The highest virtue

Yesterday I had the privilege of  spending some quality time with a good friend and brother in ministry over good coffee and great conversation. As we normally do when we are together we pontificated until we are almost convinced that we had solved the world's problems. Actually, we shared ministry stories with each other, holding each other accountable for the charge that God has given to us and also grieving and rejoicing beside each other over the highs and lows of ministry.

During our conversation, my friend was seeking to make a point when he asked me this question: "If you knew of a man who had been married to his wife for 25 years and had never cheated on her, what word would you use to describe him?" Instantly the word "faithful" came to my mind and that's how I responded. Not denying the truth in my answer, my friend brought up a powerful point to me regarding the example he had just shared - if God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman and neither the husband nor the wife violates this sacred union, then wouldn't the word "obedient" be a better way to describe their commitment to each other instead of "faithful"?

This may sound like nothing more than semantics to you, but I was rather struck by the truth in that. What is the highest calling - the greatest virtue - of one who chooses to follow Christ? Many words can be bandied around that would most certainly be considered relevant to the question - loyal, true, consistent, holy, etc. - and each one would not be without merit. If patient is the highest virtue then I'm in some serious trouble! Yet in spite of the many noble characteristics that a Christian should display, wouldn't it be fair to say that the foundational virtue of any follower of Christ would have to be obedience? Think about it - without obedience, then every action or words is nothing more than going through the motions.

My point is not to get too theological and have you jumping all over Scripture to try and find examples to prove or disprove this point. Instead, I will point you to one of many passages of Scripture that illustrate the absolute necessity of obedience:
One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" "This is the most important," Jesus answered: "Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other greater commandment than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus was asked about obeying the commands. The Jews had hundreds of laws that they tried to keep, and Jesus mentioned many times in His earthly ministry how futile it was to think that by obeying those laws could earn any man favor with God. But in saying those things, Jesus never made light of the importance of obedience. Simply put, Jesus said that if you obey the commands to love God and love people, then everything else that you do will fall in line after that.

You can't be considered faithful unless you first obey the command to love God. Someone might say, "But if you don't trust God first or have faith, then you can't obey either." To that I would say that you can have faith in God without obeying Him, but you can't obey God and claim to not trust him. Obedience is foundational to living out our faith in Christ.

Let me finish with this related thought. We applaud those who are faithful and generous and sacrificial, and we are right in noting those traits. We also tend to put these people on a holy pedestal and shine a spotlight on them as if they are going above and beyond the call of Jesus, but in doing so we make a huge mistake. You see, when you are faithful and generous and sacrificial, you aren't some super-Christian. Rather, you are being obedient to the Lord's commands. Why should we make hyper-spiritual that which is normative to Jesus?

You can't afford "private" anymore

One of the joys of being involved in student ministry has been the opportunity to engage the parents of my students in regular conversations. Once a month as the students meet in their small groups I gather the parents together for our own small group of sorts. We have spent portions of that time covering the same discipleship material that their students are discussing, but my primary goal is to use this as an opportunity to minister to these parents so that they in turn can minister more effectively to their own children.

The other night the topic for our student discussion was "Identity" and how our identities are established by God (Psalm 139) and rooted in Christ. We too often try to mask our identities with other things - relationships, popularity, athletic or academic achievements, humor, etc. - which in turn communicates to God that we are not satisfied with who He has created us to be.

As the students broke up into their small groups to discuss the masks that they normally hide behind and how they can be rid of them, I broke the adults up into their own small groups. They discussed amongst themselves not only the masks that they hid behind when they were younger but also the masks that they see as prevalent in the lives of their own children today. It was amazing to see and hear the transparency displayed by this group of parents!

I brought the parents back together as a large group for the remaining time because I wanted to share with them one of the most harmful masks that students are prone to hide behind: A distorted view of sexuality. Consider these statistics that I shared with them:
  • By age 18, 93% of all boys and 62% of all girls have been exposed to internet pornography
  • 31% of all teenagers admit to having "sexted" (sending sexual images of themselves via text or Snap Chat), and of that number 56% are girls
  • 1 of every 5 mobile search made is for pornography
When asked for a show of hands, almost all of the parents in the room admitted that their child had either a smart phone or an iPod type device and none of their children paid the full bill either for the device, the service, or the WiFi connection. With those facts in mind, I was able to help lay the groundwork for these parents that I now wish to share with you regarding what our role should be concerning "privacy" issues and our children.

It's perfectly okay to creep - to stalk - your kids
Until your children are out of the house, then what happens under your roof is your business. Since neither my kids nor your kids would own an electronic device unless we provided them with the device itself or the service, make it a priority to regularly check their phones, iPods, tablets, computers, etc. I don't know about you, but I want to know who my son or daughter is sending and receiving texts from. What websites are they frequenting and who are their "friends" on social media sites. I reserve the right to "unfriend" or "unfollow" anyone who posts unwholesome words or pictures that can influence my child. If my child is involved in teenage drama via text messages, then I need to know that too. In short, there is nothing that we can leave to chance.

