big Family Fellowship - new fellowship emphasis at Hope

Last July we had a great time during BackYard Bible Clubs.  At one of our clubs we met a mom from a neighborhood apartment complex.  She said that living there was spooky.  No-one was around.  There were no little kids to play with her daughter.  As she came early for club, she was invited into Brenda’s kitchen for coffee and she met members of our Hope family - different ages, different races, from different towns.  In her eyes there was a mix of puzzlement and admiration - these Christians are somehow normal, and they have a sense of community that defies explanation.  She stayed after for lunch with us, finding it hard to say goodbye to an oasis amidst the loneliness.

Apart from the Gospel, the greatest treasure we can offer the world and each other is deep fellowship.  That can only come from spending time together- eating, laughing, listening, encouraging one another.

In this deep fellowship we remind each other that we are God’s and we are “members of one another.”  In Christian fellowship we receive concrete reminders of our identity and our future- a place at the Father’s table in a renewed creation as renewed people.

As we've grown in numbers at Hope and managed this growth with two services, many have felt a disconnection with one another even as we're rejoicing in God gathering more of us on Sundays! With this in mind we are starting a new monthly Sunday evening potluck, worship and learning fellowship.

 

Big Family Fellowship

  • all people of all ages
  • sharing a meal
  • sharing in delight in God and one another
  • sharing in transforming truths of God’s grace

Spring and Summer Dates 5:30-7:30pm

Potluck

April 17

May 15

June 12

Open BBQ Grill/bring your own feast

July 3

July 10

July 17

July 24

July 31

August 7

August 14

August 21

August 28

Hope in pop culture: I Don't Want to Die Anymore by Ivan & Alyosha

For all of you who are discouraged, directionless or suicidal. There is hope and you don't know how God will use you in the future. Don't be selfish or self-focused, zoom out and get a bigger view of your world. Listen to someone else's story and listen to the story of how God's grace rewires the crossed and confusing wires of our lives so that beauty is made out of ugliness:


Lyrics:
Well, I don't want to die anymore
Don't want the Lord to call me home
I've got this feeling he ain't done with me yet
So, I'll sit right right here and place my bet

So, I don't want to die, not just yet

No, I don't want to get high anymore
Latest nights bring darker days
So hard to see
Through the smoke and the haze
Trouble knocking on my door

So, I don't want to get high anymore

[Chorus:]
Well, it's a hard road
To get back to my home
I don't know how much farther I can go
But if I hang on,
For I know the road is long,
I could teach the world to sing my song

Don't want to get by anymore
So many things I can't accept
It's you and it's me
Just what are we here for?

So many things I can't ignore
So, I don't want to get by anymore

No, I don't want to die anymore
Don't call me home, no, not just yet
It's the good Lord and the Devil
Doing battle for my soul
Of the likes we'll never know

So, I don't want to die anymore

[Chorus:]
Well, it's a long road
That takes me to my home
I don't know how much farther I can go
But if I hang on,
For I know the road is long,
I could teach the world to sing my song

[Chorus:]
Well, it's a hard road
To get back to my home
I don't know how much farther I can go
But if I hang on,
For I know the road is long,
I could teach the world to sing my song

Hope for Youth Training Videos Episode 1: The 4B's - Belonging

A covenantal, biblical and reformed discipleship ministry to youth can be broken down into 4 developmental challenges/stages in the life of our youth: Belonging, Believing, Behaving and Becoming. This episode looks at the first B: belonging.

Because of the teaching of Genesis 17, Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 7 and other passages, we view the children of believers as insiders not outsiders.  They are inside the blessing and nurture of the covenant as God says to believers "I will be a God to you and your children."  This view of youth will affect how we call them to Christian commitment and involvement in the covenant community of the Church.

The Burden of Boredom - a theology of “Meh”

A review of Acedia and It’s Discontents:  Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire by R.J. Snell

According to Urban Dictionary:  Meh -An interjection used to imply indifference towards a subject; "a verbal shrug". 

How is it that with all of our time saving devices, instant information, and constant connection to the world of news, entertainment and each other, can we barely find the energy to muster a shrug?  With all the “awesome” around us, why all the boredom?

