Theology for the Teens?

For many the concept of teaching teens theology is about as ridiculous as teaching monkeys calculus. I've frequently heard youth leaders or volunteers try and convince me that the only way to keep teens interested in church and youth groups was to have a lot of silliness in games, food, and great music. From that you should input just enough Bible in a little devotional to spiritualize the entire event. In all honesty I don't believe it. Nor have I for years. About eight years ago when I was the junior high pastor at Santa Rosa Bible Church I started thinking about how I could engage teens in the study of the Bible in a way that would be challenging to them, enjoyable, and would help them understand the major teaching of the Bible. The goal was to assist them in confirming their faith, and their understanding of the faith by the time they finished eighth grade. The result of that line of thinking was this study I called Passage. Over the following years several classes of students that have grown up at SRBC have gone through this study, and the fruit of it has been so encouraging to me.

Passage itself has undergone some transformation as well. What started as a study for teens at Santa Rosa Bible Church turned into a curriculum for a larger network of churches, home school families and youth ministries. Recently I've been asked to produce a new version of Passage that updated some of the content and included some new chapters as well.

In my free time over the last few months I've been working on editing, rewriting, and producing an updated version of the material. Last night I put the finishing touches on what I call "version 3.0" and am excited about getting to release it once again for use in local churches, homes and schools. If you've used Passage before you'll find some new things in it. If you're new to the material I believe it will serve you well in training teens to know God and understand him well.

Passage is intended to be studied in a community with an adult leading or teaching the discussion for the students. I've created both a Leader's Guide and a Student Workbook to help foster discussion, interaction and learning. You can pick up Passage right from this site and have it delivered to your door.

I am praying that the Lord uses it to advance the gospel in the lives of more teens. If you use Passage or have used it in the past I'd love to hear how God has used it in your life and development of the gospel.

Check Out Passage Here

Monday Meditation: Unrighteous Righteousness

Adultery is tragic. Spiritual adultery even more so. The effects of these breaks in fidelity and commitment are long-term, and in many cases seem irreversible. While it is often easier to measure the effects of physical adultery, understanding the effects of spiritual adultery can be difficult to quantify. Yet, God doesn’t mean to be vague with us about how our spiritual adultery impacts our relationship with Him. In a very vivid manner God uses the family of Hosea and the children surrounding his marriage to Gomer to warn us about what the effects of spiritual adultery are. Over next three weeks we will see how the three children that exist in Hosea’s life are pictures of the results that spiritual adultery can bring down in our relationship with God.

Hosea 1:3–5: Jezreel

God has commanded Hosea to marry a woman who can’t and won’t be faithful to him (v. 2). What a strange and odd command that would have been, but God’s purposes in this are greater than Hosea and Gomer, he’s dealing with faithless people like you and me.

Hosea obey’s God and marries this woman, Gomer (v. 3), and as a happy result of their marriage she conceives and gives birth to a son. This is a good thing. In Israelite culture children were valued, it was , especially firstborn sons. So Hosea and Gomer have a good thing going.

God then tells Hosea to name this child, and the name God gives the firstborn is Jezreel. Now God is doing two things here. one, he is using a name that sounds very close to Israel, it’s almost synonymous. He is waking the readers up to the reality that this is them. Secondly, he is reminding Israel of a particular place and event in their history. Here’s what verse 4 and 5 state:

Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.

Jezreel is a valley in the northern region of Israel that had a notorious and bloody history. In 1 Kings 21 we find that Ahab, the wicked king, murdered a faithful Israelite in Jezreel just to get his vineyard for himself. Later in 2 Kings 10, Jehu goes into the very same city and slaughtered everyone associated with King Ahab in a terrific and violent shedding of blood.

Now how is this significant to us? You see God was using the very place that Israel boasted in to demonstrate their deepest failure. To Israel, Jezreel was a great victory in the past. However, in the waves of violence and destruction there were great horrors. God didn’t see the events at Jezreel as holiness and covenant-keeping. It would be like us rejoicing in the destruction of Hiroshima.