Don't expect from your kids what you don't demand from yourself
We all shake our heads at some of the trashy shows and commercials that blaze across our TV and computer screens and there is enough nasty music out there to make even a demon blush with shame. So why should we expect our children to avoid those same harmful influences if we won't agree to the same standard that we are demanding of them? It's a bit ridiculous if one insists that his child not smoke as he flips the ash off of his cigarette, or if one demands that her child not use profanity as she drops F-bombs all over the place. That makes no sense, right? Well, neither does it make sense for parents to set standards for their children that they have no intention of meeting for themselves. If you don't want your children to do it, then you best be avoiding it too!

If you don't lead your kids, then someone else will
Some of you may think that your kids will figure all of this out if we just leave them alone, and you are right - someone else who does not love or care for them as you do will lead them in a different direction! No matter how mature or equipped for life that you believe your child to be, they all still follow the lead of others. This is how we all learn and grow. As a student pastor, I relish the chance to speak truth into the lives of my students and to guide them to make healthy Christ-honoring decisions, but I have no desire to play the roll of parent in their lives. If you are a parent, that is your job. True, there may be times when a parent is not around or invested in their child's life, but if you are reading this and you have a child, chances are you are more than capable of investing in them. So invest! You may think that your child does not want your guidance or leadership but nothing could be farther from the truth. Studies show that teenagers look up to their parents more than anyone else and primarily rely on them for guidance and direction. Remember, if you don't lead them, someone else will!

A real leader is one who serves. Are you listening, DC?

For obvious reasons I stay away from writing or sharing about politics as much as possible. Nobody every seems to agree on anything and I've yet to see a community become politically united over a few pithy social media posts. That being said, I'm gonna touch on politics a little bit today but hopefully not in the way that would label me as "that guy."

It's hard to ignore the turmoil in our country right now. We seem to add a new issue everyday to a long list of concerns that has more than enough of us wringing our hands in doubt and confusion over the future. Whether it's the health care crisis, budget concerns, or the fact that in spite of all the talk of the importance of education it still gets underfunded, there are many things which seem to be spiraling out of control.

In my teens and 20's, I considered myself a bit of a maverick concerning my political views, ready to debate with the best of them. Now, not so much. I no longer carry a party label but rather have registered myself as an "Independent" because neither side seems to fully represent my views. This way, I am free to examine a particular candidate or issue and vote my conscience without having to worry about whether or not I am betraying some kind of intrinsic loyalty. That being said, I join many of my fellow citizens in being less than dazzled over how our leaders are handling the current state of affairs in our country.

Just overhearing basic conversations, I get the idea that most of the people in America pretty much know what they want. The problem I'm seeing is that there seems to be scant communication at best between the politicians in place and the people that they represent. Sure, I've called my state and national representatives offices and voiced my concerns, but voice mail is hardly my idea of what it means to be concerned about one's constituents. Yet more than the issues are at stake in all of this. Whether or not a budget gets passed or schools get funded are important issues, but they speak of a more dire underlying void that grows deeper in the daily doings of our elected officials: A LACK OF LEADERSHIP.

Leaders lead in spite of. That's a mantra that I've been throwing around for years now. Yet this is hardly what we see in our state or our nation's capital. Leadership is such a broad term encompassing a myriad of character and personality traits, but perhaps the most crucial aspect of a good leader and one that is most often ignored is that of servant leadership. Most political leaders are in place because the will of others have put him or her there. The goal of a political leader is to serve the interest of the people, and in doing so it might mean the sacrificing of more than one personal agenda. This is the ideal but hardly the reality.

Let me give you an excellent example of what this looks like. Go back a few thousand years ago to ancient Israel where a guy named David was king. During his reign he enjoyed much success and the people loved and followed him willingly, not because he lorded his position over them but rather because he was willing to sacrifice first what he demanded of others.

David wanted to build a magnificent temple for God, yet he knew that it would not get built during his lifetime. Instead, he instructed his son and successor, Solomon, on how to build it when he became king. David worked hard to gather as many materials as possible for the construction of this beautiful edifice, but he asked for no more from the people he led than he was willing to give himself. David was fabulously wealthy, yet he had no problem donating most of his personal treasure for the project. In turn, the leaders under King David did the same. How did this affect the people of Israel?
Then the people rejoiced because of their leaders' willingness to give, for they had given all they had to the Lord with a whole heart. (1 Chronicles 29:1-9)
King David and the other leaders under him knew that if they were not willing to count the cost and give what they had, they had no business asking the people to do the same. What an amazing, novel concept that has been by-and-large lost on this generation of leaders. What if our president, senators, and congressmen were willing to do the same?

I do not know how to fix what's going on in Washington nor do I care to dive into open and hostile debate about it. But I do believe this: If those that we have elected to lead us would give as much to working together to solve the current crises as they demand from the rest of us, then these problems would be things of the past.

Who's got your back?

As I have gotten older I have grown to truly appreciate history. Not that I didn't enjoy history when I was in school, it's just th...