R.J. Snell in his book entitled Acedia and Its Discontents takes a deep look at the kind of boredom that used to be though of as simple laziness.  Classical philosophers and theologians thought of Acedia as laziness, as a refusal to do work.  Snell had a suspicion that Acedia had more to do with desire - I just can’t make myself care and therefore I can’t summon the energy or will to move or work.

 

As a Catholic Christian, Snell wanted to look deeper than the symptoms and look at the root, and raises some excellent questions like:  

 

What is a person for?  What is work? Is avoiding work a way of avoiding God?

 

Our status as being in the image of God includes the gift of being able to “improve” creation.  To withdraw ourselves from work is to withdraw from our own identity as a gift, and to withdraw from God and the love he has for the world in its physical goodness.  To shrug at the beauty of the world, we are shrugging away God’s glory and our chance to bring creation into the song of God’s glory.  

 

Snell has skillfully uncovered some of the primary motivations and temptations that drives this boredom and avoidance of work:

  • a new vision of self that centers on “freedom”:  

 

  • a view that the world has no meaning and we can take it or leave it

 

  • withdrawal from the world of work and meaning means we retreat in the “world of self”

 

    Another way to visualize Snell’s thesis is to ask:  What if Yo Yo Ma decided to stop making music with his cello?  We would call him selfish.  His talent is a gift to the world that “must” be unwrapped.  If self is the greatest thing we own, we might be tempted to see any self-giving as a loss and that the freedom to keep ourselves to ourselves would be our greatest good.  But this is where boredom becomes the trap.  To keep all our options open and to refuse to be hindered by duty, obligation, or even opportunity, is to keep ourselves closed off from dignity, glory and joy.  To reduce our world to our whims and our own company is a life in prison, ironically guarded by a prison guard named Freedom.  

 

    To be limited by our own willing and freed from any connection to God’s purposes or giving to others, creates what Snell calls “ontological boredom” - at our very core,  we lack desire, believing there is nothing worth desiring. Even the internet with its endless shopping options, a million opinions and news items, endless cat videos, and the degrading allure of “free” peeks at what should be private - evokes more yawns and more shame of wasted energy and wasted time.  

 

    Snell calls this pursuit of freedom and the exercise of it in pursuing various amusements “an unbearable lightness of being.”  In his final chapter entitled “Small is Beautiful”, the author senses that we are tempted to concoct plans for epic charity or service, something noble or great, but miss the small and good right in front of us.  We are runaways or deserters from the small, good things in front of us, unable to see, in the words of Kathleen Norris, “the grace in barren places.”  

 

    With nothing epic on the horizon, we click to the next channel or next thing.  There have been times in a room full of loved ones where I’ve sighed:  there’s nothing on the internet tonight.  I have declared that there is nothing epic, therefore nothing good.  But all around me, including myself, are beings invested with glory and wonder, but like a thirsty man dying next to a well, I just don’t want to fetch a rope and bucket to draw those things out.  

 

    Snell offers great diagnosis, but offers only limited solutions:  working in faith and resting through Sabbath. It is true, that to give ourselves to good work we enjoy our dignity before God.  Yes, by practicing Sabbath, we experience rest as a gift. These are obviously two things that are themselves good and biblical, but don’t quite rise to the level of robust and joyful repentance.  If our boredom is a rejection of God’s glory and our role in it, then repentance has to have some part in this killing of boredom and an embrace of grace-filled effort. 

 

    As a book, it suffers a bit from its previous life as separate magazine articles.  Theologically, some Reformed believers may be put off from its heavy quotation from Papal Encyclicals.  However, much of the teaching quoted from Aquinas, Pope JP2, Pope Benedict and others, could be easy mistaken for a John Calvin or Francis Schaeffer quote!  In the main, the Catholic theology of creation and work is great at upholding the goodness of Creation and material existence, but weak on the effects of sin on our human nature, understanding, and ability to fully reflect the glory of God.  

 

    Pastorally, this book is a breath of fresh air blowing into a stuffy and still windowless basement.  It gets at the root of why we get bored on Summer Break or unlimited data on our phones -   to have an unburdened life of almost total freedom, we are also unburdened with the rhythms of work and community, of grace received and expressed in self-giving.  In work and service, we are most ourselves and we are most open to receiving the built-in glories of our existence and identity as sub-creators with God.  It is intellectually deep and probes our hearts, wills and motivations.  Read alongside Protestant/Reformed writers like Steven Garber, Wendell Berry, Kevin DeYoung and others, this will help the Christian wrestle with the epidemic of “meh” which is sneaking up on us all.