This is what spiritual adultery does to our lives. The very things we think we can boast about before God are really offensive to him because we use them to try to earn his love or to keep him from being angry with us while we go off and flirt with other sources of satisfaction.

God here reverses the tables on us and on Israel and announces that the things that we believe are our greatest victories are really our deepest failures. This is what spiritual adultery does to our hearts and lives. It turns the very things we would consider “moments of glory” and really exposes them as rebellion and “filthy-rags-righteousness.”

Here is where the gospel message must so quickly be brought to bear. We can easily recognize we need to repent of our sinful deeds before the Lord, but it is our righteous deeds that we like to use as trophies to show off how much God owes us. We often use our good works as a righteous merit-badge system that we think obligates God to be nice to us because we’ve been good. Hosea’s first son here tells us that our righteousness earns us nothing before God.

The good news is that we do have a righteousness God accepts. Jesus has lived the perfectly righteous life we have not. He has suffered and died in our place for our failures and spiritual adulteries. Jesus has been raised to life so that we might have real life. The good news declares to us that all who will repent of their wickedness and their righteousness will be gifted the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

Two questions stem from this. Are you attempting to hold God hostage with your “good deeds” to earn his blessing and favor? Will you repent of your sin as well as your righteousness and rest in the good news that Jesus is our perfect righteousness?

Let the lesson of Jezreel warn and push us to Jesus today.

Spiritual adultery displays our greatest achievements as our deepest failures before God.

The Pastoral Manifesto - Article I: God

Over the next few weeks I've decided to write a manifesto of sorts about a few convictions I've picked up lately about ministry and the vocation of a pastor.  Each one of these is an attempt to concretely state what I believe about being a pastor and how I will approach the ministry of the gospel God has called me to.  Some could call it a "philosophy of ministry" and if that's the case, fine, they are what I believe and how I will live and labor.  I will arrange each of these "articles" of my manifesto theologically.  I think you will see why in time.  

Article I: God 

The pastorate is no place to play around, no place to be glib or trite or foolish about God or what the stakes are in eternity or people's souls.  There is no room to waste time, goof off or seek to entertain people with my winsome personality or self-inflated ego. The pastorate is first and foremost about God.  If I read my Bible right that means I stand before a God who is absolute in His holiness.  I minister on behalf of a God who is a "consuming fire," a "warrior... majestic in battle," one who "comes in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind."  I display to the world the glory of God by my life and by my words.  I cannot be trite about God.  

And yet there is a pressure and preoccupation (or distraction as I prefer to think of it) in many people's minds not to treat ministry as that serious.  I'm not saying that because of God's transcendent and all-powerful glory that I should never have any fun or enjoy a good laugh with God's people or be lighthearted and joyful.  What I am saying however, is that I can't represent God as a goof-off.  I can't by the way I speak of Him, the way I minister, or the focus I have push Him to the peripheral in my work.  And yet that is the temptation that swings my way almost daily.  People want a pastor who first and foremost puts the people at the center. Many people have the idea that the pastor is paid to meet their social or spiritual needs. How many in our churches act like it is the pastor's job to keep their people happy and entertained and engaged and enthused?  We act as if the pastor is the one who should make sure we have something to do midweek, and of course on the weekends.  Oh, and the pastors have to keep our kids coming back... otherwise.... 

Yet the pastoral vocation first and foremost isn't about people; it's about God.  It's a man declaring with his words and displaying with his life and directing with his time people to God.  It's one who is made in the image of God, gifted by the Holy Spirit of God, called by the Word of God and burdened with the gospel of God to show and say who God is.  And if this is the case concerning pastoral ministry then the pastor, then I, must be attentive to and knowing God first and foremost.  My time should be with God.  My words from God.  My counsel, God's counsel.  My worship unto God.  My life fixed and devoted to God.  The pastorate is about God.  Any other center or focus is an idol, and God doesn't share glory.