5 to 1: A New Model for Youth Ministry

5:1  - A New Approach to Youth Ministry

by Pastor Shawn

The last few months have been exciting and fruitful in our Family and Youth Discipleship Ministry!

  • 18-20 of our youth together with more than a dozen adults were vital to ministering to two neighborhoods, doing the inviting, teaching, singing, painting, and hosting of kids and their parents in our Good News Clubs this Summer.
  • Almost a dozen young people from 4th-11th grade have come to profess their faith in Christ in front of their Hope Church covenant family!
  • 13 Senior High youth and their leaders attended the 1st ever East Coast Reformed Youth Ministries conference where they were energized and equipped in their faith.  And they saw one of their pastors screaming like a girl on a swing that dropped almost 20 feet!

Models of Youth Ministry

Youth Ministry is about 70 years old as I write this.  It began with ministries like Youth For Christ and Young Life, parachurch outreaches to teenagers in local public schools.  Eventually, churches were inspired to implement the methods and energy of these highly engaging models of ministry.  However, for decades now, the average tenure of a youth ministry professional at a church is around 18 months.  Why is that?  Are they by nature flighty people?  Studies are now showing that these models of ministry are not sustainable, and new models are emerging that show great promise.  Two examples of the (thankfully expiring) former models are the:

 

  • “Red Bull” model (events and adrenaline):  Youth Group provides a Jesus-themed jolt every week, with camps or retreats once a winter, once a summer.  Youthful leaders, creative and crazy, help kids to “extend the buzz”, stringing events and experiences together to carry them to graduation with positive vibes towards the Gospel and Christian community.  This energy and enthusiasm doesn’t prepare them well for college or work life where they meet intellectual challenges, keep grueling schedules, struggle to build Christian community, and often find a different buzz offered on and off campus.  Like drinking Red Bull, expect a high and a crash.

 

  • Pied Piper (relational):  The charismatic leader is a kid magnet.  He has musical, athletic and people skills.  Kids are drawn to their leader. She meets with them one and one and hears their deepest struggles and triumphs.  They bond with him.  He or she is their model of faith.  Eventually, they begin to see through their leader and lose their attachment to the Church and Christ since the bond they had formed was with their leader and not the broader Christian community and the depths of the Gospel.  The Pied Piper youth leader burns out and is disillusioned because he/she can’t connect with every student and can’t be the totality of Christian community and character for each student. 

I’ve been ministering to youth long enough to see several ministry fads come and go, and to see my Junior High ministry students from the 1990s getting married and having kids!  So I’m encouraged to see a new model emerging that spreads around the ministry and fits with our covenantal approach to faith development: 

A new ratio for youth ministry:  5 to 1. 5 adults to every youth at Hope.  

What would it look like for “Billy” to have 5 adults in his life from his Baptism to High School graduation?  

1.  Billy has a Sunday School teacher who has known him for the last two years.  Even after he “graduates” to middle school Sunday School, he sees his teacher in worship, in the halls, and he invites her to his baseball game.  She has an ongoing role in his life.

2.  Billy has a small group leader he calls Big Mike who leads a group with him and 4 other middle school and high school guys 2 nights a month.

3.  Billy is interested in becoming a carpenter.  He finds out from his mom that Tom is a retired homebuilder.  Tom offers to teach him AutoCAD and how to operate some important power tools. 

4.  Suzanne is an older single woman in our church.  She knows Billy’s name and asks him to show her the drawings he makes on the bulletin during the sermon.  (He can also tell Suzanne the three points of the sermon.  He can draw AND listen.)

5.  One of his parents’ friends, Jim, noticed that Billy looks discouraged.  He asks Billy how he can pray for him.  They keep in touch over the next few weeks to see how Jim can continue to encourage him.  

Part 2 of this article will be published on my blog.  

If you feel that God is calling you to join the ranks of our 5:1 team, come see me at the Ministry Fair after both services on October 11

Grace and peace,

Pastor Shawn

"As Sure as the Sun" by Ellie Holcomb - The Gospel in Song

Sometimes the truth is so beautiful only a song will do it justice.  From a PCA sister in Nashville, TN.

Download on iTunes: www.assureasthesun.com Official Music Video for "As Sure As The Sun," from Ellie Holcomb's debut album "As Sure As The Sun," available where music is sold. iTunes: www.assureasthesun.com Amazon: http://amzn.to/1lDUAoJ Physical available at record stores, Amazon and www.ellieholcomb.com Download on iTunes: www.assureasthesun.com Video directed and produced by Unwritten Pictures, 2015.

Fighting Cynicism with our Ears and Our Eyes (with help from Josh Garrels and Dick Keyes)

Cynicism by Josh Garrels

Cynicism is the sickness of my culture 
We undress each other with an evil eye 
Concentric circles we look like vultures 
When we feast on the failures of the lives we criticize 
Don't stand alone and cast your stones at her 
Unless you think you're innocent yourself 
The same measure that we use to condemn men 
Will be the same that's poured out upon our heads 

We've all gone astray 
We kick against the pricks so convinced we know the way 
But who can repay 
The love we sacrificed for an empire made of clay 

Self-promotions how we function in this culture 
We fight for the spotlight with a peacocks pride 
And then condescend to all the lesser men 
From thrones we make of payed accolades and a compromise 
There is no power that a man can have 
Unless it's given to him from above 
Our ladders of success descend to hell 
Don't sell your soul and lose your one true love 

We all gone astray 
We kick against the pricks so convinced we know the way 
But who can repay 
The love we sacrificed for an empire made of clay 
We've all gone astray 
We kick against the pricks so convinced we know the way 
But who can repay 
The love we sacrificed to be kings for a day

credits

from Love & War: -ides & Remixes EP, released 05 July 2012

Seeing Through Cynicism:  A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion by Dick Keyes.   IVP Press, 2006. 229 pages.

Seeing Through Cynicism:  A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion by Dick Keyes.   IVP Press, 2006. 229 pages.

 

In Seeing Through Cynicism, Dick Keyes continues Francis Schaeffer's insightful and Gospel driven legacy as he engages the honest questions and hidden pitfalls of those who are seeking to find truth and sanity in an age of spin doctors, the special interest group, and the jaded hipster.  In short, Keyes helps us to see that in pursuing cynicism we are aiming to see through the spin, but often fall short of seeing truth because, in the words of C.S. Lewis, 

"if you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see." (The Abolition of Man, p. 91)

As Keyes has done through his ministry with L'Abri, he engages the honest seeker on their own terms.  Since all truth is God's truth, the cynic is onto something and we should journey with people until God's Word shows us that our paths must diverge.  But since the cynic also shares in humanity's scratched lenses (the Fall) and has unspoken or unknown presuppositions, Keyes offers helpful questions that uncovers the "blindness" behind the acute "sight" of cynicism.

Some examples:  

The cynic, in mocking, let us say, the lying and self-interest of the hypocrite, make an implicit appeal to a moral order in the universe (by which people ought not lie, be selfish or hypocritical). Where does the moral order come from? (p. 78)
How do we know that the cynic's cynicism is not controlled by conscious or unconscious desires for money, self-protection, admiration, tenure, acceptance or power? (p.88)

Throughout the book, Keyes invites the honest and searching reader to do something that Tim Keller has often said:  "Doubt your doubts.  Believe your beliefs." The cynic claims to see with particular insight.  Keyes wants us to ask, "Are these dark glasses in fact helping us to see?" Is there a way to check our "prescription" to see if it is corrective or obstructive.

How is this book helpful for our youth and families? The parents and youth that we minister to at Hope and in the greater Princeton area are products of the post-Vietnam War and Postmodern eras. The Vietnam War area generation often said "Don't trust anyone over 30!" The Postmodern young adult is tempted to say "Don't trust anyone that claims to know the truth." They have been the objects of heavy marketing and are rightly suspicious of what's being "sold". But what if there is True Truth and it can be known? What if we might be rejecting real light and real truth just because it hurts our eyes after living in the dim light of our doubt illuminated only by our smartphones?

This would make great summer reading for our parents and Senior High youth!  Enjoy!